For the past two weeks or so, we’ve been featuring one of Japan’s pride and entry to the muscle car era. The 1970 Datsun has helped the country establish itself as an automotive leader not just in terms of production numbers, but also in performance and economy.
For more than half a century, Japan has proven itself capable of producing the most engaging though intermittent source of balanced affordability and performance. With the bragging rights of being at the top three of countries with most cars manufactured since the1960s beating Germany in the numbers game, and even surpassing the US in the 1990s, the Land of the Rising Sun has proven its steel as a country where the pursuit of excellence permeates even in the production of their landmark automobiles.
An orientation that primarily focused towards both domestic use and worldwide export, Japan has established itself as the third leading car manufacturer in the world introducing us to brand names such as Nissan, Mazda, Toyota, and Honda among others. Slowly and steadily, these Japanese car manufacturers were eventually recognized for the pedigree of the cars that they have built earning them international awards and recognition.
There is definitely a thing or two to be learned from them as we look back at what Japan has brought us and to the rest of the world. So let’s go back in time, and see once more how these pieces of history help moulded and cemented Japan’s place in the world. Here’s a look at 15 of the Japanese classics that helped changed the landscape of automotive history as we know it today. Photos and selected descriptions courtesy of Car and Driver.
1959 Datsun Sports (Fairlady)
The Datsun Sports (Fairlady in Japan) roadster begins as an MG Midget–like fiberglass-bodied convertible that evolved into a crack SCCA road racer.
1963 Honda S500
Honda’s first car is the 1500-pound S500 roadster powered by a tiny DOHC inline-four with a 9500-rpm redline. The S500 used a 4-speed manual transmission with chain-driven rear wheels. A total of 1,363 cars were produced during its one year stint.
1965 Toyota Sports 800
Toyota’s first production sports car, the Sports 800 debuted at the 1962 Tokyo Auto Show has 44 horsepower enough to have a maximum speed of 100 mph. It immediately won the affection of the Japanese people dubbing it “Yota-Hachi”, the short of ‘Toyota 8’.
1967 Toyota 2000GT
Toyota partnered with Yamaha to build the 2000GT – a very limited production with only 351 ever built; it is Japan’s salute to the Jaguar E-type featuring a smoothly flowing ‘coke bottle’ body work using aluminium.
1968 Datsun Bluebird 510
The Datsun 510 was a series of the Datsun Bluebird sold from 1968 to 1973, and offered outside the U.S. and Canada as the Datsun 1600. It has been dubbed as the ‘poor man’s BMW’ due to its association with the 1966 BMW 1600-2.
1970 Datsun 240Z (Fairlady/240Z)
“Datsun stretches its hot streak with the gorgeous Fairlady/240Z. The first edition, with a SOHC inline-six and independent strut suspension, all but kills affordable British and Italian sports cars in the U.S.”
1971 Mazda RX-2
“Back in the day, we call Mazda’s Wankel-powered RX-2 (shown above) and RX-3 supercoupes. Our IMSA RS exploits in the RX-2 get rotaries banned; we set a 160-mph Bonneville record in the RX-3.”
1979 Toyota Celica
“The Toyota Celica embellishes the Datsun Z formula with a back seat. After a homely start, it receives attractive styling and a turbo bump to more than 200 horses.”
1982 Datsun Maxima
“The Datsun Maxima sports sedan borrows powertrain components from the 240Z. Paul Newman is credited for owning one turbocharged Maxima.”
1985 Toyota MR2
“Inspired by Ferrari, the mid-engined Toyota MR2 coupe and spyder begin a long run as this brand’s break from boredom.”
1986 Honda Civic CR-X
The Honda CR-X, originally launched as the Honda Ballade Sports CR-X in Japan, is a front-wheel-drive sport compact car manufactured between 1983 and 1991. With a 1.6L ZC1/D16A1 I4 engine, it is capable of kicking a modest 135 horses.
1988 Honda Prelude
The Prelude is music to Honda’s ears as it helped the car brand gather a greater audience through its four-wheel steering. The Prelude was the first in a series of vehicles from Honda with musically related names, with the Prelude being joined by the Quintet, Concerto and Ballade.
1990 MX-5 Miata
“Mazda’s Lotus-inspired MX-5 Miata is a sensation that eventually becomes the world’s favorite roadster.”
1991 Acura NSX
“Acura’s NSX is a tribute to Ferrari with a sleek aluminium body and a hot 3.0-liter, 8000-rpm V-6 equipped with a variable-timing-and-lift valve train.”
1992 Mazda RX-7
“The third- and last-generation Mazda RX-7 arrives with sequential turbocharging, improved dynamics, and stunning bodywork.”