QotW: What defines the era known as JNC?

2484_Taira-Nagasu Ferry

American Muscle. European Design. German engineering. Italian flair. This is what gets thrown around the wash bay when describing classic cars from various areas. How about JNCs? Excluding the mid 90s of the “rice burner” era,  what say you when thinking of the cars of the JNC line-up.  How are they remembered now or will be remembered in the coming ages.

What defines the era known as JNC?

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 JNC needs the Hot Wheels treatment?


Last week’s QotW had some great entries but it came down to the compacts. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Now, we find all major manufacturers bringing compacts and subcompacts into the market for the race to the bottom. Let’s not forget the frugal, yet enticing Toyota Starlet KP60 (among others) submitted by Matthew Vona:

Like said above mid 80’s JNC’s would be very nice. But i personally prefer Kp60 Starlets, especialy with the N2 TRD bodykit, or Toyota Cressida X71, mk1 Soarer, R30-R31 Skylines, 85′ 300zx.

It’s about time the small, compacts that had less flare (except the N2 widebodys, hehe) as the Skylines, AE86s, and Civics have a chance to shine in the palms of our hands. Come on HW! And give us those great green, orange, and 2-tone colors this model deserves!

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

JNC Decal smash

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24 Responses to QotW: What defines the era known as JNC?

  1. Mark Newton-John says:

    I say JNC entails the period in the US when Japanese cars were still more the exception. A lot of times more because your parents got one and was passed to you. Now maybe the gold chain wearing set bought the 240Z new at the time, but it was an era where economy weighed more than performance at the time. So up until the late 80s when the Accord and Camry were becoming mainstream cars, and the Supra and ZX broke out from being a luxo coupes to full on sports car.
    Remember, the AE86 Corolla GT-S was overshadowed by the Celica and Supra at the time, and as an owner of an original TE27 Corolla SR-5, I *NEVER* saw another one, even though I live in SoCal until recently.
    So I’d say the period of JNC is when it was the exception that you had a Japanese car, rather than the norm.

  2. Chris Tonn says:

    Speaking from the US market perspective, I’ll claim the nostalgic era for Japanese cars runs from 1968 – when the 510 appeared on these shores as a legitimate, sporty alternative to the established marques – to 1991, when the CRX disappeared.

    It’s all academic – I know that Toyota had a small but not insignificant presence before ’68, and that we could cap it off in ’89 when the Miata appeared, or in ’93 when the final-gen Supra bowed – at once dooming and endowing the world with a never-ending movie franchise – but I feel that these two cars symbolize the nostalgic era of the ’70s and ’80s perfectly.

  3. Ant says:

    Attention to detail.

    Whether it’s pushing the boundaries of the engineering of the time, such as Mazda’s work with rotary engines from the 1960s, or building a car whose qualities are still as apparent today as they were a quarter century ago (an early Lexus LS400 in which every button still works and whose engine is still near-silent), JNCs are for me about combining the best engineering and technology available at the time with quality construction.

  4. Thomas says:

    Easy. Japanese bubble economy.

    • Legacy-san says:

      Yep, I think you’re onto something. The current comments mention the cars that were “out front”, Toyota Supra, Cressida, Maxima, AE86’s, 240SX, but let’s not forget “the other guys”. Subaru XT, then the WTH Subaru SVX or Isuzu Piazza, Mitsubishi 3000GT-VR4, 3-rotor Mazda Cosmo, 2nd gen Mitsubishi Debonair, Nissan Cedric Cima and Gloria Cima, and so on. Honda also was churning them out for their Japanese dealership network Honda Clio, Primo and Verno, like the Ascot Innova, Accord AeroDeck, City Turbo, and the 1st gen Legend with the “Wing Turbo”. Money for R&D was there, the world was under the impression Japan was going to take over the business world…see the movie “Johnny Mnemonic” or Back to the Future 2…and there was no stopping the Japanese way of doing things.

