[EXCLUSIVE] - Jiotto Caspita - FULL STORY
At the turn of decade when eighties met nineties, as a result of upswing economy was a rise of popularity for supercars. Spectacular trend-setting automobiles like Ferrari F40, Porsche 959 or a highly unique Cizeta Moroder V16T then dominated the field of top-class dreamcars. While both Germans and Italians were globally acclaimed for their much sought-after models, and while the Diablo was still to arise from the hell, three companies from Far East joined their forces and know-how to develop and manufacture what had to become a true street-legal supercar with all best racecar genes in its DNA. We are talking about nothing else but a forgotten Japanese supercar – Jiotto Caspita.
It was 1988 when ideas of two gentlemen have reached the same point – to develop and build a supercar in Japan. The first one was Mr Yoshikata Tsukamoto – president of Wacoal Corp. – manufacturer of women apparel. The second one – Mr Minoru Hayashi – president of Dome Co. Ltd - a successful Japanese racing car developer and manufacturer. Mr Tsukamoto at that time was looking to expand his business into new activities under a new brand name which would be licensed globally for many various products. The first one should have been a representative of a "distinctive man" concept envisioned by Wacoal and after much discussion regarding further direction Mr. Hayashi came up with an idea to make world’s best super car. A car which would be faster than any other road legal car. A car which would narrow a boundary between racing car and high performance car to minimum.
For this purpose, a Mr Hayashi organized a committee called WASCAP (WAcoal Sports CAr Project). The main function of it was to discuss ideas for a future car. After all, a decision to develop a super sports car was taken. It perhaps was the most reasonable step further considering long years of Dome’s expertise in racing cars area. Even if from the very beginning Mr Hayashi knew it will be an extremely hard project, a green light was given for a development of an ideal supercar.
A scratch-built model began its way in July, 1988 when Jiotto Inc. was established by Wacoal Corp. The research and manufacturing work was then trusted for Dome while the styling and design was taken by a new company – Jiotto Design – the only independent Japanese design studio at that time. Based in Kyoto, this division of the Jiotto brand was co-founded by Wacoal (60%) and Dome (40%). Its president was Mr Hayashi while Vice-President and Chief Designer was Mr Kunihisa Ito. At that time Jiotto Design was the only independent Japanese design studio.
Mr Ito was a leading force in the design development of the Jiotto’s supercar project. From the very early beginning the emphasis was placed on racing success and the Japanese ideal supercar should have been a Group C race car for public roads. Sleek, aerodynamic lines are well stressed in the first sketches of the proposed car. Noticeable aspect is a rear wing which was well conceived to flow into the rear end of the body. (see picture 2-3)
Early design exercises were followed by a construction of 1/5 scale models for aerodynamic testing. First examples, however, were built as early as the first quarter of 1988! (see picture 6-7). Further to that Dome used its own as well as JARI’s (Japan Automobile Research Institute) wind tunnel for experiments. The first ideas were tested during no less than twenty aerodynamic tests. Initial proposals varied from neat to radical (see picture 5) but from more than 200 various sketches and drawings, Jiotto Design selected three designs for final development. All of them well accentuated a mid-engine structure with short, edgy front end, cockpit moved as forward as possible and rear zone to be occupied by a 12-cylinder power aggregate. All three of them were materialized in a 1/5 scale model form, as well. The trio was painted silver shade but their differences were highly significant. Proposal A featured muscular emphasized front continuing through a mid-section to a massive rear end and forming an integrated rear wing. A huge side air vent was also a distinctive detail. Proposal B among others was the closest to racing car. Exhaust pipes were imagined on sides while it also had a large rear spoiler on the back. Proposal C had a very sleek stance but not as muscular as the previous two. Like the proposal A it had an integrated rear wing too, but on the third model it was much more aggressive and not such smooth. This example also showed a rather interesting side view with no large air vents as opposite to the first two designs. However, it was thought that the third design would not be much successful on track. Thus, the finalist was the proposal A. Jiotto Design utilized JARI’s wind tunnel to put finishing touches to the exterior styling and ran additional testing there (see picture 25-27).
Further refinement took next steps towards the confirmed production-ready version. One of the most noticeable changes was applied to the front section of the car. A large air vent was added in order to ensure a necessary air for the radiator (see picture 18-21). Next to this, two more 1/5 scale models were created for final discussion. These two examples – one painted white and one painted black – demonstrated what the yet closest version to see the road was (see picture 22-24). Next modifications were made to the headlights as well as the rear which was completely reworked. Notably, the car received an electronically-controlled rear spoiler with a range of 19cm!
Once the research on the exterior styling was established, Jiotto Design team led by Mr Kunihisa Ito started researching supercars’ interior. Likewise the exterior, cockpit design was also created through many various and much different styling studies. Interior buck (see picture 38-39) was manufactured in early 1989 to better study and apply interior ideas. A chosen one was a sporty, functional but quite sophisticated. A tachometer with white digits was mounted centrally behind a lightweight twin-spoke steering wheel while all necessary switches were combined into the central console as well as dashboard. A smaller electronic LED speedometer and fuel gauge was placed on the left. Apparently, red and black accents were moved straight from the sketch to the actual car (see picture 28). The small LCD display was mounted for information on fuel and oil pressure. That’s it. No air conditioning, GPS navigation, internet connection, cell phone charger and no cup holders. This may sound as a true Spartan car, but it had to be driver’s car – a real high performance vehicle, a road-legal racer.
Next step undertaken by Dome was a testing series for the chassis. A purpose-built test bed (see picture 29-32) was created and the first shakedowns started in June, 1988. A test vehicle itself was speedster bodywork dropped on an advanced lightweight chassis with solar cell panels mounted on the rear to provide power for engine’s cooling fan.
