QotW: Which car should Japanese automakers sell again exactly as they were?

0827-IMG_5495Justin_Datsun240Z-NissanFairladyZ-S30-MrK

In 1998 Nissan embarked on an unprecedented program to buy back 1970-71 Datsun 240Zs, restore them, and sell them through dealerships with an official warranty. Only about 40 of the 250 planned cars were sold, and even at nearly $28,000 Nissan lost money on each and every one. Suffice it to say, nothing like this will ever happen again. But if it did,

Which car should Japanese automakers sell again exactly as they were?

There were many good candidates for this question. Who wouldn’t love a 1967½ Datsun Fairlady 2000 roadster? Then again, it’s hard to argue against the Miata. AE86? Well there’s the Scion FR-S already. That’s why our staff pick is the 1987 Honda CR-X (specifically, the second-gen version that debuted in Japan that year) Heck, it doesn’t even have to be the hotted-up Si or SiR. Give us a orgasmically fun-to-drive runabout with a double wishbone suspension that, in various guises, can get 50 miles per gallon, Honda, and we’ll forgive all your sins since the demise of the S2000.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining or inspiring comment by next Monday will receive a toy. Click through to see the winner from last week’s question, “What Japanese car is the best investment?

JCCS2011-586john_NissanFairladyZ_Datsun240Z

More than any other car, the S30 Z was most recommended as the rolling stock that should be lining your portfolio. JNC readers voted it in by a landslide, but the winning comment comes from Ryan, who blended just the right amount of passion, humor and reasoning to make his case:

I think the 240Z will follow the E-type in years to come. The 50th anniversary of the Z-car is 6/7 years away. It’s a timeless design, practical, affordable, simple to work on. I think it put Datsun on the worldwide map and captivated the U.S. market.

For example in Australia, in 1970 you could buy a 240Z for $4,567. You got a pretty tight 5-speed gearbox with a nice ratio diff (3.9 compared the the US market 3.3), loads of space, reliability… and all the good bits like independent rear suspension, hydro clutch line, finned alloy rear drums, and a sweet sounding straight-six OHC engine with an alloy head.

You could pay more, and for $5,300 get an XY GTHO Phase III Falcon, but you get 4-speed, live axle and a big lump of boat anchor (somehow, this is now worth in the region of $300,000, which is down from close to $1,000,000 in 2008… Aussies are idiots).

Anyway with every second JDM fanboy these days picking up a rusty one and letting it degrade without proper know-how, or even care (because seeing the road beneath your feet is cool right?), they’re getting rarer and rarer. And that’s where the true investment lies; finding a neglected early model Z with all it’s proper bits, buying yourself a little MIG, tearing it apart, and (eventually) seeing it transform into something beautiful. You’ll struggle to put a dollar value on the investment of your hard work. Put in money, get out more money. Put in work, get out more joy.

And with the return of the humble 240Z, the fabled Japanese market variants are sure to come into the international spotlight. From the Fairlady ZG to the super rare Z432 (with a motor essentially straight from the Porsche 906 slaying Prince R380 JGP-car), and finally the holiest of holy; the homologation special Z432-R. The 432-R is the ultimate “classic” investment car. Homologation special, 30 odd ever made, super stylish and even more so elusive. Almost any part you can think of is different to the base level 240z. Even if you have the coin to spare, good luck to you finding a genuine one, let alone an owner willing to part with it.

And perhaps the most important thing of all for anyone reading, they are currently a super affordable investment. While the 2000GT might be the blue-chip car, the buy-in price is higher than the average house, and the value will only rise ever so slowly. On the contrary, a fairly original, series 1 240Z with matching engine block and minimal rust is quite cheap for a classic. And if your budget can’t stretch that far to begin with, restoration projects are quite cheap to start if you’re keen to get your hands dirty.

The returns won’t just be monetary. For the next few years while they’re still quite affordable (relative to ’70 Mustangs, etc.), you can be comfortable hopping in, turning the key and going for a boot down the road without worrying about your miles-per-year insurance policy, or bugs and dust microscopically scratching the precious paintwork of your $500,000 Toyota. The smile it will put on your face will be worth those long hours lying on the cold concrete floor being covered in weld spatter as you slowly tack the fresh virgin floorpan into forty years of neglect…

Omedetou! Your prize from the JNC gashapon is a Hot Wheels Super Speeders mystery pack Mazda RX-7!

