More of the Best Japanese Sports Cars Ever!

This is a follow-up to one of my most popular posts of all time. Japan has given us some of the most iconic, endearing, and usable sports cars ever to drive.

  • 1959 Datsun Sports/Fairlady: It was known as the Datsun Fairlady in Japan, but over here, it was known as the Datsun Sports. It came with a 1,500 cc engine, a 1,600 cc engine, or a larger 2,000 cc engine. It started as a cheaper competitor to the MG Midget, but it had a fiberglass body instead of the aluminum used in the MG. It developed into one of the most successful road-racing cars in the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America).

    This is a 1962 model, but it is essentially the same as the 1959 model.
    This is a 1962 model, but it is essentially the same as the 1959 model.
  • 1963 Honda S500: This was Honda’s first car. While it’s successor, the S600 enjoyed numerous class wins in the SCCA and other road racing bodies, the S500 shouldn’t be forgotten. The S500 weighed a mere 1,500 pounds, and it was powered by a tiny 500 cc dual-overhead-cam engine with a 9,500 RPM redline. It had one motorcycle influence – chain-driven wheels. It was a fast, sprightly little car that could hang with the big boys.1963 Honda S500
  • 1965 Toyota Sports 800: This was Toyota’s first sports car, and while it wasn’t a hit in the US, it’s had a devout following since day one. It has 44 horsepower, and a removable targa top. Oh, and it’s pretty cute.

    The only thing that isn't stock about this beautiful 1965 Toyota Sports 800 are the wheels, but I think it adds a nice touch.
    The only thing that isn’t stock about this beautiful 1965 Toyota Sports 800 are the wheels, but I think it adds a nice touch.
  • 1967 Toyota 2000GT: Riding off of the success of the Sports 800 in Japan, Toyota decided to build a competitor to the Jaguar E-Type. The result is the absolutely stunning Toyota 2000GT. Toyota teamed up with Yamaha to develop the engine and transmission, and boy did Yamaha deliver! It’s an achingly gorgeous car that breezes well over $1 million at auction.1967 Toyota 2000GT; top car design rating and specifications
  • 1968 Datsun Bluebird/1300-1600/510: Datsun essentially reverse-engineered the legendary BMW 1600, and this wonderful rally/drift machine was born. It was known as the Bluebird in Europe, the 1300-1600 in Asia, and the 510 here in America. It still holds 2wd rally records. It’s one of the most legendary sports coupes ever made, and you can buy one for a relatively low price.

    This is a picture from one of the original advertisements that Datsun put out in 1968. The No. 85 car is one of the legendary rally cars.
    This is a picture from one of the original advertisements that Datsun put out in 1968. The No. 85 car is one of the legendary rally cars.
  • 1970 Datsun 240Z: This is certainly one of the most beautiful sports cars ever made, let alone one of the most beautiful cars ever made. My grandparents and dad used to own one, but guess who decided to sell it so I couldn’t enjoy it? It had a single-overhead-cam inline six cylinder engine, a five speed manual, and fully independent suspension. European sports cars never knew what passed them.1970 Datsun 240z
  • 1971 Mazda RX-2 and RX-3: These cars were the precursors to the legendary RX-7. The RX-2 set so many records and poles in IMSA that rotary engines got banned. The RX-3 went 160 mph at Bonneville. 
    This is a 1971 Mazda RX-2. It's not exactly pretty, but it got the job done.
    This is a 1971 Mazda RX-2. It’s not exactly pretty, but it got the job done.

    This is the slightly larger 1971 Mazda RX-3. It's equally homely, but it was much faster than the RX-2.
    This is the slightly larger 1971 Mazda RX-3. It’s equally homely, but it was much faster than the RX-2.
  • 1979 Toyota Celica: The original Toyota Celica was for all essential purposes, a Datsun 240Z with icing on the cake. While it didn’t have a six-cylinder engine, it had a rear seat, and therefore, more utility. It was originally somewhat homely, but then the legendary AE86 generation came around, and it had totally ’80s styling, man.

    Most teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s really wanted to own a 1978 Celica notchback, like this. You can decide if they really wanted it that badly.
    Most teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s really wanted to own a 1978 Celica notchback, like this. You can decide if they really wanted it that badly.
  • 1982 Datsun Maxima: This is the precursor to the Nissan Maxima. It borrowed powertrain components from the 240Z, and was supposed to be a very fun car to drive.1982 Datsun Maxima
  • 1985 Toyota MR2: You can call it Mister Two. It was inspired by the then-fast Ferrari Testarossa. It was a break from the monotonous, boring cars Toyota had been cranking out…oh wait, they still are!

    You can call it Mister 2.
    You can call it Mister 2.
  • 1986 Honda Civic, CRX, and Prelude Si: The year 1986 was a good year for car people. Honda released the Si model for the Civic, CRX, and Prelude. It upped speed and handling prowess. These cars are still fast enough to keep up with a modern Porsche Cayman on a winding road or a race track. Plus, you can get them for very little money, as Honda made a lot of them!
    This is the 1986 Civic Si, which was basically a four-seat CRX. It had more utility, but was slightly slower.
    This is the 1986 Civic Si, which was basically a four-seat CRX. It had more utility, but was slightly slower.
    The 1986 Prelude Si was a sporty, yet very refined car. It had tuned port fuel injection, which was rare for the time. Yet, it was still affordable to the everyman.
    The 1986 Prelude Si was a sporty, yet very refined car. It had tuned port fuel injection, which was rare for the time. Yet, it was still affordable to the everyman.

