JDM Car culture has grown all over the world and seems to be growing in popularity. Collectors are now willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the most pristine examples of highly desirable cars like the Toyota Supra MkIV and the Nissan Skyline R34 GTR. Even less exclusive Japanese cars like the S-chassis Nissans have seen massive price spikes in recent years, putting them out of reach for most enthusiasts.
With so much hype surrounding JDM cars these days, it’s easy to assume that any interesting Japanese car has already garnered a large following. Well, that’s not true, as there are still plenty of obscure models out there that most gearheads haven’t even heard of. Many of these cars hail from Japan’s economic bubble era of the ’80s and ’90s, but there are even a few 2014 JDMs that seem to have slipped under everyone’s radar. Owning one of these ten cars is sure to draw a lot of attention, and as a bonus, they’re all a great drive too.
10 Autozam AZ-1
This tiny supercar-inspired kei car has started to draw some attention in recent years, but until recently it remained a completely forgotten classic gem. The Autozam brand was founded by Mazda as a specialized kei automaker, although oddly enough they also acted as a Japanese Lancia importer for a few years.
The AZ-1 reportedly took design inspiration from the Ferrari F40, but with a tiny 657cc engine, it was the opposite of fast. Still, it’s a great little car for tossing around twisty roads, especially since drivers can push it hard but still never have to worry about hitting the speed limit.
9 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R
Like many of the greatest cars of its time, the Nissan Pulsar GTI-R was built as a homologation car. It was designed to allow Nissan to enter the World Rally Championship and as such it had AWD and Rally style bumpers and aero.
It was fast too, with a top speed of 144 mph, an impressive figure for a hatchback of that era. GTI-Rs were never sold in the United States, but thanks to the 25-year import regime, several examples have now found their way.
8th Suzuki cappuccino
Buyers looking for a quirky alternative to a Mazda Miata would do well to consider a Suzuki Cappuccino. This little roadster is built with a very similar ethos, that is, light and not overly strong.
The reason for its small size is that the smaller a car, the cheaper it is to tax and insure in Japan, allowing more buyers to afford it. A number of examples have been offered for sale in the US, but it’s also fairly easy to import one from Japan with a reputable importer.
7 Isuzu Impulse RS Turbo
Many enthusiasts tend to forget about Isuzu as a brand altogether, but their back catalog is full of hidden gems like the Impulse RS Turbo. The standard Impulse was a slightly sporty car that wasn’t as memorable to drive, but the top-of-the-line version made it even better.
It came standard with all-wheel drive and chassis tuning from Lotus. It also shares its engine with Lotus, as the 1.6-litre inline four was also found in the M100 Elan. The car produced 160 hp, a decent number for its time, but it never sold well and examples are hard to find today.
6 Tommykaira ZZ EV
Few enthusiasts remember the original Tommykaira ZZ sports car from the ’90s, but even fewer will be aware that the company was revived a few years ago. In 2014, they launched the ZZ EV, a new generation of their cult sports car classic with a 305 hp electric motor.
It wasn’t very practical even by sports car standards, as its limited 75-mile range meant it was really just a trackday toy. But once it’s charged, it’s a breeze to drive, and because it’s so light, it offers a completely different experience than any Tesla or other sporty EV.
5 Mitsubishi Galant AMG Type I
The “AMG” in the name of this car is not a strange coincidence, this family sedan was really tuned by the legendary German company. One of the few non-Mercedes AMGs on the planet, only 500 examples of the Mitsubishi Galant AMG Type I were ever made.
They were only sold in Japan and featured an updated version of the standard car’s 2.0-liter inline-four engine. With the help of AMG, the car developed 170 hp and revved up to a limit of 8,000 rpm. The engine was paired with a five-speed manual gearbox and power was transmitted only through the rear wheels.
4 Toyota Mega Cruiser
This one is a little different than all the other cars on this list as it’s not sporty at all and it’s downright massive. It is the Mega Cruiser originally produced for the Japanese military and later sold to civilians in very limited numbers.
It’s essentially the JDM version of the Humvee, and just as capable off-road as its American cousin. It might have been a challenge riding one of those tight Japanese roads, but it would be a blast to ride it on an off-the-beaten-path trail and really test its abilities.
3 Mazda Eunos Cosmo
When it comes to Japanese rotary engine cars, most enthusiasts will think of the Mazda RX-7 or RX-8, but there’s another JDM classic that’s just as cool but far more obscure. The JC-generation Cosmo was a sports coupe sold under Mazda’s Eunos sub-brand, and around 8,800 cars were sold over a five-year period.
Initially, the car was going to be sold in the United States, but the company’s financial problems meant that the plan never materialized. Instead, the Eunos Cosmo remained a Japan-only model, hampering its success and meaning it was canceled without replacement.
2 Honda S660 Mugen
Honda’s S660 sports-kei car is one of many small vehicles that never made it to the US, largely because Americans would never buy a car that small. That’s a huge shame, as it’s an excellent little city commuter made even more fun by the fact that Japanese tuner Mugen got their hands on it.
Since kei car regulations state that the car cannot be more than 63 hp, there are no mechanical upgrades for the car. Instead, the Mugen kit is mainly cosmetic, with improved aerodynamics to extract every last drop of potential from its 660cc engine.
1 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX station wagon
Any JDM enthusiast will be familiar with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, the penultimate iteration of the legendary rally car before it was wrongly axed by Mitsubishi in 2016. What most people don’t know is that it’s made in its traditional sedan version, but in limited numbers, the company also made the car as a station wagon.
Only about 2500 wagons were produced and officially only sold in Japan, although many went abroad as gray imports. They feature the same upgrades as a regular Evo IX, making them just as exciting to drive, but they add an extra layer of practicality and an extra layer of cool.
Here are the most underrated JDM cars of the 80’s
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