The cars we loved.
No discussion of oddly designed cars would be complete without mention of the Mitsuoka Orochi. What’s a Orochi you ask? The Orochi is a Japanese supercar built by Mitsuoka Motors. It started out as a concept car designed around a Honda NSX chassis. It evolved into a production car launched in 2006. The striking design gets its inspiration from the legend of the Yamata no Orochi multi-headed dragon. It’s creators translate that to mean that the Orochi is a organically designed “Fashion-Super Car”. The design is organic in more ways than one. Its construction is by hand and many of its components are hand crafted. The look is distinctive with two cars exactly alike due to the vast array of dealer installed options.
With automotive design becoming more globalized, regional differences that once distinguished an American car from a German one seem to be disappearing. Japanese designs generallycatered to global export and tended to blend in. Only in products that seemed restricted to the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM), could one truly see Japanese design at its unfettered best (or worst).
The home grown Orochi is a revolt against current automotive design trends via the reassertion of Japanese design at its most basic cultural level. The Orochi (which also means hero of evil) was initially far ahead of its time. At first glance, the expressive lines look very Art Nouveau with plenty of plant-like references. The oval greenhouse windows resemble leaves, while the boot over the engine has a vine-like vent arrangement. The four round headlamps frame a front end that resembles the eyes of a flowing dragon or, more like a four eyed Pichu or something out of a Japanimation feature.
All the attention to design covers what essentially is a rather conventional mid-engine, rear wheel drive sports car. The engine is a Toyota sourced 3.3 liter V6 with 233hp, while the suspension is a McPherson strut system all around with power disc ABS brakes (from Honda) and staggered 18’ wheels. A ridged space frame keeps it all together, giving the car a low and wide stance. Equipped with a five speed automatic transmission (from a Lexus SUV) the 3,483 lb. Orochi would probably be no match for a NSX or late model RX-7 with its 0 to 60 time in the high 5 second range. Unlike those cars, the Orochi’s main mission is to be distinctive and exclusive even as it hides a common Lexus engine behind its interior.
The interior is perhaps the most conventional aspect of the car. It’s tight quarters puts the driver and passenger snugly in curved racing style seats. A rear view camera activates when the car is in reverse because rearward visibility is almost nonexistent otherwise. Systems like the stereo and other entertainment options are typically installed by dealers, making each car unique in that regard.
There have been convertible models (called nudes) and a handful of very limited edition models like the Kabuto and Orochi Zero that offer slightly more performance than the standard car. Most American may have never heard of the Orochi, as it is sold only in Japan, various places in Asia and the Middle East. The Company Mitsuoka is said to be the 10th largest Japanese automotive manufacturer and builds another low volume car that is more like a retro coupe in the mold of the Zimmer Quicksilver.
Currently, Mazda has adopted a similar design theme called ‘Kodo –Soul of Motion’ to describe it’s take on organic design from a Japanese perspective. Although the Orochi may not be for everyone (its been called one of the world’s most ugly cars), Mitsuko may have started a new design trend in Japan, but others like Mazda are poised to profit from it on the world stage. When designers draw from their own cultural influences instead of trying to cater to the world markets, all automotive design is poised to become more interesting and distinctive. While the results with the Orochi might be questionable, the trend may well signal a design renaissance for other Japanese firms that translate mythical Japanese folklore to wheels.