      • Kiran says:

        You forgot the cordia without it there will be no eclipse and it was really cool(I obviously would say that as I own one and I love it) also lets not forget the s12 Silvia with the v6 from the z31

  5. Banpei says:

    I think the period that spans from the early sixties till the early 80s would be the best period of the JNC. In those days the innovation was the greatest: each and every brand had to fight to stand out and show off that they were the best. Each and every Japanese car manufacturer did this in their own way.

    Mazda did this by jumping on the rotary engine, which still is innovative nowadays. Toyota and Prince/Nissan fought their differences in the circuit, leading to great engines and suspension in production cars. Subaru found out that four wheel drive was their future. Age Isuzu joined the global car with MY. Also the fuel crisis caused greater demand for small and efficient cars, and heavy pollution in urban area caused manufacturers like Honda and Toyota to make both fuel efficient and at the same time clean engines.

    The innovation in Japan was so big that market leaders, like from the US and UK, could no longer keep up. This leads to an era that we call the malaise era. During that era the Japanese products really stood out, and the rest is history.

    I think the cut off point is somewhere in the early or mid 80s, when the Japanese manufacturers started to bloat their cars with all sorts of electronic gadgets that nobody asked for. Still, the cars from that era are awesome: sidewipers that clean your side windows in the visible area for your mirrors? I want some in my modern car!

  6. Scotty G says:

    It’s defined by each person according to what’s nostalgic to them, in my opinion. People who were born in the 1950s typically go for vehicles from that era, or a decade or so on either side of that period. People who were born in the 1990s typically define that era as nostalgic whereas to someone who is a few decades older, they think those vehicles are a joke and not even close to being worthy. That’s why I don’t look down on anyone’s automotive loves; who am I to tell someone else that what they love and think about and dream about isn’t worthy? I don’t like it when someone else lays down the law on why what vehicles that I love aren’t worthy, I’m surely not going to do that with someone else’s automotive loves.

    But, for me, the JNC era is around the period of the early-1990s and older, those are the vehicles that I think about and, too often, dream about collecting. (for the record, I was born in the 1960s!)

  7. cesariojpn says:

    The boxy designs of the 80’s. I mean, the 80’s are pretty much when many enthusiasts grew up in time wise, so they would naturally gravitate to this era. Plus many of the ico…..well known JNC cars are predominately 80’s. The Toyota AE86 & Cressida, along with the Back to the Future Toyota Truck for starters, along with the Honda CRX & Civic and the Nissan 240SX.

  8. Yoda says:

    I feel like one bridge was crossed in 1968 when the kouki RT40 Corona lost its’ three-on-the-tree; even without Mr. K’s advice Toyota realized that Americans, at least those who bought manual transmissions, thought of four-on-the-floor as sporty and upscale and with that there was no point in engineering an LHD manual column shift.

    Another bridge was crossed in 1998 when Honda launched a special widebody, wagonless Accord specifically for the USDM.

    The nostalgic era fits between those – cars localized enough not to be curiosities, but not so much to have gone completely native.

  9. ahja says:

    Japanese classic are defined by their accessible mass-produced technology. It is why we like them and why “traditional” collectors in the European/American vein disdained them. I’ll give a few examples. Just a few. I’m sure whatever your favorite Japanese car is more or less fits the same pattern.

    1. 240Z. For an OHC I-6 sports car with IRS, it was a damned bargain at the time. All of its competition was European, and those that could compete on OHC-ness and IRS still lacked power and cost substantially more. Those that could compete on price, like the Opel Manta or Ford Capri, had weaker power and pushrods.

    2. 280ZX Turbo. An essentially matured 240Z…and better selling than ever. Turbocharging. It was one of the fastest cars available. And affordable. Its hard to appreciate now, but turbocharging in the early 80s was restricted to very few vehicles. Pretty much Porsche and Datsun. Crazy.