    This is the infamous 1986 Honda CRX Si. It's still fast enough to keep up with a new Miata.
    This is the infamous 1986 Honda CRX Si. It’s still fast enough to keep up with a new Miata.
  • 1988 Honda Prelude: Honda took the already-impressive Prelude Si, made all of it’s equipment standard, and then added four-wheel steering to it. It was a speedy little car.1988 Honda Prelude
  • 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata: It’s a sprightly Lotus-inspired roadster that is now the world’s favorite roadster out there. It took all of the fun charms that British and Italian roadsters had, and added bulletproof reliability to the mix. It’s also the world’s most popular race car. Need I say more? I really want one (hint, hint Zayzee)…1990 Mazda Miata
  • 1991 Acura NSX: Acura’s NSX is still one of the most amazing supercars ever. It’s so reliable that you can daily drive it without having to worry about overheating it. It has a sleek aluminum body that looks fabulous in red (just to rub it in to Ferrari), and it’s 3.0-liter V6 revs to 8,000 RPM. It’s V6 has the original VTEC system, which is just a variable timing and lift valvetrain. VTEC comes from motorcycles, but it first appeared in 1989 with the Acura Integra GS-R for Japan only.

    It's 24 years old, yet it's still incredibly fast, and has styling that is superb.
    It’s 24 years old, yet it’s still incredibly fast, and has styling that is superb.
  • 1994 Toyota Supra: The Supra finally matured in it’s fourth generation. It’s still one of the most legendary sports cars around. It’s twin-turbocharged 2JZ-GTE engine further catapulted the Supra into fame. Most have been tuned to within an inch of their life, so it’s rare to see a stock fourth-generation Supra.1994 Toyota Supra
  • 1992 Mazda RX-7: The third, and final generation of the legendary Mazda RX-7 arrived in 1992 with sequential turbocharging, beautiful bodywork, and vastly improved handling. It’s been successful on the racing circuit, and is still winning awards in Formula Drift.1992 Mazda RX-7
  • 2000 Honda S2000: How does Honda celebrate their 50th birthday? By building an incredible successor to the S600, that’s how! The S2000 was powered by a 9,000 RPM 2.0-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine that screams to the heavens. It’s supposed to be one of the most visceral and engaging cars ever to come out of a factory’s doors.2000 Honda S2000
  • 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII: It’s a cross between a road-racing machine and a rally car. It had massive Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks with lots of travel that somehow allowed for perfect car control, and a massive, provocative carbon-fiber rear wing. It’s instantly recognizable.2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
  • 2004 Mazda RX-8: The Mazda RX-8 was the last dying gasp for rotary engines. It had doors like an extended cab pickup truck, and a backseat. It drank fuel like a sailor, and ate oil like a long-haul trucker. If you started driving it before the engine was warm, you’d flood the engine. If you turned it off without letting it idle for a few minutes, you’d cook the rotors. Yet, people still love them.Mazda RX-8, 2004 World Wide Launch Monterey, CA  12/29/2002
  • 2009 Nissan GT-R: Nissan took the GT-R to uncharted heights in terms of performance. It has a twin-turbo V6, AWD, and a video-game dashboard just for kicks. It’s performance is truly astonishing. It can grip like nothing else out there, and it’s acceleration is only rivaled by hypercars like the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder. And a garden-variety brand-new one costs about $100,000.

    It's Godzilla! The nickname came around after an automotive journalist looked at all of the races that the original GT-R had won, and proclaimed it "Godzilla." It's a fitting nickname.
    It’s Godzilla! The nickname came around after an automotive journalist looked at all of the races that the original GT-R had won, and proclaimed it “Godzilla.” It’s a fitting nickname.
  • 2012 Lexus LFA: Lexus took a stab at the supercar market with the clunky and odd LFA. They brought a butterknife to a minigun fight. They built 500 LFA supercars that are somehow coveted right now. They aren’t fast by supercar standards, and they aren’t very much fun to drive. Their transmission can never replicate a shift, so you either get slammed back into your seat, or you don’t notice it shifting at all. There is no in between. That being said, it’s 4.8-liter V10 sounds spectacular, and revs to the heavens. Lexus likely lost money selling each LFA. Building supercars is an expensive, risky business.2012 Lexus LFA
  • 2012 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86: This might just be the best Subaru/Toyota pairing ever. It’s certainly an odd pairing – Toyota and Subaru are competitors, but their collaboration resulted in a really fun car. The Scion FR-S is a bit more loose, as it’s meant more for drifting, whereas the Subaru is a bit tighter, as it’s meant for canyon carving and track duty. They’re really affordable – a well-optioned one comes in about $30,000, and they have a lot to offer: RWD, fuel efficiency, fun-to-drive factor, reliability, standard manual transmission, etc.2012 Scion FR-S

2012 Subaru BRZ2012 Toyota GT86Those are what I think to be more of the best Japanese sports cars ever made. I’d love to hear more of your stories about any of these cars, or which one is your favorite.

Porsche Never Designed the 911 Around it’s Rear Engine

It’s certainly one of the most iconic automotive designs ever.

I’m sure that if you named just one thing about one of the air-cooled Porsche 911’s, it’s been written about.  While being in and around the car is like watching a movie you’ve seen multiple times, it still has that mystical allure that reels you in each time.

Seeing the car is an experience that is hard to forget.  It’s probably because you can’t compare the design to any other car on the road.  It’s incredibly and undeniably unique.