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Thanks to Matt C. for the QotW suggestion!

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34 Responses to QotW: Which car should Japanese automakers sell again exactly as they were?

  1. Lukas said:

    I would wish the Subaru Leone III/Loyale (85 – 94), but I bet I am the only one saying this.

  2. Matt.42400 said:

    Mazda Carol Mk1, Subaru 360 and Honda S800 :)

  3. Aly said:

    That would have to be the N40 Toyota Hilux of the mid-80s, in 2WD base model trim with the diesel engine.

    It was built in a time when commercial vehicles were expected to be simple honest workhorses and get fixed with basic hand tools. Complicated electronics and unnecessary features were just more things to go wrong, and the Hilux did away with every single one – only to exchange them with unsurpassed build quality and reliability.

    There isn’t a single commercial vehicle like this on the market any more, and it’s a massive shame. Every carmaker – yes, including Toyota with its new Hilux – has fallen into the trap of bigger, fancier, more expensive and with more gadgets – each “improvement” driving it further from its intended purpose and making it hard for the owner to maintain it in their driveway in their time off.

    The old Hilux was exactly what a workhorse should be, and we’d like it back.

  4. Nigel said:

    The nissan Sunny 210 or 310.
    (Not sure if I would fit in a b110).

  5. E-AT_me said:

    the crx doesn’t have double wishbone suspension.. it has macpherson struts in the front and a beam axle in the back.

    • E-AT_me said:

      http://www.rogerspace.org/rogertiii/mycars/86susp.jpg

      84-87 CRX.
      in 88 they switched to double wishbone/a-arm suspension. now i believe in japan they came out mid-year 87, and if that’s the case then you must specify. there also was no Si-R for 84-87, only an Si. and if we are talking about Japan market cars, it is CR-X.

      sorry, don’t mean to get all anal over here.

    • André said:

      The CRX MK2 has…

    • The black CRX said:

      The first-gen CRX used torsion-bar springs with strut-type shocks in front, and a semi-independent tubular beam axle with coil springs and shocks in the rear. Without coil springs, the front shocks aren’t MacPherson struts, and the articulated beam axle is a rather ingenious and compact design that allowed more precise control than a conventional beam axle with minimal weight and cost. On the Si, the rear stabilizer bar was routed inside the axle tube.

      The second-gen CRX used double wishbones at all four wheels.

    • Ben said:

      We often go by Japanese production dates here. If a car was available anywhere in the world in 1987 then it qualifies as a “nostalgic” by the 25 year rule.

  6. The black CRX said:

    It’s hard to argue with any of these suggestions — perhaps sending the message that we all miss the basic goodness of JNCs that always seemed to do their job better than they had to, along with offering bonuses in reliability, driveability, affordability, enjoyability. It’s the way they combined their virtues, expected and unexpected, that drove them into our hearts, not just our garages.

    Of course I’d love to be able to buy another new CRX (though my Si still feels new to me after 26 years), and a new Subaru Legacy GT wagon that’s not trying to be an SUV sure would be nice. But for me, the cars I miss most are the ones my family and I bought over and over again until they stopped being offered: the Honda Civic Wagon (from any of its four generations — and specifically the 5-door Wagon over the other bodystyles).

    Simple, fun, quick enough, and remarkably versatile, I never found myself needing more space, and as a daily driver (and the winter car that allowed me to keep my CRX away from the salted roads of New England), the Civic Wagon was both practical and fun. Of course, the 3G and 4G had more flexible split-folding rear seats, and the 4G’s available combo of RealTime 4WD and the Si engine made for an intoxicating go-anywhere-fast-enough combo. But the basic goodness of the 2G (which was a little more refined than the 1G but still pure, simple and CVCC-powered) makes me wish quite frequently that I could head over to the Honda dealer right now and drive home in a brand-new 1983 Civic Wagon.

