Old but gold: Tokyo’s retro car owners revel in modern classics

TOKYO (AFP) – Fast and furious they aren’t, but for a group of Japanese retro car enthusiasts the sleek lines and high shine of their old-school models hold a much more special charm.

A loose club of fans rolls up most weekends in central Tokyo to show off their Cadillacs, Chevrolets and other modern classic vehicles from the mid to late 20th Century.

“Each time I drive it, I still get a thrill. There aren’t many vehicles that give you that feeling,” Masamune Isogai told AFP of his Knight Rider replica – a Pontiac Trans Am, the car made famous by the hit 80s TV drama.

Sliding into the driver’s seat – which he calls the cockpit – he is surrounded by futuristic displays, illuminated buttons and a wheel that looks like an oversized gaming controller.

These sci-fi touches were installed to give the ride the look and feel of the show’s AI-powered talking car called Knight Industries Two Thousand, or KITT.

“I speak to the car when I drive,” laughed the 46-year-old, who has owned the streamlined black vehicle – complete with sound effects and a ‘KITT scanner’ light on the front – for around a decade.

Hiroyuki Wada drives a 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille after a gathering of auto enthusiasts in Tokyo. PHOTOS: AFP
Masamune Isogai drives a 1991 Trans Am Knight Rider in Urayasu, an eastern suburb of Tokyo

These days Japan is known for its practical cars that economise on fuel and space, and rarely break down – a world away from the group’s painstakingly maintained wheels.

The casual society has around 10 members and the oldest cars they own are a 1941 Cadillac and a restored 1929 Ford Model-A.

People cheer and take snaps as the cars go by, from the 1956 Ford F100 Pumpkin to the 1961 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. “The shape of old cars is very charming, impossible with today’s mass production,” said Hiroyuki Wada, 49, next to his red 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

“When you get older, you are more likely to appreciate a car that requires lots of care,” Wada said.

“Old engines often need 10 minutes or so to warm up before you can drive them. That’s what’s really charming about them.”

Wada, who runs a car valet business near Tokyo, will spend three to four days on each old-fashioned ride to give it a shiny new look.

He said his heart belongs to American vehicles including old police cars, which he rents out for film and photography shoots. “Someday I want to valet old fire engines in the United States. That is my dream,” he said.