Original version of background came from http://www.jaguarcars.com/jp/

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Makoto Honjo's Jag Life



I am a Jaguar Mark 2 owner in Tokyo, Japan, who on one autumn day in 1996 culminated years of diddling about and took the ultimate decision to lay himself prostrate at the altars of that Seductive Feline God instead of at the altars of that Japanese businessman's qualification, the Scottish links game (both are expensive and time consuming, can't do both).

B.J._times
From Concept to Arrival
Back to Original -- A Trip to Okada-san's
Positive Makeover -- The Extended Stay at Towa Body
Kin san and Gin san

Sayonara Gin san
Links
Things_I_have_done_to_my_Mark_2

B.J. times

Some history on my affection for the Jag.

Flashback to circa 1956.  I'm a second grader in primary school on my way back from school, bouncing along the alleys leading to my home.  A red and white DKW taxicab, looking a bit like a UFO with wheels, (yes, in those days cars in Japan were mostly imports or locally assembled European cars -- this one was a straight import) is parked by a wooden two story apartment. 

A guy comes out from the apartment, hops into the driver's seat, and his twinkling eyes meets mine.  He smiles disarmingly, opens the passenger side window and asks whether I want a ride.  Something in me makes me lower my guards (not that I was a distrusting street-smart kid), and I hop in.  From the place he picked me up to my home is just oh, a few hundred meters uphill, so it's just a quick haul, but that's the point where my relationship with cars changed forever.

The driver of the cab Eiichi Morinishi, or Eichan (pronounciation "A" chan), was one of the many second or third sons of countryside families who'd been sent out to Tokyo to make his own life.  He was taking his university degree at night school and was making ends meet as a cab driver during the day.  He loved kids and, as my worried grandfather who immediately upon my return went to check the background of this cab driver learnt from the landlord, often took the neighboring kids on his cab for a spin.

Eichan loved cars, and his apartment room was crammed with car magazines.  Like many who were not educated along the mainline system, Eiichan changed jobs often, but most of his jobs had something to do with cars.  It was from Eichan, who subsequently became almost an elder brother to me, that I was imbued with the interest for cars.

After many iterations Eichan became a professional rally driver and an employee of the Sports Car Club of Nissan (SCCN) in the mid '60s.  Nissan had by then started to make its name on the international rally circuit.  He entered the East African Safari as a bona fide SCCN member, not as part of the official Nissan team, and while test driving the course collided with a bus and died -- that was 1970.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The initial interest that got piqued with my relationship, was given further enhancement when my Dad found work with Bank Sakhtemani (the Bank of Construction) of Iran between 1960 and 62.  Oil rich Iran, lacking a car industry then and consequently import protections, had cars from all over the world coursing its streets (virtually no Japanese cars then).  Iranian highway conditions then were much more favorable than in Japan, and I marveled at the feel of cars traveling on deserted desert highways at 140 kmph.

While we were in Iran, my father owned a third hand Volkswagen Beetle, which we nicknamed, I forgot the reason why, "Mic."  Mic imbued in me the conviction that cars, especially old ones at that, are Beings and not lifeless bunch of metal.  I say this because Mic, despite the operating conditions it was subjected to, had never, except for a single incident on a Greek road near Thessaloniki, let us down in the middle of the road.  At that time yours truly, then 13, hitchhiked to Thessaloniki to ask for help from the VW service station there.  The world was a much more trusting place then.  When Mic did exhibit its malady, it was when we were not far from the local mechanic's shop.

Having said that, I must hasten to add that Mic probably also imbued in me that instinctive vigilance or altertness against that odd creak, smell, ping, and "feel."

My interest for cars however stayed at the level of acknowledging the models of most European cars, which I'd seen on the streets of Tehran or on the magazine pages of Eichan's collection.  The effects of Eichan's subsequent affiliation with Nissan rubbed off on me for quite some time.

However, life of course isn't just Japanese cars.  Life in Iran taught me that the three pointed star sat on top of reliable diesel passenger cars -- an impression so strong that in 1985 I became an owner of a five cylinder Mercedes 300D (subsequently sold when the parking started costing me US$400 per month).  I also learnt somewhere along the line that the British produced an entirely different, more graceful-to-look-at breed; one particular series with a feline animal on its bonnet.  They were few and far between in both Tokyo and Tehran, as Jaguar never was good at pushing its cars outside the English speaking world.

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From Concept to Arrival

Jags really entered my sights when I spent a year in Canterbury (the original where the Archbishop sits, not its namesakes) between 1971 and 72 on a grant from Rotary Foundation.  Okay, okay, on my way to England I did get my first ever ride on a Jag when a Singaporean Chinese gave me a lift on his Mark 2 on his way to the teaming cathouse row of Jalan Busar (since then “sanitized”).  How that car survived the tropical heat I don’t know -- he was driving it at night though.  However, it was in its native habitat where the XJ6s’d started to dot the countryside, that I got the real desire to own a Jag some day.