Yes, it’s got a hint of VW Beetle and the Porsche 356 that preceded it, but we tend to forget those cars when we see one.  The car was designed to carry four adults and their luggage around in comfort and style, yet be fun to drive.

Most “true” sports cars only have two seats, yet the 911 has four.  This is odd, but somebody high up at Porsche presumably wanted something that could carry more than two people.  Unless they wanted to make it incredibly long, the engine would have to be behind the rear axle.

However, this isn’t the universally-accepted truth.  The idea that Porsche is wedded to the engine-in-the-back philosophy is one that you could seriously consider.  The 911 was preceded by the mid-engine 550 Spyder, then followed by the mid-engine 914, the front-engine 924 and 928.  The purpose-built racecar built by Porsche in the same era, the 904, was mid-engine.  The car that truly preceded the 911 was the rear-engine 356, which was essentially a rear-wheel-drive VW Beetle with a nice interior.  For all essential purposes, the 911 is the second and final Porsche rear-engine design, redone a few times.  Even the 356 began as a mid-engine car.

This rear seat thing is why the driver sits higher than most other sports cars.  It allows their legs to be slightly more bent, which gives more space to the folks in the rear seat.  This is also what makes the roof so tall, as well as how far forward the windshield goes.

It’s flat-six engine is only three cylinders long, so the rear overhang is no longer than most front-engine sports cars.  But, it’s also significantly lower overall than most other sports cars.

Most people rail on the car because of it’s rear-engine location, but the truth is, that’s not the most interesting part of the design.  They should focus more on the tall and forward-positioned windshield, and the single sweep backwards to the tail end of the car.

The original Porsche 911 was a massive 15 inches shorter than the Jaguar E-Type, which is really the only comparable car in terms of cabin space and performance.  In short, the 911’s proportions are more to do with the fact that it was designed to carry two people in the back, rather than having the engine in the back.

The real allure of the 911 for me is the fact that Porsche placed function over form, yet created an intensely beautiful and unique car that nobody else was capable offering.  It is utterly unique, and nothing can quite compare to it.

The interior is nothing special, but there’s something beautiful and understated about it. It’s very simple, but owners say that the car is far from basic.  The car may be small, but it’s far from cramped.

There is something that draws me to the surprising compactness of the original 911.  It’s actually a small car.  While I know that modern cars have grown substantially, the original 911 is about the same size as a stock 1930 Ford Model A.  It’s really not a big car, yet it’s got an impressive amount of utility to it.  I really want to drive one, or at least ride in one.

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This is the infamous Porsche 550 Spyder. James Dean died in one.
This is the infamous Porsche 550 Spyder. James Dean died in one.
Most racers in the 1960s got started in either an MG or a Porsche 356, both of which dominated the road racing circuit for many years.
Most racers in the 1960s got started in either an MG or a Porsche 356, both of which dominated the road racing circuit for many years.

1973 Porsche 914

Porsche 924 Porsche 928 GTS

1964 Jaguar E Type

2003-Volkswagen-Beetle

1930 Ford Model A Sedan

 

The Vehicles That Forever Changed the Automotive Landscape

These are not the best cars ever made.  Rather, they are the cars that have shaped modern cars.  I hope that you enjoy my list.  Please share any corrections if you feel necessary.

