I’ve been traveling the globe for some time now and have been to more countries than I can remember. I’m not complaining, in fact I count myself among the fortunate. One of the best things about traveling is meeting new friends, especially when you have something in common…like cars. This common car enthusiast thread that binds many of us together is really no different in other countries. Oh sure there may be language barriers or other cultural differences, but in general we all speak the same language when it comes to the mechanical dialect. The passion, the interest, and the never ending quest for that rare part or car. Last November during the Japan Lotus Day at Fuji Speedway, I was introduced to AC Minds. It was completely obvious to me the minute I walked up to their display they were serious about Lotus. Just the collection of Weber carburetor jets alone was enough to confuse the senses. It was there that I met Hiromi Ido. Hiromi was the only staff member from AC Minds at the event that spoke English and since my ten words of Japanese vocabulary wasn’t going to get me to far, I let her do the talking. It turns out Hiromi lived in California for some time and was quite familiar with Los Angeles. She invited me to visit AC Minds if I ever returned to Japan and I was reasonably sure that was going to happen.
So a few months passed and I found myself in Tokyo again. I contacted Hiromi and made arrangements to visit AC Minds. Their facility is located in between Toyohashi and Nagoya in Okazaki and because that’s about 200 miles from Tokyo, a ride on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) was in order.
Cruising along the coast at 180 mph is impressive. The train is smooth, quiet, and clean . Everything you’ve ever heard about the efficiency of Japanese rail service is true. After a change to a local train and a short ride up the line, the train arrived precisely on time at the Nishi Okazaki station. Hiromi was waiting and we made our way to the office.
To be honest, I was not sure what to expect but it’s the adventure that adds to the excitement. When we turned into the parking area and I spotted an early Lotus Cortina, I knew it was going to be good. We entered the showroom and met Mr. Sakata, the President.
Mr. Sakata started AC Minds & Co. in 1988 and back then the company was primarily focused on the Mini. By now I bet you are wondering how Mr. Sakata came up with the name AC Minds. it’s downright clever…. A = Alec Issigonis, the guy that designed the Mini, C= Colin Chapman- the founder of Lotus, Minds = the thought or mind set behind the Alec and Colin. AC Minds now has 10 employees and sells not only Lotus but is also a Morgan and Caterham dealer. Their business is a combination of new and classic cars, parts and taking care of a large enthusiastic customer base. They not only sell cars but also maintain and service both street and race cars at their impressive facility.
During my visit, Sakata-san was showing an Elise to a prospective buyer so Kaoru Itakura, the Chief Mechanic was kind enough to show me around. Itakura-san was quick to take me over to one of their showrooms filled with Lotus Sevens, MG’s and Europa’s. There are so many unique and interesting details to see at AC Minds. There are pictures, signs and vestiges of cars everywhere. Wheels hanging from the rafters, RAC signs posted outside the showroom along with a collection of cars that rivals many museums. In fact, I am reasonably sure there are only a handful of specialists on the planet that have this many classic Lotus in one place. You almost feel like you’re at the Goodwood Revival.
Itakura-san owns ’74 John Player Special Europa himself and is crazy about detail. He was quick to point out many things he’s made like these mud flaps on this S1 Lotus Seven, complete with a Lucas logo. Now I want to be clear, he “manufactured” these himself and painted on the logo for the final touch. He was proud to show me his reference library he uses when restoring cars, making sure everything is period correct.
Itakura-san and Hiromi were proud to show me Sakata-san’s Shapecraft Lotus Elan that he has owned for over 20 years. The Shapecraft Elans are very rare with only 16 or 17 produced. They feature a stylish rear fastback addition that many feel enhance the appearance. Either way, they are very cool. Itakura-san has added air conditioning to this car but before you wince and fear the originality was lost, the installation is one of cleanest additions I have ever seen. The vents are secretly located behind the radio plate in the dash and the compressor mounts above the alternator on a special bracket. A well engineered addition to combat the summer heat in Japan.
The history of Sakata-sans Shapecraft is documented in Paul Robinshaw and Christopher Ross’s Elan book. Itakura-san points out the matching number plate and other points of provenance in the book.
Sakata-san also owns this S4 Elan built to 26R specification. The car features all of the required bits to go fast including a built engine.
Itakura-san then brought out this beautiful series one Seven. Powered by a British Leyland A series, it was well equipped with a sport windscreen and roll bar. Speaking of details again, Itakura-san highlighted the “Dunlop Racing” on the tires for that final touch.
I visited in January and the Lotus Seven still had the Kagami Mochi mounted on the scuttle. This is a traditional Japanese decoration to celebrate and bring good luck and prosperity in the new year.
AC Minds is well stocked with parts, both used and new. Sakata-san showed me his impressive array of components that included everything from a Holbay Lotus Twin cam to Cortina Tail lamps. The collection is vast and fills nearly the entire second floor of the building. My eyes were scanning everywhere, as I was sure there was something I needed.
Sakata-san is also adding a lounge for customers on the second floor so there was some construction going on during my visit. And to greet the customers as they walk up the stairs…the Lotus Elan 50th anniversary sign from the 2012 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Yes, that’s correct, the very sign that was at Goodwood. I’m not even going to speculate how Sakata-san made that happened but it looks perfect in it’s new home.
The AC Minds showroom is filled with parts and accessories for just about every type of Lotus ever produced. There is also a nice selection of books, memorabilia, and merchandise. Basically you cannot leave AC Minds without spending money.
This Lotus Type 47 is also being re-commissioned by the team at AC Minds. That makes two type 47’s at AC Minds…Two! No one really knows how many were produced but somewhere between 55-65 is generally accepted as correct. The type 47 is a GT Race car based on the Lotus Europa and was very competitive in the late 1960’s. The level of preparation was first rate and I’d love to see this on the track when completed.
After touring the main facility, I was taken to the original building that AC Minds was housed in when the company started. Inside were even more cars along with massive crates holding new Lotus frames. Customers drop their cars off for restoration and work so there tends to be a large amount of cars on the premises. AC Minds also stores customer’s cars and keeps them ready for their driving pleasure.
I’ve mentioned many times, the fanatical passion for detail the Japanese have for many things including cars. Kenzo Honda’s Lotus Elan is the perfect example of this passion. Kenzo is not only a customer at AC Minds, he also does construction work for Sakata-san and was installing the Lotus Elan anniversary sign while I was there. When he heard I was visiting to write a story, he went and picked up his ’63 Elan for show.
I recognized the car from the Japan Lotus Day Event and in fact it was one of my favorite Elan’s at the show. Kenzo-san has owned the car for 8 years and it’s a very early car with chassis no. 17. Kenzo-san’s Elan is tribute to a very famous Elan 26R that competed during CCC Race held at the Funabashi Circuit in 1965. Jiro Ukiya piloted the car at the race where he achieved first place. Tragically he was killed a month later while testing in another car. His family put the Elan in storage where it stayed for years. Many believe the car is the most original Elan 26R in existence and it has been featured in magazines, displayed in museums, and has even been duplicated in 1/43 scale by Ebbro. Itakura-san used images of the original car as inspiration, duplicating many of the features found on the original car. He even recreated the correct seats for Kenzo-san. The Elan is very striking in person and a testament to the quality of work performed at AC Minds.
Mr. Sakata and his team have created a very special place in Okazaki Japan. I’m reasonably sure AC Minds is the number one Lotus Specialist in the world…or at the very least, outside of the UK. Their commitment to the brand and customers is impressive to say the least. It’s a place that you feel at home and among friends and I know I’ll soon be back for another cup.
Contact AC Minds
Web: AC Minds