I actually had two chances to become a Jag owner -- both during the mid-80s.  On one occasion it was when an ad appeared on the local tabloid for expats Tokyo Weekender.  On this occasion, an acquaintance of mine (who then owned a Mercedes 500SE – the guy drooled over my Mark 2 when it saw it several years later) warned me of the unreliability of Jags in general and kept me from taking the plunge.  On the second occasion, a pal of mine who worked in the same building as the Grindlays Bank (now ANZ Bank) Tokyo Branch noticed a "for sale" sign on the branch manager's company car (a low mileage XJ6 Series III) parked in the building's parking lot.  Since I had a fair amount of dealing with Grindlays, I asked their account manager for the term of sale.  The price was right but the gas mileage of 3-4km/liter on high octane gas put me off cold.

Subsequent inputs (of which a fair extent is confirmed in the writings within the Jag Lovers Web Pages) have confirmed the mechanical aspect of the more older Jags.  Actually the ultimate statement on this front must have come from a Jag salesman trying to push a X300 on me who said, "gone are the unreliable days; now the Jags' quality is approaching Toyota quality."  I digress.

In the summer of 1996, Jaguar Japan had a sales promotion campaign where they lent out new 3.2 liter X300s (the AJ16 engined variety in those days obviously) to some people for a week for free.  I applied and got the right of free use.  Flames were rekindled, but not enough to shell out big money for a brand new XJ6.  Let's face it.  I think the Jag design hit a low point with their ugly square lights XJ40.  IMHO Jaguar started to get things right with the X300.  The S type (not the X type) was another step in the right direction, and with the introduction of the X350 in 2002 Jaguar finally got it right, but that's a 16 year lapse we're talking about.

I started looking at used car catalogues, and turning up at used car dealerships.  I felt then the pangs of that unrequited love stir within me.  Unlike some other wives, my wife Ann wasn't too helpful in cooling down my infatuation.  Actually she fanned it by telling me the tales of her dad's perpetual romance with her mom that caused him to stretch to purchase one of the earlier versions of the Ford T-bird.

Without the common sense feminine restraints, I started my prowl in earnest.  In a short while, I came across Yoshida-san, a local car broker who specializes in Jags.  He pushed me into the Mark 2, committed to hold my hands till death do we part, and that's how it got all started.  Pretty soon Yoshida san's counterpart in England Peter came across a Mark 2 in Ilkley, Yorkshire.   Turns out that Yoshida-san had pushed me into the Mark 2 because he wanted to expand his horizons from the XJ6s (Series 3 variety), XJSs, and XJ40s he'd been handling (aren’t used car salesmen all over the world like that!).  After some lurking around on the Jag Lovers List, joining the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club, and coming across fellow JEC members in this country, the level of information I accumulated quickly outpaced his resources.  One thing I have to say for Yoshida-san.  At least he didn't  stand in the way when I said I needed a direct link with his counterpart in Peter.

Peter was much better informed, but when asked to install an air conditioner (in hindsight a bad idea and waste of money), his knowledge was stretched to the limit. What initially was supposed to be a two-week project, turned out to become a two-month project.  In hindsight the air conditioner installation was a botched job that required remediation by an expert, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

By early December 1996 the car was all ready for embarkation from Southampton on M/V Tochigi Maru.  But here the bane of businesses worldwide, the year end push, intervened.  M/V Tochigi Maru is a Nissan owned car carrier vessel (it's a big ferry) that brings their cars to Europe, and takes on the Mercedeses, BMWs and yes Jaguars on its return voyage.  Unfortunately, several European (and US transplant) car producer executives must have gotten a kick in their collective butts to make their annual budgets from their bean counting bosses around this time.  These Euro salary-men combined their year-end shipments to bump my love off the boat.  I accepted my fate stoically as any Oriental peasant would.

I’ve mentioned my wife but haven't mentioned my son.  Unlike his dad who likes an occasional splurge, my son is level headed and tightfisted.  Frugality and saving are his hobbies, conspicuous consumption not.  He wouldn't tolerate impulse buying on a major scale pure and simple.  I had to make sure my standing with my son didn't deteriorate.  So, the impending arrival of the Mark 2 was a family secret shared between me and my wife until I could find the right moment.  Oh yes, my son started suspecting when I hauled back a Sears special 3 ton garage jack and two jack stands from my U.S. business trip in December 1996.  At $99 how can you resist (you guys in the U.S. really should thank your good luck that you're living in the bargain basement of the world)?  I thanked my regular trips to the gym for successfully completing this endeavor without breaking my back.

On New Year's day 1997, my new found Mark 2 owner friend (the owner of the green Mark 2 that Lawrence Buja saw, see his article on the Jag Lovers archives; although getting there can be a bit complicated) thumped up to my apartment, disturbing the quiet of the streets with the note from his Double S. 

He took us on a spin, and my son LOVED the Double S exhaust note.  Ground work so far so good.

January 2.  An office pal of mine (who's also into impulse buying on a major scale -- you should see his house with a big motorized satellite dish sitting on the roof, and his living room wall plastered with TVs showing broadcasts from the four corners of the world, all this since 1984) muscled up to my apartment with his family on his brand new 5 series BMW.  He knew about my week's free ride on a 3.2 liter X300 last summer, and had been constantly pestering me about when I'd make the plunge and buy one.  To shut him up, I pulled out Nigel Thorley's Original Jaguar Mk 1/Mk 2, plus the pictures of my Mark 2 that Peter'd sent over as a Christmas present and sewed his trap up.