  • Ford Model T:  This was the car that made the production line possible.  It was also the car that made cars affordable to the American public.  Ford produced well over 15 million of them before production ended in 1927.  They are fairly simple to own, and they can keep up with city traffic if you want.  With so many built, there are many clubs and associations for the Model T all over the country.  Just look up “Ford Model T club <insert your area here>” on Google.  I can practically guarantee you that there is at least one club that you can join if you are the new owner of a Model T.  People drive them all over the place on tours.  You can take one into Alaska if you so please.  There are always plenty for sale anywhere between $10,000-40,000.  If you want to daily drive one, all you need is a good arm to crank-start it, and some adjustments to the timing.  Just retard the timing a big, be gentle with the gas, and you’ll have a car that gets up to 35 mph.  That’s plenty good for most city driving.
  • 1916 Cadillac Type 53:  Every single modern car owes a lot to this Caddy.  It was the first car EVER to come from the factory with an electric starter and a modern control layout, both of which we take for granted today.  The Type 53 wasn’t popular with Americans or the world, mostly because of it’s price (about $3,000).  However, the Austin Seven copied the Caddy and set the die for all cars to come.  Yet, I still credit the Cadillac.
  • 1932 Ford:  This was the first affordable car available to the American public with a V-8 engine.  It had a flathead V-8 making a whopping 85 horsepower.  Today, that’s comparable to a car making 500 horsepower from a V-6 (not unheard of).  Anyhow, it was affordable to some Americans.  It became known as “The Deuce,” as did the third-generation Chevrolet Nova.  It was the fastest affordable car of it’s day, which is why it was the escape vehicle of choice for Bonnie and Clyde.  It’s unclear how many were made, but it’s estimated that well over 1.5 million were sold.  Remember that Ford was selling these cars in 1932, right before the peak of the Great Depression!  It became one of the most popular cars to hot rod.  I want one, and we can call ourselves lucky that there are reproduction steel bodies, chassis (yes, that is plural and singular), and used engines aplenty.  How’s that for cool?  You can build your very own reproduction Deuce for about $20,000.  It’s going to be so much more fun than that Corolla you’ve had your eye on.
  • Willys/Bantam/Ford Jeep:  WWII veterans say that the Jeep was the vehicle that won WWII.  They are right.  It can still embarrass most purpose-built vehicles on a dirt road or in mud.  It was the first 4X4 to be sold to the American public en masse, and it proved to be popular.  After WWII, Willys decided to market the Jeep as an alternative to a tractor for farmers.  Chrysler still rakes in hundreds of millions on new Jeep Wranglers every year.  It’s truly an iconic vehicle.
  • 1948 MG TC:  This little wood-framed British roadster is what allowed such amazing cars as the Lotus Elise, Mazda Miata, and even the mighty Shelby Cobra to be.  Every single great American racing legend – Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, and many others got their start in an MG TC.  On a winding road, this little car that only made 55 horsepower and 64 lb-ft of torque would simply run away from any American car, regardless of power output.  Much of what we hold dear as an automotive enthusiast was started by this little car.  It’s influence on every single sports car from 1948 on is immeasurable.  It’s still fast enough to embarrass a modern Chevy Camaro Z/28 on a windy road.  That’s pretty damn fast for a car that makes 450 less horsepower.
  • VW Beetle Type 1:  It’s the single most-produced car in history.  It’s an elegantly simple design that has stood the test of time better than most cars produced at the same time.  It was the foundation for the legendary Porsche 356, Meyers Manx dune buggy, and VW Transporter bus.  It was FWD, came as either a convertible or a coupe, had a tiny rear-mounted four-cylinder engine, and cost far less than any new American car on the road.  It became extremely popular with people of all ages and demographics.  Many new parents went out and bought a Beetle, and it would serve millions of families around the world faithfully for 20 years or more without major problems.  Most new cars can’t say that.  In the hippie movement, it became extremely popular.  Once the off-roading community got their hands on one, the legendary Baja Bug was born.  It is still fast enough to keep pace with a modern Trophy Truck in the horrible dirt roads of Baja, or the sand dunes of Pismo Beach.  Almost every desert town in the world will have at least several Baja Bugs running around.  It’s fast, sturdy, and capable, yet can be driven around town without complaining.  And the best part is you can build yourself one for about $5,000!  That’s not including a starter vehicle, by the way!  My grandparents owned one.  You probably know somebody who’s owned one.
  • Toyota 2000GT:  This was the car that put the Japanese automotive industry on notice with the world.  It was a more expensive alternative to the Jaguar E-Type, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Thunderbird, Porsche 911, and the like.  It’s achingly gorgeous, and only a handful were built.  It’s also achingly expensive.  Toyota proved that they could hang with whatever Europe happened to build.  James Bond drove one.
  • Lamborghini Miura:  It’s not the quintessential Lamborghini – that goes to the equally-amazing Countach, but it set the standard for supercars.  It came around because Ferrucio Lamborghini wanted to build a better Ferrari.  When Lamborghini was going to debut the Miura concept car at the Geneva Motor Show in 1965, they didn’t even have a body!  They had a chassis with a V-12, a transmission, and wheels.  That was it.  However, the Miura looks absolutely stunning.  It’s one of the most beautiful cars ever built, and every single supercar owes a lot to the Lamborghini Miura.
  • Citroen DS:  When it debuted in 1955, it was the most technologically-advanced car in the world.  It had hydraulic suspension, a streamlined fiberglass body shell, four wheel disc brakes, a twin-cam V6, and many other technological innovations.  It was one of the first truly modern cars.  One can compare it to the Tesla Model S.  That’s how revolutionary it was.
  • 1955-1957 Chevrolet 210/Bel Air:  The Tri-Five Chevrolet’s are some of the most beautiful cars ever produced.  My personal favorite is the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air coupe.  The 1955 Chevy became forever immortalized with Two Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti.  Yes, the sinister ’55 is the same car in both movies!  The 1955 Chevrolet introduced the revolutionary Chevrolet small-block (Mouse motor) V-8 to the world.  The 1957 Chevy Bel Air with the 283 cubic-inch V-8 and Rochester mechanical fuel injection became legendary on NASCAR tracks and dragstrips around the country.  It was as fast the Jaguar E-Type 10 years later.  I’m still wanting one!
  • Austin Mini:  Alec Issigonis sketched it on a bar napkin.  He never knew that it would become one of the most popular vehicles of the 20th century.  Let’s forget that it’s a cultural icon for a moment.  It was the first FWD car to come with a transversely-mounted engine (the engine was mounted sideways), which means that it’s the template for most FWD cars on the road today.  It became a motorsports icon in everything from endurance racing to rally racing.  It also became iconic in several movies – The Italian Job, The Bourne Identity, Mr. Bean, and Goldmember.  It’s also a major cultural icon.
  • Ford Explorer:  This was the vehicle that kicked off the SUV craze of the 1990s-today.  It was based off of the lowly Ranger pickup, but had a comfortable interior and the second generation had good looks.  It’s still a best-seller today.  It’s popular with the off-road community because it’s a Ranger with more space for people.  My parents owned one.  You probably know somebody who’s owned one.
  • Shelby Cobra:  Yeah it’s an obvious one for this list.  Carroll Shelby took a British roadster, and put a small-block Ford motor from the Mustang into it.  Then, he went hog-wild and put a big-block Ford into it.  That catapulted the Shelby Cobra into automotive fame.  Anybody who knows something about cars knows of the Shelby Cobra.  It could hang with anything.  It could beat a Chevrolet Corvette with the coveted L88 big-block V-8 in the curves and straightaways.  It dominated endurance and road racing for a glorious 3 years before Shelby stopped production of it.  It also dominated the NHRA Pro Stock drag racing class for a few years.  Today, there are at least 20 different companies who will sell you a Cobra replica.  Get a Factory Five replica.  It’s Shelby of North America licensed, and it comes with modern mechanical parts, yet can still hang with a modern hypercar.  
  • Chevrolet El Camino:  In it’s first generation, it was quite a looker.  Chevy didn’t sell too terribly many of the Impala-based ute, but you’ve probably seen a few driving around your town/city.  The second generation proved to be much more popular.  It was based off of the massively popular Chevelle, and you could get one with the rare, coveted LS6 V-8.  I remember reading an article about an owner of an LS6 Elco (a nickname for the El Camino), and he said that he has to drive it around with sandbags in the bed to keep it from spinning out.  That’s what happens when you have a massively-underrated 450 horsepower and no weight over the rear tires.  If you could get it to hook up, it would go through the 1/4 mile in 13 seconds flat at 125 mph.  That’s about as fast as a modern sports car.  I’ve heard driving one isn’t any different than driving a Chevelle, except for throttle modulation.  Flooring it from a stop, even with the still-powerful 327 cubic-inch V-8 will give a glorious burnout.  I want one.