    3. Mazda RX7. Everybody knows nobody but Mazda ever did make the rotary feasible. Mercedes, GM, and others dabbled with it, but they couldn’t do it. In the 60s it was imagined by many as the “next big thing” It remained a technological pipe dream. But Mazda did it. And the first gen RX7, drawing on about a decade of Mazda rotary expertise, dominated at the classes of racing it participated in. RX7s still blow my mind that this entirely different badass engine technology was made WIDELY available in such a cool car. Its a gimmick at least equivalent to the rear-engined 911. (Non-rotary swapped RX7s are abominations and the butcher who does that to them should be brutally smacked.)

    4. AE86. A Corolla. It was basically the first affordable, truly mass production car with a DOHC 16V. On top of that it was pretty much perfect. But yeah, when most compacts, even the “sporty” ones still came with carbs and pushrod 8vs (something those shitty VWs with their vaunted “German engineering” pushed until the end of the 90s, btw), an 8000 rpm 16v was kind of amazing. Not to mention The 4AGE later became a 5-valve engine, and that’t not very common either, is it?

    5. The Hondas. VTEC. Variable valve timing was something exotic. Until Honda put it in reach of literally anybody who cared to have it. In Civics.

    • Lupus says:

      Ad 3. Yes, putting a piston engine into a RX7 is blasphemy. But the opposite way… ? The rotaty can be put into almost every thing and it’l be fine. Interesting social phenomenon don’t You think? 😉

  10. Lupus says:

    Here, in Middle Europe, where the “Iron Curtain” was separeting us from “The West” up to 1989, the japanese cars where mostly desired due to their diesel engines. Esspeicialy Daihatsu Charade 1.0D (3-pot) and Mazda 626. The regulat petrol was rationed by the govenment and could be bought only with special tickets. But the diesel wasn’t. One could buy as many of it as one could afford. So the diesel versions of japanese cars where very sought after. The West European diesel cars, like Mercedes, BMW, VW or AUDI where totally above most citizens financial capabilities. So the JNC’s – as we call them now – gave us the most freedom of traveling. Back then they where called “Japs Iron”. And so they are remebered by many older people who lived it those times. They tell story’s about incredeble millage numbers and countles trips made whit Irons. These are very deep and happy memories.

    • Ant says:

      That sounds like a fascinating subject actually. I know very little about automotive culture behind the Iron Curtain other than the obvious Soviet-era cars – it didn’t even occur to me that some imports from elsewhere might have been popular. Were any other JNCs sought after around that time?

      • Lupus says:

        What might be interesting for You is the fact that the manufactured in Poland Fiat 125p Kombi (Station Wagon) was also made in LHD variant and exported in quite large quantitietes to Australia. It was stated that it’s simple and rugged construction will do the job in autralian Outback. I don’t know if that was true, because i’ve never encountered any information about “our” Fiats in AUS 😉
        But back to the point. Other JNC’s liked behind the Berlin Wall? Mitsubishi Colt from the turn of the ’70 and ’80. It was loved by country people due to it’s funky gearbox. It was the best all-arouder ever, with gears suitable for highway driving and crawling on unpaved back roads.
        And that’s it.
        Later, after the ’89 things began to change. The Corolla’s, Civic’s and Isuzu powered Opel’s (or Vauxhall/Holden/GM – whatever You call them) began to catch peoples hearts with they reliablity and exoticness. But they had to fight with the Polish Volk beloved dream cars – the VW’s. I dunno why it was always (and still is) like that, that owning a german car (esspecially a Golf or Passat) was almost a point of honor among my compatriots?

        • Ant says:

          I suspect old VWs were some of the easiest cars to get hold of once the Berlin Wall fell and that’s simply continued in the decades since. Imports from further afield were, I’m assuming, always a little more difficult to attain even after the reunification. I can’t be sure, but if I’d been brought up on a diet of Soviet-era cars I’d probably be quite keen to try out a Beetle or a Golf!

          But as you say, those imports have since become popular because they’re seen as more exotic. Either way, I’m guessing the car scene is a whole lot bigger now than it was under the Iron Curtain!

