Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda and more... Japanese cars have come a long way from the tiny, underpowered Toyopets and Datsuns many of us knew of or grew up with in the 1960s and 1970s.
Not all of Japan's cars made the trip across the ocean, however. Our top ten list, whle hardly definitive, manages to cover some of Japan's most exciting and interesting cars that, for various reasons, never left the nest.
Of such things are legends born...
Mazda Cosmo 110-S -- Rotary Club Founder
Mazda's groundbreaking rotary engine is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and the 1967 Cosmo 110-S was the sleek & stylish platform that introduced the silky-smooth 2-rotor Wankel to the world. Its unique twin-rotor design virtually eliminated the harsh vibrations of NSU's single-rotor design and set the standard for other manufacturers.
The Mazda Cosmo 110-S combines styling elements cribbed from the Triumph Spitfire and, especially, the 1961-63 Ford Thunderbird. If you've never seen one before, that's no surprise: only 1176 were made between 1967 and 1972. (via JCN Network)
Toyota 2000GT -- Fast Far East Exoticar
Introduced in 1967, the Toyota 2000GT was a bonafide supercar in an era when nobody took Japanese cars seriously. Nobody except Carroll Shelby, who raced them on the SCCA circuit... or the producers of the Bond film "You Only Live Twice", which featured a custom convertible version.
Inspired by the Jaguar E-type and built to exacting production standards, the 2000GT paved the way for cheaper, more streetable Japanese sports cars like the Datsun 240Z. Only a baker's dozen 2000GTs were imported into the USA. Estimated cost for one today? A cool hundred grand... (via Motor Trend)
Nissan Skyline GTS-R -- Japanese for 'Raw Power'
Readers of car mags like Motor Trend and Car & Driver as far back as the 1980s knew about the Nissan Skyline - a series of road-going racers that were the pinnacle of Nissan's line yet never exported outside Japan.
Racing versions had engines pumped up to 700 hp and more! Even the milder GTS Skylines were impressive beasts and would have made effective image boosters for Nissan in the US. (via JB Carpages)
Honda Coupe 9 -- Air-Cooled Oddity
Honda will be remembered for the Accord, the Civic and other well made, solidly performing cars, but does anyone remember the Honda Coupe 9?
Honda's first attempt to build a larger car is largely unknown, no matter that the odd-looking vehicle wasn't exported. It was odd on the inside as well, with a 1300cc air-cooled engine that employed a fan attached to the flywheel. Cooling air wafted across the engine block while heated air was directed into the passenger compartment on chilly days. (via Wikipedia)
Nissan Figaro -- The Car That Made Retro Cool
In an effort to jump-start a little creativity in its design department, Nissan brought out a number of odd yet practical vehicles in the late eighties and early nineties, one of which was the cute "Escargo" minivan.
Another was the Nissan Figaro, which displayed rounded, inverted bathtub "nifty-fifties" styling complemented by a pleasing palette of pastel paint jobs. Under the hood, a turbocharged engine gave the Figaro's exhaust note an operatic timbre. (via Carfolio)
Toyota Sera -- Whatever Will Be, Won't Be (Here)
Toyota was really hitting its stride by the early 1990s, but one of their more interesting models never made it to these shores.
The Toyota Sera was fitted out with complex gullwing doors that featured a roll-down portion embedded in each sweeping curve of glass. With its concept car looks, the Toyota Sera found a small but loyal domestic market that bought up nearly 16,000 cars over a 5 year production run. (via Alt Tokyo)