Having passed all steps of refinement and rework, the final manufacturing was started in Iwakura, Kyoto in the small Jiotto Design workshops. A much complicated building process took long hours of work. For instance the critical part of the car – the central monocoque frame (see picture 33) was made by Mitsubishi Rayon Co. This structure used a “sandwich” technology where aluminum is placed between CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic) and then it is “baked” in autoclave to make it really hard thus creating a much rigid yet lightweight component. This process was repeated for more than 15 times meaning that manufacturing of a single monocoque took more than 2 months!
Hiding under the skin was a truly amazing piece of engineering. This is where the third partner – Subaru - stepped into the project of this Japanese supercar. Precisely Subaru’s F1 engine (see picture 67-68) co-developed with Italian company Motori Moderni was detuned to 450hp. This outstanding 3.5-liter flat-12 horizontally opposed power aggregate designed by Carlo Chitti was well fitted onto the aforementioned carbon composite structure. A maximum power as well as 363 Nm of torque was transferred to rear wheels through a 6-speed gearbox built by American company Weismann which at that time also served McLaren F1 team. This vast amount of power was connected to the road through huge tires – 245/40ZR17 in front and even 335/35ZR17 on the back. In addition to that, the clearance could be increased hydraulically from 7cm to 13cm!
With all components and aggregates in places, after long hours of hard and thorough work, it was about the right time for the world to see the most exclusive Japanese automobile being uncovered.
A true supercar of the late ‘80s received the named Caspita. This is an Italian exclamation word meaning “good heavens!” used to express a huge unexpected surprise. It was indeed a surprising premiere at the 28th Tokyo Motor Show (see picture 48-49). Standing next to such amazing concept cars like Mitsubishi HSR-II, Isuzu 4200R or even Ferrari Mythos by Pininfarina, the Jiotto Caspita was proudly a Japanese super sportscar. Painted in an adorable pearlescent shade it was a star of the show as well as its power source demonstrated next to it. On display of the Subaru-Motori Moderni stand, the Caspita was a truly compact supercar. Mr Ito managed to design such a brilliant automobile which being just 4534mm long would well accept a 12-cylinder engine! Gorgeous. With a wheelbase of 2700mm, width 1996mm and height of 1136mm it was a heroic 4-wheeled sculpture looking even more majestic with both gull-wing doors being opened.
Needless to say that Caspita was a real hit. All the brightest future was ahead for the Jiotto Design team with new partners and possible contracts found in the Tokyo Show. The initial plan was to make the Caspita a cornerstone product for the entire gamma of various Jiotto-branded products. Regarding the production of the supercar, the team proposed a price tag of approx. ¥100.000.000 or 700.000 USD. This would be an extraordinary price tag of 1.300.000 USD in current dollars. It was clearly known that sales of the Caspita will not be profitable, thus Mr. Yoshikata Tsukamoto was keen on idea to diversify gentlemen-oriented Jiotto products thus the licensing would cover cost of the Caspita development. That was the plan.
In addition to that, the team intended to get European certification and to entrust production of the Caspita by some highly capable European racing car manufacturer with a perspective to sell the car worldwide. For that purpose Jiotto Design planned to manufacture two more Caspita prototypes by the spring of 1990 and start testing after. Later, on a speed of one example per two months, this company planned to build no more than 30 examples within next five years with an actual production start scheduled for October, 1990. Furthermore, Dome in parallel with the Caspita roadcar project also developed an internal project for the Caspita racing version. As for the roadcar, a styling model in 1/5 scale was made (see photo 69-70) and tested in wind tunnel but the project was stillborn. However, Jiotto Design had intentions to support future customers to bring their cars into action like Le Mans in 1992 or 1993 but this has never ever happened.
As the time passed quickly Subaru was not much satisfied with results demonstrated by Coloni F1 bolide thus they pulled a plug on the project and the Jiotto Design was left without the actual engine supplier. This meant a long silence from the Kyoto company which reminded about themselves again in 1993 when they built a second Caspita (see photo 71-79)! One should not trust many various sources which claim that Jiotto stripped or sacrificed the 1989 version to build this second unit. This is much far from the truth. Both cars are well preserved until today. The first example is now available for public viewing at the Fukui Car Museum, while the second example is in the possession of the Dome company. For this unit of the Caspita the Japanese team chose a Judd racing engine by made English Developments Ltd. In comparison with the Subaru-MM aggregate, this was a V10 unit capable of 585hp @ 10750rpm and a max torque of 385 Nm @ 10500 rpm. However, Jiotto Design never claimed or confirmed official performance figures of top speed and acceleration for the Caspita but judging by its potential, this could have been well over 300 km/h.
A project which could have become a real Far East high performance sportscar, a real distinctive man’s automobile has never gone any farther than these two prototype vehicles. Built by highly passionate team of enthusiasts who put all their efforts, ideas, beliefs and hard work to make Japan noticeable in the world map of supercars the Jiotto Caspita has been forgotten by many but is very well remembered by a few true automobile aficionados. And it is not important from which part of the world you are – Europe or Asia. If you once had a chance to see this unique masterpiece in person, don’t forget to shout loud and clear an ancient Italian word – Caspita!
Text: © www.allcarindex.com. No part of it can be reused without prior permission. Reuse for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited!
Photographs: Kindly provided by Mr Kunihisa Ito and Mr Hiroshi Fushida, Dome Co. Ltd.
We greatly thank for both Mr Kunihisa Ito and Mr Hiroshi Fushida of Dome for their superb cooperation in order to put missing pieces in a single mosaic of Caspita’s history.