Concessionaires to the Risen Sun
The Japanese Motor Industry has enjoyed an incredibly rapid expansion. During the first eight months of 1967 Japan gained a couple of places in the race for World car sales, becoming the second largest producer of motor vehicles after the United States of America. In this period she manufactured 821,892 private cars and 1,515,273 estate cars and commercial vehicles, increases, respectively, of 53.4 and 24.7%, over the 1966 outputs. In the first half of this year exports of Japanese cars numbered 116,990, an increase of 54.2% over 1966 exports, and of these 980 came into Britain. The Japanese giants are Toyota-Hino, Nissan-Prince and Toyo-Kogyo, in that order. Other manufacturers are Honda, Isuzu, Fuji, Daihatsu, Mitsubishi and Suzuki, etc. Not only do they turn out vast numbers of vehicles but they make some interesting sports cars and GT models. The high-revving little Honda S800 sports car is well known here (Motor Sport's road-test report appeared in the August issue) and British model-girl Twiggy has been presented with a Toyota 2000GT.
But do not run away with the idea that because these cars come from far-away mysterious Japan they must be perfect; are an essential "with-it " purchase. If you think Honda Grand Prix cars and Honda 500-c.c. racing motorcycles are perfect, ask Surtees and Hailwood about them. . . .
We shall report on Japanese cars as they are presented to us. But we see no reason for becoming enraptured about them before trying them, or to opening wide the door to sales of Japanese products in competition with our own, by publishing unbalanced rave-notices about the cars from the land of the Risen Sun. What we have done, below, is simply to describe how the two Japanese makes now available in Britain, and a third which it is hoped to continence selling here by next Spring, are handled in this country. —ED.
If you turn off the M4 flyover, descend on to the Chiswick roundabout and motor towards Hammersmith Broadway, you will soon see on your left the substantial building which is the London headquarters of Honda. The entrance is in Power Road and it is here that all the office work is undertaken, publicity dealt with, and the more major repairs carried out on behalf of dealers, although the spares store and motorcycle workshops are in Nottingham.
Honda in this country is a subsidiary of the parent Company in Tokyo and responsible to it, unlike the Toyota and Mazda concessionaires, which are British financed. It came into being for the import of Honda motorcycles in 1960/61. The S800 sports-car was exhibited at last year's Earls Court Show. This little Honda was not available here until February of this year but already, I am told, about 1,050 have been sold. It is hoped to have the N360 saloon on sale in Britain by next month and the bigger-engined N600 by the end Of March. (I could not find out what the "N" stands for.) The Hondamantic version, however, is not expected to arrive here until the early summer.
The cars arrive from Tokyo at the London docks, at the rate of approximately 5,000 a month, in Benn Line and Glen Line boats, a journey that takes about six weeks. As the consignment of Hondas is only part of the cargo, this shipment involves some ten boats, although two special car-carrying ships are soon expected to be in service. At the docks the S800s are met by drivers equipped with slave batteries, who, after checking the cars for any damage sustained in transit, start them up and drive them to Sheldon's depot in East London—which shows confidence in Honda quick-starting! Here they go through the steam-cleaning plant for de-waxing and are prepared for dispatch to the main dealers. Honda is still signing-on agents in this country, the present number of main dealers being 45. Nine-car three-decker transporters, probably the largest on our roads, are used to take the new cars to these destinations.
Honda aims to increase sales in Britain to 16,000 or more annually, so that they will rank second only to Volkswagen in car imports to this country. This will entail new shipping arrangements to get the cars here and may necessitate the installation of computers at Nottingham to cope with spare-parts stocks, which now cover some 8,500 line-items, which will increase to 30,000 when the N360 and N600 are on the market. Apart from the cars and motorcycles, Nottingham also handles spares for other Honda products, such as stationary engines, pumps, cultivators and those so-useful portable charging plants. These non-motoring items are put together and test-run at Chiswick, and it is here that the dealers' mechanics come for a training course, run by English instructors, who have Japanese experts on call to advise about new models and methods. In the neat workshop at Chiswick I saw the Honda S800 coupé driven in competitions by Tetsu Ikuzawa, the engine of which was being carefully reassembled in readiness for racing at Brands Hatch; it has wide-base wheels shod with Bridgestone tyres. It is possible that Honda will give some assistance to those who intend to enter their cars in competitions.
