Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nostalgia Cars: 11 Japanese Cars from the 1980s

Aaah, youth.  Where the only thing to worry about was whether or not Mom remembered to buy your favorite cereal, and bothering Dad to get out of bed so he could watch the early Saturday morning cartoons with you.

Here's a list of 11 Japanese cars which were usually modified and raced on the street by the local enthusiasts at the time.  Everybody will have a different list compared to another person, but why 11 cars and not 10?  Well, because we're just that awesome.  =)  Also, before you start sending us an email asking why there are cars that weren't available in the U.S. on the list, keep in mind that's where the author spent his youth.  The cars are listed in no particular order.

The Nissan 180SX was so popular it was sold until 1998! 

Nissan Silvia.  Stylish, RWD and a great chassis made these cars extremely popular.
 1)  Nissan Silvia/180SX Turbo:  The tag team duo of these coupes from Nissan made affordable sporty cars within reach of many people.  You can look at these cars as the Mustangs of Japan.  Many tuning companies offer upgrades for the cars, and with a potent CA18DET engine featuring 175 turbocharged ponies these cars could be seen everywhere from the drag strip to the winding mountain passes.   They were probably the most popular drift car too. 

The "Iron Mask" Skyline is still a regular at the drag strip.

DR30 Skyline.

The Skyline's aggressive front end flows well with the rest of the body for a clean look.

2)  Nissan Skyline RS/RS-X:  The cars also known as Tekkamen, or Iron Mask for the way their front end appearance is.  These cars were powered by the FJ20ET engine, a dual overhead cam 2.0 liter turbocharged powerhouse producing 190 horsepower and 166 lb.-ft. of torque.  An addition of an intercooler allowed the power to increase to 205 hp.  The RS and RS-X Skylines brought the Nissan's nameplate back into the spotlight since the previous model's powerplants were choked by the increasing emission standards (max power for the previous generation was 145hp). The DR30 Skylines were available in 2 door and 4 door trims.

The TA63 Carina may have looked pedestrian, but when powered by the 3T turbo engine, they proved to be excellent sleepers.

Toyota Carinas were also used for circuit racing and drifting at many levels from amateurs to pros.

With room for 4 and weighing around ~2500 lbs, the Carina was great for utility and fun.
 3)  Toyota Carina GT-TR:  This trim level gave the rather benign looking sedan some much needed punch.  The 3T turbo engine made 160 horsepower, but was very overbuilt from the factory.  A low compression ratio of 7.8:1 allowed tuners to crank up the boost too.  The additional torque made by the turbo motor allowed drivers to fully enjoy the touge (mountain roads) and winding switchbacks.

The CR-X was excellent around technical tracks and a joy to drive on winding roads.

The CR-X is still capable of putting down competitive lap times against cars 20 years newer.

The Si-R models featured a 160 hp engine, a 25 hp bump.
 4)  Honda CR-X:  This very compact 2 door coupe from Honda was a common staple at track events and tight circuits.  The ultra light chassis pared with a respectable 135hp engine allowed the CR-X to keep up with cars a class above if the track was tight enough.  The addition of the 160 horsepower B16 VTEC engine in late '89 made the diminutive Honda even more potent.  The CR-X was also great on gas which was a plus to enthusiasts on a budget.  The car could routinely return mpg figures in the mid 30s.

The Starion's blister fenders gave it a wide stance.

The motor was a 2.6 Liter 4 cylinder.

The flared fenders were accompanied by a lower front chin spoiler which complemented the Starion's look quite well.
5)  Mitsubishi Starion GSR-VR:  Mitsubishi decided to send their basic Starion to the gym and what resulted is this flared and chiseled sports coupe.  The GSR-VR Starion received front and rear fender flares housing very wide (especially considering this was in the 80s!) 16x8 and 16x9 wheels.  The engine was a large 2.6 liter 4 cylinder turbo engine producing 188 horsepower and torque checked in at 234 lb-ft at an easily accessible 2500 rpm. 

The Trueno was the popup headlight version of the AE86 chassis.

The Levin had standard flush mounted lights.
Both the Trueno and Levin were available in either trunk or hatchback configurations.

