Summers suck in Japan.
It is a fact of life that us expats must live with. Extremely high humidity and ridiculous temperatures means that dehydration and heat stress are a very real thing. So when we see guys in race suits and motorcycle leathers whipping around a track in 95 degree weather, we have to give them major props. We were dying in shorts and T-shirts, so we couldn’t imagine wearing anything more.
Such was the case on this cloudless day at Sodegaura Forest Raceway in Chiba. This Sunday was dedicated to a small club race under the very Japanglish name of Festival of Sideways Trophy. Mostly a vintage European car and bike affair, we were happy to step out of our comfort zone and dive into a world we know little about.
Upon entering the paddock we were greeted by a car that we had been graciously given the opportunity to drive in the past, a Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione I. These things were awesome back in the heyday of Group A World Rally Championship racing. They were the constructor’s class winners for six years straight, taking 46 victories and four driver’s championship titles from 1987-1992, a feat that made them the winningest brand since.
This car was donned in the Martini livery, same as the rally versions – a nice throwback to the history of the marque. When we drove it, albeit on public roads, it was a complete blast! Handling was superb for its age and the turbo lag was manageable. It made us feel like owning one; however we were quickly reminded by the owner that the car is plagued with chassis and motor problems that required extensive work to repair, so we quickly dropped that idea.
This car is something we have never run into in the past, so we were very excited to see something new; a Mk1 Ford Consul Cortina developed by Lotus. Made from 1963 to 1966, only about 3,300 were produced in total. In a deal that gave Lotus complete control over the mechanics of the car, Ford promised to supply the Cortina shells and take care of marketing and sales. In return, this made the Cortina homologated for use in Group 2 racing by Ford. Lotus went to town with modifications, using the 1.6-liter engine and running gear from its Elan, fitting lightweight alloy doors, hood, and trunk, as well as casting new casings for the gearbox and differential to reduce weight.
The suspension geometry was also drastically changed, most notably in the rear, with the Ford leaf spring system being replaced with coil springs and dampers, as well as the addition of two trailing arms and added bracing for stiffness. One magazine at the time raved that the car was basically a covered version of the venerable Lotus 7 (of which Caterham makes replicas today) and although it had some reliability issues, it was revered as a great track car. Doesn’t exactly look the part though, right?
Seeing a Ginetta G4 in Japan is almost as easy as winning the Powerball; it might happen, but chances are slim. For us, this was our second encounter (although we’re still waiting on that lottery win) and even after spending a fair bit of time looking the first one over, we were still enamored by the second.
The body is a simple fiberglass shell bolted over a lightweight tube frame, what would now be considered the classic 1960s British sports car recipe. Engines came from a variety of Ford donor cars, and even some Lotus ones as well. Suspension was by way of Ford as well with the use of their leaf springs and rear axle.
Only the G4Rs, built for racing, would receive independent rear suspension. In total about 500 were produced from 1961 to 1969, and although you’d think these cars would be super-pricey, it only takes about $30,000 US to get you into a classic British club racer. The JDM Watanabe wheels are extra, though.
Another first for us, a Morgan Aero 8 was there for spectating. The Aero 8 wasn’t to everyone’s taste when it first came out in 2001, but then again it was the company’s first new design in over 50 years! This is a second generation model with a facelift that used Mini Cooper headlights rather than the first generation’s Volkswagen Beetle headlights. The one seen here featured a BMW 4.8-liter V8 that put out around 370 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque – quite a bit for a car that weighs 2,600 pounds.
When talking about classic British racecars, many always mention the Jaguar E-type, and most laymen would confuse the car seen here with one of those. This, however, is an even earlier model, the D-Type, one of only 53 produced for public sale and, although difficult to believe, valued at over $1 million USD!
These cars won the the 1955, 1956, and 1957 Le Mans 24 hour endurance races and hit top speeds of 173 MPH! Not bad compared to the behemoth 4.9-liter 160 MPH Ferarris they raced against. Powered by a 3.8-liter inline-six, this particular late model D-type would have been made somewhere around 1957, a true vintage racer.
With all the British flavor we just talked about, it’s time to move back to pasta-land and take a look at the Alfa Romeo 1750 GT Veloce. Looking like a block of cheese, this car is actually pretty awesome. We especially liked the front and rear bumper deletes, as the stock chrome wrap-around bars detract from the car a little too much. The addition of a slightly wider than stock 14×6 Minilite wheels are also a nice touch. All in all, it must be a blast to drive this little 1.8-liter around both the town and track.
Due to the fact that it was so damn hot, we decided to leave just after noon! On our way out we spotted a car that was thrashing about the circuit earlier in the day. Apparently the driver had also had way too much of the heat and decided to stop off for a cold drink. This was lucky for us because that meant some one on one time with the car. Anyone know what it is? We wouldn’t fault you if you didn’t have a clue, because this French made Alpine A110 Berlinette is an uncommon sight.
First making its debut in 1961 this little rear engined sports car would make a name for itself by being a popular car for rally racing. In fact, when the first World Rally Championship was held in 1973, it was a Renault built and backed A110 team that took the first series win! Not surprising given the numbers. The car weighs a scant 1600 pounds and with the later models featuring a 140 horsepower 1.6 liter Renault R8 (not to be confused with the Audi) engine, that made for some pretty fast and nimble cars.
Before signing off, we wanted to share this photo of two young boys who were at the track with their parents. We always love seeing the next generation of car enthusiasts get excited about vintage metal. Until next time, Ciao!