QotW: What was the greatest single year for Japanese cars?

Toyota Tokyo Motor Show 1970

We’ve discussed which automaker had the best year, but which year had the best autos? Prior to 1970, Japanese cars were either grossly overpriced or built for a populace just graduating from a moped. By the turn of the decade, the automakers were filling that middle ground with actual cars we’d be familiar with today, and the earning power of the average Jun had reached a point where they could afford them. Suddenly cool cars were everywhere. Nissan had the Z, Toyota had the Celica, Mazda had the Capella RX-2, Mitsubishi had the Galant GTO, and Honda had the 1300 Coupe 9. Innovation, optimism, and kick-ass designs came to the forefront. It was the best of times.

What was the greatest single year for Japanese cars?

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW,”Which Japanese automaker had the best single-year lineup?” 


KPGC110 Nissan Skyline GT-R 1972 Tokyo Motor Show

For Mitsubishi and Mazda, you thought the 90s were anything but grungy.  Toyota ruled the 80s, but Nissan was clearly your chosen favorite the 1970s. More specifically, Banpei made the best case for Nissan in 1972:

Nissan had a marvelous lineup in 1972:
Nissan Fairlady Z S30 (aka 240Z)
Nissan Skyline C10
Nissan Skyline C110 (introduced in 1972)
Nissan Laurel C130 (introduced in 1972)
Nissan Gloria/Cedric 230
Nissan Bluebird 510
Nissan Bluebird-U 610
Nissan Sunny B110
Nissan Cherry E10

1972 was a special year as both the new (Kenmeri) Skyline C110 and (Pigsbutt) Laurel C130 got introduced. Both are nowadays the most iconic cars for Nissan in the 70s. Both were also sold abroad and were not limited to RHD only. And obviously the introduction of the Skyline GT-R KPGC110 in September 1972 marks the second most sought after Japanese classic ever. And let’s not forget the C10 also was still for sale in early 1972.

The Fairlady Z (aka 240Z) is one of the most iconic and beautiful cars Nissan ever produced. Unfortunately Z432 was no longer for sale in 1972, but if you were lucky some of the Fairlady ZGs might still have been for sale.

The coke bottle styled Gloria and Cedric 230, introduced a year earlier, are nowadays also sought after classics in Japan.

In 1972 also both the 510 and 610 were sold alongside and both were available in SSS and hardtop coupe trim. Especially the 510 SSS hardtop coupe is sought after nowadays. I think the JNC/Petrolicous video will explain you why:

The Sunny B110 is still a popular car and especially the UTE has a great following.

Last but not least, the Cherry E10. The bonkers styled coupe: you hate it or you love it. Many of the X1-R coupes have been sacrificed to the holy gods of zokusha (bosozoku) for their unique tail lights and integrated into various C110 and C210 tail light panels. The tail lights alone would set you back over a thousand dollars nowadays and those original Cherry X1-R coupes are impossible to find.

Yes, Nissan got everything right in 1972. And then in 1973 the oil crisis happened and, also due to the emission standards getting more strict, the party was mostly over.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

JNC Decal smash

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14 Responses to QotW: What was the greatest single year for Japanese cars?

  1. Ant said:

    I’m going a little earlier than I did with the last QotW: 1989.

    Two of the most significant Japanese cars ever debuted this year: The MX-5 Miata, which has since become the world’s best-selling sports car, and the Lexus LS400, which showed Japan could compete with the best Europe had to offer in the luxury sector. The first-gen Subaru Legacy was significant too, not least for its role in making Subaru the most significant name in rallying for the decades that followed.

    Not convinced? Maybe this’ll do it: 1989 was also the year of the Nissan S-Cargo…

  2. Brian G. Lawson J.D. said:

    1989 was a great year for Nissan, as was 1972 and 1999. I’m going to have to lean on Toyota in 1994 though. .. the Celica, the Supra, the Land Cruiser, the Mr2, the Soarer, etc…. maybe not the greatest, but boy it’s sure up there

  3. Kevin said:

    Wow! Finally you post a question that only requires a bit of really easy subtraction to find the right answer for. Check out this equation I just came up with to solve for the best year for Japanese cars!

