QotW: Will there ever be another sports car renaissance?

Last week rumors surfaced of a possible MR2 and MX-6 in the pipeline. These would add  more options to the slowly expanding lineup of affordable sports cars and, with any luck, once again spark an era of performance cars. From the 1960s golden age to the Bubble Era to the glory days of the 90s, Japan has seen the coming and going of many epochs that gave birth to the classic JNCs we know and love today, but in recent years that has slowed.

Will there ever be another sports car renaissance?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What was your most memorable parts hunt

We loved hearing about your quests for parts. Nothing warms our hearts more than the knowledge that our readers are putting their own time, money and effort into keeping their JNCs on the road, resulting in many good stories shared. MikeRL411 taught us never to take the parts counter guy’s word for it. From Neil Ransley we learned never to give up on an ancient forum post. But the greatest story of all came from r100guy, whose story fills us with pure joy:

This happened around 28 years ago when my Mazda R100 was in the paint shop needing two front fenders. No internet and with only word of mouth or dumb luck, I was at a loss on how to obtain two good fenders. Only about 5200 R100s were imported so the parts support was always very thin. The local dealer had no parts book so any parts request resulted in calling a dealer in Seattle two states away. NLA was the typical response for most requests, not surprisingly, as was the case for the fenders.

Being young and undeterred, I fired a letter off to Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima Japan asking for help in obtaining the fenders. I enclosed a few pieces of Mazda memorabilia and photos of the car with the letter (written in long hand, what was I thinking?) and addressed it to the president of Mazda Motors. At that time, the president was Kenichi Yamamoto of Mazda and would be considered the father of the rotary engine.

Now, I really had no expectations of receiving any response from my letter to Japan, but Damn, not only did I get a response in letter form but I was instructed to “please visit my local Mazda dealer parts department”. I walk in to the dealership and the parts guy has this big grin on his face. He tells me they received a special shipment to be given to me; two brand new fenders!

Will always be amazed at the support given to me by the folks at Mazda (both in Japan and the States) and truly appreciate their efforts.

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13 Responses to QotW: Will there ever be another sports car renaissance?

  1. BlitzPig said:

    I’m just hoping for a passenger car renaissance at this point. Take a look around, it’s all SUVs all the time. The old “mainline” sports car magazines should change their names to “Road and Truck”, and, “Car and Drivel” as SUVs are very quickly becoming the bulk of what they cover. My local Honda, Toyota, and Nissan stores almost cannot give sedans away, as SUVs are the vast majority of what they sell.

    Then there is Ford stopping production of all their cars, except the Mustang, in favor of SUVs.

    The largest selling Porsche is an SUV.

    The largest selling BMW is an SUV.

    I’m willing to bet the largest selling type at Mazda is even an SUV.

    The days when MG and Triumph outsold the VW Bug in the US are way back in the rearview mirror.

    The Sports Car will always have a very small, and very vocal group of buyers, but expecting a rebirth of the type beyond what we have now isn’t a realistic expectation, especially with so many younger people not even wanting to drive at all.

    • j_c said:

      Roger that, I’ve unsubscribed to Car and Driver and getting close to pushing the button on Road and Track because of all the truck and SUV content.

      • Ant said:

        I only get R&T sporadically (I live in the UK so I buy it when I find it – I’ve maybe picked up six in the last twelve months) but I really haven’t noticed that much SUV content in there, and the *non*-SUV content is excellent.

        As someone who works in the publishing industry (albeit not for R&T) I’d firstly say stick with it, as you’ll miss in-depth, well-researched content written by experienced writers when it’s gone and all there is left is vloggers shouting at the lens on the internet…

        And secondly, I’d urge you to cut them a little slack. Magazines are covering what the market is producing, and if the market is producing SUVs then that’s what has to get column inches. Given R&T is based in the US I’d say it does quite well with how *little* SUV content they manage to get away with, given how many are on the market.

