The 10 best JDM Cars you can buy right now…

Words by: Patrick Tierney

10-best-jdm-cars-you-can-buy-now


The 80’s and early 90’s was an amazing period for Japan … In the midst of the “Bubble Economy” Japan was booming, the country as a whole was brimming with confidence and was emerging as a world leader at the cutting edge of technological developments. This all meant that disposable income was at an all time high amongst Japanese salary men and they wanted to enjoy the fruits of their labour, crazy gadgets and electronics were developed to fulfill every task, video gaming and gaming culture exploded but of course what better way to spend your hard earned yen than on a sports car. The Japanese car manufacturing giants recognised this and lived up to the demand by producing cars that were not only massively advanced but somehow managed to personify this wave of confidence and prosperity that Japan was enjoying. Right through the 1980’s and up to the economic crash of the early 90’s Japan produced some of the most special drivers cars of all time. It is only now when we look back at this period we can begin to appreciate just how good some of these cars truly are, not just back then but right now.

What followed the economic crash is often called “The Lost Decade”, the car manufacturers shied away from performance cars and stuck with their bread and butter kei cars and family wagons, with the demise of the bubble economy meaning the demand for sports cars within Japan was all but gone. Nowadays with emissions standards, safety regulations and a quest to make everything hybrid or eco friendly we are unlikely to ever see cars like these again.

But its not all bad news! Now is your best opportunity to own some of these cars which were designed during this golden era, The market for these cars is ever growing and is influenced by demand from within Japan as well as all of the other export markets, particularly the U.S., (In the U.S., cars can be imported to most states providing they are over 25 years old and as each year rolls by this opens the U.S. import market to more and more cars).

Here are 10 cars which we believe are set to appreciate in value in the coming years, making them excellent investments which you can not only watch appreciating in value but more importantly enjoy owning.

rx7

Mazda RX7 (FD3S)

Many people love the idea of the RX7, they dream about buying one but when all is done end up going with some lesser car instead. From our experience this is down to fear of the rotary engine. Perceived as complex, troublesome and needing a rebuild every time its Tuesday many are reluctant to take the plunge and buy an RX7. The reality I’m glad to say is very different, an RX7 is a blast to own and while rotary engines have a limited rebuild interval they are for the most part extremely reliable and easy to maintain. Even when the time comes for that all important rebuild (Every 100k kms seems to be the consensus) rebuild prices with rotary specialists are pretty resonable, usually considerably cheaper than a rebuild on a comparable regular 4pot. With an excellent RWD chassis and that powerhouse rotary engine which seems to rev forever this car is a real drivers car and is loved in Japan. With production lasting over 10 years there is an RX7 for every budget and with prices set to rise, particularly with rumours that Mazda is to launch a spiritual successor there has not been a better time to buy one.

Why now is the time to buy one:

Next year will see the earliest versions of this model eligible for export to the US and with that prices are guaranteed to rise.

Pro’s:

Great looks, Excellent RWD chassis, Rotary Engine

Con’s:

Fuel economy, Interior can be cramped for larger people

Which one should I buy?:

Go for an early car pre 96 car … these are much better value than the later revisions, don’t necessarily be put off by higher mileage as this can be a guarantee that the car has had a rebuild

 

22bSubaru Impreza WRX STi (GC8)

One of my personal all time favourites is the classic Subaru Impreza WRX STi, I have owned a lot of these cars and they really make a great purchase, launched in 1992 as the Impreza WRX and aimed squarely at the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo the Impreza was an instant hit in Japan – shortly after launch the standard WRX was given to Subaru’s Motorsport branch – “STi” to breathe on and the WRX STi was born, this was as close to a road going rally car as the Impreza got and is the one to go for. Over the classic Impreza’s production run (92-00) there were 6 versions and several special editions including the legendary 22b – each version brought some minor upgrades to the table, but the truth is it doesn’t really matter which you choose, even 16 years after the last one rolled off the production line they feel as sharp and alive today as when new. The handling is a masterclass and the flat 4 boxer engine is punchy and delivers effortless power with that all important Subaru flat four rumble. Over the last 12months we have seen these cars starting to rise in value as they are beginning to gain modern classic status. Prices however are still relatively low so our advice is get one while you can because they won’t stay that way for long!

Why now is the time to buy one:

 Prices are beginning to rise, and car is gaining status as a modern day JDM classic.