Before my son (who was present when my office pal came) could tear me to pieces, I told him that there were cars and there were cars.  Most cars depreciated, a very few including - ahem - the Mark 2 appreciated, on the proviso that the upkeep was good. I could see my son holding his criticisms.  I had to keep the pitch going.  Dad solemnly told Son that whether the Mark 2 appreciated or not depended entirely on Son's willingness to join Dad in becoming a masochist and skinning his knuckles.  My son, good Boy Scout that he is, solemnly undertook to join me in my endeavors.  Had a hard time holding back my tears upon hearing his words.  Call me a sugar daddy or whatever -- my Son's a great kid, and I'm proud to have brought him up with the right set of priorities.

Having organized the family front, it was now time to pray that the Mark 2 arrived here in good order.  The car was shipped on M/V Auto Diana (another car carrier) which left Southampton on January 14.  I kept regularly pestering the Autoliners Japan office on the ship's progress.  On Friday, January 21, 1997 the ship berthed in Yokohama.  The following Saturday, four Jaguar enthusiasts excitedly piled onto a 3.8 liter white Mark 2 and roared off to the bonded area pound at Daikoku Wharf, Yokohama.  I was of course one of them but the others wanted to get a first sight of a new addition to the clan on these shores.

From across the wire mesh fence, I could see that amid the brand new BMW Roadsters and Rover Minis, was a batch of older cars from France, England, and Germany.  At its edge sat a black car with a leaper, CWW and white wall tires, Coombs [type] spats, and English number plate GUM571D, a little dusty, parked in front of an almost new big 560 Mercedes.  I said hello to my car.  My friends took pictures of me in front of the wire mesh fence, and we went off to celebrate the arrival of the Mark 2 to these shores.

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Back to Original -- A Trip to Okada-san's Garage





Shadetree Butchers, Parts Replacers, and The Fixers, -- these are the three categories that author B. S. Levy divides mechanics into, at the outset of The Last Open Road, a superb novel on growing up with the postwar US road racing scene (thank you Jag-Lovers listers for introducing me to this book).

During the first nine months that I’ve had my Mark 2, I'd say I evolved quickly from the Butcher category (when I screwed up the o-ring installation and splashed engine oil all over my garage floor) to the Parts Changer - Elementary category.  But having gone as far as replacing the blown out mild steel exhaust with a Bell stainless version from SNG Barratt, I'd still had the issue of weeping core plugs (I don't have the capacity in my garage to lift or drop an engine), power leaks that bled my battery dry in two weeks (I was never good at electricity), heavy and groaning PAS (no knowledge whatsoever of applied hydraulics), an air-conditioning system installed in England that increasingly looked like a botched job, dripping heater pipes, and continued overheating -- problems which simply were beyond this neophyte's meager mechanical capacity.  It was time to see a Fixer.

So it was on 6:30 a.m. Saturday, November 22, 1997 that I set out from Tokyo to Yokohama in order to beat the morning traffic and potential overheating to see Jiro Okada.

Jiro Okada, or Okada-san as we would call him in Japan, or Okada-sensei (Master) to some, is a one man Jaguar specialist operating in the suburbs of Yokohama, some 40 km southwest of Tokyo.  In the ‘80s he was instrumental in adapting the Beecham (of New Zealand) restored Mark 2s to Japanese operating conditions, and has offered advice for the Heritage (also of New Zealand, since gone belly up) restored Mark 2s when they were brought to Japan.  He is a quiet unassuming man in his mid 40s, who's been fixing English cars ever since he graduated from one of Japan’s top engineering schools, and honed his skills and knowledge in the workshops of English car importers and dealerships before he went independent about 15 years ago.

After receiving the parts that we'd estimated would become necessary, and discussing my problems, Okada san saw me off at the Yokodai (literally Ocean Ray Heights -- why do suburbs the world over have these corny, plastic names) train station, and I returned to Tokyo.

During the week Okada-san faxed me a work-in-progress report.  The pipe connecting the PAS oil reservoir and the pump was soft, too long, and therefore had bent, restricting the oil flow.  He'd change the pipe to a shorter more rigid one.

The next weekend, I returned to his garage to check on the work in progress.  Okada-san showed me what he'd uncovered.  Horror: In order to accommodate an enhanced heater box with an evaporator sitting inside, a larger fan and motor, the English workshop Peter’d commissioned had punched a hole in the bulkhead as well as the partition between the scuttle ventilator.  Result, when the scuttle ventilator is open during rain, water would pour in.  I comforted myself for my decision to go back to original and ditch the air-conditioning system.  Okada-san had an original heater box and heating matrix sitting in his garage, so he patched the holes, and installed the original heater box and heating matrix.

Okada-san also showed me the innards of the heater pipe with its coat of scales; one possible source of the overheating.  He'd replace the original heater pipes with rubber hoses as a temporary solution.

The alternator turned out to be an 80-amp Mitsubishi unit (misrepresentation: I was told a 95-amp alternator was installed), but otherwise it was sound.

