I’m an owner/operator of a human child, and his long, frankly pretty unsuccessful experiment in remote learning is finally ending with next week being the big Return To School. He’s actually excited. So am I.
Before that, though, we have a Spring Break, and if there’s a better way to use a Spring Break than going to look at a bunch of fun cars, then I don’t even care. That’s why we took a little day trip to Duncan Imports in Christiansburg, Virginia, a wonderland of JDM and other glorious automotive weirdness.
(Full disclosure: This is not an endorsement for Duncan Imports! It’s only a three-hour drive from me, and it’s an amazing collection. And I think Gary Duncan is a great guy and consider him a friend, but I should mention that of course you can go wherever you like for your JDM desires. There’s just a ton of great cars here. Just making that clear.)
We also went because a friend of mine is seriously considering buying a Nissan Figaro, and if you’ll recall, Duncan has maybe more Figaros per square inch than anywhere else in the known universe. It’s still an astounding sight, to be in the Hall of Figaros.
We’ve certainly covered the main collection before, so this time let me just show you a few things I noticed that I think are new since I was here last.
Ready? Off we go!
There are a lot more little kei vans that pretend to be old VW Type 2 buses. I kind of love these things, but they do vary a lot in absurdity. These, with their funny jutting faces do come off a bit weird, I suppose.
I think for the ones built on Suzukis, the ’68 Bay Window style ones actually work better, like this creamsicle-colored one here.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a first-generation Honda Civic as perfect as this one, um, maybe ever? This little yellow friend was perfect, inside and out:
There’s hardly any wear on anything. How? How does this happen?
Looks like Gary got himself an Avanti! This is one of the later ones with the square headlamp bezels, but still an amazing car. Supercharged and sleek, still eye-grabbingly unusual to this day.
Look at this Toyota Corona coupe! What a handsome little thing. This was one of those cars that should have made Detroit auto executives have a little terror-poo in their pants if they were paying attention back in the day.
Here’s a nearly extinct-in-the-wild but wildly important car: a 1979 Subaru GL 4WD wagon. This is essentially the car that set the tone for all of modern Subaru: a wagon with a horizontally opposed engine and four-wheel drive. You know that “brand DNA” crap PR people like to go on about? This is it, made physical, for Subaru.
Remember when I was obsessing about those Volkswagen/Porsche iconic headlights? Well here they are again, but this time on a DKW:
I thought it was worth looking under the hood of this DKW, because the odd two-stroke inline-three is such a peculiar and in its own way, influential, engine.
These engines ended up in Saabs and also formed the basis for how better-heeled East Germany got around — all those Wartburgs used engines derived from the DKW triple.
I think this Honda City/Motocompo is new as well, and even though I’ve seen (and ridden) these amazing folding motorcycles before, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with the branded cozy/cover like this:
This may be one of my favorite cars I saw; it has that wonderful combination of absurdity and overconfidence that never fails to charm me:
That’s the Subaru 360 Young SS model. The fast version of the 360.
The base 360's air-cooled parallel twin made about 16 HP — with twin carbs, this one squeezes 36 HP — that’s 100 HP per liter. That’s no joke! Show this little athlete some respect!
I think this license-built Mitsubishi Jeep is a new one, at least to me. The oxblood/cream color combination is pretty smart-looking, too.
There are definitely more Autozams here than I remember.
I’m very pleased to note more Mitsuokas in the collection, too. If you can find a better vintage-Jag-looking Nissan-powered car, I suggest you buy it.
I don’t recall seeing a Smart Roadster in Gary’s collection before, but I think it’s a welcome addition. I’ve always thought these were very cool, and this may be the first I’ve seen in America.
I don’t think the Special Edition 1981 Honda Accord sedan is new to the collection, but I did notice the charmingly clunky window controls in the car this time.
They’re even that same band-aid/French vanilla color of most generic house light switch covers!
I’ve seen some incredibly lightly used Beetles here before, but this immaculate 35-mile 1977 Beetle was new to me. It’s an absolute time capsule.
