QotW: Which nostalgic car makes the perfect daily driver?

Some of us are blessed with enough parking to house multiple cars. Others must choose only one to fulfill all their practical, reliable and/or economical reqs while maintaining a veneer of old school Japan cool. Therefore we must ask:

Which nostalgic car makes the perfect daily driver?

As it happens, we have to haul a lot of gear around to car shows. We’d love to rock a comfy new crossover, but we gots to keep it real on the nostalgic tip, yo. We’ve taken our 1986 Cressida wagon all over SoCal, to Vegas for SEMA, and up and down the western seaboard. Here it is at California Speedway a couple weeks ago for 86Fest wearing faded AE86 steelies. The JNC wagon swallows more cargo than many modern SUVs, draws plenty of power from a nearly indestructible Toyota straight six, and most importantly, has passed that 25-year-or-older threshold. Who could ask for anything more?

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining or inspiring comment by next Monday will receive a random toy. Click through to see the winner from last week’s question, “What’s the greatest Japanese racing livery?” 

This week it was a really hard choice between Ryan‘s nomination of the KPGC10 Skyline Fuji GP touring cars and Danny‘s vote for the Mazda 787B, in the end the mighty Le Mans racer eked out the win.

Well this is an easy one: the Renown orange and green of the 787B at Le Mans. Imagine, you’re some racing driver with millions of dollars in support from Mercedes, when some raucous evil bark of noise from a car lined up behind you just commands your attention; likewise, the paint is equally in your face, and you scoff at the sight of an obscure Mazda, wondering if it’ll even finish. 24 hours later you eat your balaclava as the wailing 4 rotor crosses the line first, in an orange/green streak of glorious Wankel victory. Perhaps if the paint wasn’t so bold the motor wouldn’t have been banned. I’m sure Mazda was quite proud of the radical and bohemian 4-rotor, and needed the wild paint scheme to turn the volume up to eleven-thousand rpms.

Omedetou! Your prize from the JNC gashapon is a Tomica Mazda Cosmo L Limited with opening doors!

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50 Responses to QotW: Which nostalgic car makes the perfect daily driver?

  1. Don says:

    I have a ’91 Civic Si. It only has 80k miles from new. This is a perfect car. The A/C keeps me cool, it can haul several people, gets 40 mpg, looks stylish, is fun to drive, is reliable, quiet and comfortable.

    • E-AT_me says:

      great choice. i daily a 91 Si too, but it’s not nostalgic yet. mine has 260+ on it and i get 35mpg easily.. holds plenty in the hatch and can seat 4 decently comfortably. great fun on the back roads around my house as well and competitive on the autocross course. most importantly, the stock seats just help the miles melt away.

  2. cesariojpn says:

    Toyota Camry V20 series.

    There is a ton of those cars still on the road. Parts are easy to come by whether at the local chain store or in a junkyard when your ride needs a new fender for a minor fender bender or shunt, and any backyard mechanic can fix it with the old railroader adage of some bubble gum and bailing wire, Add Toyota’s reliability over the years and engines that can go well past 200,000 miles with decent upkeep.

    Plus it subtly bridges the gap from the old boxy 80’s look into the 90’s “bubble” look.

    • mister k says:

      for serious?! well, maybe if you’re austrian or your name is lukas

      • cesariojpn says:

        Hey, I would find it better to have a car that can take the abuse and not put a dent in my wallet or be sidelined cause it’s missing a critical part that takes 5 months to find.

  3. Tzushyang Lin says:

    I LOVE my 86 Cressida sedan. Looks great and never lets me down. Motor did blow up once and I had to rebuild it but that was because I was the one to let it down. I’d say if I could get another Cressida, it would be like the one above, an x7 wagon.

  4. Heath Gordon says:

    C32 Laurel 85. LD28 diesel. One hell of a reliable engine. Good mileage. Beautiful car with a touch of 80’s luxury. Strappin on a turbs for a bit more go. Yea!

  5. Josh says:

    Galant VR4. Good power, good traction, 4 doors.

    • John says:

      If it can seriously be deemed “reliable”, this is a very good choice. 🙂

      I honestly don’t know if the fact that DSMs are in a constant state of (dis)repair is a reflection of the cars, or the boost-happy owners.

  6. Damian Solorzano says:

    My ’85 Mk2 Celica Supra definitely fits the bill. While not the most economical, it’s still a blast to drive and never fails to turn heads.

