QotW: What’s the most Japanese non-Japanese car?

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Japan is a land of unbelievably cool motoring culture, a place you can see cars you’d never in a million years see elsewhere. Sure, you have your standard hakosuka Skylines and funky kei jidosha, but there are other cars the Japanese just seem to gravitate towards, so much so that you don’t really see them anywhere else.

What’s the most Japanese non-Japanese car?

We’ve always like the platypus stylings of the Lotus Europa. But it wasn’t until our first New Year Meeting in Tokyo that we got rocked by more Europas in one spot than we’d ever seen in life, ever. Not only were they plentiful, but the Japanese had decked them out in uniquely Japanese tuning styles — slammed, big wings, and with deep barrels like SSRs or Hayashis. So awesome.

There are other cars Japanese are mysteriously drawn to. The Ford Mustang II even had a Tomica version, but you won’t find a ’65 fastback or ’70 Boss 302 in their lineup. The 1970-74 Plymouth Barracuda, third-generation Dodge Ram Van and Chevy Astro also qualify.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a toy. Click through to see the winner of the last QotW, “What’s the greatest front-wheel-drive JNC?” 

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It was a close call between two Hondas as you might have guessed, but in the end Dave‘s plea for the Honda City Turbo was outgunned by j3wman‘s screed on the EA Civic:

3rd-gen Civic/CRX platform commonly known as the EA platform. It was available only in FWD (AWD wagon only), and was the Civic that made the Civic known in the performance community. whooping nearly all the cars in the next class up in Super Taikyo races, taking one of the most archaic suspension platforms and still be able to dominate autocross courses across the U.S. and being the basis for the first 10 second Honda ever are all performance achievements it has under its belt.

Its awkward 80s styling with damn near a perfectly square hood that can be used as a coffee table, flip up headlights that look like they should be static headlights, the CRX button OEM wheels which are so gross you love them and a silhouette that was designed with a ruler make this car beautiful.

And the collectability you just cannot f with. The trim level of the Si being legitimately the only fuel injected trim level makes it actually mean something. And in 1984 to celebrate Ayrton Senna winning the F1 season they released the CRX F1 which had a very unique interior with a steering wheel button that said F1 on it. And any Honda enthusiast knows this car had damn near as any different options as the EF which was known for around 60,000 interior options if you combine all the parts available in different countries.

It was also a groundbreaking car in that Honda pioneered Fuel Injection in this chassis, the wagon was given their famed RT4WD system, Honda began to experiment with different interior gadgets to keep their buyers happy and this was considered the last classic civic before you got to the more modernized EF, EG, and EK Civics and this is the Civic that made people modify those.

Omedetou, Your comment has earned you a rare Hot Wheels Super Speeders mystery pack Mazda RX-7!

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34 Responses to QotW: What’s the most Japanese non-Japanese car?

  1. Tj said:

    If I had to choose a non-Japanese car that was most akin to Japanese cars I’d probably have to choose a MKI Ford Escort. Just don’t ever tell that to someone who owns one.
    If you break it down they have all the same attributes that we all love about classic Japanese cars.

    Firstly they were a real peoples car, affordable and accessible.
    Then they had the halo cars. The motorsport legends. In an era when “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” was a legitimate sales pitch cars like the RS1600 or “BDA” as its known with its Cosworth developed Twin Cam – Twin Side draught Carb’d motor (sound like a familiar combination) was crucial in capturing the public’s hearts and imagination.

    Fast, light, nimble and tough these cars are still revered amongst enthusiasts and classic motorsport competitors and fans alike for their giant killing abilities the world over.

    If that doesn’t sound like a Datsun 1600 I don’t know what does.

  2. Stuart Kayrooz said:

    I’d have to go with the original Mk1 Mini Cooper.

    Born out of a drive for compact, cheap, affordable and most of all fun commuting, it summed up everything that was right about the British Car Industry (before it all went wrong). It’s probably the cutest car outside of japan, and the love that the Japanese have for it (expressed not just through the various mini clubs and the Rover mini that went of sale there back in the 90′s but also through obvious “tributes” such as the Nissan Be-1) is palpable.

    The mini pioneered the transverse front-drive layout that the Japanese came to embrace in the years that followed, and a recent visit to Mini Maruyama in Yahiro, Tokyo, cemented my realisation that the Japanese are possibly the only nation on earth to embrace the little mini as passionately as the British do.

    It encompasses a culture of modifying and personalising that the Japanese embrace, and is one of the few cars outside Japan that rivals a Kei car for looks, practicality, affordability and efficiency.

    • Kuroneko said:

      Right on. Do not forget the Mira tribute either!