Look at this! A 1962 (I think?) Toyota Crown Deluxe. This is the second generation of Toyota’s luxury flagship, and it’s very impressive. It has real presence.
The design is remarkably American-influenced, almost Ford-looking at the rear, with those round taillights.
This one really got me: a 1967 (again, I think) Honda S800 Coupe. I think these look even better than the roadster ones, and are sort of like smaller, slightly more fussy, Jaguar E-Types.
Just a fantastic looking little sportscar. Four carbs, even!
Oh, this one’s for David: the cleanest Jeep Comanche I’ve ever seen. David would have to do a rail of rust dust to just calm down after seeing this.
I think this Subaru Brat was new to the collection, and I sat Otto in those Chicken Tax-deception seats, marveling at the idea that once, people would happily take their kids for a drive in these, little sweaty hands gripping those handles as the Brat bounced down a dusty highway.
I bet it was a blast.
This 1975 Toyota Corona Mark II wagon is so mustard and woodgrain and station wagon-y that I feel like a bolt of lightning could transform it into a Lutheran church’s basement rec room.
Are these Euro/Japan-spec modifications to Lincoln taillights?
Here’s a very forgotten car I’ve been wanting to write about more for some reason: the Ford EXP. This was the Escort’s sporty sibling, and I remember thinking they were cool back in the 1980s. This is the first one I’ve seen in person in decades. I’m so glad one is being preserved here.
Speaking of 1980s, look at this Toyota Soarer! So crisp and cool. But even better, look at this interior:
It’s like the entire promise of the American Southwest, from Georgia O’Keeffe to Joshua Tree to Navajo pueblitos, rendered in velour.
The rear of this 1963 Dodge 330 wagon is some fantastic Midcentury American design. Those wraparound side windows kind of prefigure both the AMC Pacer and the Porsche 928.
A Daihatsu Midget! One of my favorite one-person pickup trucks. Not a huge category, sure, but still.
This Toyota Blizzard is a wonderful little off-roader, sort of Toyota’s answer to the Suzuki Jimny, or maybe vice-versa. This one looks very dressed up with all that diamond plate and chrome trim.
It looks like Gary’s been Beetle-shopping, too. These are two lovely examples, and that green one on the right there looks to be...
Yes! A split window! A 1950 — only the second year for VW in America, and a peek under the hood reveals another pleasant surprise:
It’s not some later 1600 engine stuck in there, this is a real, 1131cc, 24.5 HP engine. Complete with the weird can-like air cleaner. Wow.
This little weirdo caught my eye, too. It’s a Subaru Vivo, the Bistro version, which means it has that retro face, and it’s also a T-top! It’s kind of like a modern Japanese version of a Vespa 400 microcar, sorta. Really, if you want open-top but non-fabric-roof convertible motoring in a car with modern Japanese reliability and small dimensions and excellent gas mileage and a retro look, I’m not really sure you have any other choice.
Then there was this crazy thing. At first I just thought it was some Meyers Manx knockoff, one of so very many, but the proportions didn’t feel right. When I peeked underneath there was no VW axle beam or air-cooled engine at the rear.
No, this is an Oreion Buggy, with a transverse liquid-cooled inline-four engine from a Chinese manufacturer at the rear.
There’s a radiator up front and a four-speed automatic transmission in the middle, and it does look kinda like a traditional VW-pan dune buggy, even if it doesn’t drive like one.
It drives like, well, maybe a ’90s Civic? Something like that. Really, it’s not bad — it’s easy, and not that slow and quite fun, because you’re right out there in the open.
I have no idea if it’s capable of much off-roading like an old Manx was, and I kind of doubt that, but I don’t think that’s what it’s for. I think this is just a fun goof-around car that can likely handle mild off-road situations, but is not really made for flying over dunes.
I mean, I don’t think. I got to drive it for just a few minutes, and I can say it was plenty of goofy fun. Maybe I’ll see if I can investigate these more.