That Honda take the invasion of the British market seriously is reflected in the fact that there are three resident Japanese Directors in this Country, namely F. Mukoyama, the Managing Director, M. Saida, the Company Secretary, and T. Chino, the Marketing Director. Honda's Sales Manager in this country is Mr. J. Harrisson, and David Palmer looks after publicity, with full photostating and Roneo facilities at the Chiswick Offices. Already a training school has been set up to cover the Hondamatic gearbox, which consists of constant-mesh gears locked in as required, and development work is proceeding apace in Tokyo on this novel 3-speed automatic transmission.
Mazda exhibited 4-cylinder 1,500-C.C. single-overhead-camshaft saloons and the sensational twin-Wankel 110S sports-coupé at Earls Court, giving the address of their Concessionaires as Mazda Car Sales (G.B.) Ltd., of Newbury. Mazdas are made by Toyo-Kogyo of Hiroshima-Ken, Japan's third largest motor-vehicle manufacturer, after Toyota and Nissan.
One blustery cold November afternoon I drove from Hampshire to Berkshire in a Ford Cortina-Lotus, which I always enjoy driving on account of its quiet twin-cam engine and responsive, lively performance; a car which, in its basic form, might be said to have been copied by the Japanese and which now faces competition from the Toyota and Mazda saloons. When, that morning, I had tried to find the telephone number of Mazda Car Sales, Directory Enquiries could not help me. This was because the company is a subsidiary of a well-known general distributor and occupies the top floor of Pearl Assurance House, a big new concrete and glass building in Newbury - "out in the heart of the rolling countryside," as the voice on the other end of the wire put it, after I had got the number from my office.
Entering Newbury and turning left at the traffic-lights by the church, I missed the car-park of this tall office block and left the Cortina-Lotus close to the Avon and Kennet canal, where swans were feeding and (I hope this is the correct phraseology) the house-boats were riding at their moorings. The older parts of this market town remain at peace. . .
I got my story from the Managing Director, Mr. A. F. Pateman, whom I placed as a military gentleman long before he told me that he had been in the Army for many years, when, serving in Hong-Kong, he had obtained useful experience of doing business with the Japanese. I would describe him as a "live-wire," who is looking forward keenly to the task of selling Mazda cars in Britain. However, at present there are none for sale. A stand was taken at the London Motor Show for the purpose of appointing Distributors and Mr. Pateman was sorting out those he will require from some 180 applications. He intends to have about a dozen Distributors and 40 Dealers, to keep the organisation compact. It is his intention to commence business next Spring. But if spares and cars are not forthcoming in desirable quantities, a fresh start will be made later, rather than give customers poor service.
For the past year Mazda cars have been tested by these British Concessionaires and Mr. Pateman was currently running a twin-Wankel Mazda 110S as his personal car. Both those brought into this country for the Show are said to have sold readily and, before this, perhaps half-a-dozen special customers had been supplied with the first Mazdas to come into Britain. Certainly the Hiroshima concern (which has its own Brooklands-shape 2.68-mile banked test circuit) is interested in selling to us, and to Europe. Eleven representatives came to the Mazda stand at Earls Court, from the engine and car designer to sales staff, and I was told that a couple of Japanese mechanics from the parent company are here for three months, to instruct in servicing and repair procedure, They have an especial interest in the 110S, naturally, of which two a day are being made, rather as a sideline, in the Japanese factory.
The plan is to build special premises "somewhere in Surrey" for receiving cars which will be brought from the docks, mainly Southampton, by road-transporters. As they are r.h.d. no steering conversion is necessary and the normal Bridgestone tyres, of roughly C41 handling characteristics, will not be changed unless a customer specifically requires something different. The product will, in fact, be sold virtually as imported, without modification. Mr. Pateman says he could have had any Japanese agency except Honda, but regards the Mazda as a high-quality product with every chance of firmly establishing itself here. Toyo-Kogyo apparently intend to set tip a European centre and mechanics' training school at Brussels, to look after sales outside Japan. Keen to race a Mazda 110S in Club events, Mr. Pateman was told that there should be no difficulty about obtaining 200 b.h.p. from the 982-c.c. twin-Wankel power unit ; in catalogue form its output is quoted as 110 (S.A.E.) b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m., using a 4-barrel Stromberg carburetter.
