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.

The Greatest American Turbocharged Cars

Many people think that turbochargers belong in heavily modified import cars.  Well, that’s partially true.  Europe has turned out some impressive turbocharged cars, as well as the US of A.  Here are America’s greatest turbocharged cars.

  • Ford Mustang SVO:  The 2015 Ford Mustang has a 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, just like the SVO Mustangs of the 1980’s.  The first turbocharged Ford Mustang showed up in 1979 with a 135-horsepower, turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine.  It was an alternative to the downsized 4.2-liter V8 found in the Mustang GT.  But, it wasn’t until Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO, now known as Special Vehicle Tuning or SVT) got their hands on one that it became anything noteworthy.  It came with a factory-installed Hurst short-throw shifter, revolutionary Koni adjustable shocks, ABS disc brakes at all four corners, a limited-slip differential, and a screaming, turbocharged 205 horsepower.  Drivers even had the cool option of flicking a dash-mounted switch that allowed the car to run on lower-grade fuel for a certain amount of time.  When it ended it’s production run in the late 1980’s, it was something to be feared.  It looked especially menacing in grey.
  • 1965 Chevrolet Corvair:  Believe it or not, the Corvair actually had a go-fast option.  It had two, in fact.  One was the Crown Corvair, which used a mid-mounted 283-cubic-inch Corvette V8, and the other was a turbocharger bolted onto the engine.  From the factory.  It made 150 horsepower initially, but by the time the Corvair died, it made 180 horsepower.  Unlike many other turbocharged cars, the turbocharged Corvair did not use a wastegate, the internal exhaust flap that opens at higher engine speeds to prevent over-spinning the turbine.  Instead, Chevy engineers simply built enough backpressure into the exhaust system to prevent overboost and serious engine damage.  Very few Corvairs with the turbocharged engine were ever made.
  • Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire:  Oldsmobile was one of the early adopters of turbocharging technology.  It released the powerful F85 Jetfire in April of 1962, and the car was something of a small success.  It took the fabled 3.5-liter high-compression “Rocket” V8, cranked up the boost, and let it rev.  It made a screaming 215 horsepower, and it was easily quicker than many naturally aspirated cars of 1962.  Plus, owners got an ashtray-sized boost gauge in front of the shifter.  The engine had problems with detonation, which is the process where the hot air-fuel mixture under pressure spontaneously ignites before the spark plug has a chance to ignite it.  So, the Turbo-Rocket engine was fed a mixture of methanol alcohol and water (the same stuff fed to dragsters).  This allowed the mixture to not ignite as quickly and get a higher octane level.  Today, water/alcohol injection is commonplace in high-performance tuner car applications, but isn’t it cool that F85 Jetfire owners had to periodically fill their “Turbo Rocket Fluid” reservoir?
  • Buick GNX:  If there’s a poster-child for American turbocharged cars, the Buick GNX wins, hands-down.  The all-black, tire-smoking, Ferrari Testarossa-beating, quarter-mile waltzing Buick GNX was and still is a force of nature.  Buick initially started turbocharging it’s anemic 3.8-liter V6 in 1978 for the Regal and the LeSabre, introducing the fast Regal Grand National line in 1982.  It culminated with 1987 with the GNX.  Buick purposefully underrated the crank horsepower at 276 horsepower, but dyno tests showed that the car made at least 315 horsepower at the wheels.  This means that the car made somewhere close to 360-370 horsepower at the crank.  It even beat the twin-turbo Callaway Corvette that I featured on my blog a couple of months ago in the quarter mile.  The GNX would go through the quarter mile in the low 13-second range at around 125-130 mph.  Just 547 GNX’s were built in 1987, each specially massaged by AMC/McLaren.  Today, the turbo Buick’s are something of a legend, and many go for upwards of $30,000.  The car was so successful on the street the Buick entered a naturally-aspirated V8 version of the car in NASCAR’s Grand National series (now known as the Nationwide Series), where it was extremely competitive.
  • 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am:  The all-white Pontiac Trans Am picked to be the pace car for the 73rd annual Indy 500 was completely different than the first turbocharged Trans Am, which was all mustache and no Burt.  This 1989 force-fed pony car was something completely different.  I liken it as the Pontiac storm trooper to the Buick GNX Darth Vader.  Pontiac subcontracted an engineering firm to swap Buick GNX engines (made by Buick for Pontiac) into the Trans Am.  But, the story doesn’t (and shouldn’t) end there.  Anniversary-edition Trans Am’s got better-flowing heads than the GNX, stainless-steel headers, GNX-sized Eaton intercoolers, a cross-drilled Comp Cams crankshaft, and their own engine tuning higher up in the powerband.  The net result was a car that officially produced 250 horsepower at the crank, but made closer to 320 horsepower at the crank.  This marked a return to the horsepower-underrating days of the muscle car, started by, you guessed it, Pontiac.  It was the fastest pace car ever in the history of the Indy 500, which is impressive, given the fact that many fast cars have been chosen since then.
  • Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe:  The Beach Boys made the T-Bird famous with the line, “fun, fun, fun, until her daddy takes it away.”  The T-Bird was fun until Daddy (the EPA) introduced emissions regulations that took the fun out of the T-Bird.  By 1982, the T-Bird was a horrible, anemic shoebox of a car.  Happily, 1983 saw the rising of the phoenix.  It’s beak-like hood had twin nostrils that meant that there was a turbocharged engine underneath that pointy hood.  Other than the amazingly 1980’s-FILA edition, the T-Bird Turbo Coupe was at it’s peak in 1987 and 1988.  That was when stick-shifted version of the Fox-bodied T-Bird came equipped with a whistling 190 horsepower, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, and a limited-slip differential.  Those nostrils on the hood, by the way, are functional, as they feed air directly to the top-mounted intercooler.