          • Lupus says:

            Since 2004 we are in European Union, so our current car market dosen’t differ so much from the rest of EU.
            But short after the Berliner Wall fell my enterprising nation begun to import cars from West Germany. They where some limitiations made by the new democtaric government made. But polish businnes people are clever and keen to find some holes in the law. They created a method to import cars from other countries not as cars, but as stets of parts. Before German-Polish border the engine assembly (sometimes with suspension allthogether) were unscrewed form the chasis and phisicaly separeted. The pile of parts went thru the customs clearence as:
            1st – body with specific VIN nr and manufacturing date, that was bought from some German, and
            2nd – engine with specific nr , and other various parts (suspension, wheels, roof rack (sic!)).
            When in Poland the car was put back togheter and registred as an “assembler”, “composer”, (i don’t know how to properly translate it, You know what i mean) with the date of assembly put in the pinkslip instead of the actual manufacturing date of the chasis.

  11. Dankan says:

    To me, I think it can be defined by three things: straignt sixes, straight lines and Watanbes.

    Most of the “look” or at least, the broad initial strokes of the JNC movement seem to come from a love of classic Japanese cars that features these things in period. The initial draw was mostly the premium fun cars like Zs, Supras, Glorias, Crowns, Soarers and unobtanium Skylines. The styling through the 70s and 80s all seem to make careful use of straight lines as a core part of the design. That’s not to say everything was angular boxiness, just that the styling made effective use of straight lines to create visual drama. And Watanabes because they were so common, both in-period and now, as a wheel of choice for sportier cars.

    Not all cars that are JNC feature all of these things. Many are wonderful due to their absence. But the core of what started the “JNC” thing (whatever that may be), seems to me to have those characteristics.

  12. 5MGEsupra says:

    For me it’s down more to the era when you grew up. I’m 19, so for me I grew up riding around in various 1990s Celicas, Previas, and 4Runners. I always lusted after SW20 MR2s and my very own 5th gen Celica. When I was growing up these were the cars that were more readily available and I grew up riding around in, and some 1980s stuff.

    So now while I’m more into the 1980s stuff, I still have a soft spot for all of the 1990s era cars I always lusted after, FD RX7s, SW20 MR2s, 5th and 6th gen Celicas.. And it’s pretty satisfying owning a 1990 Celica GT-S with the same wheels my dad used on his various Celicas still wrapped in the same (still soft!) Sumitomo HTR50Z tires, the same muffler, and soon the same sway bars.

  13. Tim says:

    From the first car to roll off the assembly line all the way up to the 80s. Cars that started as late as 89 don’t fall into the JNC category, i.e. a Nissan 240SX, those belong to the 90s era.

    Or rather per our culture in the US, the JNC timeline is offset that of the American Classic car/Muscle car timeline from the 50s-70s then JNCs took off from late 60s-80s.

    • Ant says:

      At which point will your first point change, though? I certainly see early 90s stuff as JNC-worthy, and of course as the years roll on more and more 90s cars will cross through that 25-year “official” barrier.

  14. Frank says:

    “What defines the era known as JNC?”

    I’d say anything that was once seen regularly but sightings are rare now. And anything 20 years old that allows you to purchase an antique tag.

    I know most about Nissans. I’ve begun thinking S14s are classics. I rarely see them anymore and it’s even rarer to see one in good unmodified shape. B13 Sentra SE-Rs are more rare than S13 and S14s in my area. So are B14 200SXs.

  15. Gary says:

    From an Australian perspective – we started making Japanese brand cars here well before many other nations. It was a no-brainer as Japan had RHD just like us. But think of it this way; all the car manufacturers nowadays refer to a Japan-Australia market (or similar name) which encompasses all the nations in that zone too. Now that’s “influential” to say the least, a word that is not used often around JNC’s!!!

    From a global perspective; excellence in light weight engineering is the first way they will always be remembered, providing value for money with features domestic US and Australian manufacturers were thinking about is second.

    So in summary – influential, engineering excellence, ahead of the rest!

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