QotW: What’s the greatest Japanese nostalgic rally car?


With all the snow blanketing the country this winter, you might as well be rallying. There have been many a JNC throughout history built for tackling the not-quite-paved roads of the world.

What’s the greatest Japanese nostalgic rally car?

The A73 Lancer 1600 GSR was the first Mitsubishi to compete in a WRC race, long before the word “Evolution” was ever associated with the car. It promptly won its debut event, the 1974 Safari Rally, a five-day, 3,700-mile race through the brutal terrain of Kenya. To the surprise of many, drivers Joginder Singh and David Doig beat even WRC regular Björn Waldegård and his far more powerful Porsche 911. Mitsubishi came back in 1976 with three Lancers and swept the podium, finishing 1-2-3. Tommi Mäkinen was 12 years old at the time.

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, “How does a JNCer pass the winter?” 

We feel for you northerners, we really do. Your tales of cold winds, salty roads, and locked garages pained us. IncorpoRatedX, Bart and cesariojpn all provided brief, humorous quips, but the winner this week was M1abrams and his tale from back in the day:

Winter is an especially long, somber time for Canadian JNCers. We secure away our Japanese classics, driving instead more modern cars through the long months of snow, ice and road slop.

Winter can be a time to catch up on repairs or maintenance on my X73 Cressida and Datsun 510. But the reality is that a quick, simple job during the summer can be a long, complex ordeal in a frigid garage. Winter is when I’d rather lay out my plans to fix/rebuild/replace things in the spring.

Sourcing out parts can actually be fun. But one fun thing I do every winter (especially after a heavy snowfall) is recall how these cars that we now isolate from the winter, were at one time, so much fun to DRIVE in the winter.

If you’re old enough to have driven in the ’70s, winter time meant beefy snow tires on the back and all-seasons on the front. And in my city, snow clearing was less frequent than it is today. So “drifting” your Datsun 510 around a corner was just standard motoring through a turn (sideways) because that was the best way to negotiate the heaps of snow. (Not enough heat in the cabin? – slide a chunk of cardboard in from of the rad. LOL!). I’m sure we were driving at much slower speeds than we recall but they sure SEEMED faster and tons of fun. The AWD, ABS and ice radial tire-equipped winter car I drive today always gets me where I need to go. But driving those old RWD cars made every drive a potential story to tell.

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

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25 Responses to QotW: What’s the greatest Japanese nostalgic rally car?

  1. Rayson says:

    Personally, I believed the Lancer EX 1800 GSR is awesome. We can pretty much say it was a “Lancer Evolution 0” since it was pretty much evo-spec’d lancer before the 4WD Evolution era. Turbo intercooled 4 cylinders in a lightweight body (Well except the absence of the almighty 4WD). But a fast RWD 4 doors sedan that look exactly like a family car that your dad own, its just a pure 80s sleeper! I would take a Lancer Ex 1800 GSR over a Lancer Evolution anydays!

    In fact the car was so awesome that it was a popular choice for getaway vehicle in Hong Kong during the mid 80s because it was easy to steal, faster than most family cars at the time, got enough rooms for all the criminals and goodie, and nimble enough to navigate around the tight streets during escape. The reputation of the cars in Hong Kong earned its nickname of “Thief boat” because it was pretty much the top choice for robbery escapes back in the time!

    • Kuroneko says:

      That’s one great story. What is the guangdonghua for ‘thief boat’? I can imagine them piling into a Lancer out the back of some gold merchant off Nathan Road, and screaming off down to a warehouse in Hung Hom with a RHKPF Land Rover in feeble pursuit…

      • Rayson says:

        It is call “賊船” in cantonese, I tried to google search it but there are quite limited information about it. However, most older car enthusiasts from HK should be able to confirm this rumor is indeed true. Also, the Lancer EX 1800 GSR was also one of the choice for the beginner series for Macau Grand Prix back in the 80s (If you can dig out those videos) where the Lancer is battling out with Hachiroku and other compact sport cars back in the days.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Love that story! How would you spell “賊船” phonetically in English?

