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 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…