    • autro says:

      Go back 2 more years and you’d have hit the nail on the head. The correct answer is the ’83 Celica GTS. Sleek, sexy, economical, and reliable. All thanks to the magnificent Toyota engineering that is the 22RE. People don’t joke when they say that’s one of Toyota’s finest engines. There must be a reason they keep using that layout.

      • Damian Solorzano says:

        Haven’t had the pleasure of one of those, so I guess i’ll just have to stick with what I know. And really, Isn’t “best” subjective in nature?

        I could have scribbled down my old Hachi..It is one of the four cars I miss driving most. And while the snarl of a four cylinder is enjoyable, the wail of an inline six winding to redline is one of those small joys that makes life worth living.

  7. dickie says:

    Great choice on the livery, definitely the most eye-catching.

    my choice for a daily driver is an easy one: my 1979 Toyota Cressida wagon, chassis code MX36. i have always had a soft spot for old cars, especially Japanese machines. it’s not hard to distinguish the differences in character between auto maker nationalities, but there’s even something more specific between individual manufacturers that i can’t quite put my finger on. it’s the smell, mostly, and i bet if you sat me in a datsun, a mazda and a toyota blindfolded, i would be able to identify them immediately.

    anyway, this character is something that i find necessary to have in a proper daily. something that allows you to communicate so directly and effectively with the car that you won’t find in a modern machine. it can’t be muted by an archaic steering box or vague leaf spring suspension geometry; if anything it’s more prevalent when you actually have to work to make the car move the way you want it to. translating the odd feedback compared to a new car with a quick ratio steering rack or a double wishbone suspension on all corners means you have to focus on driving more.

    driving an old workhorse like this definitely has its drawbacks. the electrical system, sparse and simple as it is, also hides it’s share of strange gremlins. thankfully, toyota had the foresight to include a convenient trouble panel to help find and diagnose them. this wasn’t so helpful on the 9-hour trip to drive the car home, especially racing against the sunset because the lights were inoperable… but the fact that it started right up after sitting for 10 years with nothing but fresh oil and a tank of clean gas was evidence there was life enough left in it.

    that trip brought another glaring problem to light: the dismal fuel economy. i don’t know why i expected better than 14mpg out of the tired, carbed inline 6, but by modern standards it’s not enough. not nearly enough when you take the measly 100-some-odd-hp it makes. barely enough to get out of its own way. so to remedy that, i’ve been looking for a 1UZ motorset to take its place. with the added motivation, i’ll need something to help put the power down and something to reel it back in once it’s going; ideally this would be facilitated by swapping out the old rear end with a unit from a MKI supra. the limited slip and rear disc brakes would be orders of magnitude better at doing their duties than the stock unit, and i’d have the added benefit of being able to adapt the chassis for coil springs and ditch the leafs in the rear.

    with the original interior, a little bit of rust removal on the exterior (but otherwise left untouched), and a new heart and set of legs, i believe the resulting monster would be the perfect answer to the question of a nostalgic daily driver. all the utility, all the character, better in reliability, safety, economy and performance.

  8. dankan says:

    Living up here in the frozen wasteland known as Canada, I would probably go for a third generation Accord as my Nostalgic Family Car of choice. I need the practicality and FWD so my wife doesn’t wrap it around a tree come January. For style points, I’d love an Aerodeck.

    If I was living somewhere with a more appealing climate, then I’d sell my mother for a Haksosuka 4-door or a Yonmeri…

  9. TransAmBandit says:

    I daily a 86 Cressida.

    Despite the rear diff clunk, and now whine. I love it. Clean, digital dash, comfy and quiet. Cannot ask for anything more.

    Well, maybe a 5 speed. haha

  10. Tate says:

    I love daily driving my ’86 Z31 turbo! Despite being a two-seater, the hatch provides plenty of room for hauling goodies around town, and the seats (especially the GLL-spec leather ones) are very comfy and supportive on long drives. The interior has enough 80’s gadgets to keep you entertained, and the exterior looks excellent! The turbo model has plenty of power in stock form while giving great gas mileage with a light foot (25-30mpg is easy to get when in good running condition), and is easily modified without compromising drive-ability.. These motors often see upwards of 300k miles with only routine maintenance, and replacement motors can be easily had from junkyards for $2-300 (as they came in a huge number of Nissans through the 80s and 90s). I drive mine year round every day to work, and I can slap on a set of snow tires, keep out of boost and plow on through the winter with no problems. I’ve yet to encounter a situation that the Z could not handle!