  2. IncorpoRatedX says:

    Technically the Mitsubishi Galant VR4 counts as JNC, 1987 production date, kicking butt in rally and starting the entire evolution line. But my thoughts are biased as I own a Galant VR4 and have driven them in the snow, mud, gravel and tarmac. I’m sure there’s a good argument for other chassis, but the VR4 is pretty top notch in my book.

  3. Spudenater says:

    I have to nominate the Datsun 240-Z/Nissan Fairlady S30. As one of the most iconic JNC’s ever produced the S30 holds a dear place in the hearts of many people old and young. Rightfully so, as in many parts of the world, it was the paradigm of the Japanese sports car. Light, quick, accessible, and reliable, the Z would serve for years to come as a benchmark for not only Japanese sports cars, but sports cars on the whole.

    Looking back, it’s amazing to see these majestic lines slogging through mud and snow, bursting out of clouds of dust with fantastic speed, and catching air on primitive gravel back roads. Sights that, today, would make collectors and restorers shudder. At the time though, the Z seemed almost a natural choice given the qualities I mentioned earlier. They were affordable enough that not only did factory backed teams race them, but many privateers as well.

    What astonishes me most is that In its first entry in the East African Safari Rally in 1971 the 240Z won the Over-all Victory, Class Victory, Team Victory and Manufacturers Championship. Also worth noting is that the Datsun 240Z was the first vehicle to capture an Over-all victory in its first year of competition! We’re talking about a competition so grueling, that of the 107 entries that started the course, only 32 finished.

    The Z went on to compete, place, and win rallyes all over the world while racking up unprecedented sales at home and abroad. While it’s exploits in the world of gravel and snow have largely been forgotten, Nissan still remembers. They have no less than 3 of the original rally cars in their heritage collection. Check them out at the URL below, and see for yourself. You’ll know when you see them that you’re looking at an amazing piece of history, and possibly the greatest Japanese nostalgic rally car(s) ever built.

  4. dickie says:

    Obvious Subaru and Mitsubishi entries aside, I’ll also give Toyota a break this week. The easy answers are the MR2 222D (Ni-Ni-Ni-D Monsutā Machine), or the Celica GT-Four and its ingenious but illegal restrictor bypass system, or the TA64 Twin Cam Turbo Group B Celica or any of its predecessors that carried the awesome 152e into battle…

    … but Rally isn’t easy, and this week’s answer shouldn’t be either. So instead I want to examine a car that was (seemingly) ill-suited for offroad work, especially considering its competition.

    The Group B Mazda RX-7 was already a rally relic of bygone times when it was campaigned in the mid-80s. Relying on RWD architecture and a naturally aspirated engine in a field dominated by turbocharged 4WD monsters doesn’t sound like a winning proposition. Despite talented names like Rod Millen gracing the driver seat, the highlight of the Mazda Rally Team’s efforts amounted to a third place finish in the Acropolis race with Ingvar Carlsson at the wheel.

    But “great” is a subjective term, and I’d argue that there are plenty of details that add up to give this rotary beast the “-est” for this weeks answer.

    First, consider the testicular fortitude it took to climb into the cockpit and wage war against such impossible odds. If the other machines and drivers were running at 10/10ths, you’d have to be in a constant state of turned up to 11 to even stand a chance.

    Second: the rotary sound. Is that a swarm of giant mechanical wasps? A pissed off lumberjack dual-wielding chainsaws? A screaming lunatic strapped to a 2-stroke snowmobile on a collision course with a metal shredder? No, it’s the sound of two peripheral-ported rotors pumping out an insane 275bhp through straight cut gears in a stereophonic aural assault.

