By conventional measures of success, Mitsuoka Motor isn't in the same league as Japan's biggest car companies. Despite celebrating its 40th birthday in February, it's not a household name in Japan--never mind overseas. It doesn't advertise, and with sales of just 750 cars a year, it relies on earnings from its dealership arm, which sells imported Lamborghinis, Chryslers, and Volkswagens, to fund vehicle development.
Yet when it comes to unusual, daring, and sometimes bizarre designs, Mitsuoka cars stand out from the blur of Toyotas (TM), Nissans (NSANY), and Hondas (HMC) on Japan's roads. Mitsuoka's lineup has everything from compact models resembling vintage British marques to the Orochi, a $100,000-plus "supercar." With its Le Seyde, Mitsuoka built perhaps the most garish car ever sold in Japan. "Mitsuokas are unique and I wanted a car no one else had," says Hajime Naito, 60, a photographer whose car collection includes a pimped-out $150,000 Orochi and $29,000 Zero-1--a two-seater roadster inspired by the Caterham Seven, a lightweight British sports car.