QotW: What’s the greatest “normal” JNC?

The cars that yank hardest at our heartstrings are typically specialty machines — thrilling sports cars, rugged ladder-frame trucks, adorable kei jidosha, and such. However, there are legions of once-common grocery getters that are now rare and sought-after. And, possibly offering a purer driving experience than a modern by-wire box. What’s the ’57 Bel Air of the J-tin generation? For the purposes of this question we’ll exclude performance variants, so Corollas are fine but AE86s are not allowed.

What’s the greatest “normal” JNC?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What cars bookended your favorite era of Japanese cars?

You came up with several worthy timespans comprising the best Japanese cars. For example, Styles made an excellent case for the Turbo Era of the early 80s to late 90s. Rotary man Dutch 1960 began with the summer of 1970 to the introduction of the FD in 1991. Steve pegged the end at the death of the AE86 and the demise of RWD as the norm. Tom Westmacott‘s screed about the Bubble Era brought a tear to our eyes. In the end, the winner this week was Grand Tourer and what they deemed the Gran Turismo Era:

Being of a certain age, my favorite cars began in 1989, or what I like to call the Gran Turismo generation. You had the R32 Skyline, Z32 300ZX TT, S13 Silvia, NA Miata, FC3S Turbo II, Lexus LS400, and so on. Soon the NSX, FD RX-7, 3000GT, MR2 Turbo, Supra TT would follow. These were peak Japan, and portrayed brilliantly in the Gran Turismo series of video games. If any of these cars had subsequent generations, they got only better. R33, R34, S14, FD, and so on.

It all came to an end in Y2K. All those cars died without being followed up by better replacements the effects of the Bubble Economy were felt. Cars like the Honda S2000 and Lexus IS300 were the last great Japanese cars introduced that weren’t headed in a downward trajectory. The RX-8 wasn’t as great as the FD, the 350Z wasn’t as great as the Z32, the MR2 Spyder wasn’t as great as the SW20, the RSX wasn’t as great as the DC2, the NC wasn’t as great as the NB and so on.

The culmination of this era was proven in Gran Turismo 2, which was released just before Christmas, 1999. An unprecedented number of cars, over 600, blew away any racing game that had come before it. Later games in the series had better graphics and even more cars, but GT2 was transformational and it really seemed like the celebration and the end of chapter.

To answer the question though, I will say the cars are the R32 Skyline GT-R and the Lexus IS300.

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24 Responses to QotW: What’s the greatest “normal” JNC?

  1. Teddy says:

    For me it’s without a doubt the LS400. These things are absolutely bulletproof and are a hell of a lot of fun as well. RWD V8 and classy 90’s luxury? Sign me up!

  2. Angelo says:

    The Isuzu Geminis of the 80s, complete with the diesel engines and roomy interior.

    I nominate that as it was once a normal sight in Metro Manila roads, whether a taxicab or a family hauler. It soldiered on into the 90s, before being beaten to oblivion by newer Japanese econoboxes.

    Nowadays, you can still get them for cheap, but you need to be a good parts hunter to make sure she stays on the road.

  3. Ridgeway Burns says:

    The greatest normal JNC has to be 88-97 Toyota Pickup. It’s so normal it didn’t need a model name.

    Ubiquitous in the Socal beach towns I grew up in, the only modification it needed was removing the “T” “O” “T” “A” from the tailgate leaving only “YO”. I’m pretty sure that’s still the best car humor there is. Add a surf/skateboard in the truck bed and there was nothing cooler in my 10 year-old mind.

    Age has only improved these pickups- they’re bulletproof and the almost unstyled bodywork is a brilliant counterpoint to today’s hulked-out trucks.

  4. MikeRL411 says:

    The Datsun 411 series. They were corporate Nissan’s attempt to use up expiring design hours with Pinin Farina. They had the usual PF design defects like rust prevalent spots but were excellent urban taxis and Kodomo haulers.

    Breaking your rule, they were also the base for the R411 and RL411 variant with the factory modified Roadster engine. Embarassed many a BMW1600 in my day.

  5. Scotty G says:

    I agree with MikeRL411, the Datsun 411. If I can’t have an SSS model, just a “normal”, regular wagon would do nicely.

  6. StephenO says:

    I’m going to stick with a “normal” JNC that I have driven. In fact, I took my driving test in it- A 2nd gen (1980) Subaru GL. 4wd manual wagon in red with white wagon wheels and “Cyclops Eye” center passing lamp, please. The driving test instructor’s eye’s bugged out a little at it not being an automatic.
    Not fast but fun and did what I needed it to do. So many variations were available for this platform fwd, 4wd, 2 door, 4 door, sedan, coupe, wagon, hatchback, heck, even a pickup (BRAT.) Tough(ish), reliable(ish), and lots of nifty features like the “overhead view of the car” gauge that showed graphically if doors, hood, or hatch was open.

    Runner-ups include Toyota Cressida, Toyota Van, and the awesome Toyota Previa. (Not sure if the vans count as “normal JNC’s”)

  7. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Isuzu Elf: Wholesale hauler Truck, Fire Truck, Tow Truck, Garbage Truck, Refer Truck, Tanker Truck, Mini Crane Truck, Cherry Picker Truck, Backhoe Truck, Benjo (OK Vacuum) Truck, Camper Truck, Ambulance Truck, Rolling Billboard Truck, JAF Roadside Rescue Truck, Aircraft Ground Power Unit Truck, Airport Air Stair Truck, Follow Me Truck, Airline Catering Truck, Video Production Truck, Remote Generator Truck, and last but not least, Dump Truck.