Originally we'd planned on a week, but what with all the sundry remediation work, the trip extended to three weeks.  Thus it was on Saturday morning, December 13, 1997 that I hopped on the commuting train to Yokodai to pick up my fair mount.

With the power steering running smoothly and light like the ‘60s GM cars, I got on the expressway heading back to Tokyo and made a smooth run up to a midway point -- my pal Keizo Ando's place.   He’s been the force in pulling me from the Butcher to the Elementary Replacer category.  I'd asked Ando san to purchase engine cleaners, water line cleaners, and long life coolants, as these things are cheaper had in suburbia than in central Tokyo where I live.  Of course the real reason I was making this stopover was to show off the handiwork of Okada san and turn him green with envy.

After I'd parked my car, we realized that the rev was pretty high at P and N.  We opened up the bonnet but then we heard a sucking sound.  Last time I heard it was when I screwed up the o-ring installation and splashed engine oil all over my garage floor.  We took a peak, and lo and behold, the car was splashing oil onto the pavement below! I concluded something went wrong with the spin-on oil filter or the filter adapter.  Flashback.  Earlier, I'd purchased a spin-on oil filter adapter from T&S Auto Restoration, and since I was getting lazy and tired of climbing under the car, I’d asked Okada-san to install it.

We moved the car to my pal's open air parking lot (good thing he had a big one, and it wasn't raining), and I made a phone call to Okada-san.  My next call was to a business associate of mine, with whom I had planned on meeting in the early afternoon.  As he is an owner of two classic English motorbikes and an MGA, he was very understanding about the predictable unpredictability of our mounts and graciously agreed to postpone our meeting until I was able to make it to his home.

Okada san arrived at the scene and crawled under the engine.  It turned out that he'd made the elementary mistake of screwing up the positioning of the o-ring, causing the o-ring to split.  He looked downright sheepish with this one (well, as you can see, he's bearded and the beard does hide some of that).  That fixed and 4.5 quarts of oil replenished (godsend that I made this midway stop, really), I called it a day and got on the highway again to head back to Tokyo.

So it was one of those normal Jaguar weekends with what was supposed to be a quick morning trip extending late into the afternoon.  It was nightfall when I returned to my home wading through the evening rush of cars.  I feared overheating, but the temperature steadfastly stood between 70 and 90, and at the stop signals I felt that mildly uplifting sensation of drawing the attention of drivers and passengers of cars around me.  Ah the delights of classic car ownership; and a Jaguar at that!

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Positive Makeover -- The Extended Stay at Towa Body

Okada-san did a great job.  There were small touches to his repair that weren’t asked for but were carried out anyway.  The weather also helped with an unusually long and cold winter 1997-98 for Tokyo, providing an ideal climate for running the XK engine.  It’s under such a situation that you start noticing other flaws that weren’t a big issue when the immediate thing was to get your car to run well.  The cracks in the paint above the bonnet, that vertical crack on the left sill from just under the "A" post, and cracks on the dashboard veneer all started to irritate me in a small way.  So it was early in March 1998 that I started my search in earnest for a good body and paint shop.

Finding a good body and paint shop is easier said than done in modern Japan.  Many of the traditional body guys, who'd fabricate any sheet metal part out of a sketch or rusty remain, are getting old and retiring, and their replacements are mostly parts exchangers.  So thus it was that I turned to the back issues of trusty Old Timer magazine, which pages had so ably pointed me to Okada san some eighteen months ago.  One shop that appeared on those pages, Towa (classic Japanese for Eternal) Body Ltd. struck my interest.  Its owner Matsumura-san was portrayed as a person who’d single handedly beat out (no English wheels) a one-of-a-kind car from bare sheet metal in his younger days.  So I phoned them up, set up an appointment, and hopped on my mount early in the morning of March 21, 1998 to see what kind of people this Towa Body Ltd. was.  The day being a Buddhist holiday when people make their tributes to their ancestral graves, traffic was unusually heavy already at 8 a.m.  Fortunately, it was a cool day so the engine kept its temperature during the trip.

Matsumura-san started out apprenticing under masters in Tokyo’s premier body shop Toyofuji immediately after World War II.  He eventually opened his own shop in 1971 at Sagamihara City some 60kms west of Tokyo to beat the environmental restrictions on body and paint shops that were starting to get implemented.

He’d had his hand restoring Porsches and Ferraris, but this was the first Mark 2, so boy he was interested.  He looked around, knocking places here and there, taking pictures, and telling me where putty'd been substituted for metal.  I learnt that he’s a pal of English restorer Rod Jolley -- some of Rod’s work grace the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, England.  I now felt pretty confident about asking Matsumura-san to do the body job for my Mark 2.  Matsumura-san estimated five months for the job and promised he’d phone me when he could pinpoint a date for garaging my car.

