QotW: What’s the best JNC for open-top cruising?

As of yesterday, Toyota became the only Japanese carmaker to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice, but when it came time to escort the colossal trophy around Circuit de la Sarthe, they had to go with a 1987 Toyota Celica. Now the T160 Celica is a fine car, but it highlights the rarity of the open-top cruiser among JNCs. A Miata or S2000 is a different animal, built for canyon carving rather than relaxed wafting on a cool summer night. Compared to Detroit, they are so uncommon that we’ll have to include roadsters, targas, and T-tops just to get a diversity of answers.

What’s the best JNC for open-top cruising?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What is the Best Japanese Automotive Trilogy?

There were quite a few well-reasoned arguments put forth for last week’s question. Lupus, for example, offered a car that spanned a 50-year continuous existence with only three generations, the Toyota Century. Banpei nominated an obvious but no less compelling the R32-R34 Skyline GT-R. Alvin didn’t go with three consecutive generations, but is completely right about the Honda NSX, Prelude and S2000. Styles argued for many fascinating trios from front-drive Corollas to Mazda Familias, but like the winner Dave, in the end it came down to the Mazda RX-7. Here’s his dissertation-level thesis on why:

If we were to take some cues from the movie industry, the “best trilogy” should be 1. the most consistently mold-breaking/way-paving and 2. self-contained, at the least at the time of said critique.

The second criteria, although arguably not as important as the first, is crucial to determine the concept of “best trilogy” because it implies the COMPLETION of a story and a COMMITMENT to see it through to multiple, successive parts. As countless movies has shown, once that idea continues to the fourth installment or beyond, the WEIGHTINESS of the original “trilogy” lessens; the “ground-breaking” idea becomes “retreaded ground” and doubt creeps in on whether it’s a good idea to continue.

But a COMPLETED trilogy allows us to look back and evaluate its broader meaning during its own time and what it may continue to mean for future audiences. That consideration is crucial to deeming whether it is the “best”, I believe.

The Toyota Century may satisfy the first criteria, with Toyota’s focus on a very particular demographic (yet arguably more varied than that of its more standard offerings). But it’s also more of a “curated” undertaking, breaking preconceptions of how stately a Toyota can be without breaking much technological nor philosophical boundaries. Additionally, the third generation was only recently released, and so I would not consider its trilogy complete (nor would I want it to be).

The three generations of the Mazda RX-7 fulfill both criteria: a singular commitment to a unique technology (rotary), culminating in a full spectrum of expressions (from NA to twin-turbo, from Porsche-mimicking wedge-shape to oh-so-sensual lines), while maintaining a core aesthetic (pop-ups, massive B-pillar, wraparound rear glass)—through two decades of very quickly changing economies and consumer tastes, no less.

Flaws aside, the RX-7 was the true BUILDING of a company’s brand values and DNA in REAL TIME (not added to the company’s lore by later generations). Without fear, and seemingly without any hesitance, every RX-7 generation walked the fine line of “what we know” and “we don’t really know if this will work”. The trilogy wouldn’t have worked for any other company, large or small; it’s complete; and we can rightly judge its impact on the car community in totality while also hoping—with a bit (ok, a lot) of trepidation—for a future revival.

And that’s why the RX-7 continues to be the best Japanese automotive trilogy to date.

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25 Responses to QotW: What’s the best JNC for open-top cruising?

  1. Sean Morris says:

    Fiagro. Super popular with anyone you run into. Retractable roof.

  2. Bill Wilkman says:

    Without a doubt, the Mazda Miata is outstanding on the twisties and a relaxing cruiser.

    • Ant says:

      Seconded. Good canyon-carver it may be, but it’s also a neat-looking little roadster that’s fun just to roll along in with the roof down.

  3. Lupus says:

    I think that the Z32 Convertible would be great for relaxing cruise with some pretty gal on sunny afternoon. Especailly with: “AT – one hand free” 😉

  4. Cesariojpn says:

    Are we allowed to choose future cars, cause imagine riding a Toyota Century Convertible.


    Imagine having your driver taking you around, your feet thru the passenger side seat, thought the wool seat covers might get itchy in the heat…..

    • cesariojpn says:

      If not:

      A funny little thing is that the Tokyo MPD seems to have a “collection” of convertible parade cars for use by the higher up in parade functions or reviews (some have been used in VIP escort duties from what i’ve seen). Theirs a ton of videos online that show these parade cars. They seem to be a “hierarchy” of sorts, with smaller Toyota Crowns (?) from the 80’s used by lower ranking Higher Ups to Cadilac Land Barges from the 70’s, 90’s, and more recent models being used for the Bigger Fish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXOeCZ8mcEY

      But one kinda sticks out: a Mazda Cosmo Parade car: https://youtu.be/ZP_D-scB5Uc

  5. Mr. Bill says:

    I hold a rather curmudgeonly view, wherein vehicles designed for other purposes should never be saddled with a “convertible option” for the sake of sales. Too many fabulous models have suffered this fate…Zs, Silvias, Eclipses, the 3000GT in your photo, and the list goes on.

    Vehicles engineered and designed to be roadsters perform this task perfectly, so naturally I will go with the JNC roadster that helped launch a brand globally, one that captured the essence of the definitive sports car of the era, and one that has a great racing pedigree.

    My vote for best JNC open-top cruising goes to the Datsun Fairlady Roadster…hands down.

  6. dankan says:

    *ahem* 2000GT convertible.