    Current Year – Twenty-Five = The Greatest Year For Japanese Cars.

    For obvious reasons…

  4. ahja said:

    1992. I couldn’t even list all the great offerings available during the peak of the bubble. Japan had a solid decade of dominance behind it for making the best consumer cars, and the gloriously rounded 90s shapes (mostly invented by the Japanese) were proliferating, making the European and American cars of the era look horribly dated. Mazda was the defending LeMans champion, and the FD RX-7 and JZA80 Supra were brand new, stunning fabulous cars both. Everything was just amazing, and seemed to be still on the ascendant. By 1993 the first pangs of decline would be felt. Rotaries were banned by the FIA, and the US would experience the first of many casualties as the All-Trac Celica was pulled, followed shortly by the RX7, MR2, 300ZX, and other icons. But nobody knew it was coming, in the heady halcyon days of 1992.

    • Tom Westmacott said:

      According to Toyota UK’s blog, “The highly-anticipated fourth-generation Supra was finally unveiled at the 1993 Chicago Motor Show”, so while I agree with your general sentiment, I think you’re a year too early – 1993 is the peak bubble year for the cars you mention, I think.

    • Yoda said:

      1992 was also the first USDM model year for the thirdgen Camry and the fifthgen Civic, each of which represented a peak of their manufacturers’ prowess and willingness to build more into a product than they had to.

  5. Jim Daniels said:

    I would say 72. It was the year that design, quality, and numbers had the greatest influence across the globe. Influence being a key issue. Without the number that were being produced in 72 the Japaneses auto market may still be working to obtain its current status.

    Also in 72 there is the American auto industry and there supersized boats on wheels that guzzled gas and were unreliable. As the Japanese autos were smaller fuel efficient and reliable, the Big Three would send out propaganda as to the new changes and up grades and how reliability was improved. The Big Three spent money spreading propaganda instead of money making the cars better. This also helped sell Japaneses cars. The trend toward smaller, more fuel efficient, reliable auto had started.

    Then there is Kevin’s (KISS- Keep it simple stupid) approach and that theory is hard to beat.

    • ahja said:

      Fuel efficiency was of extremely little concern in 72, as it had been for many years, and American cars were definitely as reliable as anything available. The issues in 1972 were the Nixon EPA laws and skyrocketing insurance premiums. This killed the market for fast cars (but not big ones with big engines), and it happened by government edict, not by consumer preference and market choices. It was later, in the mid-70s that fuel economy became an actual consumer concern, thanks to the OPEC cartel flexing its muscles. Japan benefited then for the same reason Hyundai and Kia thrive today. They could undercut the competition and didn’t have an existing loyal customer base with preconceived notions of what their cars should be like.

      • Yoda said:

        It helped that there was a solid existing import-buyer base in the economy segment that VW had cultivated and dominated but was slowly letting slip away.

        *Most* American cars were as reliable as anything available – the Chevy Vega probably drove (sputteringly and with rusty sheetmetal flapping into the breeze) more people to Honda and Toyota showrooms than any other single model; a class up, the Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant were the last of the legendarily dependable Chrysler products – the ’78 FWD L-bodies which begat the ’81 K’s inaugurated the Mopar Quality Lottery (This will either be the best or the worst car you ever own. It is completely random which it’ll be.)

        There was at least some market-driven aspect to the trend away from muscle cars and big boats to midsize Broughams and luxury “compacts” in the ’70s. A supermajority of new-car buyers were either the first wave of Baby Boomers or their parents; one wanted something that looked and felt more grown-up than their GTO, the other no longer needed a Country Squire but didn’t want to feel like they were moving down in the world.

  6. Michael said:

    Any year pre-1980

  7. Tom Westmacott said:

    The Bond-girl stunning Toyota 2000GT, and its cute kid brother the Sports 800. The iconic Hakosuka Skyline GT-R, the sleek PS30 Z432 stablemate with which it shared the legendary S20 racing engine, and the wind-in-your-hair Fairlady Roadster. The revolutionary Mazda Cosmo 110, the racy Isuzu Bellett GT-R, and the screaming Honda s800. All these and more can be yours, if you set your time machine to the magical year of 1969.

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