    • Stuart Kayrooz said:

      I also forgot to mention – April 29th this year was the 21st Japan Mini Day, where enthusiasts get together to celebrate everything mini. It’s worth checking out any of the many websites for Japanese Car Clubs to see just how far they get into the mini spirit…

      Hell – in the 90′s the car was sold new in Japan (the Classic Mini was into it’s 6th & 7th revisions by then, and special editions were still being made for the Japanese Market) – one of the few non-Japanese JDM cars to really find success.

  3. Nigel said:

    Detomaso Pantera or Chevy Corvette.
    (I see them often in photos of a certain Japanese PA).

  4. Kuroneko said:

    For just popularity, the classic Mini would come close, followed perhaps by VWs. Renault 4 and 2CV also run about in moderate numbers…

  5. acbpanda said:

    I’m gonna take a guess and say by looks, that the older Impalas (I.E not 1980s or 90s or 2000s ones) would fit right in in Japan, because unlike most American cars of 70s or 60s, it wasn’t THAT huge, and it could easily be customized, and it was also decent for graphics if you are into that.

    And it also has that big 327, and although everyone likes quiet more, you have to have something loud heard every now and then. So i say the 1967 Impala would fit right in, also it kind of looks like a Japanese car to me, but others would question me.

    • Kuroneko said:

      > it wasn’t THAT huge

      You’ve obviously never been to Japan! It is huge x10. Still they do have a certain cache here, not much and certainly less than other such barges.

      Ex ’66 SS driver, Neko.

  6. Dave said:

    The Europa is hard to beat. I love old Lotuses, and modified Europas from Japan always catch my fancy.

  7. Dave said:

    Actually, I just thought of a decent one. I still don’t think it’s on par with the Europa, but there does seem to be above-average numbers of old Alpines in Japan vs. most other places. It kinda makes sense; Alpines are a bit esoteric and usual, making them pretty special little cars. They have a storied past as well as racing pedigree; A110s saw quite a bit of success in rallying in the early ’70s. They are very pretty and have the distinction of being a rear-engined sports car that’s not a 911. Later Alpines (I think A310?) were also featured in at least one comic book. I wouldn’t be surprised if Japan has the high concentration of Alpines outside of France, although I don’t know if that’s really the case.

    • Kuroneko said:

      This too. There are even a few ex Le Mans team cars here as well…

      • Stuart Kayrooz said:

        Yeah the A310 has a Japanese feel too – the manga you’re thinking of might be Neon Genesis Evangelion, where it was driven by and owned (almost – she still had 33 repayments left) by Captain Misato Katsuragi.

  8. Wade Nelson said:

    The Opel GT is the most “Japanese” of non-Japanese sports cars. It’s diminuitive, curvy, and like a lot of Japanese sports cars, is relatively underpowered. Besides that, it’s cute as a button. Re-badge it as the Toyota “65R”or Nissan “HiFli” and the general public wouldn’t blink an eye at a JNC forum.

  9. invinciblejets said:

    Lancia delta integrale…??!?

    Super crazy technology but just made by ehe wrong country… Italy would not be my first pick for anything electrical……..but this car has the same ideas as Japanese cars of the time…and similar styling..

    • Kuroneko said:

      … and vastly popular here too. I see on average one or two a week, and one day I saw five or more… Neko.

  10. Ant said:

    This may be too new to really qualify on JNC, but General Motors’ EV1 electric car seems about as Japanese as they come. Space-age styling, emphasis on high technology, aerodynamics, compact size… if it’s not Japanese then it sure as heck ain’t American!

    • Tyler said:

      That car was downright not of this earth. It might be one of the most extraterrestrial of all Earth vehicles.

  11. ewokracing said:

    Porsche 911. The internet says I’m right.

  12. Tyler said:

    LOL, I almost said Miata but that’s the exact opposite.

  13. pstar said:

    Seeing all these uninformed “JNCers” trying to steal/coopt/claim classic English cars as being somehow Japanese is disgusting. Nevermind that every car they have attempted to claim, or would attempt to claim completely predates its Japanese “equivalent”, but you are taking ICONS of the British motoring industry, one of if not the world’s greatest during the 50s and 60s, and then saying they are Japan-ish???

    The equivalent of this is if some “Korean Car Lovers” club asked the question “What is the most quintessentially Korean car that isn’t actually Korean, and the responses were “240Z” “FD RX7″ “NSX” and “EF/EG/EK Civic”. Is it insulting? Or just laughable: YOU WISH, poser?

    You are the other side of the coin of the people who claim Japanese cars are appliances that will never be collectable. The people who think ONLY Japanese cars have character or soul or “cuteness” or some indescribable quality, and that any good car from somewhere else must have some air of Japan about it, otherwise it wouldn’t be good. WTF.

