The Japanese domestic vehicle market is like a forbidden box that, when we eventually open it, bestows its blessings upon us – minus the drawbacks of Pandora’s box. When the Japanese economy was booming in the 1980s, carmakers engaged in an unethical war with the goal of pleasing prospective buyers with plenty of extra cash. That money was frequently intended for sports automobiles, which Japanese manufacturers dutifully delivered. When the boom economy eventually burst in the early 1990s, JDM with it. However, at that time, Japanese automakers had built a slew of laudable marvels. Automobiles that are deserving of your attention. Especially if you don’t have any issues with import.
So what is a JDM Car?
A JDM car is a vehicle that was designed specifically for the Japanese domestic market, such as sports cars and high-powered luxury vehicles. These vehicles were designed with Japanese standards in mind, and they frequently did not comply with international regulations, making them extremely difficult to import. JDM imports are now permitted in the United States, provided that the models in question are approved for import. To comply with US rules, any importer must ensure that the vehicle was produced at least 25 years ago to avoid complying with EPA and FMVSS regulations. Otherwise, driving these autos on US highways will be unlawful.
The JDM Skyline GTR, Toyota Supra JZA80, and Honda NSX are popular JDM sports cars. The Nissan Skyline GT-R, Honda Integra Type R, Nissan Silvia S13, Mazda RX7, and Mitsubishi Evolution are just a few examples of Japanese Domestic Market automobiles.
These, like so many other magnificent Japanese cars, gained worldwide fame and popularity. On the other hand, others continued to sleep in the region of the rising sun. This isn’t to say they aren’t talented. They simply did not become immediate classics in the same way as the aforementioned models did. Market satiation, bad marketing, and the incorrect moment… Or they just didn’t fit the needs of the overseas market at the time. They are all eligible to be imported into the United States after 25 years, whatever the situation may be. Prepare to be disappointed if you’re searching for a list of obvious Subaru Impreza WRX STI models: Here are a few of the best Japanese automobiles you’ve probably never heard of.
Despite the fact that the FTO was released after Japan’s bubble economy broke, Mitsubishi’s sports compact was so superb that it brought back memories of Japan’s golden period. The Car, whose initials were meant for Fresh Touring Origination, even won the Car of the Year title in its home market. It was so popular that sports car fans in Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand persuaded Mitsubishi to offer the FTO in their respective countries regularly. The Grey market has already been documented to have such an impact on a carmaker.
The front-wheel-drive sports coupe was initially equipped with a 1.8L in-line four, producing 123 horsepower. That statistic is similar to what the Mazda MX-5 Miata offered at the time (128 hp from identical displacement). Not only did the Sports Package include improved stats, but it also had a completely new engine. The 2.0L V6 engine produced 168 horsepower, whereas the same engine with MICEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve Timing Electronic Control System) produced 197 horsepower. On the other hand, Special edition versions were given the strongest option. Models such are the 1995 GPX Car of the Year limited edition and the 1996 and 1997 GP and GP Special.
Despite making it to some non-Japanese markets via a backdoor (grey market), the Mitsubishi FTO never made it to the United States. It would never have cleared the safety rules in the United States. The precise cause for its abolition at the turn of the millennium. Japan’s safety standards became considerably harsher, and Mitsubishi executives felt they couldn’t be bothered with a car that didn’t have the requisite pedigree, opting instead for sportier models like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
The Toyota Chaser was a four-door mid-size sedan that was produced from 1977 until 2001. The Chaser was in its fourth (’89-’92) and fifth (’92-’96) generations during the peak of the JDM market’s performance. Although the Toyota Camry, a mid-size sedan, isn’t likely to raise a commotion today (there are lots of them), a Chaser imported to the United States will. However, not at first glance. What would get the job done is what’s under the hood. The Toyota Chaser’s straight-six engines were shared with the Toyota Supra’s performance versions. Fourth-generation Supras were equipped with A70 Supra’s twin-turbo 1GZ-GTE engines, while fifth-generation Supras were equipped with A80 Supra’s 2GZ-GTE mills, both of which produced 276 horsepower. Other engines were available, but none were as flamboyant or unique as the famed Toyota GZ mills.