  • 1968-1970 Dodge Charger/Charger 500/Daytona:  The second-generation Dodge Charger is one of the most beautiful cars ever built.  It’s got muscular elegance.  It had curvy “Coke Bottle” styling, and a plethora of engine choices.  The base engine was the “poly” 318 cubic-inch small-block V-8 that stayed in production in one form or another from 1959-2004.  The next step up was the 383 cubic-inch “Commando” big-block V-8.  After that, it was the 440 “Super Commando” big-block V-8.  One rung above that was the 440 Six Pack – a 440 with three two-barrel Holley carburetors.  The top of the ladder was the mighty 426 HEMI “Elephant Motor” big-block V-8.  The Charger 500 was designed for NASCAR, so it had a rear window flush with the body, along with other small aero modifications.  The Daytona was truly legendary.  Only 503 were sold to the general public, only 70 of which had the 426 HEMI.  The rest had the 440 Six Pack.  It was designed for NASCAR superspeedways, and it truly dominated.  It looked comical with it’s 19-inch long nose cone and nearly two-foot tall rear wing.  The only reason the wing was so high is that anything shorter and the trunk wouldn’t close! The Charger was catapulted into fame by The Dukes of Hazzard for one generation, and for the millenials, they were captivated by the supercharged 1968 Charger used in Fast & Furious.
  • Datsun 240Z:  This little Japanese sports car wasn’t a smashing success, but it certainly left it’s mark on sports cars.  It was light, looked drop-dead gorgeous, had a reliable, powerful engine, and a five-speed manual transmission.  Very few cars at the time had a five-speed.  All of that combined meant that it was a serious threat on a windy road.  Today, they are becoming collector cars, which is a shame, as they are built to be driven.  That’s not to be said that you can’t find a cheap one – you still can.  Hot rodders who are enamored by Japanese cars, but love the power of an American V-8 put a Chevy small-block V-8 and some suspension bits in, and have one hell of a ride.  My grandparents and dad owned one.
  • Audi Quattro:  This AWD notchback with a turbocharged 5-cylinder engine was so successful on the rally circuit that AWD was banned from the sport for about 10 years.  Stock, it’s not at all reliable (except for the first two years of production), but upgrading the engine internals will give you a strong, reliable, fast, and cool daily driver.  It’s truly an all-weather car.  I chose this car because of the impact that it had on rallycross and rally racing.  Any car with AWD past 1985 would have been much worse if it weren’t for the Audi Quattro.  My uncle owned one.  He should have kept it and given it to me.
  • Ford Mustang:  This was the car that started the ponycar craze.  No matter how much Ford hypes it as a muscle car (and Chevy with the Camaro), it IS NOT and never will be.  It is a pony car.  The Dodge Challenger is a muscle car.  Sorry Ford, but I’m just stating the truth.  Don’t shoot the messenger.  That being said, Ford introduced a whole new type of car to America.  Buying a Mustang with the base six-cylinder engine meant that you were carefree but had to watch your cash.  Getting it with the V-8 meant that you were carefree, but who cared about money – you only live once!  Getting it as a convertible only reinforced that.  The Shelby GT350 Mustang of 1965 was part of a deal with Hertz where you could rent the car on Friday, drive it to the racetrack on Saturday, race and win, go again on Sunday and win, and then drive it back to the rental lot.  It was somewhat streetable, but it really did well on the racetrack.  Carroll Shelby originally didn’t want to do it – he told Lee Iaccoca that “Lee, you can’t make a racehorse out of a mule.”  Yet that so-called mule became a massive racing success.  It’s still in production 50 years later.  Many American moms went from a station wagon to a Mustang and never looked back.
  • Pontiac GTO:  Originally offered as a package on the mid-size Tempest in 1963, the GTO took the thundering 389 cubic-inch V-8 from the Le Mans and shoved it into the considerably smaller Tempest.  It was a smashing success, so Pontiac decided to turn it into it’s own model in 1964.  It was much more popular that way, and the ultimate model was the 1969 Judge Ram Air IV.  It came with the then-new 455 cubic-inch V-8 and a functional Ram Air hood (the Ram Air package came in four stages), a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission, and bodywork that let you know that you really were king of the street.  It was truly stunning, especially in green.  It went dormant for 20+ years before appearing as a rebadged Holden Monaro in the US.  It wasn’t very popular.  It’s probably because Ford launched the retro-styled S197-generation Mustang right around the same time.  The 2004-2006 GTO looked nothing at all like any other GTO.  It didn’t look very good.  Nowadays, the modern “Goat” is popular with hot rodders who want to have all of the modern conveniences and glorious power.  Some even take the body off of the GTO and put on a classic car’s body.  Voila, you have a car that looks like a classic, but handles and drives like a new car.  Plus, they are easy to put bigger engines in.  Drifters are starting to find them.  Beware.
  • Lexus LS400:  This big Lexus was the car that sent Germany scrambling back to the drawing board.  The LS400 competed with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series.  The German cars were stodgy cruisers that were heavy, large beasts on the street, but smooth on the highway.  The Lexus took that trademark Japanese agility and feeling of being a smaller car, threw in a buttery-smooth engine and transmission (the ads showed a champagne flute on the hood while the engine revved.  The champagne never overflowed – or came close to that!), a sumptuous leather interior, and made it a fun car to drive.  Lexus kept it in production from 1989-2000 in one basic form or another.  It sold well, and is a completely bulletproof car in terms of reliability.
  • Chevrolet S-10:  OK, I am a bit biased on this, but hear me out.  The Chevrolet S-10 replaced the dismal LUV pickups of the 1970s in 1982.  It came with an underpowered 4-cylinder engine or a more powerful 2.8-liter V-6.  In 1988, Chevy added their new 4.3-liter V-6 to the S-10.  It literally doubled the towing and hauling capacity, as well as making it a far more enjoyable truck to drive.  My S-10 is a 1989 Tahoe model.  That means that it was top of the line.  It has a cloth interior, an AM/FM radio, air conditioning, and it has fuel injection (the 1988 model had a carburetor).  You could get it as a regular cab or an extended cab.  Bed sizes were a 5-foot bed or a 6.5-foot bed. That’s not huge, but for somebody in a crowded city who needs a pickup, it’s perfect.  You could get it in 2WD or 4WD.  Mine is 2WD.  It was wildly successful, and you can still see a lot on the road.  Some people are taking modern Chevy LS3 E-Rod engines (smog-legal V-8’s) and stuffing them into an S-10.  They’re quite the sleeper.
  • Porsche 911 Turbo:  When it first debuted in 1975, it was a total animal of a car.  Lift off of the gas going into a corner, and you’d hit the guardrail with the backside of the car.  You had to keep your foot in it.  It made an underrated 276 horsepower (think closer to 350), had no ABS, a clutch that was so stiff that some had to literally push their leg down to depress the clutch, and a 5-speed manual transmission.  It was a total monster of a car that dominated the racing circuits, but was completely and totally unstreetable.  But, put one on a windy canyon road, modulate the throttle, and you had a recipe for speed.  Porsche still makes it.  However, it now makes a ridiculous 520 horsepower, and is truly the ultimate all-weather supercar.
  • Ford GT40:  This was the car that dominated endurance racing during the 1960’s.  It was the result of Enzo Ferrari refusing to sell his company to Ford in 1964.  Henry Ford II decided to beat Enzo Ferrari at his own game on his own turf.  Talk about owning a bully.  The GT40 was aerodynamic, muscular-looking, and was built for racing.  Ford built about 20-40 for the street (it’s unclear how many).  The first models came with a Shelby-tuned 289 cubic-inch V-8 that made 300 horsepower via a tri-power (three two-barrel carburetor) setup and forged internals and an Isky cam.  This engine was so durable that when Ford disassembled the engine after the season was over, it looked brand-new.  Later models came with Ford’s mighty 427 cubic-inch FE-Series “Cammer” engine.  This engine was the same one in the Shelby Cobra.  It made about 500 horsepower.  Both engines were mated to a four-speed manual.  The GT40 simply dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 24 Hours of Nurburgring.  It was insanely fast, and it could be heard from over a mile away.  It beat Ferrari at their own game for years, before the FIA changed the rules, and both Ferrari and Ford had to comply.  Ford pulled out of Le Mans endurance racing for 20+ years and let Ferrari dominate.

