Japan’s Most Unique Automaker Turned a Honda Civic Into a Retro Muscle Car


Have you ever heard of Mitsuoka Motors? 

If you're in the United States, your chances of being familiar with them are slim. Currently, they don't have much presence outside of Asian markets (with two dealers in Monaco and the UK being the exception). Founded in 1968 in Toyama City, Japan, by Susumu Mitsuoka, the company is a relatively small business with just 80 employees. 

Every project Mitsuoka Motors undertakes is done by hand, with two craftsmen taking around two months to make each vehicle. 

What Are These Projects? 

Their latest automotive offering is the Mitsuoka 55, a Honda Civic that's been hand-crafted to resemble a 70s-era Dodge Challenger. Mitsuoka‘s craftsmen installed a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine and a manual transmission into a Honda Civic hatchback. They styled the vehicle's body with what Car and Driver describes as a “square-jawed domestic American iron front,” and the results are “fantastic.” 

When viewed in profile, it becomes clearer that a Honda Civic hatchback is playing dress up as another vehicle, though you can argue that's part of the Mitsuoka 55's unique charm. It's a concept vehicle with plenty of personality. 

Other fun vehicles they've produced with lively personalities are the Mitsuoka Rock Star and the Buddy. The Mitsuoka Rock Star is a Mazda MX-5 styled into a 60s-era Corvette Stingray, while the Buddy is a Toyota RAV4 made over into a fun K5 model-inspired Chevy Blazer. (Think the Sandra Bullock movie Miss Congeniality but in the form of a small custom car shop, and you get the idea.) 

Mitsuoka Motors' most recent designs are inspired by the company's general manager, Minoru Watanabe, who is passionate about the vintage cars he saw while living in the United States as a child. It's a slightly new direction for the company that started focusing on Euro-themed projects, such as transforming a Nissan into a Jaguar Mk II sedan. 

However, one element that has remained the same in the company's 50-plus-year history is its commitment to manufacturing hand-crafted automotive excellence. Even though each new vehicle is crafted with the utmost seriousness and care, their signature style produces some seriously fun rides. 

Surprisingly, these coachbuilt concept creations are not particularly expensive, with the previously mentioned Buddy only costing around $45,000 to produce. However, for quirky car enthusiasts hoping to get their hands on one of these delightful creations, you'll have to wait; there's a two-year waiting period for the Buddy. And again, these vehicles take around two months to assemble. 

Mitsuoka plans to have the M55 on display in both their home of Toyama City and Tokyo in the coming months. Mitsuoka will likely use this display run to test the waters and see how many buyers might be interested in purchasing the M55. While they currently only intend for the M55 to be a concept, if enough cash flows in its direction, Mitsuoka Motors could decide to make it a production vehicle. 

Source: Car and Driver.

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  • Expertise: automotive news, dramatic writing & cinema.  
  • Education: San Francisco State University, B.A. Cinema Production (2013), San Francisco State University, M.F.A. Creative Writing (2021). 
  • Feature-length play Bill & Jenna (2021) was selected for professional play development at Z Space in San Francisco.
  • Over 1,000 automotive news articles have been published on the web.      

Jarret Hendrickson is a writer. He got his start when he was accepted into San Francisco State University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program in 2018. While earning his degree, his short plays, The Captain (2019) & Fight Night (2020), were performed at San Francisco State University's annual Fringe Festival. His feature-length play Bill & Jenna (2021) was selected for the 2020 Greenhouse Professional Play Development Workshop at Z Space in San Francisco. While studying dramatic writing and screenwriting, he concluded that Se7en is the perfect modern screenplay. He received his MFA in the fall of 2021. In addition to his interest in writing and movies, Jarret also has a long-standing interest in automotive news, which dates back to his picking up a copy of MotorTrend when he was ten. His interest in all things automotive really blossomed at age 15 when he test-drove the 1994 Volvo SE that would accompany him for the next decade. His ongoing interest in cars helped him secure his first freelance writing job when he was hired to cover automotive news for axeladdict.com, where over 1,000 of his articles were published. You can find him on X (the social media platform formally known as Twitter) @jarrethsfpa and on Linkedin. Jarret currently covers the daily ebb and flow of the automotive industry for Wealth of Geeks.