QotW: Which Japanese automaker had the best single-year lineup?

Toyota 1985 brochure cover

Models come and go, and some generations are better than others. However, once in a lifetime, maybe twice, cosmic forces just align and an automaker knocks it out of the park like the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Wrong metaphor? I don’t know sports. Anyway, take Toyota in 1985, for instance. They had everything from a mid-engined sports car to a go-anywhere SUV, each and every one a winner. You could cold walk into a showroom and have your pick of the A-dub MR2, AE86, X70 Cressida, A60 Celica or Supra, solid axle Hilux, detachable top 4Runner, or FJ60 Land Cruiser. Thirty years later, all are highly sought after. But, like Levar Burton says, you don’t have to take our word for it.

Which Japanese automaker had the best single-year lineup?

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 do you prepare your JNC for winter?” 

Toyota Land Cruiser fire snowplow

Oh you smug Aussies. Our friends in the lower hemisphere have it good. Brett simply looks out for poisonous animals, Stuart Kayrooz puts on a slightly thicker T-shirt, while Andrij Mishalow actually drives more. Meanwhile, those closer to the poles take a different approach. D bitterly hunkers down at home, Ryan starts spraying bedliner everywhere and DADZSUN parks a snowblower in front of his 510. This week our sympathies go out to OneDirtyS30, who reacts like he’s in The Walking Dead:

Salt state… Massive amounts of snow annually… JNC..?

Around here winter proofing isn’t a chore, its a matter of survival! Not only is it damn near impossible to find a healthy surviving example of a 40+ year old JNC around here, but keeping it in good shape damn near requires life support!

As the snow piles up and the hoarde of dreaded salt trucks roam mindlessly from street to street, starved for fresh metal to devour, My preparations are already well underway.

Anyone not familiar with how to protect their beloved classics from harsh Midwest winters can take que’s from any post-apocolyptic/zombie survival movie or TV show. Start by barricading and sealing off the garage doors, Stockpile all the supplies and tools you’ll need for a worst case scenario, including a few bags of sand to grit the driveway.

Then you wait…likely for the next 6 months… Good preparation, hope, and the occasional prayer will help ensure you dont get stuck cutting out those floor pans next spring! :p

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

JNC Decal smash

Image: 北海道の守護神

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20 Responses to QotW: Which Japanese automaker had the best single-year lineup?

  1. Gary says:

    Take me back to the 1980’s – see we not only had great cars but the chicks were hotter and there was no damn distracting internet…the world was on the edge of nuclear Armageddon but man were we happy!

    Seriously, the X70 Cressida was the penultimate year of one great model after another (sorry X80 fans).

    The AE86 became a cult classic and inspired a later generation car.

    The Forerunner as we call it here in Oz was just simply great and unheralded. I recall seeing a pic in a magazine with its roof off, a windsurfer and a topless girl. Needless to say I went on to own a RN30 ute, but sadly the girl didn’t come with the ute.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      As an X70 owner, I wholeheartedly agree!

    • dickie says:

      as long as you’re happy leaving performance out of the equation, sure the x7 could arguably be considered “better.” especially if you ditch the dorky USDM lights, grille and bumpers.

      arguments for:

      – available digi-dash in US
      – super monitor
      – not a 7M under the hood
      – cooler looking interior (button tuck)
      – available in 2-tone (with green interior!)
      – factory 5-speed
      – 4 lug fits a wider variety of neat wheels

      arguments against would include:

      – crappy outdated rear suspension
      – crappy 7.5″ diff

  2. Andrew says:


    Walk into a Mitsubishi dealer in the U.S. and your could buy a 1st gen Montero LWB, 1st gen Eclipse, 6th gen Galant, 1st gen 3000GT, 3rd gen Van and 3rd gen Mirage. 5 out of the seven vehicles were available in turbo charged trim. Imagine that, 25 years ago Mitsubishi was turbo charging vehicles for performance and economy. I wish they’d continued to be innovative over the last 25 years instead of imitating other car makers. Mitsubishi just never seemed to find a niche like Subaru or Mazda and cultivate it.

    • Yoda says:

      It probably didn’t help MMNA that 3/7 of that line was also available at Mopar shops (4/7 if you count the SWB Montero/Raider. Also the complete pickup line was duplicated) which were everywhere unlike Mitsu itself’s thinly spread dealer network.

      • Andrew says:

        Very true. The MOPAR connection was both good and bad. It helped sell units, but didn’t really help people connect with the brand that did most, if not all of the engineering.

    • Andrew M. says:

      I’d also 1991, but for Nissan instead.

      You had the original Sentra SE-R
      S13 Silvia
      J30 Maxima, the “4DSC”
      Original Pathfinder
      D21 Hardbody, the cool compact truck of the day, and still cool now
      and the wonderfully weird NX1600/2000

      • Tom Westmacott says:

        You forgot the racetrack-dominating R32 GTR! And the Pulsar GTi-R, and the Infiniti Q45, and the Figaro, and the S-Cargo, … yes, I think I can agree with you that Nissan offered a pretty impressive lineup of fast and characterful cars in 1991!

  3. Yoda says:

    Toyota in 1989, the last year for the original Van and ’80s-style Celica, first year for the four-seater Xtracab and five-door 4Runner and the last year before the “pretzel” badge. They had cool cars to spare, literally – the Corolla All-Trac wagon and Tercel 5-door hatch seemed to get short shrift in the sales literature, and if you wanted a 4AGE in a four-door you had to buy it from a Chevy dealer.