Pro’s:

 Rally thoroughbred for the road, Great drivers car, Boxer engine, Cheap parts

Con’s:

Engine can be prone to failure if not properly maintained

Which one should I buy?:

Get as stock a car as you possibly can, Pre-facelift version STi’s are rarer and cheaper and are more likely to be sought after in years to come

 

eg6Honda Civic SiR (EG6)

Performance Honda’s really divide car fans … very few “like” them its either full on love to the point of obsession or complete hatred .. I can never understand why, I don’t think you can call yourself a car fan if you can’t appreciate what Honda achieved with its VTEC engines.. In the late 80’s/early 90’s when forced induction was the order of the day, Honda came to the party and said “Hey your turbo’s are cute, but we don’t need them thanks.” what they offered instead was not so much an engine but a masterpiece which revved forever and through variable valve timing wizardry offered power right up to the redline. If you like the sound of this and want a Honda which is going to be an investment we reckon the EG6 Honda Civic SiR made from 1991-1995 is the one to have. The EG6 is an excellent chassis which has over the years proven hugely successful in circuit racing and rallying, even 25 years since its launch this model Civic looks fresh and its sleek body shape is now iconic in the tuning world, combine this with the all important VTEC engine and you have the recipe for an all time classic.

Why now is the time to buy one:

The EG6 civic is creeping into the grasp of US buyers under the 25 year rule is going to rapidly increase the price of these.

Pro’s:

Great handling, VTEC Engine, Timeless styling, One of the best Hot Hatches you can buy, Honda reliability.

Con’s:

While these engines love to rev they can’t be found lacking torque when the revs drop, Interiors are a let down.

Which one should I buy?:

Go for one in an original colour without a body kit, OEM options are very desirable.

 

ps13Nissan Silvia S13

When you think of the drift scene, many people would suggest that it was the Corolla AE86 which started it all, and that may well be true, but it was Nissan’s S-Body cars (180sx & Silvia) which made it accessible to the masses and that makes these cars very important car in modern day car culture. The Silvia’s body shape changed over the years but the underpinnings stayed the same, a choice of a 2.0 naturally aspirated (SR20DE) or 2.0 turbocharged (SR20DET) engine, paired with an excellent and light RWD chassis. Our choice for this list could really have been any of the S-Body cars as in years to come all will achieve classic status in their own right .. but the one to buy right now in our view is the Nissan Silvia S13 which was sold between 1988 & 1993. The S13 Silvia looked pretty dated by the time the S14 came along to replace it in 1994, its angular design was showing its age compared to the more curvaceous design of the S14. As a consequence popularity and prices of this model fell rapidly and many ended up being drifted and generally bought cheap then used and abused by Japanese car fans. It wasn’t until the mid 00’s when people began thinking ‘Hey these late 80’s and early 90’s cars are pretty cool’ that the Silvia S13 started to experience a resurgence. Today the S13 looks great, its clean angular lines and low slung stance make it a bonafide classic, combined with that excellent chassis, the superb SR20 and limitless tuning potential this is one car that should be on every JDM fan’s bucket list.

Why now is the time to buy one:

As these cars were cheap in the past, finding good ones which haven’t led a life of abuse and neglect is becoming hard, also this is another car which is beginning to come within reach of our US friends under their 25 year rule.

Pro’s:

 All of the Silvia traits wrapped up in a classic 80’s design – whats not to love!

Con’s:

Rust can be an issue, dashes crack with exposure to the sun, many have had a hard life

Which one should I buy?:

For long term investment go for a car without aftermarket bodykits and overfenders etc, period modifications and aftermarket extras such as the uber rare HUD clocks are very desirable

 

gtirNissan Pulsar GTiR

In the early 1990’s things were heating up in the WRC and with Japanese giants Toyota, Subaru & Mitsubishi slugging it out for victories Nissan decided that they needed a challenger. The chosen car was the humble Nissan Pulsar, rules at the time stipulated that Nissan needed to make a road going version for homologation of the rally car, this was a godsend for car fans as it lead to the birth of  the Pulsar GTiR. While Nissan’s rally career with the Pulsar floundered and was abandoned after just 9 events, the GTiR as a road car was a huge success. Featuring a unique version of Nissan’s SR20DET 2.0 Turbo engine as found in the Silvia and the tried and tested ATTESA 4wd first developed in the R32 GTR it lead to phenomenal performance for the time and even today a stock GTiR feels properly fast. Of course we have to move on to the looks and lets be honest this isn’t a pretty car, but with its cheese grater bonnet vent, wider track and deep front bumper its a bit like a bull terrier, making up for its lack of elegant features with bulging muscles and aggression! This aggression carries over to the driving experience, with the excellent SR20 and surefooted 4wd handling they will fight off competition from almost anything in real world driving conditions. I’ve had 3 of these cars and in my view they are the ultimate hot hatch… Golf GTi?? Never heard of her.

