The (obviously) Japanese Kaizen Corporation has a long and proud tradition of decennial “birthday celebrations”, meant to honor workers and customers all alike.
1996 is quickly approaching. The FC series is soldering on well, being victorious on the rally and race stages. The longstanding SC series, the champion of the company, will get a redesign in a few years. And a new generation of TC, meant to help Kaizen Corp prepare for the new millennium, was released earlier this year. Of course, you can’t ignore the ACER series of high revving convertibles, or their groundbreaking, turbocharged, mid engine Ensis, their first turbocharged production road car and a worthy successor to a long line of halo cars.
Since 1946, Kaizen Corporation, part of the Kaizen group of companies, has taken pride in being a driver’s company, a desire to combine the human and technological elements of motoring. The 4 “decade-birthday” specials have included their first supercar, the launch of the Victoria racing team and series of high performance road cars,
What would the 5th time bring?
While their first production car was a 4 cylinder, Kaizen Corporation has been a company rooted in 6 cylinders (think BMW), bar lower trim versions for the FC (I4), the TC (I4), ACER (I4), racing homologation specials, and various USDM offerings (V8). The SC was exclusively powered by various inline 6s in various tunes and displacements until the Victoria version of the current generation introduced the brands first worldwide V8 production car, powered by a naturally aspirated 5.3L V8. The FC series was anchored by lower displacement, efficient, smooth, and punchy inline 6s.
Inspired by various Group B homologation specials, the chief engineer of Kaizen Corporation wanted to shoehorn the Ennis engine in the TC. The project was greenlighted, knowing that it would not only be a special occasion, but would help create a halo car that would draw buyers to the rest of the TC range.
A naturally aspirated version of the Ennis engine, stroked to 3.2 liters and cast in a new aluminum-silicon alloy, was meticulously integrated to the front of the car. It sent 255 hp to the front wheels through an all new 6 speed manual transmission (only available option) with a helical limited slip differential. Other changes include revised suspension, bigger wheels, wider tires and body, and new, more aggressive styling. This would be the top level trim of the TC series, retailing for around $40,000. With class leading roadholding, a 0-62 of less than 6 seconds and a top speed of over 155 mph, the VTCs 50th anniversary edition is a hatch that can terrorize sports cars. Successfully increasing interest in the whole TC series, the VTCs 50A not only get a slice of both the typically crazy 80s-90s Japanese performance car engineering and hot hatch power wars, but gave buyers a unique, hot hatchback that is still fast appreciating today. It would eventually be compared favorably to similar cars like the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA and the Volkswagen Golf R32.
Praised for its surprisingly sporty handling, a muscular and slick powertrain combination, and it’s raucous demeanor that set it apart from most other hot hatches, 5966 Kaizen VTCs 50th Anniversary Editions were sold, only in Japan, Europe, the United States, and Canada. JDM variants came with a 260 hp, higher compression variant of the V6 engine specifically tuned for higher octane fuel (93 aki/~98 RON). The VTCs 50th Anniversary has been quickly coming out of its depreciation curve over the last few years, and values look to only increase exponentially over the years ahead, as buyers recognize that it caters to passionate drivers and not outright numbers-beating performance. The steering is a tiny bit light, but very precise and fast. It responds immediately to your inputs, with tenacious turn on. However, a mid corner bump might cause instability, although the standard traction control helps. Brakes are responsive and stop with authority, fortified by ventilated 4 wheel ABS discs, pedal feel is quite firm and confident. The pedals are perfectly set up for heel and toe maneuvers, which bring out a sound that often emits from much more expensive and exclusive automobiles, and the bolstered seats offer plenty of support. Like the somewhat restrained exterior, the interior is quite subdued, full of black trim, but it is logically designed and ergonomic.
But what dominates this experience is the absurdly big engine under the hood, helped by a slick 6 speed manual transmission. As we accelerate out of the tight switchback, it is quite easy to select a gear that allows us to utilize its strong, linear powerband. The limited slip differential make effective use of the sports tires, scrabbling enough grip to pull is in the corner and lead us out of the corner.
The engine can be a little finicky. It could use some better throttle response (although much better than many modern engines), but in low revs, it has a very usable amount of torque, and is easy to modulate. It is somewhat mild under 3300 rpm.
Keep that foot planted and it comes to life. The V6 charges all the way up to its 7500 rpm redline as it adopts a more aggressive cam profile, and requires fast reaction time to shift properly. Do be prepared for some hints of torque steer when to step on the “go-fast” pedal.
Reliability is rather fine, but many owners were younger, and were less able to afford maintenance, a notorious characteristic of the VTCs 50th Anniversary due to its engine. Because of this, they were often neglected and changed owners many times. Many have also been modified, supported by the aftermarket industry of the Ennis, as they shared a similar engine. Bigger brakes and performance exhausts are a common modification.
More akin to 147 GTA than Golf R32, this is not a car known for outright refinement, comfort, or even composure. At the end, you’ll probably be sweating profusely, too bewildered to walk, but you are guaranteed to smile. Sure, there are comparable cars that give you more confidence and perform betters on numbers, but in the automotive world, few hot hatches offer the adrenaline, soul, commitment, and driving passion of the Kaizen VTCs 50th Anniversary