    Finally, there’s the heart and soul of the machine. Knowing that Rhys Millen owns the very RX-7 that his father Rod piloted in 1985 – in the same mechanical configuration and livery no less – is mind-blowingly satisfying. And it’s not the only car still attacking the tarmac and gravel. A Belgian owner showed chassis 010 at Goodwood and it still runs and sounds like a bat out of hell. No wonder then that there are plenty of first generation RX-7s pulling amateur rally duty:

    (click if you’re in the mood for inspirational rotary rally content)

  5. Power Tryp says:

    Bear with me here cause I’m going to say the Toyota Corolla. Yes I know, it last competed in 1999 and doesn’t qualify as a JNC but I’m actually talking about the TE20/27 style. True it doesn’t hold the same WRC panache as a Ford Escort or Fiat 131 but that’s ok because what it lacks in top of the game notoriety it also lacks in desirability. That can’t be right… Did I just say that? Yup you heard me, the reason this is the greatest rally car from Japan before 1989 is the fact that it plays with the all time greats of rally but does not cost you an arm, a leg, your kidney and half a liver to get in on.

    Also while the 240Z is known for its big win in the East African Safari Rally Nissan didn’t play in that area seriously again. Mitsubishi and Subaru are just too obvious and Isuzu just too forgettable. Our little Mango set the stage for Celica after Celica to really make Toyotas mark on world rally right up until it came back home, in ’97.

    • Alan T says:

      “….Nissan didn’t play in that area seriously again”. Huh?

      Nissan won the East African Safari Rally outright again in 1973 (with the 240Z), came second in 1977, then won outright again in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982. A run of four wins back-to-back was unprecedented at that point.

      So much for “seriously”, then….

  6. Adam says:

    Unless it is too new, it has to be the 1995 Celica rally car. Movable turbos! Toyota cheated so well they impressed the head of the FIA! They also cheated so well it got them banned for a whole season and change.


  7. pstar says:

    Well we could argue all week about the merits of this or that car and the fact that they won individual races here and there. 240Zs and GSRs won some African races. A Corolla won 1000 Lakes in 1975, and so on. The ST165s dominated in Africa in the mid 80s. Mitsubishi SUVs owned Paris-Dakar. But most of that dominance was in the 2000s…

    To be frank, Japan wasn’t especially competitive until the 90s, which they owned. JNC doesn’t count 90s cars as “nostalgic”. But I disagree. An Evo V or an ST185 GT4 stokes me just as much as any old Japanese car.

    So here’s how I’m going to do this: Subaru and Toyota have the most constructors WRC titles (3) compared to Mitsu’s 2. Mitsubishi and Toyota have the most driver’s WRC titles (4). Toyota’s victories titles came the earliest, then Subaru, then Mitsu, then Toyota one last time. Mitsu and Subaru are companies that define themselves by rallying, and continue to produce pretty awesome rallycars even if they don’t campaign them anymore. Toyota doesn’t, and doesn’t. GT4s are just a lot sexier than Evos and Imprezas… but they got labelled as cheaters. An apologist could say they were just innovating, but they were pretty deviously defying the spirit of the rulebook if not the letter. Also, all 3 companies, especially Toyota and Mitsubishi had long gestation periods of pre-success that their winner cars can reasonably claim direct descent from. As such, any Lancer and any Celica has some credibility as a rally car. That’s a bunch of blather and I still haven’t come up with a good answer.

    I guess if I could have a mint Japanese car that was meant to be campaigned as a rally car, it would be ST185. …or an Evo V. Whatever. Hope that helped.

  8. ACSK says:

    The Datsun 210! I can’t believe no one has yet to mention “Fuji” and “Sakura” – the Datsun 210s Nissan fielded at the 1958 Australia Mobil Gas Trial. A 16,250 km rally where only 36 of the 67 cars entered even managed to complete the race. Of those, both of the cars Nissan fielded completed the race, with “Fuji” winning best in class (bringing home a trophy), and “Sakura” coming in fourth. There’s no doubt that this early on really helped boost the image of Datsun (and probably Japanese built cars in general).

  9. cesariojpn says:

    The question is really ambiguous, so I go for cars that some of us never even though of being Rally Cars.

    The Subaru Justy (remember it?) seems to have had quite a sedate career as a rally car. The only vids i’ve seen online have been from Canada or Europe it seems:


    Not really a “real” rally car…..it’s a “Hot Hatch” and not on a well known platform with rally cred……

  10. felix says:

    The rx 2,3,4 and 7 were all great rally cars.