 

 

 

Yes, that is a young Harrison Ford standing next to one of the most iconic hot rods ever.  It’s a 1932 Ford Hi-Boy (the body was lifted off of the frame so the frame could be tweaked).  It has a Chevy 283 cubic-inch small-block V-8 with crackling sidepipes.  This was the car that made me appreciate the little deuce coupe.

This is a fuelie 1957 Chevy Bel Air.  It became known as the “Black Widow” because it only came in black with white tape stripes, a black-and-white interior, and the red center caps on the wheels.

This is a gasser.  Gassers got their name because of the drag racing class they were in (B/Gas or blown/gas).  They had big engines with no supercharger, or smaller supercharged engines.  Look up “Roadkill Blasphemi” on YouTube for the build and cross-country blitz of one of my favorite cars – “Blasphemi.”

This is probably the ultimate Shelby Cobra.  It’s called the “Super Snake” because it has twin superchargers on top of an already-powerful engine.  Bill Cosby almost bought one, but took it on a test drive and thought he was going to die.  Carroll Shelby bought it.  Only two were made, but it was incredibly fast.  It’s rumored that in testing the car hit 210 mph – in 1966!  To me, it’s the ultimate factory hot rod.

This is a 1969 Dodge Daytona replica made by a host of the /DRIVE Network, Mike Musto.  It’s one of my favorite cars ever.  He took a 1969 Charger and turned it into a Daytona.  It’s the ultimate cross-country cruiser.  Just looking at it sends shivers down my spine.

