Western car makers have been developing concept cars nearly since the dawn of the automobile. By the 30s, the Americans and Germans were producing some incredible visions of what could be. With some minor exceptions, concept cars weren't a standard practice of Japanese car makers until the mid-60s.
The importance of a more forward-looking design presence in the Japanese car companies was gaining traction by the 60s. Additionally in many cases, they determined when they did develop concepts, they wanted to increase their international appeal, particularly to westerners. Often that meant they would partner with western design houses to create the concepts for them.
This is Part 1 of a 3-part series where, in each installment, we will share some of these various Japanese concepts.
Part 1: Japanese Concepts: 1960 - 1968
Part 2: Japanese Concepts: 1969 - 1977
Part 3: Japanese Concepts: 1978 - 1985
The 1962 Toyota Publica Sports Concept
The Publica made it's debut at the 1962 Tokyo Motor Show, For all intents and purposes, the Publica was what ultimately became the Toyota S800 (Toyota Sports 800) in 1965. It was a small, lightweight 2 seater powered by a high-revving 2 cylinder boxer engine
The car was designed by Shozo Sato, who was on loan from Datsun. The concept car utilized a sliding canopy. Toyota may have been tipping their hand to a production innovation, because one of the most clever features of the Sports 800 was an aluminum targa style lift-out roof panel, or targa top. It was the first production car featuring the removable panel, pre-dating the Porsche Targa. The aluminum targa top could be stored in the trunk, when not in use.
The 1963 Nissan Prince Sprint 1900 Prototype
The Italian influence was significant with the Prince Sprint 1900 Prototype. It's not clear who designed the car, but it's hard to bet against Pininfarina. In profile, it bears a strong form resemblance to the 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale. Interestingly the front headlight & grille treatment has some similarities with the Ferrari 275 GTB, which didn't debut until 1964. Pininfarina designed both the Alfa and Ferrari, and they also were contracted by Nissan to design the Gloria, Cedric, and Bluebird, so the Sprint 1900 Prototype seems within likelihood.
The 1966 Toyota EX Concept
Starting with this EX concept in 1966, Toyota started a run of wildly adventurous concept cars, other of which will be covered in the next installment. Clearly there was no production car leanings with this concept, but more a styling exercise to show they understood the jet age / flying car vision as well as any other car company.
The 1967 Mazda RX-87 Concept by Bertone
The RX-87 was a very thinly veiled look at the upcoming Luce R130 production car. It was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who was working for Bertone at the time. The rotary-powered, front wheel drive Luce R130 appeared in 1969. The model was Mazda's only front-wheel-drive rotary, making it exceedingly rare.
1967 Subaru 360 Deluxe custom
This Subaru was not so much a concept as much as a custom for the domestic market. It was built for the 1968 Japanese series: "Operation: Mystery!". It was a patrol car named the 'Tortoise'. The Subaru 360 it was based on is a rear-engined, two-door city car manufactured and marketed from 1958 to 1971. The monocoque chassis and fiberglass roof helped the car weigh in at only 1000 pounds, fitting within Japan's Kei car standards. It was an exceptionally popular car in Japan. Approximately 10,000 Subaru 360s were sold in the United States by importer Malcolm Bricklin, who advertised the cars as 'cheap and ugly.'