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Chatted up by a Bentley driver

Carspotting in Tokyo

22/11/2013 07:32 | Comments: 

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Former car restorer, damper designer, rotary-engine guru and also an automotive engineer, but generally doesn’t talk much about his former activities. András is our mag’s Leatherman tool: when there’s a project no-one would poke with a stick, he’s the one usually assigned to carry it through. When he’s in Hungary, he works 16 hours daily, then every once in a while he disappears from the horizon. Last time he’s been seen in Auckland… Has a huge garage, lives with a girlfriend.

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We’re warming up for the Tokyo Motor Show doing a little carspotting. I have lots of interesting things to show you already, and we’ve only just begun.

I’m sipping a cup of freshly made green tea on the 33rd floor, listening to Tankcsapda to get myself going. This is the night of realizations: I’ve just experienced what it feels like when a warm jet of water aims at your bare behind at the push of a button. I’ve just realized I’m not deft enough with my hands anymore to pour hot water from a kettle without spilling it all over the place, but I’m still pretty good at eating with sticks. I haven’t slept in a bed for two days, so sorry for the rambling, but I have no idea when I’ll be able to log in next. Tomorrow we’re taking the city big time. The city in which I haven’t seen one single-storey building so far, but have already managed to get lost on an ordinary square bordered by four large buildings. Hello, Tokyo!

We came to see the Tokyo Motor Show starting in the second half of the week, and we’re only spending a day there, me and Mr. Csikós, who is probably leaning over a laptop in another skyscraper right now. It may be one of those I see looking out the window, the one in the middle perhaps, although they all look the same to me. I wave at him anyway, you never know.

There’s plenty of time to kill until the Motor Show kicks off. Carspotting in the meantime seemed like a good idea. The JDM as fuck stickers are catching on at such an incredible pace at home that there must be something to the domestic market craze. What I’ve seen so far, however, does not incite a semi-educated Japanologist: lots of taxis, mostly Toyota Crowns and Nissan Cedrics, with a few Priuses mixed in. Drivers wearing white gloves and backrests covered by lace are typical of the taxis rolling along, as is the fact that they are all in mint condition. No idea how they do it, maybe the cars aren’t as old as they seem, but used in taxi mode they just shouldn’t be without a single scratch. No way.

What’s even more striking is the condition of the trucks: even the compressed air tanks seem to be polished. Think showroom shine. I find it somewhat irritating that these workhorses don’t seem to be utility vehicles at all. My favourite so far was the Toyota van, slightly lowered and equipped with some 20-inch rims. We’re encountering new dimensions of perversion over here, that much was clear on our first day.

As more than 90% of the vehicles are domestic, local swaggers opt for European cars. Apparently, left-hand-drives are the height of cool. I’ve seen two such Mercs. I do have a feeling that perhaps these can be obtained cheaper, as is the case in Britain, but a left-hand-drive may really be the local equivalent of a matte black wrapping on a Bentley.

The area of the Ginza crossing must be one of the swankiest avenues, as the concentration of luxury vehicles is particularly high around here. A right-hand-drive 911 is waiting behind a Mercedes S-class tuned by Lorinser. The next car in line looks like an older Rolls from afar, then a Bentley emblem comes into view. While I’m taking snaps, the driver starts chatting me up. He wants to know whether I like the car. Oh yes, Sir. And as he’s the first Japanese guy I meet speaking proper English, I’m not letting him go easily.

I find out he bought the car new in ’88, and the reason it’s a left-hand-drive is that it’s American. Standing close to it it’s clear that it really is like new. The owner, a man in his sixties who won’t allow me to take his picture is very pleased with it, but the odometer just having exceeded the 100,000 mark is a sign that he goes to great lengths to keep it in good condition. He informs me that spare parts are easily available from Britain, unlike Italian spare parts from Italy. He loves the old-school V8 which, as far as I’m concerned, is fully understandable.

As I pass by a building decorated with pictures chronicling the history of Daihatsu I suddenly realize how quiet the street is in spite of the heavy traffic. Of course you don’t see shabby cars with broken exhaust pipes around here, even buses are sparse, but it’s still surreal to be able to have a conversation on a road like this. The reason could be that they only drive petrol-engine cars, which are nibbling away silently, plus the asphalt looks suspiciously smooth. But I can’t rule out the possibility that just like the Americans, the Japs use different tires with less noise emission. Which also have less grip.

This is a mystery I haven’t managed to solve yet. Hell, I was happy to have found my way home on the metro. The subway map looks like a bowl of spaghetti, with the meat balls made of kanji. OK, I’m exaggerating. In fact there are surprisingly many signs in English all over the place. You’ll get by if you don’t mind having to walk through the -2nd floor of perfumeries, like the duty free shops at the airports, to get to the subway.

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