Smooth drive: Tetsu Ikuzawa

The story of the effortlessly cool racing driver who put Japanese motor sport on the map

Three-time Formula 1 World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart was referring to the Swinging Sixties when he remarked that 'Motor racing was dangerous and sex was safe.' But as well as being risky, the sport back then seemed incomparably stylish, thrillingly unpredictable and dazzlingly colourful - and so were its characters.

And while the West offered stars such as Sir Jackie, the dapper Graham Hill and the larger-than-life Carroll Shelby, there was one man from the East who has gone down in history not only as being among the best-dressed in the pit lane, but also as one of the quickest on the track and one of the most respected among his peers.

He is Tetsu Ikuzawa, an inspiration for Bally's SS17 collection whose driving prowess, exuberant elegance and style make him the perfect match for the Swiss fashion house known for its finely crafted driving shoes.

Smooth drive: Tetsu Ikuzawa

The style of driving shoes

For the competitive racer like Ikuzawa, boots or trainers were part of the uniform. But for the more casual motorist, Bally's collection of driving shoes provides the perfect combination of relaxed elegance, comfort and luxurious convenience. The Weilon suede driving shoe, for example, has the handsome Bally Crest motif embossed across the upper and is finished with a simple leather tie and rubber Bally Grip detail on the sole. Meanwhile, the Pearce driver in soft, supple suede and the Pearce driver in breathable, fashionable perforated calf-leather are both finished with a hard-wearing gripped rubber sole and decorated with the iconic Bally stripe, a style reminiscent of the racing stripes that ran down the sleeves and legs of Ikuzawa's race suit.

Ikuzawa was born in 1942, the son of celebrated painter Row Ikuzawa, who passed on sufficient talent to his son that he earned a place at art school and showed a level of skill and promise that made a career with brush and canvas a distinct possibility. But the younger Ikuzawa also harboured an urge that seemed a far cry from the artist's studio - an urge to experience speed and danger at the controls of a racing motorcycle.

When aged only 15, he took part in the gruelling Mount Asama race, which combined short-circuit riding with off-road trial sections ridden across volcanic ash, and his performance at such events during a decade of competition eventually took him to four wheels and a contract to drive for the Prince Motor Company, builder of high-quality cars such as the Skyline GT and Gloria.

And it was in a Sport GT version of the former that Ikuzawa made his track debut in the inaugural Japanese Grand Prix of 1963, the unremarkable-looking, two-door sedan striking an incongruous note among the sleeker, more streamlined, purpose-built competition.

Ikuzawa drove well for Prince, and continued to do so throughout the season. However, he was merely getting his hand in, honing his technique, learning the car - and developing a talent that came to the fore in spectacular fashion at the following year's GP at Suzuka.

In a GT-II race that has gone down as one of the most remarkable in Japanese motor sport, Ikuzawa got behind the wheel of a Skyline GT that, like those of his teammates, seemed far from perfect - a straight-six, three-carburettor engine had been shoehorned under the bonnet, necessitating a 20cm extension to the nose that unbalanced the car and wore its tyres.

Smooth drive: Tetsu Ikuzawa

Driving fashion: winning in style

But what should have proved a handicap Ikuzawa turned to an advantage. So deft was he behind the wheel that he could slip and drift the car on the circuit's corners to the point that, on the especially challenging hairpin curve, he overtook a Porsche 904 Carrera GTS that, on paper, made the Skyline GT seem like a non-starter.

Ikuzawa's brilliant and audacious move sent the crowd wild and, although the Porsche ultimately won the race, the team of Skyline GTs swept home in second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth positions - and lit the blue touch paper that took Japanese motor sport global.

For Ikuzawa, too, the drive opened doors around the world. He continued to race in Japan for two more years before heading for Europe, where he became the first Japanese to compete in the British Formula 3.

In Europe, Ikuzawa attracted much attention - and hungrily embraced the 1960s lifestyle, casting aside the conservative, blue-blazer look in which he had arrived in the UK in favour of the era's flared trousers, trousers elasticated at the waist and ankle and decorated with racing stripes, brightly patterned shirts and sheepskin-trimmed Afghan coats.

With his exotic looks and sharp dress sense, Ikuzawa became an instantly recognisable style icon who, for a while, frequented all of London's hippest night spots at which he attracted a steady stream of female admirers, despite being far from fluent in the English language.

Smooth drive: Tetsu Ikuzawa

A day at the races

But Ikuzawa always remained focused on racing - an attitude that enabled him to power a tiny Honda S800 to a class victory in the Nürburgring 500km race before being recruited as a works driver for Porsche, for which he won the fourth Japanese Grand Prix.

After that, Formula 2 beckoned, before a move to endurance racing that led to drives in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Ikuzawa even established his own 'Team Nippon' and later held important management roles, including as director of a Japanese Formula 2 team.

Today, Ikuzawa remains a familiar sight at events both in Japan and abroad as a revered motor-sport ambassador who has lost none of the dapper style that was part and parcel of his stardom during the 1960s.

And among the world's many fans of the modern-day Nissan GT-R - which evolved from the Prince Skyline GT - he remains, of course, a living legend.