  2. j_c said:

    There will be another sports car resurgence and it will likely be well into the electric era. I imagine it’s going to be the next generation of drivers that want to distinguish themselves from their parents like the SUV people today who didn’t want to be minivan parents.

  3. Chet Manley said:

    I think since the French frog of frugality is going to jail now and Mitsubishi has partnered with a Japanese led Nissan were in as good of a place as ever for a sports car renaissance.

    Furthermore, I think with EVs taking a stronger place in the marketplace, it frees up ICE vehicle’s to hold more of a fun place in the market.

  4. nlpnt said:

    Looking at how quickly the hot-hatch renaissance seems to be fizzling out, the only way for it to happen is for the manufacturer to dump SO MANY onto the dealerships at launch that they’re physically crowding out the greige automatic crossovers on dealer lots across the country.

    It needs to be so that none of the dealers even think of putting an “Additional Market Adjustment” on them that’ll only cause buyers to stay away in droves until the buzz is gone and end up buying an off-lease 3 series while they’re waiting for the dealers to get their heads out of, let’s say, the clouds.

  5. Jeremy A. said:

    Short answer: Yes. Long answer: As we move further into the era of electric vehicles, the push for range will, I think, lead away from trucks and SUV type vehicles, and smaller runabouts will become popular again. Tesla has probably designed the electric chassis of choice for the future, with the ‘skateboard’ design that puts the center of gravity very low in the vehicle, and allows for multiple vehicles to be based off of the same drivetrain platform. As electric becomes more mainstream and more conventional automakers start making more conventional electric vehicles, I can completely see a return to the original sportscar formula- Vehicles that are not explicitly -fast-, but due to the instant torque and constant horsepower, are very quick, and due to the low COG, can take turns with lightning speed. As electric vehicles lower in price, smaller, less practical vehicles may well show up, in a classic sports car configuration (2 doors, short wheelbase). I think the era of RWD sports cars will be at a close, but only because, due to the compactness and lightness of electric motors coupled with safety regulations, AWD will be the drivetrain layout of choice when a majority of vehicles in the showroom are electric.

  6. cesariojpn said:

    The only people I think that would be interested in sports cars are folks that are young, are going thru a mid-life crisis, or are not anchored by parental responsibilities.

    Being realistic, the way you might see a sports car renaissance is all in one factor: Price. Make it accessible to young folks that have some disposable income, with some decent loan parameters, and a decent aftermarket, and this is what I think could be the revival.

  7. LateralG said:

    In the end it will all come down to sales figures. So I did my best to ensure that car makers understand that there are people out there that love to drive their cars and want more than only drive from A to B. So I bought a new Suzuki Swift Sport. It is only 2 weeks old and it is a lot of fun to drive. In this price range this was the best choice I could make. Let´s hope that the big companys come to the conclusion that there is enough interest in affordable sports cars.

  8. エーイダン said:

    It will come, as soon as the next generation of boy racers get tired of their parents’ crossovers. The saloon, the estate and the van will come to be seen as rebellious, cool and fun. There may come a tiny resurgence of the old Custom Van trend of the ’70s and early ’80s, but 4-door saloons will come back, when the Millennials’ children have grown up, they will likely be a very rebellious crowd, so they will likely take after the cars of the 2000s and thus, car companies will respond to the youth demographic by rebirthing the sports estates and sports 4-door saloon. As for coupes, sadly that seems like a concept that fuel consumption will limit to the exotica.

  9. dankan said:

    I think there could be, but not in a conventional sense. There will always be a subset of people who enjoy the sensation of speed and piloting a machine. That number may be smaller than in the past, but it’s dying off completely. It is, though, not really very profitable. The cars themselves are impractical, so only people with very few responsibilities or the resources for a grown-up toy are likely to be able to enjoy this.

    That being said, in a future with 3D printing, likely open-source access to the kind of engineering for home built kits, and off-the-shelf electric powertrains; sports cars will be possible.

