In the latest years, we literally saw an explosion of the “JDM culture”, which now isn’t related anymore just to petrol-smelling meets in some supermarket’s parking lots, but has become one of the trends in the modern car culture, thanks to the influence of YouTube and of the now legendary (remember when everyone hated it?) Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Because of that, many modern petrolheads have left behind supercars or hot hatches: all they want now is a Bomex Toyota Supra, a Z-Tune Skyiline GTR R34 or a Veilside Mazda RX7.
This implies that prices of this type of cars, which became famous because they were cheaper than European sports cars, have now skyrocketed, reaching astonishing sums.
But, is it still possible to buy a JDM car for a reasonable price? Let’s find out.
We all dream about driving a sports car, flooring the gas pedal to the ground while the head is pushed hardly on the seat and the ears are deafened by the exhaust’s roar, but in everyday life, we aren’t on a paradisiac highway without speed limits, and “mpg” are often more important than “mph” (for metric system enthusiasts, they are km/l and km/h).
So, other than performances, we have to think about fuel economy, and that’s why many of us give up before buying their dream car. But, can it exist a sports car that doesn’t spit too rapidly all your money out of the exhaust when you go to the groceries, and also capable of great performance?
In 1983, Honda engineers came up with an idea: an engine with variable valve control system, that thanks to two different camshafts, of which the first comes into action at low revs, while the second begins to work when the car approaches the redline, making the valves to remain opened for a longer time, thus to allow more fuel to enter the combustion chamber, increasing performance.
The first V-Tec-engined vehicle was a motorbike, the Honda CBR400, but luckily since 1987 this technology has been applied also on the car world, giving birth to a great hot hatch, the 1.6, 150hp Honda Civic, and it’s coupe version, the brilliant CRX 1.6Vt.
This car, in 1987, was able to overtake the hot hatches that were populating European roads in that period: the Ford Fiesta RS and the Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 both had 130 hp, while the CRX had 150.
It wasn’t just faster: it was also better looking, because while the other hot hatches of the period were boxy and rude, the CRX looked like an aerodynamic coupe, even if they were all based on the same type of cars.
CRXs are available all over the world at quite low prices, because it hasn’t become (yet) a “youngtimer “ as the BMW M3 E30 or the Lancia Delta Integrale.
Maintenance has to be done in order to keep those machines on the road, but thanks to its success, it’s not hard to find eventual spare parts.
THE REAL JDM: for the Japanese Domestic Market, Honda made a “spicier” version of the CRX, calling it the “SiR”. It’s got the same V-Tec as the 1.6Vt, but it’s got 10 extra hp, and is only available RHD.
Nissan 300ZX (Z32)
A JDM car can be considered cool even if it wasn’t featured in one of the first three chapters of the Fast and Furious saga, but not everyone has realized it yet. So, while the “stars” from the street racing era of the most famous car franchise in the world are being sold for astonishing prices, other brilliant cars of the same type are being auctioned for discount prices.
It happens for example to the second generation of the Nissan 300ZX, sports car, if not supercar, that was very overlooked in the 90’s, but now it’s been forgotten.
The premise, however, is good: a 3.0 V6, available naturally aspirated or with a Garret twin turbo, which moves a coupe with futuristic lines.
It’s CV is also interesting: in 1990, a limited edition 300ZX became the 3rd fastest production car in the world, and in 1994 it won in its class at the 24H of Le Mans, being banned after that because the twin turbo made it too powerful. Car and Driver for 7 consequent years has included it into its “car of the year” list, while Motor Trend classified it as the best import car in the 1990s.
Despite all this, it hasn’t become yet part of the JDM dream for the new generation of enthusiasts, but this makes it cheaper and easier to buy one. The prices all over the world are very different, but keep in mind that the most expensive stock 300ZX in the world sold for just 50K at a recent auction. It’s still a car, not an investment, but things will probably change.
However, maintenance isn’t very cheap, because it’s got one of the most complex electronics of the 1990s, and spare parts aren’t cheap. The more you spend buying it, the less you will spend in order to keep it running.
Fun fact: its front headlights have been borrowed by Lamborghini to replace the pop-up lights on their restyled Diablo, covering the word “Nissan” with a piece of carbon fibre.
THE REAL JDM: for the Japanese Domestic Market only, Nissan made the “Version S”, a 300ZX with an angrier front bumper, rear spoiler, BBS wheels and new taillights (playable in Forza Horizon 4), and the “Version R”, an even rarer and hardcore version, with carbon fibre in the interiors and Recaro seats (star in the first Gran Turismos). All of them are RHD, and just a few have been exported via grey market.
The Wankel engine is an innovative technology, created in order to offer the same power as a classical engine with cylinders, but with reduced weight, displacement, vibrations and emissions.
The way it works is easily explained: a rotor with three lobes rotates into its apposite chamber, making cycles of intake, compression, combustion and exhaust. In the rotor’s center, there’s a pinion, which transfers the momentum to the crankshaft.
Many producers have tried to use it, attracted by the advantages that his “father”, Felix Wankel, declared. Citroen, Mercedes-Benz, Chevrolet, AMC, Suzuki and Alfa Romeo all made long tests in order to study its strength, creating prototypes as the Mercedes C111, but then they all gave up in front of this motor’s disadvantages: the lubricating oil couldn’t work at its best in this type of engine, and this often caused premature wear.
