QotW: Which Japanese automaker has stayed truest to its roots?

ND 2016 Mazda MX5 Miata white 02

Holy crap, the curmudgeons really came out in last week’s QotW responses. Well, we asked for it. This week, however, we’ll take a more positive spin.

Which Japanese automaker has stayed truest to its roots?

We’re going to risk the wrath of thousands of Mazdafarians breaking down our doors with sharpened eccentric shafts by saying that it’s the little automaker that could from Hiroshima. Sure, the magnificent 7 is no longer in production, nor is its revolutionary centerpiece engine, but everything we know about the new MX-5 says that it’s so pure, so true to the original without being a thoughtlessly bloated counterfeit that it gives us hope for the automotive industry as a whole. If it’s a hairdresser’s car, then call us Zohan.

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, “Which Japanese automaker is furthest from its roots?” 

A few of you wise-asses noted that Mazda no longer makes corks, Toyota looms, and Mitsubishi coal minesRayson‘s quote about Mitsubishi Motors being run by the guys in charge of rice cookers was hilarious, as was Coltspeed‘s policing of Nissan’s taglines, while JDMjunkies‘ comments about Honda evoked more sadness than humor. However, the winner this week was Jim-Bob, who mourned the downfall of that greatest of marques:

I have to go with Geo here. What was once a proud company known for it’s long tradition of badge engineering is no more. In it’s day it came up with such exquisite badges as Metro, Spectrum, Storm, Tracker and Prizm- some of which even featured actual mechanical engineering work that was done in house! (Usually this work was on the parts that detracted from the overall quality of the product.) Sadly though, this illustrious brand is no more. Even the vehicles they had rebadged are now no longer sold through Chevy and Pontiac dealers. Where once these cars offered an island of quality in the desolate wasteland of economically priced GM products there are now only badge engineered Daewoos and Chinese market cars. Yes, the Prizm may have been a beige Toyota Corolla under the skin but dammit! It was still a better car than the Cavalier that sold along side of it! Oh Geo, where are you now? The world needs more badge engineers like you!

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

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This post is filed under: Question of the Week.

15 Responses to QotW: Which Japanese automaker has stayed truest to its roots?

  1. Banpei says:

    The automaker that stayed truest to its roots must be no other than TommyKaira!

    As an autotuner in the 70s and early 80s they saw the light by taking a Mercedes Benz 190E, tune it and resell it as the TommyKaira M19. It began to get interesting in 1988 when they redid everything right what Nissan did wrong on their Nissan Skyline R31 and resold it as the TommyKaira M30. They continued doing this the next eight years with various performance variants of the Japanese car market:

    Now judging from this you may argue that they are not an automaker, but actually they were: in 1996 they launched the TommyKaira ZZ. The ZZ was a small mid engined roadster powered by a Nissan SR20DE. The ZZ was quickly followed up by the larger ZZII featuring a Nissan RB26DETT. Those two engines made a lot more sense in the two light mid engined fiberglass cars than those big overweight cars by Nissan!

    As the Japanese exclusive car market collapsed also TommyKaira went into the demise and in the end they sold their manufacturing plant to Autobachs including the plans for the ZZIII. Tommykaira returned to their old trade: modify existing cars and rebrand them. At least, that was until last year when a Japanese start up called GLM teamed up with TommyKaira to create the TommyKaira ZZ EV: the Japanese Tesla Roadster.

    As you can see TommyKaira stuck to their roots: getting the most performance out of cars!

  2. Coltspeed says:

    Easy… Mitsubishi ’cause they still make planes

  3. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    I like Hino and Daihatsu. My first school bus was a late 50’s Hino. It makes me smile to see the marque still around as a workhorse. Also , there is Daihatsu. My neighbor had one of those little trike-trucks for his business. They soldier on as Tuk-Tuks in Bangkok.

    Hino had a cool race car designed by none other than Peter Brock (BRE) who went on to design the Shelby Cobra. The story of the Hino Samurai can be found here…


  4. Matches says:


  5. cesariojpn says:

    Honda. Aside from the fact that they’ve pretty much shafted the USA with Type R Civics (or mostly Type R anything, aside from DC2 Integras), they still have small lightweight cars (okay, kei cars, but still….) and still do motorbikes (okay, more like police bikes….), But you have to admit they haven’t strayed too far from it’s humble roots with the Supercub (okay, they make generators and planes…so they did stary far….sorta.).

    • Yuri says:

      I love this response. It’s like watching a guy start out saying how great his girlfriend is, and then realizing they should break up by the end of the paragraph.

      • Dallas D. says:

        Poor Honda. Cesario makes a good half-hearted point. My Honda snowblower and Prelude are both very reliable, handle well, and inject fun into everyday tasks.