  4. Darrel says:

    Mazda in 1989. You could get the 323, 626 and RX-7 all in turbo form. The MPV was a RWD van with an available manual trans or 4wd. The B series trucks came in many unkillable configurations, and the MIata is born.

  5. Scotty G says:

    For me, no question: Subaru in 1991. Normally I prefer vehicles older than 1991, but dang, Subaru had the SVX, Justy, XT / XT6 / Alcyone, Loyale, Brat, Legacy… That’s thee coolest, most unique, lineup that I can think of, at least for what was still a fairly small and relatively obscure company. Subaru, baby!

  6. Ant says:

    I’m going for Mazda in 1993:

    – Miata/MX-5/Eunos Roadster
    – (Absolutely beautiful FD-generation) RX-7
    – Not one but two V6-engined coupes (MX-3 and MX-6)
    – Not one but two V6-engined luxury sedans, one of which was supercharged (Xedos 6 and Xedos 9)
    – The craziest kei sports car ever built (Autozam AZ-1)
    – The most technologically advanced coupe of its era (Eunos Cosmo JC)
    – One of the prettiest C-segment hatchbacks ever built (plus a V6) in the 323F/Lantis
    – The ridiculously cute Autozam MkII Carol

    Some of those existed before 1993 obviously, and others endured after, but I think 1993 is the only year that covers all of the above.

  7. Stj says:

    toyota 1998! They had it all, everysingle category was filled!

    Sport Sedan
    -Cresta Rouland G
    -Chaser Tourer V
    -Mark II Tourer V
    -Altezza 200RS

    Luxury Sport Sedan
    -Aristo V300
    -Crown Athlete V

    FF sport Coupe’s
    -Corolla Levin BZG
    -Sprinter Trueno BZG
    -Celica SSII
    -Cynos II

    FR Sports
    -Supra RZ
    -Soarer GT-T

    4WD sports
    -Celica GT Four
    -Caldina GT-T

    FF sports hatches
    -Starlet GT Turbo
    -Corolla BZ-Touring

  8. Pete240z says:

    1970 Datsun 510

    1970 Datsun 240Z

    1970 Datsun 2000 Roadster

    1970 Datsun Truck for your work stuff

  9. ahja says:

    Well I have to pick a Toyota line up even though Honda and Nissan and Mazda all have convincing cases from the same era (early 90s). This is for North America.


    JZA80 Supra (king of the Japanese halo cars)
    SW20 MR2 (mid engine, sleek, and affordable)
    ST185 Celica All Trac (awd turbo coupe with WRC championships)
    LS400 (best luxury car and notably cheaper than “competition”)
    SC300/SC400 (luxury gt with really sleek looks)
    Previa (mid engined super sleek van with coolest dash ever)
    Paseo (small, cheap, light 2-door, well executed I think)
    ES300 (not bad looking at all, especially for what is a slightly upmarket midsize FWD sedan)

  10. Banpei says:

    Nissan had a marvelous lineup in 1972:
    Nissan Fairlady Z S30 (aka 240Z)
    Nissan Skyline C10
    Nissan Skyline C110 (introduced in 1972)
    Nissan Laurel C130 (introduced in 1972)
    Nissan Gloria/Cedric 230
    Nissan Bluebird 510
    Nissan Bluebird-U 610
    Nissan Sunny B110
    Nissan Cherry E10

    1972 was a special year as both the new (Kenmeri) Skyline C110 and (Pigsbutt) Laurel C130 got introduced. Both are nowadays the most iconic cars for Nissan in the 70s. Both were also sold abroad and were not limited to RHD only. And obviously the introduction of the Skyline GT-R KPGC110 in September 1972 marks the second most sought after Japanese classic ever. And let’s not forget the C10 also was still for sale in early 1972.

    The Fairlady Z (aka 240Z) is one of the most iconic and beautiful cars Nissan ever produced. Unfortunately Z432 was no longer for sale in 1972, but if you were lucky some of the Fairlady ZGs might still have been for sale.

    The coke bottle styled Gloria and Cedric 230, introduced a year earlier, are nowadays also sought after classics in Japan.

    In 1972 also both the 510 and 610 were sold alongside and both were available in SSS and hardtop coupe trim. Especially the 510 SSS hardtop coupe is sought after nowadays. I think the JNC/Petrolicous video will explain you why:

    The Sunny B110 is still a popular car and especially the UTE has a great following.

    Last but not least, the Cherry E10. The bonkers styled coupe: you hate it or you love it. Many of the X1-R coupes have been sacrificed to the holy gods of zokusha (bosozoku) for their unique tail lights and integrated into various C110 and C210 tail light panels. The tail lights alone would set you back over a thousand dollars nowadays and those original Cherry X1-R coupes are impossible to find.

    Yes, Nissan got everything right in 1972. And then in 1973 the oil crisis happened and, also due to the emission standards getting more strict, the party was mostly over.

  11. Gary says:

    I’m seeing other Japanese brands get ‘roll calls’ from the 1990’s and Datsun in 1970…but lets face it the mid 1980’s was bit of exemplary model waste land for nearly all brands but Toyota!

    Nissan had been and gone with its penultimate TRX and were yet to land the modern classic Silvia.

    Mitsubishi was still to emerge with an across the board killer range.

    Mazda had the MX5 Miata but the rest of the fleet was kind of lack lustre.

    Suzuki had the giant slaying GTi – but what else?

  12. Reid says:

    1997 Nissan was pretty cool

    Sentra SE-R
    Skyline GTR

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