The only stock part about this Mustang is the roof, A-pillar, and C-pillar.  It’s the latest creation from the brilliantly mad folks at RTR and Hoonigan.  Ken Block had it built.  It’s got a stroked NASCAR-spec engine that makes 850 horsepower that goes to all four wheels.  That’s right, this car is AWD.  You need to watch “Gymkhana 7” if you haven’t already.  It’s simply amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Top 25 Japanese Sports Cars That Enthusiasts Crave!

For those of you who have owned a Japanese sports car, you know that they have the perfect balance of performance, practicality, and speed.  My dad drove a 1970 Datsun 240Z, one of the most sought-after Japanese cars – ever!  It was fast, barrels of fun, reliable, and easy to drive (if one didn’t mind the light, loose rear end).  It was fast in the curves, but it could win in a straight line, as well.  He could get 1/4 mile times in the 11.5 second range.  He would pass Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, Lamborghini’s, and just about every other super car of the early 1980’s.  But, he would be smoked by the time he reached 1/2 of a mile.  He was topped out by then.  He didn’t mind.

One of our family friends owns a 1967? Datsun Fairlady Roadster.  It’s a sight to see!  It looks like a Triumph, but it’s way better!  It seats the same amount of people, yet it weighs almost 300 pounds less.  It’s also infinitely more reliable, and faster.

I have compiled a list of the top 25 Japanese sports cars that enthusiasts give the thumbs-up to.  Enjoy my list.