One hot day in May, Matsumura-san turned up with an open top car carrier to pick up my car.  So thus it commenced.  Initially Matsumura-san was planning on replacing the door skins, replacing the left outer sill, stripping paint and putty, panel beating the body here and there, and bare body respray.  Well, after the paint, the undercoating, and the left outer sill came off, we discovered major makeovers above rusty patches and gone-to-dust inner panels which called for a much more extensive (and alas, substantially more expensive) body job.  Thus, on top of the already estimated for job, we were now looking at wings coming off, carpets pulled up and floors partially replaced, “A” posts partially remade, lower half of both dash side panel assemblies remade, rear wheel wells replaced, cross members replaced, both side members partially replaced, to mention just the major body jobs.

Back in 1996 during the long wait for my Mark 2, one thing I contemplated was what to do about the wood.  A Tokyo Jag specialist -- not Okada-san -- suggested that I do the wood with cashew fat lacquer, which could be applied like regular lacquer but provided a stronger coating with properties similar to japan (poison ivy resin traditionally used on woodworks from Japan to Bhutan; ancient woodwork more than a thousand years old have been found coated with japan).  I had contacted the cashew fat lacquer producer and they had pointed me to the Yamada brothers’ shop 30 kms north of Tokyo.

One Saturday, having picked up the wood from Towa Body, I made my trip to the Yamada brothers’ shop.  Their usual job was painting home interiors and furniture, but they’d made it a point to take on non conventional jobs here and there.  They were certainly willing to experiment.  We discussed what coating to use.  They recommended urethane, but I opted for japan, when I learnt that sprayed-on japan is now available.

In mid August, when the shops closed down for their annual summer break, our family took off ourselves to Horse Whisperer country, and later to catch up with Jaguar specialist and Mighty Roar Racing proprietor Bob Grossman, in Denver.  We were there just in time for a get-together of a Rocky Mountain Jaguar Club function, and I had chances to explain my body predicament to some of the club members.  I was fortified after a few doses of statements like "Oh, so you came across some surprise too did you," "If they told you it would come up in five months that's quick," and "Cost overruns are usual," but Ann really turned green at those statements by the learned members of the Club.  Polyanna that she is, she’s since rationalized all this as, “It’s better than him philandering.”

I'd resolved to take my car to Okada-san's place once Towa Body was finished.  The engine hadn't been run for almost a year, and there were some things like the installation of stainless brake pipes and replacement of hubs and hub bearings for which I wanted Okada-san's involvement (excuse, I don’t have a toe-in and camber gauge).

So it was on March 20, exactly a year after I first made my trip to check out Matsumura san, that my car was ready for delivery.  It was icy cold and sleet was falling.  When I arrived around 10:30 am, the people at Towa Body were fussing over last minute detail checks.  Apparently the night before they'd been at it till late.  It certainly looked as if they didn’t want the car to leave them any time soon.  It was 3:30 pm when the fussing completed and my Mark 2 left Towa Body on its flat bed for Okada san's garage, with Matsumura-san's son Keita at the steering wheel.

I followed in my car with the parts that Okada san would need.  The road was unusually crowded and it was dark when we wound down the lane leading to Okada san's garage.  As we drove past his garage to find a parking spot to unload my car from the carrier, Okada san scrambled out into the rain to wave us to a spot.  Obviously he'd been craning his neck waiting for our arrival (Okada san says he could tell the makes of cars by its exhaust note -- even down to its owners).

After my Mark 2 was dried and tucked away in his garage, we sat down for some catching up as it was more than a year since I'd last seen Okada san.  I learnt from Keita that the restoration job Towa Body'd completed on my Mark 2 was one of the most extensive they'd carried out for quite some time.  Okada san revealed to me that one body shop proprietor he’d referred to had expressed his misgivings about taking on the job of my car.  Matsumura-san'd never told me that; neither had he shown the slightest misgivings about the challenge they'd faced, but there it was.   I realized then the magnitude of the task Matsumura-san and his crew'd just completed.  The Jag God had again intervened, and guided me to good and highly experienced people.

Fellow Jaglovers, the saga is continuing to unfold.  I will keep you posted.  Pray light your candles for me at your respective altars of that Seductive Feline God in order that the travail of the ownership of my beloved Mark 2 be not so punishing as to try my love for the car.  Hold my hands when the problems do get serious.

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Kin san and Gin san

Born in 1892, Kin san and Gin san were twin centegenerian sisters, who became a hit with the local media due to their spontaneous remarks that were invariably hilarious, witty, and often profound.  I say "were" because Kin san, alas, passed away in 2000 and Gin san in 2001.  Kin is gold and Gin is silver in Japanese.   Remember these two words as they’ll come back at the end of this passage.  Here’s why I’m detouring to the twin sisters.

On September 2000, precisely eight years since I purchased a St Amour Green (Racing Green metallic in non marketing hype)  Mitsubishi Libero, I started taking an interest in going to the market for a new car.  The Libero is a 1.8 liter Mitsubishi Lancer based station wagon.  It had served us diligently from Fall 1992.  To date, despite the numerous dents it received from Ann’s driving, minimal maintenance it got from me (the only thing I did regularly was to change the oil and oil filter at 5000 km intervals), and intensive city driving in hot and cold, the only major replacement outlays had been the tires (after six years) and the battery (after 7 years) .

