The GR Yaris has taken the performance car world by storm. On the street or on a rally special stage, it’s proof that you can squeeze a ridiculous amount of joy into a small package.
While they may not be giant-slayers, Japanese kei cars pack an incredible amount of joy into very small packages. It allows people from all walks of life in Japan to experience the buzz of car ownership, on a budget. Walking around the Osaka Auto Messe last weekend, I found a great selection of fun-nuggets to share with you.
The kei car’s humble beginnings can be traced back to the 1950s, initially as a way for motorcyclists to not get wet on their way to the supermarket. Daihatsu, one of Japan’s oldest automobile manufacturers, had a brilliant display of kei machines, from their early Compagno 800 Van all the way up to their latest Hijet Mini Truck.
There are still speed and power restrictions imposed on kei class vehicles, which is a good thing, because I wouldn’t want to be going any faster than 60km/h in any kind of collision in one of these. But there’s no law dictating how quickly you can accelerate up to the 140km/h (87mph) limit.
Based on the new N-ONE RS, Honda’s K-Climb is a hill climb experiment focusing on smiles per liter. With a bunch of carbon fiber panels, coilover suspension and of course the RS’s turbo engine mated with a 6-speed manual gearbox, it’s bound to have you grinning from ear to ear.
If hill-climbing Hondas are a bit racy for you, why not slow down the pace and head into the hills in a 4×4 kei camper?
In the miniature world of kei cars, there really is something for everyone. And that means modification, customisation and transformation in every imaginable form. But unlike their full-sized siblings, kei car upgrades don’t usually come with hefty price tags. Take this Daihatsu Atrai camper van as an example. Can you imagine the cost of doing this to a Land Cruiser?
Now consider my next offering, a 1991 Eunos Roadster. I know, it’s not exactly micro-sized or in the kei car class, but I’ve thrown it in here because I initially thought there was a Honda Beat under the body kit. Forgive me.
First shown at the Osaka Auto Messe back in 2013, the new body panels are made by a local shop called HeartBeat. It’s an utterly brilliant mash-up of RX-7, Mini Cooper and Porsche 911.
There was no mention of engine upgrades, so what would you cram under the hood?
Going back to my original selling point for the kei car as being affordable fun, I wonder whether spending thousands on modifications kind of defeats the purpose? But even if you do decide to plumb a Trust front-mount intercooler designed for an Silvia S14 into your Daihatsu Tanto, you’re still spending considerably less than if you were to buy a whole S14. Plus there’s room for the kids and the groceries.
If that’s all too mundane, then feast your eyes on this pair of wild micro machines from Body Shop Vivid Luster.
The first is a 2008 Nissan Pino that’s been converted from four-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive and fitted with air suspension.
And check out what’s going on inside.
This is exactly the kind of obnoxious, funky, don’t-take-yourself-too-seriously nonsense that has earned the people of Osaka and the greater Kansai area a reputation of being a little bit different than their northern brethren.
The next car might look like a Suzuki Wagon R with a cartoonish body kit, but there’s a little surprise if you’d like to take a step back.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold, not two but four upward-folding doors. It’s possibly the most inconvenient and unnecessary modification ever in the history of the kei car, but it’s utterly glorious nonetheless.
The interior is sensory overload with its five-screen layout. Because kei cars are so dangerously small, people tend to drive pretty slow, which means it’s totally safe to be watching TV on your way to the hairdressers. At least that’s what the general population seems to think.
Wait till you see the sound system, though…
No, not that one.
If it’s daily news and business updates in the front, it’s very much party in the back. The Diecock audio system provides god-only-knows how many watts of power, and there’s another four screens for your viewing pleasure too.
You might think these are only show cars, but to some extent these sort of builds still exist in the wild. Kei cars are such an accessible platform for cheap, fun, family-friendly modifications. It’s just a shame that the government keeps hiking up the running costs for these funky little cars.