  8. Long Beach Mike says:

    My choice would be the first generation Honda Accord. It paved the way for Toyota, Nissan, and later Hyundai by demonstrating that small, efficient, roomy and reliable offerings from southeast Asia offered a more efficient, better built and more affordable alternative to products from the U.S. and Europe, that were well appointed, comfortable, and fun to drive.

    Ask the man (or woman) who owned one, or has one in the garage today.

    • Long Beach Mike says:

      Sorry, I forgot to mention Suzuki, Isuzu, and Mitsubishi in the list of car companies that benefited from the work Honda did in expanding the U.S. market for Asian manufacturers.

    • speedie says:

      I too vote for the Honda Accord. It was on the Car & Driver Ten Best Cars list every year from 1983 through 1991 and was the best-selling car in 89 and 90. They were everywhere and set the family sedan (and coupe and hatchback) standard for quality, handling, and value. After family use they became the hand me down car that most often showed up in high school parking lots in the 90s, many with well over 200K miles on the odometer. Here is one Autoblog found with over 400K in a junkyard: https://www.autoblog.com/2020/05/17/junkyard-gem-1983-honda-accord-sedan-with-411794-miles/

      To keep things in context, Chrysler was using the K-Car platform and GM the front-wheel-drive X-Body platform (Citation, Skylark, Omega, and Phoenix) when the 83 Accord arrived. The Accord came with a 1.8 liter OHC engine producing 75 HP, a 5-speed manual, four wheel independent suspension, and delivered EPA figures of 32 mpg. It also had styling that was clean and purposeful just what an engineer like Soichiro Honda wanted.

  9. エーイダン says:

    The kind that still runs.

  10. Emuman says:

    I vote for Mazda 323 / familia BG, great handling, easy to work on and nice variety of body shapes including pop up headlights in the f-model.

  11. Dhana Putera says:

    Mazda Astina/323f BG. Reliable engine, good horsepower for its class, pop-up headlights, have Eunos version, not sold in the US, hard to get aftermarket parts :D. It’s unique and perfect.

    I heard that Jackie Chan collects few of this car.

  12. HotWheelsAndFriedChicken ! says:

    Acura Legend for me. My dad used to have one and it was absolutely terrific.

  13. MattP says:

    Nothing comes close to the 1974 Datsun 120Y sedan with auto we owned for a few years. Known as the B210 in the US I think.

    Our looked like this fine specimen plus an owner added white painted roof.

    Pretty sure it has two horsepower and could hit 100km/h in half a minute or so. Not sure, we didn’t measure either, as that defeated the purpose of the 120Y.

  14. Daniel says:

    Isuzu luv / isuzu pickup. the most mundane and noble thing to move around even if it is not used as a cargo vehicle. more comfortable than the Toyota of its time and as durable or more. I also managed to get my sister to get rid of prejudice and start using it naturally as if it were her car.

  15. My_Fairlady_ZFG says:

    For me it would have to be the Datsun 510 or Bluebird as they are called in Japan. I like to think of the 510 as Nissan’s version of the BMW 2002, not a copy of it by any means, but fulfilling a similar philosophy. It was designed as a family hauler and grocery getter, daily commuter and economic mode of transport in an era of spiking gas prices. That’s all it was meant to be. It wasn’t meant to be a race car or tuner dream. However, the 510 proved to be as fun as the day is long.
    It came as a 2 door coupe, 4 door sedan, and “roomy” 4 door wagon. I think all 510 fans have a favorite, but there are aspects of all models that can be appreciated by all.
    It has very classic styling and is a great canvas if someone wants to turn it into a full on fun car, but the engine and setup it comes with stock is plenty capable of putting a smile on your face.
    Just as the BMW 2002 was meant to be a commuter car, but proved itself exceedingly capable on the racetrack, BRE took the 510 and flogged the absolute bageezus out of it. Now it’s true, they did this with cams and aero and all sorts of other aftermarket goodies, and that’s not exactly following the rules of the question. But it’s still an awesome car. And I want one. Maybe one day. Too many projects as it is…

  16. Kevin says:

    For me that would be the first gen Subaru Legacy. Great car with very good handling, good build quality, very good interior and many safety features like 4wd, ABS, fog lights etc. Rust seems to be the only real issue for those cars. And a great sleeper car if you go for the Turbo version like GT, RS, or RS type R/A, but even the reglular 2.2 or JDM 2.0 dohc version is quite peppy.

  17. F31roger says:

    I had to give this time to think. I also want to say my statement is based out of North American region. Since it is also a “nostalgic”, that era speaks to me of the 90s/2000s.

    If I can say an older “Normal” J-Tin, a tuner from back then, but still has a huge following even now..

    CB generation Accords. There are still plenty of stock/used to be tuners out there… and just checking some of the FB groups, it’s really cool to see.

    But these cars also have a huge Normal deal… which is why I rated it above civic or prelude or integra.. which were all tuners themselves and built up back then and even now.

    The other is a the Camry of the same era. There’s still plenty of them, but they never had the aftermarket the Accord had, plus the older models had a V6.

    I would rock these as a normal car today.

  18. XRumerTest says:

    Hello. And Bye.

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