Why now is the time to buy one:

 Produced in limited numbers these cars are starting to get scarce and values have begun to rise pretty rapidly.

Pro’s:

 Awesome hot hatch 2.0 turbo 4wd developed for Group A Rallying

Con’s:

RUST! especially on the rear arches, gearboxes are known to be weak, handling can be tricky on the limit

Which one should I buy?:

Get as good an example as your budget allows, with minimal or no rust, an aftermarket front mount intercooler is much more efficient than the standard top mount so is a common modification.

 

ae86Toyota AE86

This list would never have been complete without mentioning my all time favourite car – the AE86… On paper the AE86 doesn’t sound too exciting, a 1.6 Toyota Corolla from the 1980’s… but the reality is this car is very special. The engine may just be 1600cc but it is Toyota’s revolutionary 4AGE Twincam 16v unit and while the AE86 came from the dull & dreary Corolla family this was a car that broke the mould. The AE86 has a front engined rear wheel drive configuration and is simply a blast to own. Driving one delivers more in smiles per mile than any other car I know, the 4AGE engine while state of the art at launch in 1983, can at times feel a little underpowered by today’s standards but this only adds to the car’s epic character, its a drivers car which you have to work hard to get the most from and the combination of that screaming engine with its raspy tone and excellent chassis is like the devil on your shoulder encouraging you to wring this cars neck. When it comes to styling, like so many other Japanese cars the AE86 is not exactly from the design houses of Italy but no matter which body style you go for; 2 door coupe or 3 door hatch you get an iconic shape which as time goes by seems to just look better and better. The only downside is the AE86’s progression towards all time classic status has meant these cars have changd from cheap and affordable fun cars to expensive garage queens… Prices have increased rapidly in the past 2 years and are showing no sign of slowing down – and with only so many left in Japan now is the time to import your AE86 before its too late.

Why now is the time to buy one:

 Prices are increasing practically by the day, In a few years this car will no longer be an affordable option for most.

Pro’s:

 1.6 RWD, Great chassis, Easy to run, Easy to maintain – limitless tuning and styling options

Con’s:

Limited parts left, RUST! Getting hard to find, RUST! Fighting off all the girls the AE86 attracts does get tiresome, RUST!

Which one should I buy?:

There are no rules, go for whatever car catches your eye and best suits your budget

 

evo6Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI

My original intention was to put the Mitsubishi Lancer Tommi Makinen Edition on this list, but with prices now often 3 times more than the almost identical car on which it is based, the Evo 6, it really is a hard case to make. So I went with the next best thing and when you pull up beside a Makinen owner at the traffic lights you can be sure you paid a lot less money than they did! The 6 is the last of the classic Lancer Evolution’s as beginning with the 7 the Evo began to look a little more restrained and ever so slightly sensible whereas the 6, which was launched in 1999, was about as subtle as a brick to the face, at the time it looked like a regular Lancer which had entered a body building competition, it was and still is an incredibly aggressive looking car. The 2.0 turbo 4wd Evo & its arch nemesis the similarly powered Subaru Impreza STi were what a generation of car fans aspired to in the mid-late 90’s and the 6 came along at the pinnacle of the craze for these cars. I have always been more of a Subaru man but honestly the Lancer always felt a little sharper to drive, perhaps due to the fact that no matter which model Evo you decide on you can be sure it was at the cutting edge of development when new with features such as Active Yaw Control (Don’t ask me to explain it) being offered as far back as 1996! This all means that even today the Evo 6 is a very advanced and properly fast car. Prices haven’t really began to take off as yet, but with Makinen prices going through the roof it is only a matter of time and it is one of those cars about which you will say – “Why didn’t I buy one when I had the chance!”.

Why now is the time to buy one:

 Tommi Makinen Edition prices have exploded – it is only a matter of time before the Evo 6 gets some of the pie

Pro’s:

World beating performance, Rally heritage, Aggressive looks

Con’s:

Watch out for Rust on rear subframe, these cars had little or no underseal when new, Fuel consumption isn’t exactly up to Prius standards 🙂

Which one should I buy?:

Standard bodywork is essential … and try find the lightweight stripped down RS version – these do not make as much of a premium as you would think

