QotW: What’s your favorite Japanese race car?

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Mazda’s historic victory at Le Mans. Fairy tale doesn’t properly describe it, as fairy tales are usually pat and tidy. For Mazda, it wasn’t just the race itself but everything that led up to it, including many prior years of blood, sweat and tears, as well as decades of rotary engine development that took place before that. Add to that the demonic roar of its fire-spitting quad-rotor, the end-of-era clinch in the final year of the rotary’s eligibility, and its insane so-ugly-it’s-cool livery, and it’s an unforgettable machine. It may be the obvious answer to a question, but this is just the discussion opener.

What’s your favorite Japanese race car?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What’s the biggest hurdle to keeping your JNC nice?

Even something as seemingly tough as a car is under constant assault from outside forces. SoCal’er RotorNutCase‘s nemesis, the sun, proves that there are region-dependent challenges we all have. For Ohio resident Sammy B, it’s the lack of people in his area who are willing to work on a nearly 40-year-old van. Meanwhile over in Austria, Lukas faces the triple threat of of salt, hail, and Teutonic pride.

Then there the items on the cars themselves. Brad D. pointed out that windshields are a major damage-prone item that’s nearly impossible to replace. So are aging trends from certain eras, like the target of jim simpson‘s, vinyl trim, or the bane of speedie‘s existence, the digital dash.

On top of all that, there’s the restraints of life’s constants, or as Howard D. and Banpei commented, money and time.

Ultimately, we had to give the win to Marc Lawrence, who had multiple classics, including an owned-since-new Z31, destroyed by an errant banana. We know some stickers are going to be small condolences to that loss, but we hope he finds something else to put them soon:

Hit and run drivers and idiots! – My 1984 owned since new 300ZxT and my Cutlass Ciera were totalled in front of my home and my cherry 91 S13 hatch was rearended – hit and run – When i asked the fellow who ran into my recently painted and new tired Ciera how he could possibly hit the only car on a 4 lane street void of traffic at 6am – He replied – “I dropped my banana.” – I was afraid to ask …. which banana.

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

JNC Decal smash

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27 Responses to QotW: What’s your favorite Japanese race car?

  1. Lupus says:

    Since i’m a Gran Turismo kid my fav JDM race car is without doubt the Castrol-TOM’s Supra. Iconic livery, great performance and ballance over raw power.
    But the Pennzoil Skyline sits on Supras tail very close. 😉

    • BW says:

      I would vote for the Castrol Supra (I didn’t even know the JGTC existed before I played Gran Turismo for the first time), but my vote has to go for its stablemate the Celica GT-Four WRC. The WRC (which I’d also never heard of before GT) became an even bigger thing for me as I moved from high school to college at a time when a MUCH better Internet on campus allowed me to research and experience so many more things than what I could see on cable TV or from my parents’ (then) dial-up connection.

      The Celica ST-205 became my favorite GT-Four based on looks and was my first car purchase for GT, GT2, and even Gran Turismo 3.

  2. BlitzPig says:

    The Honda RA272 F1 car, that with Richie Ginther at the helm, took Honda to it’s first ever Formula One victory in the Mexican Grand Prix of 1965. It really was an amazing car for it’s, or any, time. A 1.5 liter V12 with 48 valves and transversely mounted, along with it’s gearbox.

    Sure the 4 rotor Mazda sounds amazing, but that little Honda V12 is just such sweet music…

  3. Tim Mings says:

    I think I speak for most people here when I say, AMERICAN HONDA’S first race car effort, the 1970 N600 BAJA racer. It’s currently at the Peterson Automotive museum as part of a new exhibit about off road racing. The exhibit opens July 3’rd. Don’t miss It!

  4. dankan says:

    Easy answer: the Mazda RX792P. Saw the print ad in the issue of R&T I got for my birthday, and fell in love. It may have been an uncompetitive disaster, but that gorgeous bubble canopy and the sexy curves made me fall in love with race cars like nothing before or since.


  5. Jeremy A. says:

    While I am an absolute nut for anything Nissan S130 Z related, my choice, the Bob Sharp Racing 280ZX that was campaigned in the IMSA league goes beyond that. It built on the Bob Sharp 240Z, and really helped to cement the idea of Japanese cars in competition. The other IMSA 280ZX’s also helped, such as the Enduro-liveried car that was part of the big Atari sweepstakes at the time, or the Budweiser or Camel liveried cars that lived as slot car bodies, but the Bob Sharp car had Paul Newman as a driver, and the combo of celebrity driver, and an eye-popping livery really made that car stand out.