    • Kuroneko said:

      I think you’ve grabbed hold of the wrong end of the yakitori stick there young man…

    • Ben said:

      I think you misunderstood the question. No one is trying to steal/co-opt British cars. Just because Anglophiles love to cry (incorrectly) that the Datsun Roadster copied the MG B, or that every car on earth is a copy of the Jaguar E-Type, doesn’t mean we have the same deranged mode of thinking.

      Instead, there are certain non-Japanese cars that have made a huge cultural impression in Japan. As our editor Ricky would say, the most accurate old school Mini, modified with period correct parts, is located in Japan. Just like the most accurate Cal-Look VW Bug is in Belgium.

      Granted, I’ve never been to Goodwood, but I have never seen more Europas anywhere in the world than in Tokyo. It’s an interesting phenomenon that bears exploration.

  14. potato said:

    I would say Mazda Cosmos (Ultraman) comes close to being the most non-Japanese Japanese classics.

  15. Andrew said:

    So, the best non-Japanese Japanese car eh? I suppose you could consider Mustangs, Europas and other euro cars popularly imported into Japan, but there is one car in particular that i think is the greatest non Japanese Japanese car, and it comes from a small island below Asia called Australia. So, why would a car from a car from a country that almost no foreign people aknowledge, let alone think of an Australian car, be so good in Japan? it started back in October 1974 when Aussie car company Holden released the new HJ Holden Premier, their top of the line saloon car. This is the car that I believe is the greatest Non-Japanese Japanese car, because it is literally a Non-Japanese car sold by a Japanese car company, which goes by the name Mazda Roadpacer AP. So you might be thinking, Why would Mazda be selling a rebadged Holden? it began in 1975, when Mazda decided that they wanted a large, luxurious executive car to compete with the likes of the Toyota Crown and the Nissan Cedric. Mazda’s existing car lineup at the time did not include a large executive saloon (The Luce and Cosmo were the largest, but not exactly a large executive saloon), so rather than spend millions on designing a car from scratch, Mazda turned to Holden in Australia, where they bought and shipped HJ (and later HX) Premier bodies over to Japan. Mazda then proceeded to do some minor tweaks such as pasting Mazda badges over it, upgrading the interior quality with nice uphulsery (they even added a minibar!) and fitting some sexy JDM fender mirrors (they really do suit the car well), however, the biggest change was to be found under the bonnet. Instead of using the Holden 6 or 8 cylender engine, Mazda took the liberty to fit a twin rotor 13B engine of all things! (being Maza, rotary power was considered the best in their vehicles). As brilliant as this car was, there were some flaws. While the rotary produced more power than the Holden motor (the 13B had 130HP), it lacked torque, and combined with the fact the car weighed 1575kg, acceleration, top speed and most of all fuel economy suffered (reports suggested 9mpg). combine this with the 3.8 million yen price tag (3 times more than a Cosmo was) and the fact that there was an oil crisis, it isn’t hard to see why production ceased in 1977 with just 800 cars sold. of these 800, most were bought by government departments, so they were mostly scrapped after a few years. Despite these flaws, I still believe this was a brilliant vehicle. Due to their rarity, owning a good Roadpacer will certainly turn heads (except Australia, people will just think it’s another Holden ^_^), and you can always drop in a 20B to solve the performance issues. So in conclusion, the Roadpacer is certainly a unique vehicle, very rare and a wonderful blend of Japanese and Australian automobile, and that is why i believe that the Mazda Roadpacer AP is the best non-Japanese Japanese car. Thankyou for reading ^_^.

    here are some pictures and videos:
    NORIYARO feature Roadpacer http://noriyaro.com/?p=4538
    WasabiCars spots an old, abandoned Roadpacer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay3RMZ5VY9Q
    and a nicer one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDa-h3RcTkk

  16. Kevin said:

    My vote goes the Volkswagon Type One. The Beetle took the world by storm as an affordable basic car that was just as adorable to behold as the Datsuns that followed in the early 70′s. It was a lightweight platform that was easily made into a vast array of performance oriented cars, again, just like out beloved JNC’s. You see Beetles at the strip, Beetles dominating the streets, Beetles on dunes, Beetles on road courses, you name it, and the car has done it. Plus, it has roots within the Axis powers of WW2, just as the good old JNC’s do. Whether or not that’s a good thing, well we love our Datos, Mitsis , and Yoters, so it must not matter that much. The Type one VW is certainly the most JNC-like-non-JNC.

    • pstar said:

      Except Volkswagen, and the Type 1 especially, were a personal pet project of Hitler himself, you fascist apologist. Mitsubishi cars come from company that existed since the 19th century and happened to produce warplanes during World War 2. Tojo and Hirohito didn’t invent the Galant by a command. Same deal with Toyota, except that they had even less involvement with the Japanese war effort. Honda? Didn’t even exist until the postwar period.