    If the very best is available, why bother with anything else?

    • speedie says:

      The Toyota Celica GT-S Convertible offered in 84-85 was basically a Supra with a 22R-E engine. It used the Supra P-Types exterior design cues (flares and wheels) along with the Supra’s suspension and four wheel disc brakes. It also used the Supra’s absolutely awesome seats. This combination of style and handling made it a great open road/boulevard cruiser. As they made just about 5,000 of them they are not too hard to find and although prices have been rising you can still get one in very good to fine condition for under $10K.

    • Mark Newton-John says:

      Only one problem. The 2000GT they made for the movie doesn’t have a real (working) top.

  7. Nigel says:

    280Z T top, I knew no one else would say it.

    • No such animal – 280ZX t-top yes. I prefer my 84T and 85T – T-tops – Though i seldom take them off. But a night drive T-top removed is quite refreshing – unless it rains!

  8. CobaltFire says:

    NSX Targa Top in automatic. Grace, Pace, and the space for a weekend’s luggage. Coupled with Honda’s continuing dedication to the car, their reasonable prices, and their reliability and capability I don’t see any other’s that could honestly beat it for being able to have a relaxing cruise, a spirited drive, or a long distance weekend tour.

  9. Dimitry says:

    Thanks to Larry Chen I have discovered the convertible Toyota Corolla Griffith Limited Edition for myself. Ever since I could not forget the car. 5-speed TE72 hardtop modified into a convertible by Griffith and it is the most magical thing I’ve ever seen in my life and is definitely the newfound dream car for me.
    It’s simply the pinnacle 70-80’s era of sharp angles and droptop roof lifestyle.
    I understand that not everyone likes the “converted” convertibles, but they are part of JNC and what makes them so great – the sheer variety of the vehicles. I mean, you have everything from station wagons and 2 door coupes, to convertibles and pickup trucks made into camper vans with the coolest duallies. (Looking at you Toyota)

  10. Jeremy A. says:

    280ZX/300ZX T-Top. It’s an open top, but because it’s not a drop-top, you have the wind break, and folks with longer hair can ride in it comfortably, the central spar of the T-Top preserves rigidity without adding the weight that a convertible conversion adds, and even with the T-Tops in, you can still take the covers off and let the sun in.

  11. Evil Twin says:


    Screaming Banshee in the VTEC…
    Scalpel precision canyon carver…
    But easy to cruise casually.
    The ultimate Grand Touring Sports Roadster from Japan.

    • Lupus says:

      There was a sad story about the AP1 that happened in my country, in Poland.
      Some guy wanted to buy a used, jest-black S2000 with only 40k km on the odo. His mechanic checked the car, said that everything is allright, so the buyer jumped behinf the wheel. The owner sat in the passager seat. And they hit the road. The drove for 800 m, and they wrapped the car around a pole. Car totalled, owner with broken leg, buyer lost his driving licence, earned a huge ticket. For the sake of the owner – he created the buy/sell agreement in such way, that the potential byer was risponsibble for the car during the test drive and left the money for the car as deposit. Wich he also lost… RIP Black S200.

  12. melvin says:

    Soarer Aerocabin

  13. Nigel says:

    I forgot Honda Del Sol . (Go to an autocross, then go to the beach).

  14. TommyGUN says:

    Come on, you all saw how cool Paul and Vin looked with the top off of the infamous orange Mk4 whilst cruising down the PCH.

  15. Angelo says:

    If you wanna combine opentop madness with daily-driver reliability, not to mention the ability to be driven anywhere.. I’d go with the first-gen Suzuki Vitara.

    Go off-road today, then head to the beach to refresh yourself, especially now that Summer’s coming over there.

  16. cesariojpn says:

    A funny little thing is that the Tokyo MPD seems to have a “collection” of convertible parade cars for use by the higher up in parade functions or reviews (some have been used in VIP escort duties from what i’ve seen). Theirs a ton of videos online that show these parade cars. They seem to be a “hierarchy” of sorts, with smaller Toyota Crowns (?) from the 80’s used by lower ranking Higher Ups to Cadilac Land Barges from the 70’s, 90’s, and more recent models being used for the Bigger Fish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXOeCZ8mcEY

    But one kinda sticks out: a Mazda Cosmo Parade car: https://youtu.be/ZP_D-scB5Uc

  17. Tom Westmacott says:

    With the arrival of summer, thoughts turn to open-top cruising. There’s nothing like taking that quiet little road through the forest with the top down, smelling the pine trees and feeling the shafts of sunlight warm you. However, the thing about quiet roads like this in Japan is that they are small. The “no, that’s not someone’s garden path, that actually *is* the public road” kind of small. So while Americans might think that the bigger the better for a cruiser, in Japan girth is only going to be stressful, and for a relaxed soft-top cruise you want a small car to explore those little, winding roads where you never know what you will discover around the corner.

    As such, I’d pick the classic MX-5 NA, pairing the later, torquier 1.8 engine with PAS and the auto gearbox for a nimble yet relaxing open-top cruiser. It’s the perfect car for really small roads, narrow and easy to place, but with enough oomph for the occasional alpine gradient.

  18. MitsuMan says:

    The last gen Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. These don’t get respect from anyone, but they are a great cruiser especially with the 3.8 V6. Cool styling, decent handling and comfort. The blue ice instrument lights at night add to the coolness factor. I’ll take mine in Sunset Orange.

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