As you might recall, I was originally a Nissan fan.  Then, Toyotas to me were okay cars, whose manufacturer had the uncanny ability to predict just what exactly the majority of the Japanese market at that time wanted, and whose sales force had awesome stuffing power.  The last time they produced cars that would go down in car history was when they made the 2000GT back in the ‘60s (the James Bond car that Sean Connery drove when he was going after Blofeld in You Only Live Twice), and that in very limited quantities.  No wonder the Toyota 2000GTs are sought after cars that cost a fortune in any market nowadays.

However that bastion of dull but reliable cars had, under its then president Hiroshi Okuda, suddenly started its metamorphosis from the mid ‘90s.  While Nissan wallowed in red ink and  kept churning out nondescript vehicles, Toyota under Okuda started to experiment, and started to come out with all sorts of new models that totally defied the classic Toyota image.  In Fall 1999, I was especially smitten by the Toyota MR-S (the new MR2 Spyder to those of you outside Japan).

Starting from the latter part of summer 2000, news that Mitsubishi had been systematically hiding part of their product recall information came up.  This certainly turned me away from thinking of another Mitsubishi.  Besides Mitsubishi cars had lost "it" -- that crucial element in cars that make people, to use ex Chrysler man Bob Lutz' words, LUST for the cars (under Daimler Chrysler management, Mitsubishi tried to recapture the elusive "it," but Daimler Chrysler gave up).

In Fall 2000, Toyota added the sequential gear (clutchless stickshift; Selespeed in Alfa talk) option to the MR-S.  With son Akira in the U.S., I thought that the MR-S with sequential gear was something that Ann could manage, and would put the Zing into the daily life of a middle aged couple.  Alas, the Mark 2's Zing-ability, what with its long summer vacations during Tokyo’s tropical months, is rather low.  Here was one helluva sexy animal that  someone with an automatic transmission conditioned reflex could perceivably cope.  Here was air conditioning, sequential manual gear, ability to customize the interior with factory installed kits, and Toyota reliability – all with a Zing.

Ann was at first very enthusiastic.  Remember her Dad’s purchase of a Thunderbird to put the Zing into her parents’ life?  Since Toyota was having problems ramping up production of the sequential geared variety, there weren’t many sequential geared MR-S models to test drive around.   So, in order to check out what the sequential gear was all about, she gamely accompanied me to the nearest Alfa dealership to test out a 156 Twin Spark Selespeed in Rosso Alfa (red).  I personally like the earlier 156 more than the later version that came after the face lift in 2003. 

That was weekend no. 1.  In the time between weekend nos. 1 and 2, the wind started blowing in the other direction.  Her Mom reminded her that the T-bird had to be sold because it wasn’t practical.  Well, that was Seattle in the ‘60s.  Tokyo in the 21st century has extremely well laid out public transport systems.  You don’t need to own cars for a practical purpose.  You could own it purely for the Zing.  Besides, the MR-S isnt’t all that impractical -- it does have enough space to cart your supermarket shopping.  It also has the added bonus of having the potential to go down in car history -- Japanese car history at least.

Weekend no. 2.  Suzuki san, the salesman from the nearby dealership, found out that a MR-S with the sequential gear was becoming available at a master Toyota showroom that weekend and accompanied us there to take a spin.

A bit about Suzuki san.  Most Toyota salesmen are salesmen, pure and simple.  They can sell ice to Eskimos but ask ‘em what that pipe under the hood’s supposed to do, their eyes start to roll.  Suzuki san was a bit different.  At first I’m pretty sure he didn’t believe that a middle aged couple would trade in an all-practical car like a Libero for a non practical car like the MR-S.  But when he realized that I was a Mark 2 owner, he started seeing paydirt.  On my part, I realized that here was a rare Toyota salesman who could engage in serious car talk.  Claiming that the first scale model that he’d assembled as a kid was a Mark 2, he reverently approached the Mark 2 when he came to our garage to establish the value of our to-be-traded-in Libero.

Alas, the trip to the master showroom bombed.  Ann was intimidated at having to shift down going into curves and up coming out.  And the other cars on the showroom floor beckoned.  Suzuki san and I were sort of glum on our way back.  When we got back to the dealership, Ann was smitten by the Vitz (Yaris for those of you in Europe, Echo to those of you down under) prominently displayed on their storefront.  She insisted on test driving the Vitz, and was smitten further.  Here was a small but spacious car that she could negotiate the streets of Tokyo without scraping against telephone poles and tight corners.  Suzuki san, seeing another possibility emerge from the ashes, got into kill mode.  He sat us down on a conference table, served us iced coffee, and started talking of models and options.  Personally I like the Vitz.  It’s another Okuda inspired model.  Designed by a Greek designer Sotiris Kovos at Toyota’s design center in Europe, it's got that Euro small car exterior and a well laid out interior.  But hell, do you call a muffin shaped two box car, however well it’s designed, “a car with a Zing?”  But the thing got rolling.  Claiming that the standard 1 liter engined Vitz lacked power on the highways, Suzuki san gradually steered us to the top end Vitz with 1.3 liter engine, uprated suspension, and alloy wheels.  Mind you, the top end Vitz is, yes somewhat cheaper than the MR-S, but almost 70% more expensive than the low end 1 liter, 3 door, 5 speed manual variety.  Seeing that he was starting to lose my eye contact, Suzuki san threw a sunroof into the deal.  Ann looked at me expectantly, and there it was.

