Marqued

Feature

Small cars, big smiles: Marqued in Monterey

Written by Marqued Staff, Photography by Elise Talley

Aug 24, 2022

Every August, the car world descends on California’s Monterey Peninsula and Highway 1 turns into a traffic jam of the world’s most valuable automobiles, with Lamborghinis and Aston Martins creeping along behind Koenigseggs and Paganis. Within minutes, the average onlooker’s neck – sore from whipping around to see the latest automotive unicorn – is need of a chiropractor. Soon thereafter, however, the entire spectacle becomes mere wallpaper, a pleasant backdrop. You can only see so many hypercars, after all, before the next one is…just another hypercar. Such is human psychology.

All of which might help to explain the reaction our recently-acquired Fiat Panda 4x4 received when we puttered down to Monterey in 2021. Amidst a sea of Ferraris and Bugattis, we quickly realized that a humble little Italian econobox can be the biggest head-turner of all. Sometimes the only way to win an arms race for eyeballs is…to simply not get involved in an arms race, to go the other direction – preferably in a slow, rattletrap, people’s champ of a car.

Small cars, big smiles: Marqued in MontereySmall cars, big smiles: Marqued in Monterey

Photographed by Elise Talley

We had so much fun bouncing around Monterey in the Panda last year that we leapt at the chance to partner with the kindred spirits over at the Japanese Automotive Invitational, a Motor Trend event making its return to Monterey this year after a pandemic hiatus. Like those of us here at Marqued, the JAI team loves gaping at the European automotive jewelry parading around Monterey this time of year but they also (again, like us) see the importance of celebrating cars from the other hemisphere. As Motor Trend put it, “wouldn't it be fun to witness something a little different, perhaps something from across the Pacific instead of the Atlantic?”

And so, we signed up for the cause and partnered with our friends at Round Cat Racing to bring not one but two Honda Actys and a Honda S800 to Monterey. At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “I understand why the S800, so central to Honda’s early performance heritage and a forerunner of cars like the S2000, belongs in Monterey. But the Honda Acty? Explain yourself.” Happy to do so.

All of which goes back to last year’s lovely realization: the value of the cars at Monterey bear little relation to the happiness they provide and the smiles they bring to people’s faces.

Travel around Asia and you’ll see variations of the Acty everywhere. Specifically designed to lack any amenities or comfort whatsoever, they earn their keep as work trucks, carting around everything from onions to plumbing supplies to socks for the local market. These little workhorses are sold as a blank canvas, with the buyers then adapting them to whatever suits their needs. Along with the Round Cat team, then, we took up this spirit and gave the Actys a flavor of our own. The white Acty pictured here became our weekend camper (complete with rooftop tent), perfect for hanging out at the Rolex Historic races at nearby Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, while the blue Acty would be right at home ferrying parts through the paddock for one of the racing teams (thank you, by the way to owners Teal and Sarah Ganci for allowing us to gussy up their Acty with our blue Marqued livery).

Small cars, big smiles: Marqued in MontereySmall cars, big smiles: Marqued in Monterey

Photographed by Elise Talley

As we stood back enjoying the event, we were particularly charmed to watch children gravitate toward our trio of Hondas. The S800, in particular, is simply approachable in a way that we’ve witnessed in few other cars. We can theorize that, standing less than four feet tall, the S800 is a car that fits the dimensions of a child’s world, yet offers an adult realism that one of those plastic Barbie Jeeps cannot hope to match. Surrounding the Hondas at JAI was an assortment of Japan’s best known – and a few of its more obscure – pieces of automotive history.

Small cars, big smiles: Marqued in MontereySmall cars, big smiles: Marqued in Monterey

Photographed by Elise Talley

A 1970 Subaru 360 shared the space with an original Acura NSX and a pair of 1970s Nissan Skyline GTs. And while Myron Vernis (justifiably) won the show’s trophy for his 1989 Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1, Top Rank Importers might have stolen the show when they arrived in a rare 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec, made even rarer due to its unique Midnight Purple paint that changes color depending light and viewing angle. For most of the day, a crowd of people wandered around this car, gawking at – and puzzling over – its changing hues.

All of which goes back to last year’s lovely realization: the value of the cars at Monterey bear little relation to the happiness they provide and the smiles they bring to people’s faces. We’re proud to have provided – and enjoyed – a few grins of our own this year.

More about RoundCat Racing:

You can learn more about RoundCat Racing by following them on Instagram (@roundcatracing) and by exploring their website.

Meet our contributors

Elise Talley is a SpaceX engineer and photographer with a love for classic cars. She is based in Long Beach, California. You can find more of her photography on her Instagram (@starlordesss).


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