So you like Japanese sports cars

The proliferation of Japanese cars to the US brought a number of awesome vehicles. Don’t listen to anyone grumble about “Japanese cars not having any soul”, these offer just as electrifying a driving experience as their European counterparts.

Datsun 240z/260z/280z (Nissan S30 chassis):

Great looks, quick, affordable, and easy to modify. These attributes helped the Z cars take the US by storm when they came out. They’ve remained a wildly popular project car, though the early cars have come up in price. You can de-plastic a 280Z until it looks essentially like an early 240Z. Also take a look at the 280ZX, the successor to the S30 chassis. While not nearly as pretty, it makes a suitable replacement if an S30 is out of your budget.

  • Purchase cost: 2-3
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 3

Toyota AE86:

Fans of drifting and one particular anime show are already drooling over this capable little car. It didn’t do anything special but it did it all perfectly; a good 4 cylinder, an excellent chassis, and light weight. Unfortunately, the AE86’s capability has been its greatest enemy and many are heavily modified or crashed.

  • Purchase cost: 2-3
  • Maintenance cost: 2
  • Maintenance difficulty: 1
  • Rarity: 3

Toyota Supra (mk 2 and 3):

You’ve seen and heard of the mk 4 Supra, and the prices it commands. But remember there were a few generations before that. MK 2s and 3s are much cheaper but still great cars. Yes, they don’t have that swoopy styling but they make a great drive at a fraction of the price.

  • Purchase cost: 2-3
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 4

Datsun 510:

The 510 doesn’t have the curves of the S30 cars but it was one of the most potent track cars of its era, going toe-to-toe with the Alfa Romeo GTV on the SCCA circuits. It’s a great chassis for the money and unique at most car shows.

  • Purchase cost: 3
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 4

Nissan 300ZX:

The Z31 and Z32 chassis replaced the 280ZX and picked up a whole lot of performance potential. This is a real GT car; a great compromise between power, handling, and comfort.

  • Purchase cost: 3
  • Maintenance cost: 2
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 2

Toyota MR2:

The MR2 might offer the most performance potential of any car in this guide. The engine is in the ‘right’ place (the middle), and high horsepower 4 cylinders from later Toyotas are an easy swap for as much horsepower as your turbocharger will put out. But even in stock form they’re a great driving car. The first generation’s boxy lines aren’t for everyone but it was the lightest and purest MR2. It’s getting harder to find examples that haven’t been extensively modified.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 2
  • Maintenance difficulty: 3
  • Rarity: 2

Mazda RX7 FC:

You’ve certainly seen later RX-7s (the FD model) and you might know that they command a heady price. But the prior model, the FC, is a great chassis with the quirky rotary power and huge popularity in cheap racing (like SCCA Improved Touring).

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 4
  • Rarity: 2

Subaru Impreza:

Though a bit newer and decidedly less ‘classic’ than most cars on this list, the Impreza has a lot of popularity and some just fall in love. The AWD drivetrain and boxer engine make for a different vehicle. The first generation (GC) is cheaply available and keep your eyes peeled for the 2.5RS model for a the best handling. They say that Subarus are like legos, they all bolt together, and they’re very modification friendly. Avoid the disappointing 2.5L engine and stick with the venerable old 2.2L. You can always make up the lost displacement with a turbocharger.

  • Purchase cost: 1
  • Maintenance cost: 2
  • Maintenance difficulty: 3 (The boxer engine makes some routine maintenance much more difficult.)
  • Rarity: 1

Nissan 240SX:

There’s not a lot to dislike about the 240SX. A cheap, RWD, reliable platform that can take a lot of power and engine swaps. A favorite among modifiers and drifters, the looks are safe but the ride is great. In no time you’ll be importing parts out of the international models, such as the 180SX or Silvia.

  • Purchase cost: 1-2
  • Maintenance cost: 2
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 1

Toyota Celica (5th-6th gen):

The Celica of course has a much longer history than the two generations I suggested. But these two generations in particular benefit from good looks, cheap availability, and a good chassis with terrific ‘Yota reliability. The 5th gen offers the rare and sought after AWD All-Trac. Some amazing 4 cylinders came in these cars and the GT-Four package is a quick option.

  • Purchase cost: 1-2
  • Maintenance cost: 1
  • Maintenance difficulty: 1
  • Rarity: 1

 

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