The hatchback version is popular with fans of the Japanese manga series Initial D.
 6)  Toyota Levin/Trueno:  These rear driven coupes didn't have much horsepower (120 hp), but they didn't need it.  They had a very capable chassis and a light curb weight (~970 kg).  Handling was the forte for these coupes, and there is even an entire comic book series featuring the Toyota Trueno as the star (Initial D in case you wanted to check it out).  The simplicity of the mechanical components and lack of unnecessary luxury items made these cars popular with driving enthusiasts.

The RX-7's rotary engine only displaces 1.3 liters, but it pumps out 185 hp.

A functional hood scoop fed air to a top mounted air-air intercooler.

The RX-7 still has a large enthusiast base today.

7)  Mazda RX-7:  The rotary powered RX-7 was the king of small engines making big power.  The 2 rotor, 1.3 liter turbocharged powerplant generated 185 horsepower capable of churning out low 15 second 1/4 mile runs, and was a competent handler too when the roads began to twist.  The RX-7's centrally located tachometer also had a warning buzzer which would go off once the 7000 rpm redline was reached allowing the drivers to keep their eyes on the road.

The C33 Laurel was a very popular 4 door drift car and one was campaigned in the early years of Japan's D1 drift series.

Engine swaps are common as many owners upgrade their Cefiros with RB25 and RB26 powerplants.
8)  Nissan Cefiro/Laurel:  These two 4 door sedans were Nissan's answers to battle against Toyota's trio of the Cresta, Chaser and Mark II.  The rear driven Cefiro and Laurel had Nissan's RB20DET inline six cylinder engine producing 215 horsepower.  With underpinnings similar to the R32 Skyline, parts interchanged easily for tuners who wanted more power or better grip.

The A70 Supras were excellent grand touring cars and had neat features like electronically adjustable shock stiffness.

The 7M-GTE engine is the 3 liter turbo engine making 230 hp in stock trim.
A 3 piece rear spoiler and different tail lights were some of the many changes to the Supra in 1989.
9)  Toyota Supra:  The introduction of the 3rd generation Supra gave enthusiasts the option of 2 different turbo engines: a 2.0 liter twin turbo inline 6 engine, and a 3.0 liter single turbo inline 6 engine.  The smaller twin turbo motor made 205 hp and the larger one created 230 hp.  These cars had a hefty curb weight of ~3500 lbs, but they were excellent grand touring cars and their turbo motors took very well to modifications. 

A hood scoop and ground effects gave the Alto Works a sportier appearance.

Small in size, but big in fun factor.  The Alto Works was one of the quickest kei cars in the '80s.

10)  Suzuki Alto Works:  On paper this kei class car seems pathetic.  64 horsepower and a 543 cc turbocharged 3 cylinder engine doesn't sound like a recipe for fun.  Sure, straight line runs were fairly benign.  However, the Alto Works had a  low curb weight of 650 kg and all wheel drive setup which made these cars a delight to drive on tight and technical roads or autocross events.  These Suzukis were the first cars to reach the 64 hp limit imposed by the Japanese government on the kei car class.  Suzuki really got the ball rolling when they released the Cappuccino roadster kei car in the '90s.

The Lancer turbo was rear wheel drive before it became the all wheel drive rally monster that most people are familiar with today.

A front air dam and rear spoiler distinguished the Lancer externally from the naturally aspirated versions.
11)  Mitsubishi Lancer GSR Turbo:  Before the Lancer gained the Evolution moniker, there was this rear wheel drive 160 hp version running around on the streets and tracks of Japan.  The 1.8 liter turbo engine is the predecessor to the legendary 4G63 engine which powered many Mitsubishis.  These Lancers could be seen on the streets, on circuit tracks and even at off road rally events. 

So there you have it.  11 cars that were a regular staple with street car enthusiasts, and are still capable of generating smiles for drivers today.  We wish we could have included even more cars, and who knows, maybe we will do another segment later.  What's your favorite 1980s Japanese car?  Did you own one and modify it?  Let us know! 

Happy motoring and keep on driving!

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