A thread at the www.auszoku.net forums the other day reminded us that Nissan South Africa still makes the B121 Nissan Sunny truck. Called the 1400 Bakkie, it is a 1971 Nissan design that you can still buy new today.
So it prompted us to think about older JDM rides that you might still be able to buy new.
Nissan 1400 Bakkie: 36yrs
First, the Bakkie (South African slang for pickup truck). The original Nissan model was released in 1971 as the Sunny, a model range which included sedan, coupe and pickup variants. A simple, rugged front engined design with a live rear axle, it was originally powered by a 1.2L, 65ps pushrod four cylinder and rather interestingly, Nissan continued to manufacture it long after production of the Sunny sedan and Coupe ceased. In fact, Nissan continued to make the Sunny Truck in Japan until 1994, giving it one of the longest production runs of any Japanese car.
But it doesn’t end there…Nissan Sunny’s began production in South Africa in 1971 as well, but rather amazingly, Nissan South Africa continues to make the Bakkie to this very day (production of the sedans and coupes stopped in the 70s just like Japan though). It’s been upgraded to 1.4L (but still 62ps) and still looks exactly like the 70s child that it really is (check out that interior!)
We’re not entirely sure if there is a slammed, dish-wheeled, external oil coolered Bosozouku Bakkie scene in South Africa or not, but we sure hope there is!
Maruti 800: 21yrs
Another JDM car that refuses to die is the 1984 Suzuki Alto. In the early 80s, Suzuki formed a joint venture with Indian company Maruti to produce the Suzuki Alto 800, and Indian production began in 1984….and is still going today. Maruti 800s that you can buy today are actually based on the 1986 Suzuki Alto and a new one will cost 2.5 Indian lac (about $US6000). One of the first reasonably modern cars that Indians could buy (see Hindustan Ambassador at the end of this article), about 50% of all Indian cars on the roads are Maruti, and today one of the most popular modern Indian cars is the Maruti Swift, which is based on the current model Suzuki.
Hyundai Galloper: 21yrs
From the balmy climes of India, we travel northeast to South Korea, where Mitsubishi has had a long-standing partnership with Hyundai.
Today, you still see quite a few of these things in Korean traffic, and a glance at the badge reveals that you are looking at a Hyundai Galloper. It’s based on the 1st gen 1982 Mitsubishi Pajero (or Shogun in Europe and Montero in the USA) and was made up to 2003.
There is even a version with big flared wheelarches that looks like a Pajero Evolution (which was based on the 2nd-gen Pajero) but sadly, under the bonnet you will not find a 3.5L MIVEC V6, but rather a diesel!
Equus GS450: 8yrs
While still on the subject of Hyundai/Mitsubishi, one of the better cars to come out of the partnership is the Equus. It’s not really very old at all, but is included here because it’s interesting.
Released in 1999 as the Mitsubishi Proudia, it was a large JDM luxury sedan built to take on the might of Lexus/Toyota Celsior. Powered by 3.5L V6 and 280ps 4.5L V8 engine, they were rather oddly FWD. Sadly for Mitsubishi, the might of Lexus won and the Proudia tanked in Japan and was withdrawn from sale after only a year. But it’s been a successful executive limo in Korea right up to the present day. Still powered by 3.5L or 4.5L engines, I’ve ridden in several and can report that it’s actually a damn fine car! Laden with all the usual JDM luxo excesses like electrically reclining/massaging rear seats, and rear cabin TV and little fold-out footrests at the back of the front seats. It’s very luxurious and extremely well made.
It’s mainly used as a company limo, and pretty much every hotel has a fleet of them. The road from Seoul to the airport is long and straight and it’s a pleasant way to travel as the hotel limo drivers race each other back to the hotel at 160km/h. The soft and floaty ride suggests that it ain’t no Lancer Evo around corners but that’s no great loss in a limo (after all it is a 280ps FWD).
A shame that it didn’t do well in Japan, it’s really not that inferior to a Lexus.
Perodua Kancil: 22yrs
From South Korea we travel south west to the tropical climes of Malaysia (ahh, home).
