A potted history of Japan’s car industry delights at the Petersen Museum – Ars Technica

LOS ANGELES—Like most nerds, I love spending time in a good museum. It doesn’t matter if it’s planes, video games, carseven creationists. (OK, that last one wasn’t good, per se.)

When it comes to good car museums, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is one of my favorites—right up there with the wonderful Lane Motor Museum in Nashville. Both have quite different foci. At the Lane you’ll see more rear-engined Tatra sedans than you’d ever think possible outside of the Czech Republic or Slovakia, not to mention dozens and dozens of voiturettes and Kei cars. (Oh, and some Group B rally stuff.) Meanwhile, the Petersen often plays host to equally rarified but often much more expensive fare. At a conference I attended there last year, it was often hard to concentrate on the panelists and not the pristine Ferrari 250GTO that just sat there, a few feet away…

A recent trip to LA afforded some downtime, and how better to use it than a quick visit to this palace of vehicular delights? I caught the tail end of an exhibit called “The Roots of Monozukuri: Creative Spirit in Japanese Automaking,” which opened last summer and runs until February 10. (Monozukuri is translated as “the art, science, and craft of making things.”)

While some of the cars on display will be familiar to many of us—like the rotary-engined Mazda Cosmo or the breathtaking Toyota 2000GT—there were plenty that were completely new to me. Take the Fuji Cabin 5A, a three-wheeler from 1955 with staggered seating for two that manages to out-weird the British Peel P50. Or, the Suminoe Flying Feather was born the year before, and it rode on four tires that would look more at home on a mountain bike than a road car.

Others were more elegant. If you told me the 1966 Nissan Silvia CPS311 was actually a Lancia or Alfa Romeo of the the early 70s, I’d believe it. And my predilection for racing cars is well known, so it’s no surprise I adored the vibrant blue Nissan R382 and the complicated tangle of metal and wiring that surrounds the company’s first V12 engine. I’ve already mentioned the 2000GT—between 1967 and 1970 Toyota made just 351 of these gorgeous coupés, which nowadays command at least a six-figure price at auction. In fact, there are actually two 2000GTs on display at the Petersen—upstairs on the third floor, in an exhibit on movie cars, lives one of two 2000GT convertibles made for You Only Live Twice.

Sticking with the Japanese theme, next door to the Monozukuri exhibit is a second gallery of Japanese-American customs. “Fine Tuning” features some of the weird and wonderful vehicles specific to some of Japan’s automotive subcultures. And weird really is the only way to describe a bosozuku car, with its outrageously big front splitter and exposed, car-length, yellow exhaust pipes that emerge from the hood.

All those cars, and plenty more besides, are featured in the gallery above. Because they’re off-topic, I’ve left out the amazing collection of road and racing Porsches from the ground floor, as well as some other Petersen delights. Best to save those for another rainy day, don’t you think?

Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin

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