- Mitsuoka is a tiny Japanese manufacturer that specializes in neoclassics built on Toyotas, Mazda, and now Hondas.
- The M55 is based on the current Civic hatchback, but the styling harks back to 1970s American muscle cars.
- It’s only a concept for now, but there’s nothing to stop Mitsuoka from putting the M55 into production. Just don’t expect to see one here.
The current Dodge Challenger has been on the market for 15 years, which is a pretty good run for a car trading on the reputation of the original sold between 1970 and 1974. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and Dodge has done well peddling it. But what if you want your muscle-car daydreams in fun-size hatchback form? Japan’s weirdest automaker has you covered. Sort of.This is the Mitsuoka M55, and as yet it is only a concept. Having said that, Mitsuoka doesn’t really do concept cars, being a tiny business with just 80 employees. It’s located in Toyama City, roughly 250 miles outside of Tokyo, and it has been sticking to its proven recipe for some 50 years.Mitsuoka is simultaneously Japan’s youngest automaker and also the last remaining champion of the country’s oldest auto manufacturing traditions. Each of its neoclassic cars is hand-assembled by two craftsmen, a process that can take as long as two months to complete. There’s a sense of lighthearted whimsy to the products they create, but the process is taken very seriously.Underneath, the M55 is a Civic hatchback, fitted with a manual transmission and a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine. Then, Mitsuoka turns it into a Charger lookalike because why the heck not? This absolutely rules, and is both hilarious and good. Grousing purists can go stand over there in the no-fun zone.Past Mitsuoka models have mostly been Euro-themed, like the Viewt, which is a Nissan that looks like a Jaguar Mk II sedan. The company’s founder, Susumu Mitsuoka, originally built his company up from a European specialist service operation.However, Mitsuoka general manager Minoru Watanabe began laying out a new vision for the future after the company’s 50th anniversary in 2018. Watanabe spent some of his youth living in the U.S., and had fond memories of the vintage cars from that time. One of his first design directions was to produce the Mitsuoka Rock Star, which is a Mazda MX-5 infused with the essence of a 1960s Corvette.
Mitsuoka Buddy. MitsuokaMitsuoka Rock Star. MitsuokaPerhaps even more successful is the absolutely adorable Buddy. Based on the otherwise slightly boring RAV4, the Buddy harnesses the charm of the K5 Chevy Blazer. Toyota reliability, funky handbuilt nostalgic looks.
And it’s not like these coachbuilt creations are even that expensive. The Buddy costs the equivalent of $45,000, and there’s a two year wait for it. The Rock Star was more limited in production, but it too wasn’t that much of a premium over a standard Mazda. Again, these cars take a minimum of a month of assembly.The M55’s combination of rear louvers and square-jawed domestic American iron front is fantastic. From directly head on, it’s very convincing. From the rear, it resembles a Japanese coupe from the 1970s, such as a C110 Nissan Skyline or a Datsun B110 or a Mitsubishi Galant GTO. The profile is where you can most clearly see the Civic lurking underneath. Inside, you get some nicely executed retro-look seats.Mitsuoka says it will be displaying the M55 over the winter both in Toyama and later in Tokyo. The official statement says that the concept is intended to recapture the “hot magma” of the 1970s, and is not intended for production. In reality, it’s highly likely that Mitsuoka is judging demand here, and if enough buyers raise their hands, there’s certainly nothing to stop it building a production M55.But with such a small production capacity, you aren’t likely to see the M55 on this side of the Pacific. Older Mitsuoka models do tend to show up via gray-market importation, but the company has no plans to sell outside of its established markets in Asia (there are also two official dealers in the U.K. and Monaco).More from JapanInstead, the question posed by the Mitsuoka M55 is this: What premium might U.S. buyers pay for a run-of-the-mill car with a huge dose of added personality? Flex Automotive of Japan has a dealership in San Diego that backdates early 2000s Land Cruisers to look like those from the 1980s.Perhaps there’s a business case here. But either way, just the existence of the Mitsuoka M55 is worth celebrating. In a world where automobile manufacturing is taken very seriously, it’s just pure fun.
Contributing EditorBrendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.