Prices for Japanese ‘youngtimer’ classics from the 1980s, ’90s and early ’00s are rising fast, fuelled by demand from a new generation of buyers.
Enthusiasts who grew up playing the Gran Turismo games on Sony’s Playstation and watching films such as The Fast and the Furious have a very different set of four-wheel heroes to traditional, older classic car fans.
Here are 10 Japanese classics to buy before prices really rocket.
1. Toyota Supra
The fourth-generation A80 Supra’s pace – and that huge optional rear spoiler – meant it was already famous before its starring role in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious film.
Immensely strong 2JZ engines deliver over 300bhp in European trim and are capable of double that when tuned, so finding an unmolested car isn’t always easy. Neither is finding an affordable one, as the best are now worth more than £30k.
“Everyone wants a manual transmission turbo model, and that demand means prices are high,” says Tristan Longden of Japanese import specialist Torque-GT.
“But the automatics and naturally aspirated versions are still great cars and can be £15k cheaper.”
2. Honda NSX
Not content with creating the first modern superbike and helping Williams to F1 dominance, Honda made a direct play for Ferrari’s turf in the early 1990s.
The NSX was an aluminium-bodied, V6-powered two-seater that featured a revvy 3.0-litre VTEC-equipped V6 and a chassis tuned by Formula One ace Ayrton Senna.
The handling won praise, but it was in terms of usability and reliability that the NSX really scored over the established supercar opposition.
Rare Japan-only Type R lightweights are £150k now, but the standard cars seem undervalued at around £45k given their importance, innovation and ability. Definitely one to watch.
3. Toyota Corolla GT AE86
Drift legend, European Touring Car champ, rally favourite and even the star of its own Manga comic series (Initial D)… the Corolla GT is a true icon of the Japanese car scene.
The AE86 – which was also sold as the Corolla Levin or Sprinter Trueno in Japan – derived its power from the same 4A-GE 1.6 twin-cam as that fitted to the Toyota MR2, but driving the rear wheels through a simple live rear axle for Mk2 Escort-style thrills.
The AE86’s cult status means prices for the few remaining un-rusty ‘Hachirokus’ (‘86’ in Japanese)will always be strong: expect to pay £15-25k for the good ones.
What’s more, the temptation for past owners to track and modify them means you’ll be looking a long time to find one in standard form. Good luck.
4. Nissan 300ZX
A critical and commercial hit when new, this 160mph descendent of the legendary 240Z – known as 300ZX in most markets, but as Fairlady in Japan – is now strangely overlooked in favour of its Skyline and Supra contemporaries.
“I think the style of these cars dated quite quickly, but is starting to come into its own again,” comments Longden.
“Right now a short-wheelbase, manual, turbo 300ZX for £15k looks like a bargain at almost half the price of the equivalent Toyota Supra.”
5. Mazda RX-7 FD
Japan’s answer to the Porsche 968 might not have the badge kudos of its German rival, but its sequential twin-turbo 13B rotary engine is infinitely more interesting than the Porsche’s big naturally aspirated ‘four’ and the chassis is every bit as good.
“Series 8 cars built from ’98 onwards are the best picks, because power was boosted from 252bhp to 276bhp on manual transmission cars,” suggests Longden.
“But the most collectable of all are the limited-edition Spirit R models that featured goodies such as carbon buckets, BBS wheels and Bilstein dampers.”
6. Toyota MR2 W10
Short for Midship Runabout 2-seater, the Lotus-tuned MR2 was Toyota’s take on Fiat’s little X1/9.
Unlike the sweet-but-slow Italian, however, the MR2 had the handling and the performance expected of a mid-engined sports car.
Basic Japanese cars got a humdrum 1.5-litre 82bhp engine, but other markets enjoyed the revvy 126bhp, twin cam 1.6 4A-GE also found in the AE86 Corolla GT coupé.
For even bigger thrills, a 145bhp supercharged version of the same could also be had – though outside of Europe only.
Prices are still sensible – think £3k for a half-decent one – but won’t stay that way forever.
7. Subaru Impreza 22B and RA-R
Built to celebrate Subaru’s WRC success and rocking a larger 2.2-litre engine, 1998’s limited-edition 22B is the Scooby every Impreza fan dreams of adding to his collection.
Trouble is, with only 400 made they’re now changing hands for around £100k, meaning ownership will remain a dream for most.
Fortunately, the later RA-R remains just about affordable, despite being rarer still – a mere 300 were produced. The fact that it’s also more focused, thanks to suspension revisions and powerful six-piston Brembo brakes, is an extra bonus.
“They’re around £40k at the minute,” says Longden, who tips them to climb much higher in the next couple of years.
8. Nissan Skyline GT-R
Nicknamed ‘Godzilla’ by the Australian press after the Japanese movie monster, the R32-series GT-R dominated touring car racing Down Under, and in in its home country, thanks to its thumping 276bhp RB26DETT straight six and ATTESA four-wheel drive system.
“Standard R32 GT-Rs are already collectable,” says Longden, “but the rare V spec, N1 and Nismo versions are more desirable – and much more expensive.”
The later R33 GT-R from 1995-1998 made no giant leap over the earlier 32, and actually weighed slightly more, but many fans remember it fondly from the original Gran Turismo Playstation game.
And there’s another reason why you ought to buy one now: next year R33s will be eligible for importation to the US under the 25-year rule and demand is likely to explode.
9. Mitsubishi Evo VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition
Named after the Finnish rally ace who captured four WRC drivers’ championships for Mitsubishi, the Tommi Mäkinen Edition (TME to fans) of the Evo VI received a couple of minor tech tweaks to the chassis, steering and turbo.
But really, the appeal was all about looking like you’d driven straight off a rally stage.
Surprisingly, not all TMEs were red and the stripes were optional. Mint examples in that spec now go for £40k because it’s what everyone wants – so you can save thousands by going for a silver, white, black or blue one instead.
Alternatively, save even more by sticking with a regular Evo VI: very nearly as good and one of the best fast road weapons £15k can buy.
10. Honda Integra Type R
Often hailed today as the best handling front-wheel drive car of all time, the DC2-series ’Teg screamed its way to 8500rpm, and could reach 60mph in around 6.7sec, courtesy of a naturally-aspirated 197bhp VTEC 1.8 ‘four’.
Light, agile and seriously cool, the DC2 is a 911 GT3 RS for the common man. Sadly, rust is common on round-headlight UK cars, but there are still clean, rust-free examples available in Japan.
Prices have already spiked, but these cars are solid-white future classics.
Images: Tony Baker, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Autocar, What Car?