  7. Mitsubishi starion. 2.6 turbo nuff said

  8. Dave said:

    The 240Z thing back in the ’90s was such a super awesome idea, a dream come true, but the problem was that it wasn’t well-enough publicized. Those more or less in the know knew about it, but I bet if you ask any regular joe who remotely knows anything about cars, few of them remember. For this kind of thing to happen, it’ll never be a money maker for the manufacturer. So might as well go all out for some kind of halo car, one that gets the loins burning for the die-hard fans to generate some buzz and pure PR. Too many of my personal choices would end being something a lot of people would deem dumpy or stupid (RX-7 Infini? Pajero Evolution? Honda City Turbo II?), and nobody would actually buy them. So an obvious choice would be the 4th generation Supra. Thanks to Fast and Furious, popularity and price are both ridiculously high, even to this day. Its perception among the general public is closer to that of an old Shelby product than any other high performance Japanese machine has achieved in the US. But as much as I like Supras, the one car that I’d pick to be resurrected like this is the FD RX-7. It enjoys almost the same halo status as the Supra, but it’s a more mythical machine. It remains to this day one of the most beautiful designs ever. Driving dynamics-wise it’s still hard to match. A lot of the reliability kinks of the 13B-REW have also been worked out with the JDM cars after years of production and aftermarket support. Since the RX-8 production has ended, the rotary engine workshop is also idling. Many of the tooling might even still be around somewhere (the FD was not a money-losing proposition over its lifetime for Mazda, since production actually lasted quite a long time in Japan), so it might not be ridiculously costly to produce. It’s already a bit of a youngtimer classic. I think this is the car. Of course this is all daydream; realistic this is pretty much impossible to do, at not for the US. Even in that case, the FD is enough and worthy of a dream car for this to happen to.

  9. Arend said:

    I only need 2 letters to anser this question:

    AE86

    yes, please!

  10. indy510 said:

    C10 Hakosuka’s … and sell them for $35,000 each .. . or the 4-wheel steering 1987 Honda Preludes LOL

  11. Mike said:

    Not to get stuck on Datsun, but there really is not other Japanese car that would carry a “sport/nostalgia” following quite like the Datsun 510.

    Nissan in the ’90s had a superb line up of sports and “sporty cars” that would start the decade in the limelight only to be brushed into the shadows by the end of that decade, due to the public fascination with the SUV. (I recall seeing a paragraph written by Nissan on their website back then, somehow trying to rationale the lack of sports cars by saying they are no longer a “sports car company”. (???)

    Anyway, I don’t see the point of rebuilding a car from the ’70s – I’d much rather see a reborn 510 with the same front engine/rear drive; independent suspension – but with a recognizable design and today’s sense of economy and versatility.

  12. Corey said:

    The Toyota 2000GT. Beautiful and timeless design.

  13. pstar said:

    Already mentioned, but if Toyota resumed production of the jza80 after a now 15 year hiatus I don’t think anybody would be disappointed, and more than a few of us in the 25-35 year old range who now have jobs and some money could finally buy a brand new copy of the coolest car of our youth. Same goes for rx7. Hell manufacture them as never before titled 95s/98s and bypass all the BS safety and emissions legislation that’s happened since the halcyon years of the mid 90s.

  14. Tyler said:

    Oh, man. Honda CRX HF all day long. I don’t care if it’s slow. What other car will give you so much enjoyment while easily returning 50 mpg? Wish I could find a decent one around here, but the EG will have to do until then… and I’m not complaining about the power!

    PS- I’ll also enter the Autech Stelvio to tick off the purists! There aren’t enough weird cars for sale today.

  15. Iwakuni91 said:

    I’m a Nissan/Datsun lover as much as the next man, but truthfully, the only retro ride I would buy new today based upon it’s merits is the Toyota Cressida/Chaser/Mark II. Look at the stats:
    In line Six
    Rear wheel drive
    Four Doors
    Available with twin turbos
    Regular Unleaded
    Automatic or stick
    Sunroof
    Digital or analog gauges (Dude!)
    Sedan, Wagon, or Diesel options
    Leather, Cloth, or Super Plush seating :)

    C’mon people! You can’t fade this! And the late 80′s model would qualify for mid to compact size when compared to today’s barges. I could have stopped at the first three bullets. But the rest of the list makes this car a ride I would buy right now, kids and all. Because nobody makes this combination anymore. Nobody.