  11. Nigel says:

    2/3 ‘s of the year my old 1981 Corolla 4 dr. (And in winter a 1989 Civic Dx hatch).
    The Corolla could go sideways 50 ft in the snow without trying.

  12. J.A.C.K says:

    the ae86 hatch. it pains me to say this as, an ae86 coupe driver(COUPES RULE!!!), due to our silly rivalry with hatch drivers (Initial d fan boys all of them) but the hatch is much more functional than the hatch when it comes to daily driving simply for the fact that it’s very versitile configuration of the rear end section. from the b pillars forward, there’s little to no difference but with the hatch and fold down seats you could turn your little 4 seater into a grocery getter and swing by the track and partake on foolish endeavors all in the same afternoon. aaarrrgh…

    please note, i never wrote this…some intial d fanboy must have hacked my account…

    • Ben says:

      This is true. As a hatch owner/fanboy myself I can’t think of any other mid-80s car that can be used to transport a dresser (with hatch completely closed) and rev to 7500 rpms.

      • J.A.C.K says:

        uggh, so many typos in my original post. i think it was due to my subconscious fighting my conscious brain to stop me from posting. haha.

  13. autro says:

    Also, what happened to this?

    “As tempted as we are to score another one for the Mazda and the 787B’s so-garish-it’s-cool Le Mans scheme,”

    Or where you guys talking about the Mazdaspeed 787B?

    • John says:

      No, that was our (the editors) choice, not you (the readers).

      We just found it an odd coincidence that one of the cars we wanted to choose, ended up being chosen by several of you. 🙂

  14. timmy201 says:

    My ’78 FA 323 wagon was a good daily – cheap on fuel, plenty of room in the boot, rear seats fold down flat, RWD, 5 speed, keeps up with the traffic, not shiny enough to park at the shops/work/wherever and best of all bright yellow!

    (and it never left me on the side of the road during 12,000km in the past 18 months)

  15. Clay says:

    I daily a ’83 Hilux (ok so its a JNT not a JNC 🙂 ) I’ve had it for two years and it hasn’t let me down once. Classic eye catching styling, loads of space in the looonnng bed, reliability, simplicity. Couldn’t ask for more.

  16. Bart says:

    As an Isuzu guy, I find my 1989 Isuzu Trooper RS 2.6 5 speed to be a great daily driver. Being the rare 1989 only short wheel base model it’s smaller size makes it very practical while still having plenty of cargo space for up to 4 passengers and lots of stuff, and the 2.6 four cylinder delivers enough power to get you around while burning fuel at about 20 miles per gallon. Then you throw in the 4WD drive aspect and you ave a perfect summer camping vehicle and a great “get me to work in a snow storm” vehicle. They don’t make them like they used to, period.

  17. yiso says:

    Nostalgic outside… Modern abilities inside… In a way, this is a valid compromise in order to get a classic vehicle on the roads everyday, to survive all sorts of weather and road conditions.

    How about a Rocky Auto V8 Hakosuka? Sure it runs on a Toyota 1U engine, but the heart of choice can be replaced with anything that floats your boat, RB25/6. The things that modernize it for daily use include power windows, power steering, all-wheel disc brakes, making it the perfect everyday driver/drifter that it deserves to be.

  18. littlejason says:

    ’71-’87 Toyota Corolla, obvious.

  19. Kev says:

    My daily is a 1986 Mazda Luce Rotary Turbo 🙂

    The 80s JDM luxo rides may have seem overly gadget-laden in their day, but today, we take things like ABS, dual zone climate control, auto-on headlights and one-touch power windows for granted. All things that would be equipped on a Crown Royal Saloon, Cedric Brougham, Debonair V3000 Royal or Luce Royal Classic of the mid 80s 🙂

    And…I find it easier to drive in traffic than say a modern Camry, because it’s square and easy to park, and its low window line and slim pillars give great visibility. I’ve had it for six years and counting and it’s so damn liveable.

  20. Tofuik says:

    KP61 Starlet :3. I’ve wanted one ever since playing GT2 on the playstation as a young teenager. Small nimble hatchback, peppy little 4cyl, toyota reliability, and sexy 80s looks. What more do you want? Its not just a reliably grocery hauler, its an all around sexytime hot hatch. While your neighbor is busy washing his boring 2nd gen civic hatch you can do this http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/7c/Matt_Summerfield_2007.jpg. Alright so maybe he beats you on fuel economy. But you had more fun getting to the pump.

