The Aston Martin DB5, Alfa Romeo’s Tipo 33 Stradale, the Ferrari Enzo, the Jaguar E-type; are just some of the classic and sexy cars to have rolled out from European manufacturers over the past 60 years. Europe’s position as home to the world’s best engineered and most aesthetically pleasing cars has remained seemingly untouched.
This, I think, is a touch unfair, particularly on the stalwart Japanese manufacturers who have been catering to our automotive needs for the past half-century. In 2010, in a list of most reliable car manufacturers, Japan took seven of the top 10 spots. So, to spread a little appreciation to the under-exposed jewels of the automotive orient here’s a breakdown of the top five Japanese cars of all time (in no particular order).
Honda (Acura in the USA) NSX (1990 – 2005)
Upon its release in 1990, the NSX truly displayed the engineering prowess of the Japanese. Its mid-mounted V6 allowed the NSX to achieve the performance levels of a car with twice as many cylinders. This was in no small part to the car’s ultra-light, rigid aluminium chassis, a feature integrated through F1 legend Ayrton Senna’s direct involvement with the NSX’s engineering staff.
Very little changed for the NSX during its 15-year run: mainly because very little needed to. On initial release, it boasted the world’s first production engine with titanium connecting rods and super high revving capabilities (8,000 rpm); putting the power of a track car into the hands of the public.
Besides a few aesthetic tweaks (removal of frog-eye headlights) and the addition of a sixth gear for newer models, Japan turned out a car that was reliable, powerful, stylish and considered (by a criminally small number of people) a classic.
Toyota 2000GT (1967-1970)
Whilst it’ll never replace the DB5 as “the” Bond car, the Toyota 2000GT featured in You Only Live Twice was a master class in a style that arguably rivals the legendary E-type of the same era. In recognition of this, only 350 were ever produced, a number similar to that of Italian supercars of the day. What was also similar was the price tag, a whopping $7000 (around $50, 000 in today’s money).
Displaying Toyota’s manufacturing excellence and first foray into the world of real sports cars it set a multitude of endurance and speed records. It is rightly considered a classic, and in good condition models can today expect at least a quarter-million-dollar price tag.
Nissan Skyline GT-R (1969 – 2008)
Nissan Skyline GT-R
Dubbed by Jeremy Clarkson as Japan’s only true contribution to the supercar world, the Skyline was really something of a pleasant surprise. Whilst other supercars used flash to hide their lack of substance, there was a car that didn’t need bells, whistles and ostentatiousness, simply because it went like the clappers.
Whilst the 1960s and 70s models were rarely found outside of Japan, when the brand was reintroduced in the late 80s it was more readily available in the English speaking world. European enthusiasts tweaked the Skyline GT-R for nearly unimaginable performance gains, and it became something of a pop culture phenomenon, appearing in The Fast and the Furious films and Gran Turismo.
Mazda FD RX-7 (1978-2002)
Mazda FD RX-7
Admittedly Mazdas have often been dubbed girl’s cars, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the stunning performance and reliability of the RX-7. Like pretty much all Japanese cars, the engineering of RX-7s is designed to get a lot out of a little, and the fact that tuned RX-7s are still successful in drag racing and time attack events to this very day is impressive for a little 1.3ltr.
The brilliance of the RX-7 wasn’t lost on everyone, though. The car made Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best List five times.
Datsun (Nissan) 240Z
Datsun (Nissan) 240Z
Flares, discos and affordable sports cars were the order of the era during the 1970s, and although the sexy 2000GT had set the stage for Japanese sports cars in Europe, realistically they were beyond the reach of the common man. That’s where Nissan stepped in.
For the fairly modest price of $3,500 (about $25, 000 today), European wannabes could obtain a sexy, reliable and potent driving machine. With a 2.4ltr engine kicking out 151bhp, and 146 lbf·ft of torque, John Everyman now had motoring power he’d previously only ever dreamed of.
Unfortunately, as emissions controls were introduced through the 70s, the successors to the 240Z (the 260 and 280Z) struggled to provide the performance that punters expected.