 

r32gtrNissan Skyline R32 GT-R

The Nissan Skyline GT-R is one of the all time greats, The GT-R badge had been retired since the 1970s so it was always going to take a very special car to bring it back and the R32 was the chosen one. This was a car built to not only win but to embarrass its opponents either on track in Group A racing or on the streets, earning it the name  “GODZILLA”. If you owned one of these when they were new in Japan you knew you had made it, being the first car to use Nissans legendary RB26 twinturbo engine and featuring a state of the art 4wd system, the R32 GT-R was almost space age at the time and brought the GT-R badge back with a bang. Today the R32 GT-R is like a time warp back to that golden era of Japanese cars, as a car it showcases all that was good about Japan during the bubble economy. If you haven’t had the opportunity, put driving an R32 GT-R on the list of things you need to do before you kick the bucket.. on the road the car feels like a beast, that RB26 engine even in standard form is a powerhouse – mash the accelerator pedal into the carpet and the horizon becomes a blur, the handling is sublime everything is perfectly weighted and the ATTESSA 4wd system lets the back end step out just enough to have some fun before reigning things back and firing you into the distance with its immense 4wd grip! Some will say that as values have been rapidly rising for this car in the last 2 years that the boat has now been missed for those wanting to buy one, but they are wrong – they R32 GT-R is perhaps the ultimate modern day Japanese classic and prices are set to soar as the years go by making one of these amazing cars an investment which will deliver a return time and time again!

Why now is the time to buy one:

92-95 cars are not eligible for import to the USA …….. yet. Buy one now!!!

Pro’s:

Nissan developed a car that was worthy to carry on the GT-R legacy, these cars are surprisingly reliable and easy to live with

Con’s:

Parts can be expensive and many have been discontinued.

Which one should I buy?:

The temptation is always to go for a car with lots of upgrades but from our experience these cars will have led a hard life, our choice would be a car with stage 1 mods and if possible the more sought after v-spec models.

 

supraToyota Supra JZA80

The 4th generation Supra is the only car I can think of which fills a unique role in bridging the gap between super car and regular sports car. When it was first launched in 1993 the JZA80 series Supra was incredibly futuristic looking .. I remember as a kid having a poster of this car on my wall and getting a sales brochure from a Toyota showroom which I must have read 100’s of times. On one hand the Supra was a hardcore sports car but it was also an effortless cruiser mostly thanks to what many believe to be the finest Japanese engine ever made, the 2JZ. This 3.0 engine was available in both NA and of course the all singing, all dancing Twin turbo variant. Whilst the NA Supra is a very capable car naturally its the turbo that everybody wants to own and with good reason. One thing that always stands out about the Supra is the driving position, it really is perfect and I’ve always loved the way the dash curves around the driver, its a little thing but it really does add to the experience of this car. When new, due to the high price tag many were bought by more mature owners and as a result a large percentage are auto’s but it really is worth finding a manual and paying the premium as its a must have. In 2 years time the first of these will become 25 years old and demand from the US is expected to be huge, so this is another case of get one and sit back and watch the values rise!

Why now is the time to buy one:

 This car is on the brink of all time classic status and once they become eligible for import to the US prices will rise… forget the stock market, invest in a Supra!

Pro’s:

 Phenomenal performance, limitless tuning potential, Toyota reliability

Con’s:

Running costs can be high

Which one should I buy?:

A twin turbo manual is the ultimate combination

 

dc2Honda Integra Type R DC2

Don’t even try argue with me on this .. The Honda Integra Type R is the best Front Wheel Drive car ever to come from Japan, if not the world. Launched in 1995 and with production continuing to 2000 the DC2 Honda Integra Type R was another homologation car and was developed with the brief of being a road going track car. What you get is a razor sharp car based on the standard Integra SiR, which had its chassis strengthened, engine performance increased and most importantly had undergone a serious weight loss programme (including a 10% weight saving on the windscreen!!). This all allowed drivers to experience a focused hardcore car in a practical package which was just as happy being flogged to within an inch of its life at a trackday as it was doing the weekly shop. The DC2 Type R had just 200bhp but its delivered by a screaming 1800cc DOHC VTEC engine which gives this car its unique character but even better than the engine is the chassis, the weight reduction and chassis strengthening makes this car an absolute gem to drive. An interesting fact is that Honda lost money on every DC2 Type R which was sold, showing just how committed they were to making this car the best that it could possibly be. There were a number of improvements introduced in 1998 with these cars becoming known as the “98 spec” and the final run out models of 2000 designated the Type RX also had some tweaks but for me the original 1995-97 version of this car is best. Prices are at an all time low right now in Japan and this car is going to become more and more sought after as the number of good examples dwindle meaning like the others on this list this is one car you should buy right now…

Why now is the time to buy one:

Prices are at an all time low for this excellent car … they are set to increase in the coming years

Pro’s:

Lightweight, fun hard core track car, wrapped in a practical package

Con’s:

Styling is a little dull, limited colour choice

Which one should I buy?:

Honda got this one just right, completely stock is the best option

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