Thanks to big-budget movie franchises like the Fast and The Furious series and smaller cult classics like Initial D have elevated the wide selection of Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) vehicles, like the awesome Corolla AE86, to almost superstar status. Beaming a welcomed spotlight on models that mainstream car buyers may have missed or simply ignored.
Performance car fans have eagerly sought out the hidden classic gems from the east. There are incredible past offerings, such as the rally-born bug-eye Subaru Impreza, a boxer-engined all-wheel-drive monster that will conquer all climates, yet double as a friendly family sedan, the mighty first incarnation of the Honda NSX supercar, and third-generation Toyota Supra turbo, a true supercar killer.
Yet not all JDM classic cars were built equal. Some may have the show but lack the required go, some might have been loaded with the latest technology at the time but failed to deliver dynamically, others are just money pits disguised as beauty queens. So with a buoyant import and second-hand market, here are 10 Japanese classic cars that are best avoided.
10 Subaru XT
With an aircraft-inspired cockpit that sported, fashionable at the time, digital dials, and pop-up headlights, the odd-looking Subaru XT coupe did its best to cram as much ’80s trendy styling into one car as feasibly possible.
Loaded with space-age equipment like a computer-controlled engine, air suspension and a weedy 112hp turbocharged engine, the Subaru XT is a soulless, uninspiring drive that has proven to be a rusty, reliability nightmare.
9 Datsun 280ZX Fairlady
Sitting between the classically respected 260ZX and the tech-laden 300ZX, the dreadful 280ZX is a standout stain within the Fairlady heritage lineup. It’s a car that tried so hard to be great but failed to inspire buyers or drivers.
A mish-mash design of unequal parts, the 280ZX was hampered by US emission and safety restrictions, leading to ugly oversized bumpers and an engine that wheezed at the thought of providing any form of performance experience.
8 Toyota MR2 Turbo
Scintillatingly fast, the second-generation Toyota MR2 Turbo boasted up to 220 hp, could rocket to 60 mph in 5 seconds, and provide the type of open-topped thrills that one would expect from a far more exotic Italian supercar.
The problem with putting so much performance into such a small mid-mounted engine bay is that doing any form of maintenance will cause knuckle scraping, mind-splitting annoyance, with the engine generally having to be removed in every instance.
7 Mazda Rotary Truck
The second-generation Mazda B series pick-up truck certainly looked the part, with its squared-off styling, wide flanks, and brutish flush nose, but beneath the hood lay an underpowered 1.3-liter Wankel engine that was not particularly fit for purpose.
An exotic design, the Wankel engine proved to be both difficult and costly to maintain. In addition, despite being a smooth runner, it would drink gas at a rate of 16 MPG while struggling to haul an empty bed, let alone a loaded one.
6 Daihatsu Charade DeTomaso
Based on the Charade GTi the special edition DeTomaso, named after the famed racing driver, came loaded with additional high-performance options like a racing camshaft, Recaro seats, special alloys, and uprated suspension.
Lacking in firepower the turbocharged 123hp engine could hit 60 mph in 8 seconds but would often bog down at low revs, the subframe is a rust magnet whilst replacement parts are almost impossible to source.
5 Nissan Sunny GTI-R
Taking one of the least inspiring hatchbacks on the market, Nissan decided to glue a huge ironing board of a spoiler to its rear, give it all-wheel drive and whack an overpowered 2.0-liter 225hp turbocharged engine beneath the hood.
Also known as the Pulsar, the resultant vehicle may have had a fantastic pace but little to no charm. Dreadful to look at inside and out, the GTI-R was known to chew through clutches, eat engine internals and destroy transmissions.
4 Mitsubishi Starion
Packing an impressive setup, the rear-wheel-drive Starion had a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that provided genuinely impressive performance in an awkwardly styled body that later sprouted ridiculously wide arches and fenders.
A handful in the wet the Starion would often catch out eager drivers, so crash damage is common, along with rust and worn electricals. Often treated badly or simply neglected, used Starions can throw up big unexpected issues for new buyers.
3 Honda CRX Del Sol
From 1992 the CRX morphed into a radical two-seater convertible that could be optioned with a complex self-stowing TransTop metal roof. A marvel of engineering, it often fails and costs an absolute fortune to repair or get operational again.
Initially penned as a miniature NSX, the bloated CRX took a less-than-supercar-like 8 seconds to hit 60 mph and lacked the sharp handling ability of its predecessor, leaving buyers underwhelmed by its dire performance.
2 Isuzu Piazza
Replacing the well-liked 117 Coupe, the Piazza coupe, lovingly styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign fame, was underpinned with a chassis from the less than sporting GM Gemini and a 140hp turbocharged engine.
Thanks to a poor suspension set up, the Piazza failed to harness the engine power, later Lotus-tuned models improved this. However, with electrical issues, a fondness for tin worm, and poor access to spares, the interesting coupe is best avoided.
1 Toyota Supra MK3
Pushed as a luxury grand tourer, the MK3 Supra came in various guises, with its bloated design not standing up to the test of time particularly well. Naturally aspirated models are dull to drive, while single turbo variants suffer head gasket issues.
Twin-turbo models do provide plenty of muscle but can prove troublesome and costly to repair when acting up. Plus, anyone looking to nab a digital dash model is advised to learn how to use a soldering iron as it will fail, and it’ll do so often.
JDM (or Japanese Domestic Market) can mean many things when it comes to cars, from models to parts. Here’s what you might not know!
About The Author