The Toyota Chaser is just another brick in a long and tall wall of what-if scenarios. A fantastic addition to Toyota’s North American fleet would have been one of the best Japanese sedans ever manufactured. Not to mention the fact that it’s the closest we’ve ever been to a four-door Supra. Instead, consumers in the United States received the Camry. The truth is, none of the US-spec Camrys from the early 1990s had 300 horsepower on tap.
The Mazda Cosmo is not only one of the most beautiful Japanese cars ever built, but it’s also one of the most sought-after JDM automobiles that we hadn’t had the opportunity to purchase. However, the possibly most popular Mazda car in history, which served as the launchpad for the Wankel rotary engine and lasted four generations, was more than that.
Although the original sports car from the late 1960s is well-known, the final iterations have managed to fade into obscurity. They didn’t even have the Mazda logo on them; instead, they were sold under the Eunos brand. Back then, there were three separate Mazda divisions to choose from. Mazda’s only triple-rotor engined vehicle is the Eunos Cosmo, which is based on the JC platform, which underpins nothing except the premium touring coupe. A total displacement of roughly 2.0L was achieved by combining three 654 cc chambers. This combination produced roughly 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque under 10 psi of boost with two turbos. Thanks to these figures, the luxury tourer reached a top speed of approximately 160 mph.
Mazda also provided a more conservative dual-chamber rotary engine for customers who were less interested in speed. Only on paper is it more conservative. This 1.3L 13B-RE configuration still produced 235 horsepower. In that sense, one could argue that sluggish Eunos Cosmo never existed. You can see why we think it’s one of the coolest automobiles to ever come out of Japan.
Mazda Lantis Type R
On its own, the Mazda Lantis is just another plain and uninspiring hatchback for the Japanese market. Adding the well-known Type R appellation (which is more popular in newer Hondas) to its name becomes an amazing JDM car. Between 1993 and 1996, this 5-door hot hatch was as hot as Japanese cars got.
The 168-horsepower 2.0L Mazda K V6 engine powered the Lantis Type R. Not exactly astronomical (especially when compared to today’s Type R hot hatches), but plenty for a car weighing 2,650 pounds. Lantis could accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds and complete a quarter-mile in 16 seconds. No one claimed it was a muscle car, after all. It did, however, have 1.38 brake horsepower per cubic inch.
This frameless window hatch with its massive roofline spoiler would never have been popular in the United States back then. Despite all of its advantages. Even now, the fact that Mazda does not offer anything equivalent in the United States can be depressing. There’s a hot Focus, a hot Honda Civic Type R, and a hot Golf, but there’s no hot 5-door hatchback. The Mazda 3. 2.5L Skyactiv 4-cylinder with 184 horsepower may strike a balance between performance and efficiency, but it’s no match for the hot hatches mentioned above.
Suzuki and Mazda aren’t the only Japanese automakers who understand how to make gullwing doors. Toyota did it with the Sera, a little sports car that was built from 1990 to 1995. The Toyota Sera is one Japanese Car we wish was available in America, with its eerie butterfly doors, arching glass roofline, and magnificent flowing lines.
It featured a respectable powertrain as well. The 1.5L in-line four engines from the Corolla were capable of producing roughly 100 horsepower. For a car weighing 2,000 pounds, there’s plenty of power. Sera even had front disc brakes, rack and pinion power steering, and anti-lock brakes as an option. In 1990, this was not yet a requirement.
The Toyota Sera soon developed a cult following in Japan and throughout the world. As a result, Toyota was compelled to sell the sports vehicle in markets other than its home market. This makes it more accessible than most of the other nameplates on the list, but it’s still a JDM product.