      You might as well claim that eating human babies is cool, since humans eat suckling pigs, and veal, and that doesn’t seem to matter that much. The origin and role of VW versus the Japanese car companies are totally different things. And you using VW’s Nazi origin as a reason for why it’s “Japanese-like” is messed up and uninformed.

      • Kevin said:

        Whoa! I by no means meant to offend with my comment. I am deeply sorry for offending you and didn’t think enough about what I said apparently. The things you pointed out make me feel quite ashamed and embarrassed and I am very, very, sorry. I by no means was trying to say that the holocaust was cool, or any other part of world war two for that matter. I was just referencing that the machines were produced by the same companies that produced machines of war, such as the Zero fighter and other vehicles. Again, I apologize for that and didn’t mean to offend. I was being far to general and insensitive and if my comment could be removed so it does not offend anyone else that would be appreciated.

  17. Expulsion said:

    Hmm.

    Already some really great answers here!

    I always felt like Mk.1 Volkswagen Caddies were a bit out of place. Especially something like the ‘Sportruck’. The Mk.1 Rabbit could already fit alongside the Japanesehatches of the day, and the truck just adds a bit Japanese-esque quirkiness to it!

    They definitely fit the mold of the smaller japanese mini-trucks like the Subaru Brat or Datsun 520…and definitely do not fit the mold of Volkswagen or other German manufacturers.

  18. Jim Oliver said:

    Definitely any Lotus (including Caterhams). When we lived in Hachioji a few years back, I saw tons of ‘em at JCCA events like the New Years Meeting and the Fuji Jamboree … lots of Europas, but also lots of Caterham 7′s. Mini’s are really up there too. I’ve seen lots in Japan, and there is a classic car dealer near where we lived (“Peoples Choice” or something like that) that always had/has at least two Mini’s parked out front. AND, I have also noticed quite a few Lancias. I remember seeing a baby blue Stratos over that just knocked my socks off.

    This reminds me of a good story. I was driving home one evening from work at a little past sundown. This is way out in Hashimoto, where you don’t see 6′ tall, 260 lbs Americans on the street very often. I was in my little Mitsubishi Colt Plus (think Mitsu version of Honda Fit/Jazz). I pull up at a light beside a late model Chevy Silverado extended cab pickup driven by a local Japanese guy. We both had our windows down, so I yelled over “nice truck!”. It scared the absolute crap out of him, and I just about had to pull over to the curb I was laughing so hard … not at the guy in the truck, but at the absurdity of the whole thing. I mean he’s in this big, fat pickup and I’m a big, fat American in a little Japanese housewife’s car. Awesome.

  19. pstar said:

    The entire Saturn brand was created by GM as a mimic of Japanese car companies. At the time of its launch, in the early 90s, Isuzu was still around, Mitsubishi was strong, Suzuki was producing, and GM had already made up the “Geo” nameplate to sell rebranded Suzukis and Toyotas. Acura, Lexus, and Infinity were all in their infancy. In short, there were a lot of “Japanese” companies floating around, and GM (correctly) reckoned that it could use a little deception to sneak is some fresh new compacts of its own, and if the target market of stupid Yanks who get their car information from Consumer Reports or their area newspapers assumed that this new focus-group-spawned car company well hey, who needed to tell them that it was actually a bunch of sweaty fatties in Tennessee producing their safe, economical, reliable, dent-resistance new compact?

    The other correct answer is DSMs. They are actually Japanese at all. Some of them happen to wear a Mitsu badge. And they came with Japanese engines (just like so many Ford compacts of the time had Mazda running gear – a Probe or Escort from the era might have a better claim to Japanese ancestry than an Eclipse/Talon/Laser) Yet DSMs have been a mainstay of the so-called “import” scene since the beginning. Even today, your typical Fast and Furious, “tuner” moron will consider DSMs as Japanese car, even though they were designed FOR the US market and built only in the US.

  20. It’s got to be the Porsche 911. It’s world renown, easily recognizable, unbroken continual tuning lineage. mind you I don’t own a 911 but would like to drive and own one to see what it’s about. Almost every car manufacturer has set the 911 in their scopes to take down.

    With rwb, nakai-San has set the standard for speed and looks. He has several shops outside of Japan. If you want the the most Japanese non-Japanese car. He is the few people that will travel to you and get your parts installed by him and his hands.

    Personally I didn’t think too much of the 911 till I stumbled upon nakai-san work. I have always liked modernizing a classic up to the present sports cars (e.g. Singer, BBi, Magnus “urban outlaw” walker”, etc). Might as well include most japanese non-Japanese wheels: BBS meshes.