How many of these Japanese rides do you already know?
Japanese domestic market (JDM) cars are many, which is really something for a tiny island nation off the coast of the Asian continent. Thanks to several factors which lined up after the close of WWII, the Japanese became prolific at designing and building all kinds of vehicles. While we have seen a number of their cars in the United States, many more have never reached these shores, with the exception of a rare oddball imported by a diehard fan.
Some JDM cars are just bizarrely weird, especially the notoriously small Kei cars. Others are so cool you’ll be wondering why they’re not more widely-known here.
Just how many of the following obscure JDM cars did you already know about? Which one would you want to put in your garage?
It’s not every day you run across a Honda that was designed by none other than Pininfarina, but that’s not the end of the uniqueness for the Honda Beat. This Kei car is of course tiny, and it has a mid-engine layout, which made it popular for Japanese wanting an economical yet fun roadster. During its production run from 1991 to 1996 Honda cranked out over 33,000 Beats
Apparently, the Japanese love their caffeine as much as they love their cars. Why else would there be the Suzuki Cappuccino? This little Kei car has a detachable hardtop and has been held up by some as an excellent alternative to the venerable Mazda Miata. Tipping the scale at a mere 1,598 pounds the thing uses a punch turbo three-cylinder engine. You’re not going to win any drag races with this Suzuki, but it’s a lot of fun on Tsukuba Circuit or a mountain road with plenty of chicanes.
One of the Nissan Pike cars, the Nissan Pao is nowhere as famous as the Figaro or others. Still, it has that retro-cool look that hearkens back to the 1950s even though this car was launched in the 1980s. The throwback details on this little Nissan are many, including those cute round headlights, exposed door hinges, huge speedometer centered over the steering wheel, body-color door panels/dash/steering wheel, interior switchgear, etc. One of the most bizarre features on the Pao is the rearview mirror, which Is five mirrors joined together, spanning from one side of the headliner to the other.
Yet another Kei car on the list, this is another one with a mid-engine layout. The Autozam brand might not be familiar to you, since it’s a JDM brand owned by Mazda. Besides that adorable front fascia, especially the round headlights, the AZ-1 is known for its gullwing doors. You just don’t expect such a dramatic feature on a Kei car. That hood scoop helps feed the 657cc turbocharged engine sourced from Suzuki. Even in Japan these cars are rare, since they were only made from 1992 to 1994.
Toyota Mega Cruiser
When you think of Japanese off-roaders, the Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Pathfinder, and Mitsubishi Montero no doubt come to mind first. What you probably don’t know is Toyota made a more hardcore trail runner for the military market, and it was called the Mega Cruiser. Yes, it’s a subtle name but the Japan Self-Defense Forces went for it anyway as a good vehicle for keeping the peace. Just like with so many other military vehicles, Toyota then made a civilian version. Among the cool standard features was a 4.1-liter turbo-diesel engine, four-wheel steering, and three lockable differentials. Toyota made the Mega Cruiser from 1995 to 2002.
A full-size luxury sedan still being sold in Japan, the Nissan Cima gets its name from the Spanish word which means “summit.” Of all the interesting details about this car, the hood ornament is particularly unique. Instead of a person, animal, or even an airplane like what you see on so many, the Nissan Cima’s hood ornament is an acanthus leaf. The ancient Greeks used those leaves to make a wreath worn like a crown, which you see replicated sometimes for the Olympics. We received a version of the Cima here in the United States for a while, the Infiniti Q45, but it has since been discontinued. In Japan the Cima is still being made.
Suzuki Mighty Boy
This little Kei car is actually a truck. It’s hard to tell until you’re looking at the rear, but there’s a bed partially hiding behind the B-pillars, making the Suzuki Mighty Boy look more like a hatchback from some angles. If that bed looks like it couldn’t be that big, you’re right. A mere two feet of depth means you can’t fit that much in the payload, so the utility factor is a little questionable. Made from 1983 to 1988, this car was classified in Japan as a commercial vehicle and thus wasn’t subjected to the same taxes as consumer cars. There’s still a cult following for the Mighty Boy today.
Nissan Fairlady 200ZR
While here in the United States we got the Z31 chassis with the 300ZX slapped on it, in Japan enthusiasts were able to enjoy the Nissan Fairlady 200ZR. The center hood scoop gives away a unique element about this sports car: it was the last Nissan Z to use an inline-six engine, the RB20DET. That’s the same engine used in the Nissan Skyline, only adding to the allure of this once-forbidden Japanese fruit.