  1. 1969 Toyota 2000GT:  The Toyota 2000GT was Toyota’s answer to the Porsche 911 and Jaguar E-Type.  It was the unspoken answer.  James Bond drove one in You Only Live Twice.  To this day, that chase scene is one of the best in movie history.  The Toyota 2000GT looked like a Jaguar E-Type Coupe that sat two.  However, it’s high price and exclusivity prevented it from becoming the Japanese Jaguar E-Type.
  2. 1970 Datsun 240Z:  The Datsun 240Z was designed to be an affordable, faster, better-looking competitor to the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911.  The Datsun 240Z was powered by a 2.4-liter inline 6-cylinder engine making somewhere close to 200 horsepower.  It weighed about 2500 pounds, so it went everywhere in a hurry.  It could keep up with Ferrari 250 GTO’s on the track all day long, and shame a Camaro Z/28 in a drag race.  This car was a rocket.  Today, 240Z’s sell for about $25,000 for a good example.  But, don’t buy one at an auction – Barrett-Jackson sold one in Monterrey for $155,000 in 2012.
  3. 1985 Toyota MR2:  The Toyota MR2 was one of the smallest sports cars of the 1980s.  It was also like looking at a race car.  It had a mid-mounted 1.6-liter 4-banger that pumped out 125 horsepower.  It revved to 9000 RPM, and had a cam for every 3000 RPM.  It had a top speed of 154 mph, and it was stable in almost every condition.  It tipped the scales at 1900 pounds.
  4. 1999 Toyota Supra:  The Toyota Supra was the last true Toyota-built sports car.  It was also a massive change in technology and direction for Japanese sports cars.  It was powered by a 3.0-liter inline six cylinder engine that was boosted by twin turbos that ramped power up to a raspy 220 horsepower.  It was fast, and it looked like it came out of rally-car racing.  It had a massive rear wing, a raspy engine note that turned into a bellowing howl at redline, and meaty tires that wouldn’t look out of place on a Dodge Viper.  This puppy wants to play.
  5. 1986 Toyota Celica AE86:  The 1980s were the peak of lightweight sports cars.  The Toyota Celica AE86 was no exception.  It was based off of the AE86-generation Corolla economy car (that generation was the only generation of Corolla that was fun to drive!).  It was light, insane, relatively powerful, good-looking, and fun to drive.  My dad wanted one (he ended up buying a Honda Accord).  So did most teens and young adults.  That’s how good the Celica AE86 was.  It left a lasting impression on everybody who drove it.
  6. 1996 Nissan Silvia S15:  The Nissan Silvia S15 was the last generation of the wildly popular Nissan Silvia.  It boasted a powerful 250-horsepower six-cylinder engine that was helped out by a massive turbocharger.  At full throttle, it sounded like a F/14 Tomcat fighter jet.  Tuners adored it.  Paul Walker, star of the Fast & Furious series movies, owns a 580-horsepower S15 Silvia.
  7. 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata:  The 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata turned the world around.  Safety standards in the U.S. were so strict that it was almost impossible to build a light roadster.  Mazda had the RX-7 (but it was powered by a rotary engine), but it was too heavy and large.  Mazda built the Miata out of forged aluminum, which brought the car’s weight down to 2000 pounds.  Other automakers were building cars that weighed 3500 pounds, because they thought it was more expensive to build cars out of forged aluminum.  Mazda proved them all wrong.  The 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata is still one of the most amazing cars in the world to drive.
  8. 1993 Mazda RX-7 CSL:  The Mazda RX-7 is one of the few cars to be powered by a rotary engine.  The RX-7 CSL was a lightweight version of the popular RX-7.  It was faster, and all models were built for Japan (right hand drive).  Except for one.  The only Mazda RX-7 CSL to have left-hand drive is at Mazda USA’s headquarters in California.
  9. 2007 Toyota MR-S:  The Toyota MR-S is viewed to be the last sports car that Toyota built.  Yes, Lexus and Scion build sports cars, but Toyota doesn’t anymore.  Anyways, the Toyota MR-S paid homage to the MR2 of the 1990s, with a mid-mounted engine and front-wheel drive.  While it may look like a chick magnet, it is one fast chick magnet.
  10. 2000 Acura Integra GS-R:  The Acura Integra was one of the best-selling Acura’s ever.  It had a high-revving I4 engine, a five-speed manual transmission, it was practical, and it was fast.  All of that was put together into a tidy, sleek package.  The final iteration of the Integra introduced the world to something called VTEC.  While VTEC is standard on all four-cylinder Honda’s and Acuras, altered valve timing and valve lift was F1 stuff in 2000.
  11. 2006 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3:  The Mazda 3 was already a popular economy car, but Mazda knew that they could get far more out of the car.  They turned to their in-house tuner, Mazdaspeed.  Mazdaspeed turbocharged the engine, put big, aluminum rims, sticky tires, a big rear wing, and torque steer.  Torque steer is what Mazdaspeed is associated with nowadays.
  12. 2000 Mazda RX-8:  The Mazda RX-8 may have ended production in 2011, but that doesn’t stop it from being on this list.  It had suicide doors (now only seen in pickup trucks), a rotary engine, and good looks.  It also happened to be heavy and under powered.  Nothing stopped people from loving, however.
  13. 1998 Nissan 240SX:  The Nissan 240SX was popular here in the States.  Not only did it have stunning looks, but it had performance to match it.  Unfortunately, the only engine we got here was a 2.4-liter four-banger from the Frontier pickup truck.
  14. 1986 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R:  This car could not be built again.  It was a subcompact hatchback that could barely squeeze two adults into the tiny cabin.  The GTI-R took performance to a whole different level.  It was built to satisfy World Rally Championship homogilation rules.  Only 5,000 baby Godzilla’s were built, but they were fast.  Fast as a bat out of hell.  It had a turbocharged engine, AWD, and lots of bodykit add-ons.
  15. 2009 Nissan GT-R:  The Nissan GT-R has been around for over 40 years in some form or another.  Godzilla was Motor Trend’s 2009 Car of the Year.  It packed a twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6.  Nissan has come out with various iterations of this generation of the GT-R.  The most recent is the 2013 Nissan GT-R Track Pack (the fastest stock Nissan to date).
  16. 1988 Honda CRX Si:  The Honda CRX was one of the fastest econoboxes of the 1980s.  It was light, extremely fun to drive, and stylish.  Plus, it was based off of the wildly popular Civic.  The CRX Si was the final CRX.  In the U.S., it came with a less powerful I4 than Japan’s.  That ushered in the era of Honda shade-tree mechanics.
  17. 2003 Nissan 350Z:  The Nissan 350Z brought back affordable, quick, sportiness to the world.  It was about the same size of the 300SX, but it didn’t have two turbochargers.  It had a powerful naturally-aspirated V6 that garnered praise from automotive journalists around the world.  The engine was so sweet that Nissan still uses it for many of their V6 cars.
  18. 2000 Acura Integra Type-R:  Yes, I know that there are two Acura Integra’s on this list.  They deserve to be.  Especially this one.  The Integra Type-R was the last Integra made.  It got the Type-R treatment (lower weight, more power, more looks, more chassis-stiffening).  It was also the most stolen Acura to date.
  19. 2000 Honda S2000:  Most people celebrate their 50th birthday with lots of friends and family.  Honda built a very special car.  The Honda S2000 was a track-oriented beast of a car.  It had a 237-horsepower engine, rear-wheel-drive, and perfect balance.  A manual transmission helped a lot, as well.
  20. 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX STi:  Subaru took the hum-drum Impreza, turned it into a rally-rocket with a turbocharged engine, a manual transmission, and lots of bodywork.  Then, Subaru’s rally team got their hands on it.  They built the raucous Impreza WRX STi.  STi stands for Specially Tuned Impreza.  It is fast, practical, and barrels of fun.  It’s the equivalent of a bouncy ball coming out of a gumball dispenser.  Unfortunately, it’s ending production.  Buy one while you can.
  21. 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO MR/GSR:  This is possibly the most radical Mitsubishi ever.  It has a 291-horsepower turbocharged I4.  It also has a dual-clutch transmission pulled from rally cars.  AWD is standard.
  22. Datsun 510:  The Datsun 510 closely resembles a BMW 2002 Tii.  Why?  Why not?  Japanese automakers used to build their cars in a similar fashion to their European competitors.  It came with fully independent suspension, a Positraction rear end, a five speed manual, and a high-revving four-banger.  It was a hoot to drive.
  23. Acura NSX:  The first widely produced Japanese exotic car sent Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Chevy scrambling for the drawing board.  It changed the definition of super car.  In my eyes, it’s the most influential Honda ever.  If that wasn’t a big enough slap to Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Chevy, F1 driver Ayrton Senna assisted in the development of the car.
  24. Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ:  The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ may only have 200 horsepower, but they are so perfect at what they do that it’s not even funny.  They are rear-wheel-drive beasts on winding roads and tracks.  Just don’t drag race anything other than a Smart Car.  You’ll lose.  Badly.
  25. 1993 Honda Prelude:  The Honda Prelude was one step behind the Acura NSX in terms of looks, performance, and just about everything.  It had front-wheel-drive, VTEC (shhh!), seating for four, and stunning good looks.  It revved to 10,000 RPM in some versions, and power was always there.  It is still a collector’s item for Japanese car fans. I can only wonder why…