    • Stephen says:

      I agree so hard. It’s a tiny, nimble, very lightweight hatchback. OH, and did I mention it’s rear-wheel drive?

      They even made a two-door wagon version! I’m still trying to get my hands on one that hasn’t been wrecked – but when I do. Oh, when I do.

  21. Sammy B says:

    All of them 🙂

    Corolla FX16 GT. quick & practical. An AE86 would be pretty solid as well, but I’m going with the FX16 just because.

  22. Yuri says:

    In my history of owning 23 vehicles, the best JNC to serve duty as a daily is the S30 280Z. It has many things going for it. From a JNC standpoint, it is sexy, it has that S30 cache, and upgrades are common and easy to obtain, with lots of aftermarket support.
    From a Daily driver standpoint, it’s reliable, easy to get parts for, easy to find examples in the junkyard (at least in SoCal,) and is numerous enough that there are quite a few reputable to shops to do the repairs and maintenance that you don’t feel like doing.
    It also is solid and quiet at speed with good ventilation, as well as plenty of storage capacity under the rear hatch, as well as behind the seats. The interior fits drivers over 6′ comfortably, and no one ever questions why you would want to own one, rather, the complements will come every day.
    The big fuel injected L-series provides modern day levels of performance and drivability, and the optional 5-speed lets you eat up freeway miles with ease.
    Aesthetically, you can easily obtain some simple BRE style airdams and spoilers, and the 4×114.3 bolt pattern opens up a world of wheel upgrades.
    I have been daily driving a ’77 280Z everyday from Long Beach to Art Center in Pasadena and back for two years, and only break out the Miata for those super hot days when A/C would be nice.
    There really is no better combination of style, ease of parts availability and drivability than a well-loved big-engined S30.

  23. Maximo says:

    my answer would have to go to the cressida. wagon or sedan these toyota’s represent all the goodies from the 80’s Toyota’s. From the the large box shape to the ‘unkillable’ inline six with a RWD configuration and full of interior space this is made to be a daily sport driver. It was toyota’s most luxurious offering in north america(Lexus didn’t came out until the early 90’s). these cars are gaining in popularity(even here in the province of Québec) because it has lots of room for what makes a jza80 go zoom to make it’s heart. Like most of you said the wagon was awesome because it has lots of interior space and it’s really a comfortable ride too, i think the wagon has more cargo area than a honda crv lol but i’m not quite sure about that. The cressida will even fit every kind of lyfestyle/driving you want or need; from VIP to drift machine or just plain rollin’ stock the toyota is pure old school machine of radical awesomness. BTW i burrowed my friend’s cressida wagon for a date one time, put a cheap matress in the back and me and my ex lady got one good night date with it or in it! LOL

  24. Aly says:

    The nostalgic that makes the perfect daily driver is the one you already have.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s a Fairlady Roadster, a Mk1 Civic, a Stout pickup, or an FJ40. Because it’ll be something you innately care for, and want to see going forever. Sure, it might break, but because it’s yours you’ll want to fix it and get it back on the road quickly. Because you know that deep down – even if it may be impractical or slow or hard to drive or hot in the summer and cold in the winter – it’s the car that you enjoy driving and will make you glance back at it once you’ve parked it. And if you end up carrying a bed with that Civic or navigate a dirt road on your Fairlady, it’ll totally be worth the while.

    And if, one day, you sell it and get something unfathomably cool – a Cosmo Sport or a Hakosuka or whatever – you’re going to miss all the memories you had with that old car which sometimes drove you insane. Because it was yours, and it was the perfect daily driver for you.

  25. Oracles says:

    6 months our of the year My 1974 Toyota Corona MarkII is my DD.

  26. Louis says:

    From 2001 to 2008, my daily driver was a 1972 Datsun 240z. Every bolt stock. Never modded. The car had 41k original miles on it but damn it, cars are meant to be driven and I managed to put 100k more on it so far (some would flog me for it). As a matter of fact, my car was one of the few all original Z’s at JCCS this year (lol).

    The two seats can be a bane, or a blessing, depending how you see it. The hatch has so much room I could easily fit all of my hockey gear in the back. The car loves going 80 on the freeway and is really comfortable, even for a tall guy like me.

    People always say they don’t make them how they used to – it’s true. I did all of the work on the car, and as a broke college student it only let me down once when the main wiring harness fried itself… but the car didn’t want to go yet. Anyone that’s owned a S30 can attest to how much room is in the engine bay and how simple the car is.