    The only thing that made my father change from rallying escorts in the 70’s,
    was one race in a friends rx3. He actually ended up with an rx4.

    But Japan made many of the best rally cars, the 510 also goes
    down in rally history as one of the best, especially for privateers.

  11. Mike Moore says:

    Celica ST165 GT4 Group A is close to the ultimate JNC rally car for me. Having the opportunity to watch this car with Carlos Sainz behind the wheel at the 1991 Telstra Rally Australia was truly awesome. This was the last year of the ST165 the heavier ST185 had been released in 1989, so this car was already 2 years out of date. Carlos going “Maximum Attack” managed to roll the car 3 times during the event with the crew from TTE constantly adding new panels each time it came into service. There is a good video of the final roll where the car completely rolls over about 6 times. In the roll, Carlos Sainz’s head comes out of the window. This was not surprisingly the end of the rally for Carlos that day. I watched this roll over personally from the service park. The guys from TTE had just changed the radiator, turbo, brakes, gear cluster, tyres etc all in the allocated 40 minutes. The turbo they hit with a CO2 fire extinguisher to cool it down for removal started a small fire on the ground where it had been dropped. About half an hour after this, Carlos rolls the 165 into a ball – truly memorable!
    A few years later when I could afford it, I went and bought one!
    But enough about that. The best JNC rally car hands down has to be the 1975 1,000 Lakes winning 152e powered giant killing Corolla TE27.

  12. Daniel Johnston says:

    For me it has to be the 710 series datsun violet sss, also known as the 160jsss.
    I am biased because I have had the honour of owning not one but two of these, at separate stages of my adolescence and wish I never parted ways with them before they became the proverbial hens teeth. If only I knew how much I would miss them and how rare and valuable they would become. But to the point, why claim it as the greatest Japanese nostalgic rally car? Bullet nose pillarless coupe goodness with independent rear suspension flying through deserts and the NewZealand countryside. It claimed consecutive championships in the Safari Rally in Kenya from 1979 to 1982, and also won the 1980 Rally New Zealand and the 1981 Rallye Côte d’Ivoire.
    “The Violet 160J was Nissan’s most successful car in the World Rally Championship.” Wikipedia said that and teh interweb never lies.
    I just think they were a great looking, zippy, superbly handling car, and the best example of a 70s JNC 4cylinder coupe that really did the business.
    Even I find the styling of the car odd, but you just have to drive one, really. I’e owned so many old school cars, and have probably topped 30 vehicles easily now,but the 160j sss coupe is the one i pine for. Drive through a bendy forest road and its like riding a rocket through tunnels. The interior wraps around you and with the sculpted hood it propels you like you are in a bullet on wheels. The full compliment of circular gauges, and the sticky vinyl seats, the swoopy side windows unbroken by a pillar and the steeply raked windshield, you couldn’t mistake that you were in anything but a premium yet affordable (in its day) piece of Japanese steel. The size, the handling, the style, the RWD of it all. I guess its just the car that really spoke to me and made me an undying fan of JNC’s. It will always be my favourite car to google images of, and I hope to find some great rally footage of one one day. Almost as much I hope to recreate the one I had, with its SOHC injected 80’s sylvia engine and doglegged gearbox( seems like it may have been a good attempt at emulating some of the set ups used in rallying). I feel ashamed of my past abuse of that thing, but it’s the only $300( best purchase of anything in my life ever) car I’ve ever driven to clear 200km per hour with no more than a few rattles, and plaster as much of a grin as when I did my best to emulate rally drifting in gravel patches around my home town. The IRS really helped it hang its ass around a corner beautifully. I’ve grown up but I’ve never grown out of that car. Now if only I could find one again.

  13. JHMAB2 says:

    I’m going with the ST165 Celica. No particular reason other than pure awesomeness. The best part is that they brought the road going version for all of us to enjoy! I don’t know much on it’s history or whatever and I’m not going to pretend like I do and post a long winded reason. I just like the damn car, seeing it in action only makes me wanted one more!

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