At the top of that gradient between Brixton and Streatham in South-West London, which tries many veteran cars so hard every November, you will find the London headquarters of the British Concessionaires for Toyota cars, Toyota being Japan's biggest producer of motor vehicles. The showroom, which at the time of my visit held five cars, is entered through an insignificant blue door. Toyota (G.B.) Ltd. was firmed in 1965, in which year cars were shown at Earls Court, although selling did not begin here until February 1966. The Company is British-financed; recently it moved to the present address from near-by Gresham Road.
Going up the back stairs to the compact offices, I talked with the Managing Director, Mr. F. J. D. Wright, who previously spent two ears with Toyota in Australia. Mr. H. A. Poole is British Sales Manager. The main-dealer/distributor network in this country numbers 140 to 150. The cars are shipped from Tokyo to Antwerp and are brought into England at Ramsgate. They then go on B.R.S. transporters to a five-acre depot at Lydden Hill, where the pre-delivery checks are carried out. No modifications are required for the British market, but each car receives a thorough check-over after its long journey.
This clearance depot is also the spares store; it is an ex-Army Ordnance depot, which Toyota have contrived to fill with spare parts. Indeed, spares are phased to each new model imported, the special tools and an adequate supply of parts applicable to each being laid down before the cars themselves arrive. Special mechanics' courses are held at three of the Toyota depots, of which London is one, these covering all the models imported; the mechanics attending them are asked the most searching questions directly applicable to servicing and repairing Toyota ears and are required to pass an examination before being allowed to work on them at the dealers. Each course lasts three days and successful pupils are issued with a certificate stating that they are competent to work on Toyota cars.
Apart from a Service Manager, Toyota (G.B.) Ltd. have a Technical Manager, who is prepared to meet individual customers if any special .problems arise, while Japanese technicians are on call. Sufficient Spares are held to obviate any shortage, even during the present dock strike, but if any shortage does become apparent, parts will be flown in without extra cost to the customer.
Figures were not forthcoming for the number of Toyotas already sold here but it is not the Company's intention to bring in the more exciting new models, such as the 2000GT, until it has set up an appropriate spares and servicing situation for such models, nor is it interested in competition work, although in Japan the faster Toyatas, such as souped-up 1600s and the 2000s, score useful successes in racing. The range includes the Corolla 1100, designed by Hasegawa, clutch pedal free-play in which can be adjusted very easily from under the bonnet, and the Corona 1500S. Toyota claim that their cars are well-finished and very completely equipped, even, in de luxe models, to items like a £71 radio with self-erecting aerial, an expensive clock, fully-reclining front seats, carpeted, fold-flat bad; seat for maximum luggage capacity, etc. They all have alternators and the pushrod o.h.v. engine of the Corona 1600 coupé is very neat; but its twin Aisan carburetters look like a Japanese crib of our S.U.s and the tyres are Japanese-made Dunlop C41s. A new twin-o.h.c. Toyota engine is spoken of.—W. B.
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Wishing to shave, and with my electric shaver at the ready, I've found it impossible to do so on many occasions because I could not find a suitable connection. On other occasions the batteries have discharged and I've been unable to replace them until tomorrow. Now my troubles are over, for my Riviera Automatic Razor has a clockwork motor. It takes fifteen seconds to wind fully and then you have over two minutes of silent close shaving time before it is necessary to re-wind. Well balanced, with a good micro-thin stainless steel cutting head, this razor slips snugly into a smart zip case. It is distributed by The Tor Trading Co., Coombes Cross, Goodleigh, Barnstaple, Devon, and at 99s. 6d. is good value and will make a very acceptable Christmas present.—M. D.