part 1 | The Phantom Sportscar

The most complete story behind the groundbreaking old school sportscar that never got its chance.

 

tommy kaira tommykaira zzii zz2


by Luca Sciarrillo


One of the favourite amusements of every car enthusiast is daydreaming for sure.

It costs nothing to dream.


As a car guy, I often wander around with my mind, through distant times and remote places, imagining cars never born, stuck in an embryonic state, started in a small factory by a handful of men and never brought into production.


Broke enthusiasts are not the only ones to dream... Sometimes a small businessman dives into the world of car manufacturing, proud of his idea and hopeful that customers will understand and appreciate it.

Original picture by @YI450 Photography

 

The article and the trademarks shown in the following images are not intended for commercial use.


 

tomita auto co ltd tomitaauto トミタオート



The most fertile ground where to lie the seed of a new car, relying on few resources, certainly is the sportscars one: cars designed for car enthusiasts.


Fifty years ago the compact sportscar was still a niche product; it didn't have to meet special requirements other than going fast (not very fast), being fun to drive and be quite usable on the road, meaning that it didn't have to fall apart all at once.


Going on with the decades, with safety regulations, with restrictions on emissions, with the technological advancement to support much better performance, even the low cost sportscar had become as complex as all the other types of cars, with thousands wirings, new comforts, a reasonable riding quality.


So, for a couple of decades now it has become impossible to sell or even homologate a sports car that did not have large investments behind, and money alone is not enough even to guarantee its success, given that only the Miata and the Elise have survived of all the economic sportscars of the last three decades.



 

tomita auto co ltd tomitaauto トミタオート



As the doors of the market of large production sports cars closed, the small builders, some before, some later, some due to ambition and others out of necessity, turned their gaze towards a similar segment, but whose characteristics and exclusivity nevertheless allowed craft production: supercars.


The supercar is "by definition" a car characterized by a strong concept and an unmistakable design. A supercar must first be exotic, it has to amaze, it must never be boring. The breathtaking performances, then, are the icing on the cake.


While european supercars were seeing their performance more and more drooped, relying on the charm given to them by the pencils of the most famous coachbuilders in the world, in Japan the anonymous sportscars for daily-drivng began to bring out intriguing performance, driven by a passion for popular cars that in Europe had probably been declining for some time.


Thanks to the legendary Japanese tuners, capable of modifications incredible for anyone else at the time, automotive mechanicals explored whole new limits. The large-production Japanese sportscars closed the gap to the performance level of the now clumsy and clunky European supercars, hreatening their well grounded status.


In this precise moment the tuners began to see their reputation rise outside the regional borders.


The Japanese approach, mainly functional and not very aesthetical, defeated the one of the "Bel Paese", based on mere driving thrill and not on pure performance.


Also, the different economic situation played a big role, by allowing japanese manufacturers to produce high-performance niche cars and sell them at affordable costs (Japanese asset price bubble), and preventing european ones from investing too many resources in a segment where appearance mattered more than performance (thanks to the oil crisis).



 


tomita auto co ltd tomitaauto トミタオート yoshikazu tomita 富田 義一 kikuo kaira  解良 喜久雄



Among tuners, some of them prepared cars for speed trials, some others for track driving, and others used to modify them both mechanically and aesthetically, with the intention of creating unique cars to enjoy both on the road and on the track.


Many tried their luck by the first or by the second way, but only few undertook the path of being both tuners and builders, that is homologating modified cars, thus having to create products good all-around both in everyday use and in sport purpose.


Today I'll talk about one of these.


The key people of this tuning company are two: Yoshikazu Tomita and Kikuo Kaira. If you grew up with car videogames, with a little imagination you might have already found out the name of the brand from the two surnames: Tommy kaira.


Tomita was an exotic cars importer who, after a quick appearance into motocross where he became friend with Matsuhisa Kojima, began selling cars in his hometown Kyoto at the age of twenty, later becoming one of the main proponents of that Japanese culture for supercars and Italian cars in the 1980s. He established his first business in 1968: Tomita Auto Inc, later changed to Tomita Auto Co. Ltd. in 1973.


Some years later he flew to Italy in order to buy three Miuras and five Dino 246s, without knowing neither Italian nor English, along with a Japanese designer (Fendi’s Enrico Yamazaki) who was his "Beatrice" in the Paradise of the sportscar which is the Bel Paese. He also imported a Cobra Daytona and an unofficial Miura SVJ (# 4892). He later got into motor racing, first as Turbo-Hayate-sponsored Hayashi Racing team manager in 1982 with Hitoshi Ogawa as the driver and the Hayashi 320 as the car, later being the team principal of the Auto Beurex team in JTC, with the Hartge 635 CSI that won the championship in 1985.


Kaira started his motorsport career both as a mechanic, and as a racer when he could. He contributed to the design and raced the RQ (Racing Quarterly, later Nova Engineering) Augusta Mk1 and Mk2 that competed in the All-Japan Formula Junior 360, a JAF championship for little singleseaters powered by 360cc twostroke engines, later opened to 500cc engines. He later was in the design team of the Macransa Panic (first formula car of Dome’s Minoru Hayashi); the Esso Uniflo FJ1300 and the Nova Engineering 02 (in 1974). Money weren’t enough, so, after some good results in All Japan F2, he stopped racing and contributed as chief engineer or designer for some projects: the March 752 driven by Walkinshaw in Euro F3, Kazuyoshi Hoshino’s March 792 BMW, the quite famous Kojima KE007, the Kojima KE008, the Royce RM-1 (Grand Champion car based on the March 792 BMW) that took 8 podium and 6 poles, and the Toyota 83C and 84C, designed when he was appointed at chief chassis engineer at Dome Co. Ltd. in 1983.



 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12