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Theft of classic sports cars rises in Japan, driven by overseas demand

The circular tail lights of a fan-favorite Nissan Skyline are seen in Osaka's Konohana Ward on Nov. 20, 2022. (Mainichi)

YOKOHAMA -- The theft of Japanese sports cars is a frequent occurrence here, the Mainichi Shimbun learned, and surprisingly, it is not newer vehicles, but older models -- mainly from the 1990s -- being targeted. And that may have something to do with popular media franchises.

    According to Kanagawa Prefectural Police, 35 incidents of theft or attempted theft of sports cars took place between June and September last year, mainly in Yokohama. Targeted models included the Nissan Skyline, Toyota Supra and Honda NSX, all of which were manufactured between 1989 and 2003. The total value of the thefts was in excess of 100 million yen (about $765,000).

    Last September, police arrested two suspects, men aged 57 and 58, on suspicion of attempted larceny after the two allegedly tried to steal a sports car that had been parked at an auto repair shop in Yokohama. The pair is suspected over more than 10 additional incidents, but the rash of thefts has continued even after their arrest, leading police to investigate whether an organized crime element is involved.

    One of the suspects confessed, saying that their motivation was to earn money, and that there is a market for older model cars. One factor is that the value of the vehicles has been soaring.

    According to Toshiyuki Yokoyama, an executive with the Kanagawa branch of the Japan Used Car Dealers Association, "There's high demand overseas for older Japanese cars, driven by their appearances in movies and manga, as well as their sturdiness and cool looks. Their prices have shot up to match demand." Classic Japanese sports cars have appeared in film franchises such as "The Fast and the Furious" and the manga, anime and game series "Initial D," which has increased their popularity overseas, particularly in the United States.

    Yokoyama offered his view that some of the stolen cars are being sold overseas, and that the cars may be being dismantled, shipped as parts, then reassembled for sale in other countries.

    As their values increase, thefts of the vehicles are expected to continue. According to police, most of the stolen cars were not equipped with anti-theft devices such as wheel locks. A police official advised using multiple locks -- one for the steering wheel, another for the tires -- and stated that removing the cars' batteries is also effective. "It's crucial to make the theft a time-consuming effort. If it takes time, that increases the chance people nearby will notice," the official said.

    (Japanese original by Daisuke Makino, Yokohama Bureau)

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