I’m 40 years older but I still remember the “Jap Crap” days, everything that came from the Land of the Rising Sun would go rotten and run like a bag of spanners, except that wasn’t exactly true. The first Japanese car I ever remember taking an interest in was The Toyota 2000 GT driven by Aki Wakabayashi in the 1967 James Bond Film You Only Live Twice, compared to what was adorning the roads of Britain at the time it was drop-dead gorgeous, and so was the car she was driving.

I live in a town not too far from Leyland, when I was a kid British Leyland and British Aerospace employed the majority of people from Preston and the surrounding towns, all their workforce were privy to the company car scheme, employees could get very cheap new cars for themselves and also their friends. British Leyland had the monopoly, there were very few Japanese cars sold in Preston, there were also very few German Opels sold from the garage where I washed cars at weekends

However, to me it seemed like the unions and workforce were determined to strangle the life out of the firm, and they would walkout on strike for the slightest reason, the brazier where the strikers gathered to keep warm, and stop “Scabs” (other workers who didn’t want to strike) crossing the picket line was like the Olympic torch, it hardly ever went out.

Even though they were getting massive discounts the local people were getting fed up of being let down on the delivery of their new car, and they slowly started to look at other makes. Soon the Japanese started to make inroads, the “Jap Crap” dealers had a field day.

The Dealers couldn’t get enough cars to satisfy demand, so they seized the opportunity to make money and maximised their profit on each car. It was impossible for customers to buy a standard car and the dealers made sure that everyone had to have, sunroof, mats, mudflaps, vinyl roof, coach lines whether they wanted them or not.

They were also very selective in the part exchanges they took in, and how much they allowed on them, I had a customer who had walked out of the local Datsun garage in disgust, he complained that he thought they were trying to steal his swapper and the salesman replied, and I quote “If you don’t like it go away and sell your pile of shit yourself”. 

Such was the stigma attached to Japanese cars I can’t remember our garage taking one in part exchange until the late ’70s and I don’t think I had actually ever sat in a Japanese car until I was a 15 year old apprentice when I had to accompany the bosses Son on a job. In an effort to slow him down before he killed himself and his passenger (namely me)  his Father had made him sell his rally Prepared Ford Escort Mexico with a Cosworth BDA engine and bought him a Toyota 1000 JCK77N, trouble is he still drove it like it was a Rally Prepared Escort, and the Toyota didn’t have a “Roll Cage”.

Up to then the only time I had ever been on 2 wheels on a public road was on my racing bike,  but we managed to do it in his Toyota when he took a left-hander far too fast, instead of putting the tail end out, the tyres held traction, the near side wheels came off the ground and as we exited the corner, laughing like a maniac he overcorrected the steering angle (applied Opposite lock) and my side which was at angle of about 45 degrees fell back to earth with an almighty thump, he was unperturbed by the incident but I nearly lost my breakfast, from both ends.

The firm that I worked for as an apprentice had also bought a Toyota Crown for the MD, he wanted comfort with all the bells and whistles, but he was fed up of pumping petrol into his normal Daily ride which was a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, the Rolls was to become a Sundays only car, then pretty soon he decided that the Crown was every bit as comfortable to drive as his Rolls and it didn’t break down as often so the Roller became a surplus to requirements not used at all car and the boss sold it.

For me another work-related incident with the Crown also dispelled the myth that Japanese cars were built out of sheet metal that was slightly thinner than cigarette paper. The car cleaner who had never driven an automatic car before selected reverse gear by mistake and set off backward totally demolished the substantial British built red brick wall behind him, scattering debris all over the car park, and coming to rest in a massive pile of rubble but inflicting very little damage to the Crown’s substantially built rear end.

The bosses son ran his Toyota 1000 for a few months he even did a rally in it, no preparation, no alteration but just as it had come out of the dealers, it survived and he brought it home intact and in a very respectable position which belied its tiny engine size, he became a legend at the local Toyota dealer, and he even got to appear in a Toyota TV Commercial telling everyone that he loved his Toyota because it had “Straight Forward Motor Engineering”,

He was a “Ford” guy through and through but I suspect he got a good deal for selling out on the TV Commercial and he swapped his Toyota 1000, for a dog dick red Toyota Celica OHG1P, this was the first-ever car that had achieved 100 mph while I was in the passenger seat, it was a fantastic car, it was slowly dawning on me that the name Jap Crap was more than a little misleading.

Years later I was working for a Prestige Manufacturer and as happens when a new car is released, all the salesmen are sent on a driving day, to be brainwashed and compare the New product with that of our competitors. I had never driven a Lexus before but I had only heard good things about them in the trade, there were 4 of us in the car and none of us were too impressed, it didn’t drive quite as good as the Jaguar, BMW 7 Series, Or the Mercedes S Class.

When it was my turn to drive the Lexus I pressed the accelerator and I got the impression that it wasn’t just the other salesmen I was sharing the car with that were retarded, I could clearly feel the engine holding back so I pulled into a lay-by and popped the bonnet, the Lexus had only been marginally worse than the other cars but once I had put the plug leads back on properly it was the clear winner, our hosts had resorted to the Old Jap Crap misinformation and had sabotaged the Lexus, that’s how good it really was!

In the 70s I remember reading that a number of the British Leyland night shift staff had been sacked, they must still have been tired even after being on strike for ages and had been caught sleeping on duty, it’s not like they had just dozed off for a few minutes in a chair, apparently it was rife, they were discovered fast asleep in sleeping bags in a special room that they had made inside the factory out of parts boxes. We were once the best in the World, now we were the laughing stock.

Things are very different these days, one in every seven new cars sold is actually produced in Britain, a single Car Factory in Sunderland produces more cars in a year than the entire Italian Car industry, unfortunately they’re not Austins, Triumphs, or Rovers they’re Nissans. The Japs literally caught us napping, they showed us how to manage the workforce, get the best out of people, operate factories, and build cars efficiently.

A Japanese Samurai Warrior would fight to the death or as a very last resort, rather than surrender to the enemy he would choose to die with honour and commit Seppuku (suicide), I just wish we had actually fought harder to keep the once-great British Car Industry rather than committing Seppuku before we had even been threatened.