Now we had to decide on a color.  At first Ann took a liking for the pastel green variety (Oh please!), then she went for the silver (most popular with our clients, according to Suzuki san).  Asked for an opinion, Suzuki san said his recommendation was the gold.  I quite agreed with him on this one, and we shook our hands on a top end Vitz in gold.  “Now we have Kin san and Gin san with us!”  was Ann’s first comment after we shook on the deal.

So now you know.  The Vitz is Kin san and the Mark 2 is Gin san.  I have a faint feeling that, as with the centegenerian sisters, our Gin san will outlast our Kin san one way or the other.  The Vitz is a nice practical car.  But even in gold, with sunroof, uprated suspension, and alloy wheels, it’s not aMark 2.  It's certainly going into the Toyota Museum, but is not going to become an imperative component of a car museum worth its salt.

Fellow Jaglovers, the saga is continuing to unfold.  I will keep you posted.  Pray light your candles for me at your respective altars of that Seductive Feline God, in order that the travail of the ownership of my beloved Mark 2 be not so punishing as to try my love for the car.  Hold my hands when the problems do get serious.
 

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Sayonara Gin san

 

Eversince an engine overhaul at Okada san’s place on 2001, most of the teething problems I had with Gin san was a thing of the past.  Okay, it’s not as if I was riding Gin san like my Toyota.  I have always been vigilant and have kept all my six senses tuned when driving Gin san.  Besides, I didn’t drive the car during most of the three summer months of July, August and September, and when it was raining, but during the remaining time Gin san provided reliable service.  That made me more complacent and the desire to jack up and crawl under the car at the drop of the hat diminished considerably. 

 

Meanwhile, over the last couple of years I’d been increasingly alarmed by increased oil prices and the advent of technology in the toll highway business. 

 

Oil prices you all understand.  Our cars are beautiful to look at and stokes passion and emotion, but they are on the other hand gas guzzling socially incorrect existences, to paraphrase a local classic car website Shakaiteki Futekigousha Kyoudou Kumiai (Cooperative of Socially Incorrect Vehicles) which shut down in 2000.

 

Technology in the toll highway business needs some explaining.  Despite the perceived electronic wizardry of Japan, Japan adopted the electronic toll collection (ETC) system throughout the nationwide toll highway system only in November 2001.  Many reasons are given for this (the official one being that the toll system in Japan was complicated as the tariff was set not just by distance but also by class of vehicle).  This is typical Japanese bureaucratic bullshit.  Where isn’t toll set up by distance and class?  The real reason was because (a) the government wanted Japanese manufacturers to come up with a system and they took time developing their own technologies, after which (b) they couldn’t quite agree on harmonization (places like Hong Kong and Singapore which didn’t have those hangups were early adopters of the ETC in East Asia ), and (c) the issue on the cost of the system and the equipment that went with it, and the toll that could be charged, got embroiled in the ongoing political debate about highway toll reduction and restructuring of the state owned Japan Highway Corporation.  At any rate, now that the system is in, the government is talking of getting all cars ETC system compliant, and that’s one additional headache for classic car owners. 

 

In short, I’d gradually lost the passion that initially stoked my desire to own the Mark 2, and was starting to look for excuses for not owning it.  One day, I was talking to Matsumura san of Towa Body.  Apparently a successful machine shop owner which Matsumura san came across had talked of his unrequited love for the Mark 2, and had asked Matsumura san whether he knew of anyone who was willing to fulfill his long time dream.  That got things rolling.  I promised to see what I could come up with.  I asked Ando san, owner of the blue green Mark 2, whether he was interested.  Ando san, I could see, was also losing his passion, and was moving along to classic cameras and vacuum tubed amplifiers and other beautiful things.  He however didn’t sound too interested.  Matsumura san phoned me again – actually he phoned me while I was on a business trip to Sydney.  I indicated that I might be interested, and we set up a get together date. 

 

On Sunday 27 August 2006, I rode up to Matsumura san’s place.  In order to beat traffic I left early, and got there quite ahead of time.  The car’s timing didn’t seem right, and as I was looking under the hood adjusting the timing, two hefty men, one white haired and the other much younger, drove up.  They certainly looked as if they owned a machine shop.  Matsumura san joined a few minutes later.  We got talking.  I certainly felt that this man was going to take good care of Gin san – in fact he would probably try to do all sorts of things to the car to further improve its performance and reliability.  Eventually we struck a deal.  He and I agreed to exchange cash and the necessary paperwork on Saturday 2nd September. 

 

Early morning of Saturday, 2nd September 2006.  In my garage I unsheathed my California Car Duster and gave a once over dusting to Gin san.  I opened the bonnet and poured a bottle of Water Wetter into the radiator (it was going to get hot outside).  I checked the tire pressure, the engine oil level and the carburetor oil level.  I was ready for that final journey with Gin san.  I turned the key and pushed the starter button.  The engine started up without a hitch and gave its throaty roar, but for some reason the rev was erratic even as the engine got warmer – obviously Gin san was giving me a final problem to solve.

