From Honda to Nissan and Mitsubishi to Subaru, the Japanese have been turning out quality cars for years.
The country is known for its innovation, its quality and its full-on performance when it comes to motors. From 1960s firsts to modern classics from the 1990s, here we outline why we think they are the best when it comes to classic cars.
What do you think?
In all walks of life the Japanese have always been innovators and it’s no different when it comes to cars. The Honda S600 was the firm’s first mass-produced car and look where they are now. It was available as a fastback and as a roadster, ensuring it had plenty of appeal. In the same way that cars like the MG Midget brought sporty cars to the masses in Britain, Honda was doing the same in Japan.
The Toyota 2000 GT, produced at a similar time in the mid-1960s, is another great example of a sought-after Japanese classic. A collaboration with Yamaha, it had plenty of kerb appeal – looking as it did reminiscent of a meaty American sports car of the time.
It earned its innovation credentials by being the first Japanese car to feature both a limited slip differential and power-assisted disc brakes all-round as standard.
There’s one category of Japanese car that sums up the nation’s fondness for the quirky – Kei cars. The term translates as ‘light automobile’ and is basically a class of car in Japan that offers certain licence and tax advantages. They first came about in the wake of the Second World War, when the population needed to be mobilised as easily and cheaply as possible.
What it has done over the years is give rise to some interesting little cars – often smaller versions of ‘full-size’ motors. And not just cars, there are also microvans and pickup trucks, too. Examples include the Mazda R360 and Honda N360 of the 1960s, the Daihatsu Hijet S40 microvan of the 1970s and the Mitsubishi Minica, which was manufactured from 1962 all the way to 2011.
The Japanese have made an impact in a variety of motorsports across the decades and the spectrum and their achievements have filtered down to their road cars too. In Formula One Honda had its first victory as early as 1965 – the first Japanese car to win a Grand Prix.
Over the years the Japanese have had both teams and engines in the sport, with Honda generally leading the way. In the 1990s, its NSX supercar was given some serious publicity by Ayrton Senna, who was driving for the McLaren Honda team when it was in its prime.
The Japanese have had arguably even more success in rallying.
The Toyota Celica had much success over many decades in its various forms, notably in the hands of the likes of Carlos Sainz in the 1990s.
Speaking of the 1990s, the World Rally scene of the time catapulted a pair of what are now modern classics – the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer – to fame.
As duels between the likes of Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen elevated the sport to its peak, the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ adage rang very true for the two manufacturers as road-going versions of their rally steeds sold big.
Both are now increasingly sought-after as they move well into classic territory.
The mark of a good classic is often in the way it helps to bring something to the masses – as we’ve mentioned in our previous blogs, the likes of the Model T Ford, Mini and Fiat 500 can be credited with huge social change as well as automotive history.
And the Japanese deserve some of that credit.
Take the Mazda MX5 – when it arrived in 1989, it brought lightweight, fun and, crucially, affordable sports cars to the people.
The same goes for the likes of the Toyota MR2 or the Nissan 300ZX. There are countless examples of affordability when it comes to Japanese classics.
And in today’s classic market cars from Japan represent a very good way of getting into classic ownership, as well as a good investment for the future.
THE PLAYSTATION GENERATION
You might wonder what this has to do with classic cars, but the original PlayStation was, gulp, released more than 20 years ago. At the time, games like Gran Turismo gave youngsters that were too young to drive (and, dare we say, a fair few adults, too) the chance to buy, customise and race everything from an everyday Mazda hatchback to a supercar.
And, with the game being Japanese, it introduced many people to a wonder of cars from that country.Fast forward to now and those who were sat behind a computer steering wheel in their pre-teen and teenage years are now behind the wheel of the real thing.
It means that, much like the rally examples mentioned above, cars from the 1990s like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Mitsubishi FTO, Toyota Supra and Honda S2000 are, along with older versions that bore the same name, firmly embedded in the classic car fraternity.