Autopia in Omiya
Deep in the 'burbs lies Saitama's best-kept automotive secret. Marish Mackowiak visits the Hata Classic Car Museum.

1951 MG TD, from Roman Holiday

Ever wonder where all that bubble economy money disappeared? Well, you can be sure that a big chunk of it went into automotive toys for the big boys of Japanese business. The impressive Hata museum is a prime example.
1912 Fetone is the only one in Japan.

It was built in 1989 by businessman Kazuyasu Hata and features around 100 vintage and classic cars housed in a large corporate-gray monument to the era when greed was good.
Surprisingly, with such an extensive collection, the museum is located in an unremarkable suburban location, a few minutes walk from Omiya station. Far from being just a car museum, "Old Loco" is part of "Hata Plaza," which includes a movie theater, bowling alley, game arcade, pool hall and restaurant. A museum shop offers souvenirs and model cars. The museum itself is divided into three sections, including a lobby area where you can race slot cars for ¥800. Two large display areas house the vehicles, which are mostly grouped according to their country of origin.

1948 Delahaye 135M looks like a shark about to pounce.

Cars for every taste
The first hall contains 14 cars in total, although that number depends on whether you count the large array of pedal and electric toy cars lining the semicircular glass tile wall on one side. The most striking vehicle you encounter upon entering is a bright red 1957 Mercedes Gullwing coupe, matched only by the phallic glory of a 1974 E-type Jaguar parked nearby, an interesting contrast to Jaguar's 1960s vintage E-types in the second room. An inspection of the other cars in this area shows the breadth of Hata's tastes. A diminutive 1955 BMW Isetta "bubble car" shares space with the square-rigged excess of a "70s Cadillac. A 1964 Morgan Plus 4, '83 Lancia Rally Stradale, '49 Willis Jeepster and stately 1966 Jaguar Mark X round off an eclectic selection.
The second, larger display area contains a more spectacular array of four-wheeled beasts, including many rarities. Most are in concourse condition, or at least appear to be with the low lighting conditions. Once again, the variety of vehicles displayed continues to make the collection distinctive, and as you walk around, the exhibits seem to oscillate between the sublime and the ridiculous. The svelte 1937 Cord 812 is a well-known symbol of early streamlining, distinct from the minimalist Moke and other economy models of yore, including a 1954 Goggomobil. Mercedes Benz is well represented, including a 1912 Fetone, the only one in Japan. The highlight of the small American section is that symbol of '50s occidental excess, the 1959 Cadillac convertible.

Exhibition highlight
The who's who of vintage exotica continues relentlessly, including several Italian makes. A stylish 1965 Lancia Flamina sits next to the similarly styled 1966 Maserati 3500 GTIS Sebring. With bold white lettering on its tires, the Fiat Dino Spider is remarkably reminiscent of American muscle cars of the same era. The highlight of a row of Alfas is the rakish 1965 Giulia Sprint Specialle. There's even a lone 1970 Dino Ferrari. And what self-respecting okane-mochi car collector would be without at least a couple of Bugattis? Hata has four of 'em. While the Bugatti brand is enough to excite any classic auto otaku, at this museum it's overshadowed by two French Delahaye vehicles. The stunning 1948 135M model is believed to be the only remaining example in the world. Its front looks like a shark about to pounce, while the rest of the body panels have been sculpted into perhaps the most shapely curves ever seen on a car. Inside, it's the lap of leather luxury, complemented by the obligatory wooden dash. It's truly the star of this collection.

The best of British
Despite the variety on offer, it's easy to determine Hata's bias. Britain is definitely most dear to his heart. At the top end, there are some stately Rolls Royces and Bentleys, complemented by a row of MGs, Aston Martins and vehicles from Lotus. A 1959 AC Ace predates the more famous muscle-bound Cobra. One of the most noteworthy Brits is a 1951 MG TD, featured in that Japanese favorite, Roman Holiday. A gorgeously sleek 1963 E-type Jaguar, meanwhile, is from another Audrey flick, How to Steal a Million. While its styling represents the pinnacle of sleek modernism, the oversized steering wheel, nose-heavy handling and narrow tires must have made the realities of ownership a bit harder to put up with, a comment that would probably apply to most of the cars on display.
Foreigners will find it difficult to find out interesting tidbits about the cars, since no English language material is available. Automotive pedants should also be on their guard against a number of spelling errors, caused by the translation from katakana pronunciation of certain car names. Apart from that, this place is Saitama's must-see motoring Mecca.

3-7 Shimo-cho, Saitama-shi. (Tel: 048-648-0065). Nearest stn: Saikyo or Keihin Tohoku line, Omiya stn, east exit.
Open: 10am-6pm Tue-Sun, Closed Mon.
Admission ¥1,000.

Photo credit: Marish Mackowiak

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