    It also helped that as an impressionable youth who was just starting to realize cars were a thing, and could be lusted after, that seeing it on television, in commercials and on broadcasted races, it cemented my need to have a 280ZX in my life at an early age.

  6. Mark F Newton-John says:

    The original Toyota 7.

  7. crank_case says:

    Based only on mucking about in Forza, I’ll nominate the Formula Mazda – a rotary single seater mere mortals like us would probably have more fun in than the nutso stuff.


  8. Daniel says:

    not just a model but an era already a driver in a championship: honda civic 1998 in TC2000 in Argentina with Juan Maria Traverso, one of the most winning drivers in all categories and with several epic driving stories (3 wheels, turning fire the car, entering the blows, passing a lot in a single maneuver and many more). A change of era, the first brand outside the traditional ones and with an epic 2nd place on 3 wheels in Alta Gracia, overwhelming dominance of the category in the coming years.

  9. Banpei says:

    Can I also vouch for a trio as they are basically the same race car with a different body on top of it? The trio would be the Hoshino Impul Nissan Silvia S110/S12, Tomica Skyline KDR30 and Autobacs/Coca Cola Nissan Bluebird 910 Super Silhouette Group 5 race cars. As said: all three cars featured a tubular chassis with an aluminum monocoque and a FRP silhouette body on top (using the original roofline). They all used the same Nissan LZ20b turbo engine outputting 520 hp and same sequential gearbox.

    The Group 5 was possible due to a loophole in the regulations only enforcing a “silhouette” of the original car had to be retained. This meant the bodywork could be extended (super wide fenders) to facilitate extremely wide wheels (13J and 15J wasn’t unheard of), while the front and rear could be featuring huge wings to create massive downforce.

    By the early 80s Group 5 races in Japan and Europe were so scary fast they had to abolish the FIA decided to end the series. In Japan at the end of the Group 5 racing this trio was so dominant that all of the races of the final season ended up being won by one of the them. They were so powerful and well designed they probably would outclass in many other series as well. After Group 5 ended a Group C car was created similar to the Skyline, but that wasn’t successful at all. Many Japanese will remember the Tomica Skyline best with it’s side exhausts spitting huge flames when downshifting just before entering a corner.

    This trio of cars were so iconic that it basically spun off the whole kaido racer scene in the early 80s. Many street cars were converted with wide (blister) fenders, huge front and rear wings and 13J wide wheels to mimic and honor their owner’s hero cars.

  10. f31roger says:

    KDR30 Nissan Skyline Super Silhouette.

    The picture with the flames shooting out the side…. just made an impression on me when I first saw pictures (late 90s).

  11. CycoPablo says:

    If the 1991 787B win was cake, the 1995 “Kunimitsu” NSX GT2 win had to be the frosting!

  12. Dutch 1960 says:

    As a rotorhead, I nominate the first IMSA GTU RX-7 campaigned by Racing Beat. In its day, it was the first solidly and consistently competitive rotary racer in a major American series. It ran for the win, race in and race out, in a high profile series with tough competition, and won the first IMSA GTU championship for Mazda. The paint job wasn’t much, mostly white with a bit of red and blue, but it showed an early iteration of the wide fender and big spoiler package that has become such a thing for Japanese cars, year after year and model after model. I still have the poster, the magazine articles, and the model car kit.

    On my first visit to buy parts for my autocross RX-3 at the tiny old Racing Beat shop in Anaheim, CA (which looked just like so many of the cramped and busy home island Japanese car prep shops of today), there it was in the only part of the shop large enough to hold an entire car. For sale, and it could have been mine for $49k. I was a starving college student, and barely had $49, let alone $49k. To this day, that white racer defines the ideal Japanese race car for me. Like the 787B, it achieved what it pioneered out to do, which counts for a whole lot with a race car, or a racing program. Outside the GTU RB RX-7 and the 787B, I can think of only the BRE Trans Am Datsun as being as much of a pioneering success. As no one has mentioned the BRE 510 so far, I suppose I am showing my age…

  13. MattP says:

    The R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R which won the 1991 Bathurst 1000km race with it’s iconic Nissan livery, shattering the race record in the process.

  14. Rotsun says:

    Better yet, Electamotive 280zx, the amount of power they squeezed out of that ancient L Series was insane

  15. Andrij Mishalow says:

    One eyed Corolla fiend, so it has to be the TE 27 Levin, be it race car on the track, or Rally/Race car. Beautiful curves, with those sexy flared guards, and that throaty induction sound – music to my ears.