  6. Rayson says:

    GOTTA BE DAIHATSU! Why? Because they are still making the same type of products even after all the years, despite their products don’t really make sense for most American and European consumers even in today’s standard. Does anyone in North America still remember the brand nowdays? I still see the spirit of the Charade in some of the modern Daihatsu cars. And don’t forget the little Copen! They still managed to keep the size in today’s market where everything seems to get bigger even for Kei.

  7. JNCSeikoNeko says:

    I think the winner would have to be Honda.

    When they started making cars, they were always going for something fuel efficient, cheap, and reliable. What are Honda cars today? Fuel efficient, cheap, and reliable. Just take a good look at the Honda and Acura lineup (NSX included) and you’ll see that the statement is true.

    Honda’s always made reliable, bulletproof engines as well. I know people that have owned their Honda N360s since they got it off the showroom floor and have had absolutely no problems with it. Today, same thing. I have seen only one or two modern Hondas on the side of the road being repaired. It was probably a flat tire as I remember one jacked up and missing a wheel.

    Last but not least (I haven’t forgotten), Honda still makes amazing motorbikes. Whether it’s the GoldWing, the CBR, or the simple Ruckus scooter, these are all great, fun, and with true Honda fashion, they are reliable. Plus, this is where Honda started, a little bicycle powered by an engine. Soichiro Honda’s dream still lives on.

  8. Dutch 1960 says:

    Tamiya. Do I even need to explain?

  9. Yoda says:

    Well, if you’re going there Tomica has stayed even truer to their roots right down to the skinny wheels on the regular line that don’t really look right on modern cars and the fact they’re the last company still putting “play value” opening features in 1/64 scale.

    As for Geo, they were the smart used-car buyer’s best friend; as a friend said about a Vibe he’s looking at buying, “it has Toyota reliability with Pontiac depreciation”.

  10. pstar says:

    Last weeks correct answer was Mazda, and this week’s answer is Honda. Everybody who knows, know that’s the truth. As good as the MX5 may be, it really has nothing to do with Mazda’s roots. About as much as a 3000GT has to do with Mitsubishi’s roots or an SVX Subaru’s roots. Nothing at all.

    But on to this weeks question. Honda is sometimes described in a joke as being an engine-making company, that simply makes a bunch of vessels to carry their engines. But this is actually true. Honda is a company that specializes in small 4-stroke engines in ways that nobody else really does. They make engine lines with long life spans and huge interchangeability. On top of that, their engines are the standard bearers the trifecta of performance, reliability, and cost effectiveness to manufacture.

    Of course, Honda really made its name with motorcycles, but even as that was happening, Honda was branching out into cars, with GP cars and the S-series. Less than a decade later, economy cars. Honda is a company that has always diversified and sought new markets for their wares, and successfully so. Honda is continuing that long tradition by seriously pursuing android robots and aircraft today.

  11. JHMBB2 says:

    I’m with pstar, The MX5 doesn’t really have anything to do with it’s roots. To begin with, Mazda has been around years before the original MX5 was made.

    I won’t, however, agree with so many people here who claim Honda is staying truest to it’s roots. At least not in the states. Simple fun cheap cars isn’t their game anymore. Overpriced, large, cheaply made and non innovative is their game these days. Except for the Fit (Jazz), now that’s a Honda. If only they offered and on it. How many different cars can they stuff a k24 in or the j35 in. Holy crap, I can’t believe they barely started doing DI here in the states. For being an engine company you’d think they’d be on top of their game creating a variation of different engines like they used to.

    I nominate Toyota. After all these years they still make the Landcruiser, while it’s gone the way of luxury, they still make the mother of all off roaders, the FJ70.The first vehicle the made was a truck and they’ve continued to produce excellent trucks throughout the years. The FJ Cruiser is a nice nod to the 40 series.

    As for the cars, we’ll, they’re kinda bland just as they’ve always been. Bland but kinda classy and very reliable. It’s funny when I used to work at Honda and Toyotas through the years would come in, they all felt the same; like a Toyota. They produce small (albeit crappy looking) cars through their Scion brand which promotes customizing (through tacky accessories, but hey cool that they promote it). I’d say that the GT86 alone, is proof that they’re very much in touch with their roots. They know what car people want, they know what truck people want, they even know what old people want. They’re Lexus line is pretty amazing, I’d say without a doubt it’d choose one over BMW or Mercedes. Continuing they’re roots in luxury cars from the Cressida to the Century. (we need a v12 powered wagon Lexus)

    Always Moving Forward, yet staying true to it’s roots, Toyota.

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