 

It wasn’t as if the engine was cold.  It was already in the late 20s Centigrade/late 80s Fahrenheit outside.  Time to go back to where it comes from.  I suspected the fuel system.  Early on in my life with Gin san I’d installed an in-line Purolator fuel strainer between the tank and the fuel pump.  I opened the boot and peered in.  I certainly could see some dark grey matter concentrated on the bottom of the strainer.  I wrapped the general area with cloth and proceeded to loosen the hose clamps that attached the fuel strainer to the line out of the petrol tank on one end and the fuel pump on the other.  The rubber lines came off relatively easily.  I unscrewed the strainer, and inside a bowl of kerosene washed off the fine sludge stuck to the element, wiped everything off with a cloth and put the strainer back in.  This was the first time in all these years that I had taken the fuel strainer apart, and sludge had certainly accumulated over the years.  After I reassembled everything, I restarted the engine.  This time the rev went up smoothly.  So it was the clogged fuel line.  I breathed a sigh of relief and closed the boot and bonnet and took to the road.

 

It was even hotter than the week before so I decided to take the more expensive, but quicker toll roads to Towa Body.  By the time I got to Towa Body, however, the heat was taking its toll and the engine was starting to show signs of vapour lock.  I cruised to a stop at Towa Body and stopped the engine.  The people at Towa Body had been forewarned of my arrival, so they came out to take a look.  These people certainly liked classic cars and they respectfully surrounded Gin san.  They then offered to take the car into their workshop.  I tried to restart the engine but it just wouldn’t.  So it was that four of us pushed Gin san into Towa Body’s workshop and waited for the buyer to appear.

 

Kuramochi san the buyer appeared spot on at 9 AM with his cash, and we quickly completed the transaction.  So here’s a picture of Kuramochi san (he’s the white haired guy) and his sidekick Furukawa san beaming before Gin san after they got the explanation about the bells and whistles of the car. 

 

 

Two weekends later.  My mobile phone rang and it was Kuramochi san.  He’d just called to report how happy he was being an owner of Gin san, and how he enjoyed his daily drive to his workshop.  “No one makes ‘em with that kind of class anymore,”  he repeated, and thanked me profusely for handing over a car in such good condition.  Should I have asked more from him?  As a businessman I should have and certainly could have, but as a car enthusiast a sale to another enthusiast who you know would take good care of the car takes precedence I think.  Kuramochi san calls me once in a while, I’ve introduced him to Okada san, and Okada san will do some improvements in 2007.  I’ve recommended a change of the flat rear springs to coils using the conversion kit now available.  Okada san says he is thinking of changing the DG transmission to a BW66 -- apparently Kuramochi san wants a more modern automatic gearbox.

 

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Links

You can also find me on the Jag Lovers Saloons website.

Fine enthusiasts organization of the actual variety : Jaguar Enthusiasts Club

Ditto of the virtual variety:
Jag Lovers
Scions of Lucas

Parts from many specialist suppliers have gone into my Mark 2.  I get my parts mostly from Tony and Steve of SNG Barratts, but have obtained good service also from Geoff Whitehouse for the Borg Warner automatic parts, and from various other suppliers including SC Parts Group, Classic Choice, Guy Broad and RM & J Smith (okay some of these guys are not Mark 2 suppliers -- I help out Okada san sourcing parts in the UK).

To immortalize your brakes, I strongly suggest you try out White Post Restoration's brass resleeving service -- ask for Billy.  However, for ultimate results go one step further and install Hye Dra Cyl's all stainless brake calipers and bridge pipes; Gregg is a tough but fair businessman.  I've found that on hot Summer days the oils I get from  Aussie lubricants company Penrite gets me by without worrying about oil pressure drops (the engine overheating is another problem altogether).  James Carter has given me all the help (plus some) I've needed.  I'm not paid by any of these organizations.

Things I have done to my Mark 2

Here are some of the things that I have done to my Mark 2, after it got to Japan.

  Install SU fuel pump with Autoflux' electronic module fitted SU fuel pump

  Install spin on oil filter adapter (I have tried the XJ6 Series II type variety too, but with a RHD car this set up makes you take off the carbs to change the oil filter and this is not a practical solution -- better stick to the more easy setup readily available from, e.g. SNG Barratts)

  Resleeve Dunlop brake master cylinder with stainless steel

  Install Bell stainless steel exhausts

  Install Jet Hot coated exhaust manifolds

  Major body repair (see article above)

  Install braided brake pipes

  Replace Dunlop brake servo with modern Lockheed (no more vacuum tank necessary)

  Replace front and rear wheel bearings

  Install new stainless heater pipes

  Install stainless steel brake calipers and bridge pipes from Hye-Dra-Cyl.

  Install Lumenition Magnetronic Ignition System (this was in Spring 1999, I went back to point/contact system after transistor failure in 2003 -- back to the original again)

  Engine overhaul -- oversizing pistons, cylinder block, valves, crankshaft, the complete works

  Install XJ6 rack and pinion steering

  Install GAZ adjustable shock absorbers

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