  16. miatadon said:

    My pick is the 3rd gen Prelude Si. These cars are very pleasing to the eye, and are fun to drive, and very durable. Their tall greenhouse gives great visibility, and I think, enhances their sleek styling. These Preludes were distinctive enough that they helped to define the brand as something other than Toyota or Nissan. Now, cars from all makers look pretty much the same.

    My wife has one of these cars, and I smile at it every time I look at it.

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/104973305347633073496/albums/5664608948085274465/5664609029826531922?sqi&sqsi&authkey=CIm2oOSxyN72hgE

    • Dabidoh Sambone said:

      I had the 4WS Si version – bought it with 100k miles on it. Sold it with 200k miles for a slight loss of value. Always was a ton of fun, just perfect dynamics. Handled better than any other car I’ve ever had and likely ever will have, made the ’85 RX7 that preceded it feel like driving with a tiller. Always hated that it was red though – not my favorite color, always wanted one in yellow. Completely cured me of wanting a CRX.

  17. Victor said:

    Mazda should just buy back RX7s of each generation and offer a few of each for sale at each dealership, it would shut the rotor heads up for a while, and it would be a great way for them to prove to their fans that they care about their classic cars, because if you’re on the Mazda boat as it is it feels like they don’t care.

    (Please ignore the previous one and delete it if you can, thanks)

  18. Bob said:

    What should they sell again exactly as it was built? ’70-’72 Celicas. BECAUSE I’VE ONLY SPENT THE LAST 6 YEARS OF MY LIFE TRYING TO BUY ONE. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF. I’ve spent my entire life’s savings to cross the country and buy a ’74 and ended up wadding it against a median in the dumbest series of unfortunate circumstances that could be imagined within days, and every time I’ve come remotely close to acquiring another, someone scoops it on me as I’m negotiating to buy it. Most recently, I wired a huge sum of cash to a friend in LA without a working car, who got up very early and rode the bus to a junkyard to buy one for me, and ended up in a bidding war with someone else who already owned several Celicas and showed up after him… and won. Because they wanted trim pieces from it.

    I’ve about had it. I know exactly what I want, and I’m tired of sifting through poorly repainted bondo queens in resale red to find decent examples. If I could walk into a Toyota dealer and buy a brand new ’70 Celica with an 18RG in blue, I’d happily put my life on credit for it.

    • dankan said:

      After that tale of woe, I hope you at least win this week, even if it doesn’t get you the daruma of your dreams…

  19. Rayson said:

    My choice would be the Datsun 510. A timeless design and affordable performance. Even today we can still see fair amount of 510 running on the road. And lets not forget the car that is popular among the tuners, especially during the era where everyone were driving big American cars with a massive V8 under the hood. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to buy one (at least compared to classic like hakosuka or toyota 2000GT). It is a practical classic that can be used as a daily car and still be civilized even under today’s standard, as you can still see them on the road (actually not really…). Also, parts can still be sorted without big hassle. Therefore, my vote definitely go for the Datsun 510.

  20. Freddy said:

    70′s-S30Z
    80′s–RA Celica, SA22C
    90′s–FD RX7, R34 GT-R, JZA80 Supra..

  21. Ace said:

    2nd gen CRX would be amazing. Models outside North America were known to be very well equiped with power windows, power folding mirrors, auto climate control and a bunch of other cool stuff. A few modern touches to go along with the refresh and its sure to sell.

    Honda wouldn’t touch it though because it would kill the CRZ, and highlight how not so awesome they are these days. Their fun portfolio has dropped down way too much these days. :D

    • Tyler said:

      But… aren’t those creature comforts part of what killed small, light cars in the first place? Give me manual steering, crank windows, a two speaker tape deck and A/C and I’m happy.

  22. Taylor said:

    They should bring back… the 240z, it’s a design that still resonates with a large amount of people today. It had the right blend of performance and street comfort with a body that made you want to stare at it for ages.

    Bring it back.