    So the car is surprisingly versatile, runs like a beast and is easy to fix… which leaves out the most important fact about the car: it is so much fun to drive. The car is docile enough in the daily commutes, and has just enough in it so that when you want to go driving through the canyons, you feel in control, you feel the road, you feel the car… The first generation Z was one of the few cars ever made that completely captured the essence of driving in such a pure way.

  27. sammyd says:

    My daily is a 1975 ms85 toyota crown. It has been the most reliable car i have owned without a single drama in the 15,000 k ive been driving it. Every time youget behind the wheel it is like taking a step back into an earlier simpler time, and it never fails to put a smile on my, (and fellow road users’) faces. What more could you want. Oodles of chrome, whitewalls, a ride that feels akin to a lounge chair, all electrics, tourquey six that has surprisingly good economy and front and rear shelf air con.

  28. Steve says:

    Seems to me that ALL JNCs are perfect Daily Drivers. Because that is what they were designed to be from the start. You have sporty/fast DDs: Z-cars, RX-z, Supras. You have economy DDs: Corrollas, Datsun 1200s, Civics. You have work/hauler DDs: Lil’ Hustlers, HiLuxes. You have sport coupe DDs: Celicas, Bluebirds, RXs. You even have “Full-Size”/Luxury DDs: Cressidas, Maximas, Accords. It just comes down to what purpose you want your car to fulfill.

    Of course, the flip side of being a DD is that to most people DD = throw away cars. So, it’s only been recently that JNCs have received the respect and care and feeding they deserve.

  29. ACSK says:

    I’m going to answer this logically, and just say Datsun 510. It has everything necessary to be the perfect daily driver for someone who doesn’t have room for multiple cars:

    1.)It’s relatively affordable, yet has classic lines.

    2.)Parts are readily and economically available – for when something does go wrong.

    3.)They can be both sporty and practical. The chassis has potential if you want performance, and the trunk is spacious. Or if you are really down on your luck, and don’t even have a place to stay, go for the wagon!

  30. Rodolfo says:

    My daily driver is my 1987 Nissan 200sx. It gets decent gas mileage, the VG30 packs enough power to mess around and the 5 speed transmission puts down the power efficiently and reliably. The interior is incredibly roomy and comfortable and the car just looks awesome hahaha.
    I drove mine home for $800 and now has almost 158k on the clock and is still kicking strong, original and unmodified.

  31. John says:

    Lots of good (and widely varied) answers this week! 🙂

  32. a10wagon says:

    My daily driver is a 1980 datsun 510 wagon(pa10 series} it gets about 25-30mpg. the z20s ghas enough power to keep up with traffic in town and on the interstate with 5 people about 15=20 fishing poles,2 5 gallon buckets with fishing nets,4 tackle boxes and 10 bucks in gas for the 60 plus mile round trip to the fishing spot and back. and if you need to move or go on a bike ride after the fishing trip fold the rear seats down and a dresser or 2 road bikes with both wheels will fit with the hatch closed. and if the following morning all of your buddies cars decide to break down you can throw in 5 bucks in gas and become a school bus and take your friends and there brothers to high school. (8 people in total)

  33. Mr. Smee says:

    Daily driving a 90 Cressida MX83. Smooth powerful, luxurious. I am in Canada and driving the Cressi in snow no problem at all. In fact, it’s as good as my FWD car, but way more fun.

  34. slimwhitman says:

    I retired my ’81 Datsun 810 Maxima earlier this year after 13 years of daily driver status. It was a great car. Luxurious, 4 doors for kids or friends, not too big and not too small. Enough power to get up to speed, though not enough to really have fun with. No carborator to mess with. Automatic for the rush hour traffic. It really never gave me any trouble, but the rust got to an unsafe level, so I let it go.

    I replaced it with a ’91 Legend coupe that I also love. It is a fine daily driver, but seems less capable of all the daily duties (things a Legend sedan would cure). Though I will like the front wheel drive when the snow flies soon, I will also miss the rwd and all that comes with that. I drove that rwd Datsun so long that I am still surprised when I hit a wet corner and the rear end stays put (for good and ‘less fun’ bad).

    I keep a CR-X convertible and ’60 De Soto for non-daily driving fun.

  35. Louis says:

    a Corolla KE70. It’s tough, durable and still lots of spare parts available.

  36. Saii says:

    Totally agree with your choice. In manual too. I drive a 1980 t130 sedan as my daily driver. 250,000k behind it and it still hauls arse. Pretty much original too. Soon to look amazing now that I got my hands on it.

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