Where the Perodua company makes the Kancil, a badge-engineered version of the 1986 Daihatsu Mira kei-car. Having received a few facelifts along the way, it now looks very different to the original Mira, but it really is the same car underneath. Rather sadly, unlike the Mira, there is no DOHC, 16V turbocharged 4WD Avantzato TRXX version….if you want a Kancil you will have to be content with a 31ps 660cc or the optional 50ps 850cc version.
Proton Saga: 25yrs
While still in Malaysia (try the prawn sambal, it’s great) we pay another JDM old stager a visit.
Based on the 1982 Mitsubishi Colt, the Proton company has been making the Saga since 1985. The version that you can buy today has had some nose and tail facelifts, but it’s still the 1982 Mitsu. Famous (in Malaysia) as being the very first Malaysia-produced car, Proton has gone on to bigger and better things and today offers much more modern in-house designs.
But after a quarter of a century, the company has remained loyal to the old Saga, which is still produced as a low-cost sedan and for the taxi industry.
Nissan Cedric: 20yrs
At this point, we will stop picking on Mitsubishi and from Malaysia we hop on a plane north east to Japan (yay!). You will see a row of taxicabs parked outside every train station in Japan, and they are generally painted orange and are either Nissan Cedrics or Toyota Crown Comforts.
At first, you might be pleasantly surprised at how well maintained these 1986 Cedrics are, but the truth is, Nissan has continued to produce a version of its 1986 Y31 Cedric until the present day. Its made just for the taxi and corporate fleet market and the version made today is the simplest and ruggedest version, with a live rear axle.
Powered by an 85ps 2.0Lfour cylinder running on LPG, it is not quite the same as the RB20DET engined Y31s you see on the drift circuit.
Toyota Crown Comfort: 11yrs
Toyota’s contribution to the taxi market is the Crown Comfort.
Released in 1996, it somehow conspires to look a lot older, but it has an extra tall cabin with tons of legroom and a massive boot in its squared off tail. You will see Crown Comforts serving as taxis all across Asia, from Japan to Hong Kong to Singapore. A cool feature is the auto opening door and full-length seat doilies. Very simple in its construction with a live rear axle and drum brakes, it’s built for long service and low running costs.
Powerplant for the 1450kg behemoth is, like the Cedric, a 2.0L 80ps LPG four cylinder, but the non-taxi version (yes, you can buy it, it’s in the Toyota catalog) is powered by a 140ps petrol 2.0L 1G-FE.
Hindustan Ambassador: 50yrs (and counting!)
But impressive as all these long JDM production runs are, the one that really takes the OMG I Can’t Believe They Still Make That prize is the Hindustan Ambassador.
Yes, I know this isn’t Grand-IDM but it’s worth mentioning. Production of the Morris-Oxford based car began in India in 1957 and Hindustan hasn’t stopped making them since.
If you go to India today (and you should, it’s a beautiful country) you will find that although the whole nation is breathlessly speeding headlong into the new millennium, there is no animosity against the old Ambassador. They don’t sell as many of them as they used to but speak to anyone on the street and you’ll find that the old car is fondly regarded. Being a 50yr old, ladder frame design, it’s made out of unfashionably thick steel, and so you will find most government officials will drive one because it is the car most likely to survive a bomb blast (domestic terrorism sadly still blights some areas of India). It’s primitive, big-jointed, tall-riding suspension is also tailor made for Indian roads (where the potholes are deep enough to swallow your Maruti 800 whole).
The great, great irony is that the Ambassador has outlived the Austin-Rover organisation itself, which finally went bust in 2005. Respendent in its leaf-sprung, live axled, (non assisted) drum braked glory, the Ambassador is today powered by a 75ps 1.8L SOHC Isuzu-designed four cylinder, which at one time, made it India’s fastest car (well…it’s main competition was the 30ps Maruti 800). Actually make that a second irony: Isuzu hasn’t existed as a car maker for over 10yrs, so the Ambassador outlasted Isuzu too (no, I don’t count the Trooper SUV as a car).
In 2003, the Ambassador was given a rather unhappy looking facelift to try to bring it up to date. Actually, the only thing that changed was the new Cayenne-ish nose. As you can see from the pictures, it doesn’t look any better on the Ambassador than it does on the Porsche Cayenne. But that won’t be enough to kill this venerable old car. 50 yrs and counting….and still going.
If anyone can think of any unfeasibly long-lived JDM ride, pop it in a comment below!