  • Shelby GLHS:  It’s hard to find a car that has a shape that’s more square than the Dodge Omni.  The blocky Omni had all of the sporting pretensions of a worn-out water shoe.  Then, you hand the Omni over to Carroll Shelby.  Early Omni GLH (unofficially Goes Like Hell) cars weren’t turbocharged, but by the mid-1980’s, America was becoming obsessed with the turbocharger.  So, by the mid-1980’s, the Omni GLH had enough punch to beat any VW GTI of the era.  For the 1986 model year only, 500 cars were further tweaked by Shelby to become the Omni GLHS (Goes Like Hell S’More), which was a 175-horsepower breadbox with more boost, better suspension, and factory options like a roll cage and heavy-duty oil cooler borrowed from the Ram 250 with the Cummins Diesel.  Quite possibly the best part of the GLHS:  The uprated top speed of the GLHS was too much for the regular 85 mph speedometer of the Omni, so Shelby simply added a sticker to the bottom of the gauge with increments up to 135 mph.
  • Shelby CSX-VNT:  Another Shelby creation was the CSX-VNT, which was based off of the homely Plymouth Sundance and Dodge Shadow.  Initially, the CSX-VNT packed 175 horsepower, and like the earlier GLHS, went like a bat out of hell.  Shelby built a small run of 1,001 cars for the Thrifty rental car company with slightly less power.  In the final year of CSX-VNT production, 1989, the CSX-VNT included some new, unique technology previously only seen on race cars – variable turbine geometry.  Computer-controlled vanes moved to direct the hot exhaust gas stream to improve spool-up time.  While it’s power rating remained the same at 175 horsepower, it had dramatically better response time in the low end, virtually eliminating turbo lag.  The next time this technology would show up in the U.S. market would be in 2011, with the 997-generation Porsche 911 Turbo.  That was more than 15 years later.
  • GMC Syclone:  In 1990, Gale Banks Engineering cracked the 200-mph mark at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a compact GMC pickup truck with no turbocharger or supercharger.  In 1991, the streetable version of that high-powered pickup showed up on dealer lots.  It’s 4.3-liter Vortec V6 engine was turbocharged with the help of Gale Banks himself.  It came standard with ABS and AWD, neither of which were options on the S15 Sonoma.  You couldn’t haul much with the Syclone, unfortunately, as it was only rated to haul 500 pounds.  Too bad, but you could still fill the bed with the egos of every single Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati driver on the road.  This all-black, one-year-only mini-truck was the fastest-accelerating production vehicle in America for a few years, easily getting off of the line, thanks to the torque-rich engine and AWD.  It got to 60 mph somewhere in the low 4-second range.
  • GMC Typhoon:  A spin-off of the one-year-only Syclone, the Jimmy-bodied Typhoon was officially rated at 280 horsepower, though dyno tests showed that it made at least that at the wheels, meaning that it made somewhere around 320 horsepower at the crank.  It could easily beat a Ferrari 348 off of the line and up to about 70 mph, when the 348 really got into the powerband.  Just under 5,000 Typhoons were made between 1992-1993, and unlike the black-only Syclone, could be bought in a variety of colors.  In fact, Clint Eastwood used to drive a Forest Green Typhoon around in his Dirty Harry days, where he would pull up to a stoplight and ask punks if they felt lucky. Most thought they were going to beat some middle-aged guy in his SUV with their Mustang or import car.
  • Dodge Neon SRT4:  In 2003, Chrysler/Dodge’s Street Racing Technology (SRT) team got hold of the friendly-faced Neon subcompact car, and built what is still the car to beat for bang-for-your-buck performance.  A frog-eyed four-door sedan with a functional front-mounted intercooler peeking out of the grille, the tiny Neon made mincemeat out of everything from a Porsche Boxster to a Nissan 350Z.  Dodge claimed 230 horsepower, though dyno testing showed that the car made at least that much, if not more at the wheels.  This means that the engine was making close to 280 horsepower at the crank.  Something else that is cool about the Neon SRT4 is the fact that it doesn’t have a muffler on it.  This allows it to have vastly better turbo flow.  Resonators keep the volume semi-sane, but the Neon really makes a lot of noise when you give it some go-juice.
  • Chevrolet SS Turbocharged:  Initially available only as a supercharged coupe, the Cobalt SS was always OK in performance testing, but it wasn’t going to set any records.  Starting in 2009, the Cobalt SS came as either a sedan or coupe with a turbocharger bolted onto a small four-cylinder engine.  It made 260 horsepower.  Should you want a cool sleeper, if you aren’t afraid of the ignition recall, you can get a Cobalt SS, take the badges off, swap the big chrome rims for something more discreet (like the regular Cobalt rims), and you’d have the makings of a good sleeper.  It had a no-lift-shift system – just keep your right foot floored so that you don’t loose boost – and you’ll see the quarter mile fly by in under 13 seconds, and will keep up with a Porsche 911 on a road course.  Take it out to the twisties out on the road, and you’ll be able to keep up with a motorcycle, thanks to the tiny size of the Cobalt.

1986 Ford Mustang SVO 1986 Shelby Omni GLHS 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

1989 Shelby CSX-VNT 2004 Dodge Neon SRT4

 

1962 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder Turbo

1987 Buick GNX

1989 Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Edition

1991 GMC Syclone 1992 GMC Typhoon