    Slick and small, the only way to haul……

  16. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    As a kid, I was into models of airplanes & ships… until I saw the Tamiya Honda RA272 in the window of a model shop in Yokohama. That moment was literally the beginning of my love for all things car. I wasn’t staring at the bodywork but the faithful reproduction of the engines & mechanicals. It reminded me of a jet wing after touchdown & raised spoiler revealing the mechanicals inside the wing & all the accessories & plumbing attached to the engines revealed by deployed thrust reversers.

  17. Angelo says:

    That certain Civic that won every race in the 1600 class of the 1987 JTCC.

    I first saw the Motul Civic Si back in Gran Turismo as as kid, and that thing runs hard. I love how the it paved the way to a lot of replicas and battered Osakan Kanjo runners, despite the latter being on the other side of the law.

    Basically, the car showed how you can really transform a mundane everyday econobox into a fire-breathing pocket rocket.

    Soichiro must be really proud.

  18. Nico Jongeneel says:

    For me that would be the modified toyota 2000gt for the speed trail event back in the sixties the howling sound of the engine gives me goosebumps all over when it leaves the pitlane and start its course on the angle banking and puts 12 world speed records on the line awesome.

  19. Jiji says:

    For me, it has always been Toyota’s TS020 GT-One. Growing up in the 00’s being an avid 5-7 year old Gran Turismo 4 player, the GT-One was always my idol car for the game. Not the cover car Ford GT or even the JGTC Castrol Supra (which would probably be my #3 pick behind the 787B). The GT-One just has these lines that I personally don’t believe any other race car of the period and ever since, not just Japanese, has. The way it just swoops forward in the front and curves elegantly in the rear end, iconic I’d say.

    Not only iconic is it’s gorgeous design, but its heritage as well. I think it’s fair to say that it’s one of the most influential and inspiring Japanese race cars behind the 787B and above the R390 GT1. The push made by Tsuchiya, Suzuki, and Katayama to finish at Le Mans in 1999 is just heroic in my eyes. It’s a shame, with Toyota’s then streak of bad luck at Le Mans, but I’ve always viewed it as a very honorable finish nonetheless. I recall back to a photo of the three drivers standing with their hands up in celebration at the podium after the race. Goosebumps.

    I think the GT-One is a monster that never got its chance to truly shine. One day I wish to see it in person, wherever it may be at the time. To me, as a 5-7 year old, Gran Turismo playing kid in a family of many many Toyota owners, it was, and still is, crazy to see a car of such aura and insanity bear the same name as the SUV my mom drives to work haha. I’m 20 now, and I’d like to think that car had a huge impact on how I viewed Toyota as a company and why I’m still so biased toward them to this day. Not to mention the awesome road car version! Beautiful, iconic, and a childhood hero for sure.

  20. Ellis says:

    The Castrol Toyota Celica GT-4. Specifically the 1995 Group A Rally car that was banned after the car was found to have an illegal modification. For those interested there is a nice article that includes a detailed diagram of the modification in question on themechanists.com.

    Here is an image of it – https://www.themechanists.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/cheater.jpg

    Max Mosley, the FIA president, said “It’s the most ingenious thing I have seen in 30 years of motorsport.”

    But that’s not even the reason it’s my favorite. That would be because my first job had a Sega Rally arcade machine there (that we could play for free!) which meant most lunch breaks would have at least one race in it against whoever I was working with on that particular day.

    So not only does the Celica have some cool history behind it but I’ve also got a personal connection to it, albeit in digital form. Which is why it’s my top pick Japanese race car.

  21. Kevinx says:

    The Skyline silhouette is a given, but since its already been said I’ll go a little left field and say Ironman Stewart’s Toyota Baja truck. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved offroad trucks. Also helps that I had a Maisto Toyota truck toy when I was a kid. Nothing cooler than seeing a lifted pickup tearing through the desert, and that Toyota is probably the top truck for the job.

  22. Kris says:

    For me, its the IMSA Z32 300ZX piloted by Steve Millen. It’s such a sleek car and the Z32 lines are hard to beat.

  23. Greg Mazur says:

    Go to YouTube LastChanceRotary (exact spelling) for Mazda cosmo review .

  24. Greg mazur says:

    I must give credit to 1976 cosmo. Walle Mazda of NJ drove a stock cosmo off the showroom
    Floor to Daytona. Enters the 24 hour race and against serious factory teams fielding full
    Fledge race cars …….. finishes
    25th and 1st in class. Then drives the cosmo back to NJ……drives the same cosmo
    Back from NJ to Florida the following year and dies in traffic crash before the race.
    …….that is when I went out And bought one!

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