    They’ll probably be home-brewed, possibly on the slightly shady side of the law, but you will be prying the steering wheels from their cold, dead hands. (Hopefully not literally, but if someone forgets that good sports cars stop as well as they go, we might have that issue)

    That being said, if anyone wants to start the process, a barikan Corona or a late 80s Prelude would be awesome electric GTs. I’m just saying.

  10. ahja said:

    Ah, I question I contemplate often, because I so much want the answer to be “yes”, but all the indicators point to “no”. Let us first look to the historical contexts that produced the assorted sports car peaks. Sportscars’ heyday was, by far, the period between the late 1950s and the early 1970s. This period saw a massive amount of manufacturers making full-on open top 2-seater cars, and an immensely high production of 2-door coupes as well. It is THE era of the sportscar and GT. It was born by the postwar recovery of Europe, when innovation, production capabilities, labor availability, and perhaps most importantly, a widespread feeling that cars were “special” things (now, most consumers see cars as particularly expensive appliances. Back then, I think they were more often seen as the one thing worth spending huge amounts of money on, because they were a CAR.) The mentality then was romantic. This cambrian explosion of the types of cars we sportycar enthusiasts all love was brought to a close by heavy handed safety and emission regulations in the US (the dominant consumer of Europe’s sportscars) and union/labor troubles in the UK that wrecked their car industry. Japan’s car manufacturers participated in this era, and got through it relatively unscathed, for a variety of reasons, namely that they weren’t as dependent on the American market as the European ones, and the labor culture as their factories was vastly superior to that of the US and Europe, which is not coincidentally what allowed them to dominate markets from the mid 70s onwards.

    Which brings us to the more relevant period for most Japanese car fans, the 80s and 90s bubble. In the 80s and 90s, showing that you were successful and respectable often meant having a sportscar. And to me, this was a very good thing. It meant people were buying sportscars, a lot, and then buying a new one. Primary and secondary markets were strong. And Japanese cars dominated them. Their cars were good, and then better. By the early-mid 90s, they were all making something that was more or less attainable, and AWESOME.
    The pillows in the face that stifled this period, were the combinations of spiralling yen value, meaning that their export cars got expensive, the birth of the SUV craze in the US, and the fact that Kei cars just became too damn fast and competitive in Japan for the sportscars to soldier along at home. By the late 90s, showing your success in the US meant going BIG. The shit era of the truck and SUV, which all of “us” hate and loathe. We’re still stuck in this era, though the advent of hybrids and the influence of woman drivers have moved it to more of a crossover-dominated market. But really its still about that BIGness. Those of us who aspire to smallness are few and far between as the 2010s draw to a close.

    So what would result in sportscars returning to their 1971 or 1992 levels of prosperity? Probably only regulation, as much as I dislike the concept. But regulations have harmed car enthusiasts for so long, it would be nice to see justice served and them benefit us. Regulations about dimensions. Isn’t it UNSAFE that all these suvs and trucks block the view of the road ahead from the cars behind them? I think so. Tell your lawmakers. Regulations about fuel economy (“light” trucks and suvs are exempted from the bullshit fleet standards that passenger cars have to meet, which is why rotaries are dead but F250s and Tundras infest the streets). And all the safety crap cars have to have these days drives their weight up by literally 1000 lbs. Its an arms race of idiotproofing that has made cars bigger, heavier, and more dangerous that can only be fought by making the next car even bigger and heavier and “safer”. When in reality we’d all be better served by having our cars small and light. Safer, better fuel economy, so forth, Regulation that targets the big fugly mammoths clogging up the roads, and a repeal of regulations that prohibits the kind of small, efficient cars that we like from being produced. Essentially a 2-liter “Kei-car” regimen for the US. Would bring back the sportscar. Tell somebody that can make it happen. I’ve pondered this question a long time, and this is what I’ve concluded.

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