The only car maker that kept this technology alive until 2010 (and now wants to revive it) it’s Mazda, a brand which through its history has always had some moments of “engineering craziness”.
In facts, they trusted in the Wankel at the point that not only they used it to move their sports cars, but also to win a Le Mans, with the 787B.
The last car with an engine of this type is the Mazda RX-8, a Japanese sports car that is a concentrate of oddness: the engine is unconventional, and the doors are too: the first two are standard doors, but the other 2 are tiny “suicide doors”, which transform the car in a 2+2.
It was offered all over the world in many different versions, with power output between 192 and 231 hp, and with manual or automatic transmission, but not all the versions have been avaiable all over the world.
|1.3 Renesis 13B-MSP 192 hp (141 kW)||Manual, 5 speed||Everywhere, except America and Southern Europe|
|1.3 Renesis 13B-MSP 192 hp (141 kW)||Automatic, 4 speed||Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe|
|1.3 Renesis 13B-MSP 215 CV (158 kW)||Automatic, 4 or 6 speed||America|
|1.3 Renesis 13B-MSP 218 CV (160 kW)||Manual, 5 speed||Asia, Australia, America, Eastern Europe|
|1.3 Renesis 13B-MSP 218 CV (160 kW)||Automatic, 4 speed||Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe|
|1.3 Renesis 13B-MSP 231 CV (170 kW)||Manual, 6 speed||Europe and Asia|
The thoughts about this car are all very similar: many enthusiasts love the way it drives, its agility and the fact that it’s also drivable in everyday life, but they all admit that the reliability of the engine is its biggest issue, even if it’s the most refined and modern rotative engine of them all.
Because of this reputation, it’s possible to buy one with city-car money. Again, the more you’ll spend to buy it, the less you’ll spend to maintain it: if it has been mistreated or heavily tuned, it may be cheap to buy, but to keep it on the road must be a nightmare. Many RX-8 have been abandoned all over the world because of engine issues, so keep an eye opened while you are looking at a very cheap one.
However, if the engine’s fine, you can sleep well at night: the rest of the car is reliable, and if something breaks, remember that a total of 193.094 RX8s have been sold all over the world, so spare parts aren’t rare or expensive in many countries.
THE REAL JDM: for the Japanese Domestic Market only, Mazda built a very special version of the RX-8, to celebrate its career before the end of the production: the Spirit R.
Those last 2000 cars were intended to be track-focused, and so they have been fitted with racing suspensions from Blistenin, a racing-inspired oil pump, doors and trunk made out of aluminium and Recaro racing seats.
At the beginning of this project, Mazda said that only 1000 would have been available, but Japanese enthusiasts protested so much that it was later decided to double that number.
The “Z” in the name of a Nissan is the equivalent of an “M” in a BMW or for a “RS” in an Audi: it stands for performance, joy to drive and, of course, passion.
The first “Z-car” was the Datsun 240Z, a coupe that back in the 70s was really appreciated because it was cheaper and simpler that its European rivals, and lighter than Americans, the perfect recipe to have success in that period. And, in facts, it soon became a legend.
It’s successor, the Nissan 300ZX, was totally antithetical: it was luxurious, powerful, heavy and quite expensive, especially at the end of its career.
It was a great car, very welcomed by the public of the 90s, but the adepts of the “Z” god thought it was not worthy that very special letter; they wanted a small, light, cheap coupe, to bring back the dynasty to its original philosophy.
Nissan answered in 1999, showing a new concept car inspired directly to the ancient 240Z.
The public gave an unanimous answer: “We like it, but we want something new”. If it had happened today, we would have been submerged by photoshops of the new car with a front end identical to the old one, followed by the title: “we redesigned the new Z: here’s why it looks way better now than the actual new car”, just as it happened with the Supra.
In July 2002 finally arrived the final version of the car everyone was waiting: a new coupe, agile and light, with a modern style and a simple but powerful engine, the VQ35DE V6 from the upper class of the Nissan medium-sized sedans hierarchy.
This new car was called “350Z”, following the same logic that created the name “240Z”: first two numbers from the engine’s name, followed by a zero and the mythical “Z”.
It was, as you know, a success: just in the first two years of production, Nissan sold 50.000 cars in the USA, while the waiting list was becoming longer and longer.
In the early 2000s, sports cars were not just made to show-off the producer’s ability, they were intended to make money. So, in order to keep it competitive, Nissan continued to renew their coupe, introducing the spider version, more modern interiors, new engines and even a long list of special editions.
Many countries have been affected by the “Z-mania”, making this car easy to find, not expensive to buy and quite cheap to maintain, thanks to the abundance of spare parts.
Buying a 350Z is way easier than buying an RX-7, a Supra or a 240SX, and this makes it one of the best JDM cars to buy in 2020.
THE REAL JDM: in 2007, for your Japanese’s eyes only, Nissan created a limited edition composed of just 300 cars of the 350Z, extremely track-focused. It was, in facts, a road-legal version of the car Nismo used to race in many GT cars competitions, and so it had 350CV, a NISMO badge and an evocative name: Type 380RS. Buying one will transform you in the king of the JDM meet, and also your bank’s best friend.