A decade ago, Japan was in the grip of this strange and rather alarming retro boom. Chrome grilles and wood-effect panels started to appear on all manner of cars, as automotive Japan raced to turn the clock back.

Flying PugYes, this was the time when we had Nissan, Subaru and Toyota, hastily grafting Olde Worlde flute grilles and chrome bumpers onto Micras, Starlets et al. Many of these looked decidedly naff. But the makers didn’t care. It was only for Japan and if it made money, why not?

The Japanese could argue, with some justification, that they were only doing what BMC did in the ‘60s: creating Riley Elfs and Wolseley Hornets out of Minis via the application of a new, shiny grille.

Anyway, I was reminded of all this the other day when I saw a Mitsubishi Flying Pug in the street in Tokyo. This was an imaginatively converted 1100cc Pajero Junior with ornate, comedy like front end and gruesome name. To be honest, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Mitsubishi has since redeemed itself with the i, proving that when it’s good, Japanese design is as cutting edge as it gets. But when it’s bad, it’s horrid.