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Japanese Nostalgic Car’s Touge (pronounced TŌ-geh, and Japanese for mountain pass) was born when JNC’s co-founder and editor-in-chief Ben Hsu was drinking some beers with rally-master Patrick Strong. They wondered why, with all the classic car rallys, there wasn’t one dedicated to classic Japanese steel.

As much a challenge as an objective, they began planning and staged their inaugural event last year. Intended to raise Japanese classic cars’ profile, it was a hit. While they expected it to be popular, the resounding success and recognition attracted was a complete surprise. This year, Hsu and Strong planned a more ambitious, longer rally.

In many ways, the Touge is not only an event for individuals’ enjoyment, it’s also a cultural celebration. Not of Japanese culture, though, rather of California’s driving culture. Sponsored by Mazda, and attracting many people who work in the Japanese classic car industry (such as Tom and Tim Mings, Larry Chen, and others) the Touge is currently the only Japanese classic-focused event that celebrates driving.

Besides the participants, the cars were also highlights. Hsu was most excited by a yellow Datsun 240Z, formerly owned by Nissan America’s first president, Mr. K (Yutaka Katayama). “Kenny”, whose mother was Mr. K’s secretary and worked for him over 30 years, drove the car. Apparently when Mr. K was about to retire and move back to Japan, he sold the majority of his American property. Mr. K’s was going to give his customized Z to a friend, but Kenny’s mom asked for it and Mr. K said “OK, you can have it.”

Mazda, as title sponsors, brought a trio of unexpected cars: a Mazda GLC that struggled up the mountains with 60hp, a ’75 rotary-powered pick-up truck, and an ’85 RX-7 GSL-SE, which began the rally with only 1100 miles on the odometer!

The aforementioned Larry Chen, senior editor for Speedhunters, wished he didn’t have to shoot the California Touge. “I’m sad because I wish I was driving instead of shooting.” He did get some seat time, but only he because he had to stay ahead of the rally and cut it off strategically to get photos. And what most impressed Chen was how organically the event functioned in SoCal’s mountains. Recognizing the abundance of entertaining roads, Chen said the one could spend their whole life trying to drive them all, but never succeed. And if the roads weren’t enticing enough, pie awaited the drivers in Julian, Ca. and BBQ brisket was their checkered flag at Mazda’s headquarters.

The event has now passed and Hsu and Strong will soon begin working on next year’s but they did mention a smaller, more intimate event scheduled for this August. We’re just speculating here, but it wouldn’t be surprising to imagine a stampede up to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Hey Ben, can we come?


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Podcast Interview by A.J. Gordon / Article Written by Yoav Gilad

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