We all have a dream JDM classic. Perhaps yours is a beautifully restored Toyota 2000GT, or maybe something retrotech like an awesome RB-powered C10 Skyline or nutcase 20B-powered RX-3. Whatever it may be, chances are these dreams usually never eventuate to anything more than that. Luckily for lovers of Japanese cars, there is actually quite a decent selection of classic J-tin available for relatively modest amounts of money. Today, we look into a few of the less obvious choices for the buyer with $5000.
$5000 gets you a decent amount of Japanese metal when you think about it. Compared to overpriced Morris Minors and common-as-muck Beetle, the classics from Japan are still undervalued. Great news if you’re in the market to buy! More often than not, the challenge when buying a classic Japanese car is actually finding one. Naturally, this is one of the reasons why the more mainstream Toyotas and Datsuns are very popular. We won’t be covering your Toyota Celicas and Datsun 1600’s here, but rather have a look into some of the other, more interesting choices.
Honda N360 / N600 (Scamp) – Probably not ideal as a first car or daily driver due to a lack of parts, safety and size, however if you want something a bit left field to tinker on and a true piece of motoring history, the tiny N360 might be for you. Later water-cooled N600’s are nowadays cheaper, and the extra few cc’s make keeping up with traffic not entirely impossible. However, not as collectable as the early cars. These tiny little cars were the predecessor to the Civic, and are to make passers-by smile. Very rare today, your best bet would be to join a Honda Club (Honda-Oz is a great Qld-based club), though this little yellow beauty has been for sale on Carsales for quite a few months now.
Honda Z360 / Z600 – If the styling of the little Scamp leaves you uninspired, the stylish “Zot” might tickle your fancy instead. Based on the same platform, they were popular back in their day due to their radical good looks and bright, 70s colours. Think bright purple, green, yellow and orange. More common these days than the earlier N360s, they offer good interest-for-money value! Again, join a club and keep your eyes peeled, as good examples do come up for sale every now and then for well within the $5k price range.
Datsun 240C / 260C / 280C – Still very unloved in Australia, the “Cedric” is revered in Japan and rightly so. It was one of the first Japanese luxury cars to be exported to Australia – and made a big impact – changing expectations about what should be included in a car at this price. Reliable, luxurious and good-looking, this car certainly stole a lot of sales from domestic Holden, Ford and Valiant. You can choose from the early 230 series with understated styling and an L24 straight six (the same as the 240Z, except with lower compression and a single carb), or the later 330 series with swoopy, obviously American-influenced styling and L26 or L28. In Australia, we got a 4-door Sedan, 2-door Hardtop or 5-door Wagon for both the 230 and 330. Unfortunately, if you want the most popular 4-door Hardtop you will have to import from Japan, and that blows the budget.Be patient if you want one of these cars – there are still a few really good original examples floating about, but rarely come up for sale. As with all Datsuns, check thoroughly for rust. Very cheap to buy, and cheap to maintain, these oldschool cruisers are ideal for a first foray into classic J-tin ownership.
Datsun Bluebird (P410 / P411) – It’s hard to believe but there are still a number of excellent condition examples still in existence in Australia, which seem to come up for sale every now and then. Much cooler than any P510, an early example P410 will only ever fetch a few thousand here, offering a lot of nostalgia for the price. The European exterior is explained by the fact that it was designed by Pininfarina. As if that’s not enough, they also had quite a successful time in rallying. Models changed slightly but often over the years, the biggest change being to the P411 model with updated tail lights and a larger engine. For a brief run down check out StanzaDriven. This is the type of car you can own, and really love. Because of its rich history, just researching it is pleasure in itself.
Mitsubishi Scorpion – Based on the Sigma, the Scorpion was released in 1976 and is also known as Sapporo / Galant Lambda. Unfortunately their potential is rarely uncovered in Australia. The early models with chrome bumpers (rare) are amazing, and don’t need all that much to look hot. Very different too. It’s the details that count on these cars, but with great interchangeability, mechanical parts aren’t such a problem. Being relatively new too, they are perfect for daily driving and look perfect modified in a Japanese 70s street racer kinda way. Still don’t believe me? Just check out Stu’s car (left).
Mazda RX-5 – Also known as 121 and Cosmo, these came in Coupe and Landau form. These are quickly appreciating but a good example will still be able to be had for $5k. If you like late-70s tack, you can’t go past one of these! Now that early Mazdas are ridiculously expensive, it makes for a sensible choice. No doubt, it will climb in value along with its more popular rotary brother, the SA22 RX-7, which, by the way, makes for a good choice for about $5k too. But it’s not exactly “out-there” is it!
Toyota Corona – The early “shovel-nose” Coronas are a love-it-or-hate-it car. Personally, I love their slightly awkward styling and restrained quirkiness. A very good car for their day, the 2-door hot 1600GT models were raced with success in Japan. The elegant 2-door Coupe models were sold in Australia but were never common and today only rarely come up for sale – for substantially more than our budget too. However the four doors (and five-door wagons, if you can find one) are very affordable, and can be driven daily or just tinkered with on weekends. They make for an excellent first classic.
Toyota Corona Mark II – If the styling of the earlier Corona is not for you, you might want to have a look at the vastly more modern later Corona Mark II. A beautifully subtle car, they were available in Australia in sedan and Hardtop form. Fitted with a straight six, they were an unusually positioned car and as such are quite rare, unfortunately. They’re really not worth much though, but be prepared to wait a while if you’re after a good Hardtop. They only come up for sale very rarely. There’s a brilliant looking sedan on Carsales at the moment though.
The key is to keep your eyes peeled, and never give up an opportunity! It might take some time to find the right car, but don’t give up. Who knows, it might be living right around the corner from you. I bought my previous car from a 90 year old lady who had it since new, after complimenting her on it. She didn’t advertise it – she just called me up when she was ready.
Got any other suggestions for left-field cars under $5k? What about tips on how to find them?