Japanventures: Part 1 – Sano Tochigi New Years Classic Car Meet
In the heart of Japan in the small town of Sano located in the Tochigi prefecture, an unprecedented gathering of some of Japan’s finest automobiles collected for the Sano New Year Classic Car Meet. I was fortunate enough to be invited to this meet by a great friend who I met through the Miata community that also owns one of my absolute favorite cars in the entire world: the Autozam AZ-1. Let me preface this article by saying I am more than a little obsessed about this little two seater, turbocharged kei car that COMES STOCK WITH GULLWING DOORS! Now that that’s out of my system I’ll show you how I got my fill of these cute little cars with the Autozam AZ-1/ Suzuki Cara car club in downtown Sano, Japan.
As with most weekend car meets, sleeping in is not an option. This meet was no exception. I currently live in Honjo and Sano is about an hour away from my apartment. Naturally the meet up time for the AZ-1 club was around 7AM in Sano so I was out the door before the rising sun. I followed my friend driving his classic red AZ-1 over to the meet in my Toyota Vitz which is nothing more than a rebadged Yaris. I have to say that I was impressed by the little AZ-1 as I could barely keep up with it merging onto the highway. The AZ-1 comes stock with a 660cc DOHC, turbocharged, 3 cylinder Suzuki motor that produces a whopping 64hp while my Vitz weighs in with 67hp and roughly 700lbs of extra baggage. I know that essentially I am comparing two snails racing but not every car needs an LS swap nowadays!
Just for a little history: The Autozam AZ-1 was sold through Autozam dealers but created in collaboration with Mazda and Suzuki. There really is not much difference between the Suzuki Cara and the Autozam AZ1 other than badging and a few external styling cues. The AZ-1 also came in a Mazdaspeed version that came with upgraded suspension, LSD, stainless steel muffler, upgraded air filter and some pretty sweet upgraded body panels including a big wing, solid color paneling on the bottom of the car, bumper and a sporty front hood. These little cars are one of the most rare kei cars as they were released right at the beginning of a recession in Japan in 1992 and were priced reasonably higher than its competitors so production was cut short after just a couple years. With the number that showed up at the car meet though you would have never guessed their rarity!