Beginning in the late 1960s, Japanese automobile brands slowly made a name for themselves as unique, elegant and powerful. Starting with Honda in the late 1960s the S600, although not specifically a sports car, was sporty enough to excite the public for sleeker cars with more under the hood.
Similarly, Toyota began developing branded sports cars in 1967. The iconic 2000GT paved the way for a host of incredible vehicles that took to the roads and tracks around the world. Each company has a legacy that they carry on today by devoting resources to produce ever more incredible sports cars. We can’t wait to see what everyone does next.
ten Honda S800
The Honda built on the success of the S600. While the S600 wasn’t exactly a sports car, it fueled the desire to build a sports car dedicated to the Honda brandand in 1965 what the world got was the S800.
The S800 featured a 791cc inline-four that could develop 70 horsepower. Despite the relatively low horsepower rating, the S800 was Honda’s first 100 MPH car. The smaller engine also did wonders for gas mileage not typically seen in sports cars, even for the 1960s at 35 MPG!
9 Toyota 2000 GT
To kick off Toyota, the JDM company developed the 2000GT in partnership with Yamaha. This collaboration worked rather well in favor of Toyota since the 2000GT made its first appearance in 1965 in front of an enthusiastic public.
The Toyota 2000GT didn’t go into production until 1967. When it finally hit the streets, it did so with a huge (for the time) 2.0-liter straight-six. Although not as big as some crazy V8s found in American muscle cars, the straight-six was good for 148 horsepower and a top speed of 130 MPH.
8 Honda CRX Si
Honda’s CRX gets a lot of hate, but the upgraded Si is worth a look. First produced in 1985, the CRX Si is a perfect example of what honda is doing to its base economy cars. It was a sporty little two-seater with front-wheel drive configured with a solid 27 MPG rating.
For the Honda CRX Si, a 1.5L four-cylinder direct injection engine was used. It made around 105 horsepower, but the US version saw the 93 horsepower version noticeably weaker. It wasn’t mind-blowing speed, but it could still put on a great show on the road with a top speed of 112 MPH.
7 Toyota Supra
When looking at a list of iconic JDM sports cars, the Supra is one of the coolest. It was so cool that Toyota had to bring it back! Toyota first used the Supra name in 1978. Over the decades they slowly transitioned to twin-turbo which is absolutely amazing.
The Toyota Supra Twin Turbo could deliver an astonishing 320 horsepower to the rear wheels. Although the speed was limited to just 155 MPH, everyone knows it can go much faster. The modern version develops 382 horsepower from a BMW engine. Much to the chagrin of purists, it’s still a fantastic vehicle.
6 Honda Civic Del Sol
Honda does make tiny two-seaters. This includes the Civic Del Sol, which was a two-seat super lightweight Targa convertible. And by superlight, we mean 2,300 pounds of light. Like every other Civic, the Del Sol is front-wheel drive and comes with a five-speed manual transmission.
The Honda Civic Del Sol’s VTEC engine was good for 160 horsepower. At this rating, the Del Sol achieved a higher power-per-cylinder ratio than the Mustang GT 5.0. Take that, muscle cars! This Civic knew how to play, and it’s a shame that the finish is not offered today.
5 Toyota MR2
A direct competitor to the MX-5 came out in the mid-1980s. This competitor is the Toyota MR2. The mid-engine, rear-wheel drive car first appeared in 1984. The MR2 carried on a legacy of fantastic Toyota sports cars that lasted well into the new millennium.
Before the less good Spyder, the MR2 had a variety of engines, from a 200-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder to a turbocharged version not available in the US that could push out 240 horsepower. The MR2 is a small two-seater and, like the MX-5 Miata, has earned a place in the hearts of gearheads around the world.
4 Honda NSX
The first generation Honda NSX is perhaps the most excellent JDM car that has ever existed. This set the stage for great cars to come from Japan. Considered an Acura in North America, the NSX saw several high-performance variants available only in Japan, but many of these have since been imported to the United States.
The Honda NSX inspired Gordon Murray to produce the F1 supercar. One of the most fantastic JDM cars ever made sported a 290 horsepower V6 engine. Additionally, the NSX had a successful career in motorsport and inspired a modern second generation that would have to be discontinued.
3 Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD
Toyota continued to manufacture successful sports cars into the 1990s, including the Celica Turbo 4WD. As the name suggests, the Celica 4WD was indeed a four wheel drive car, which is virtually unheard of even today!
The Celica Turbo 4WD was heavily influenced by rally racing and quickly became one of Toyota’s most successful WRC cars throughout the 90s. It featured a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produced 200 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. Additionally, the Celica Turbo 4WD had a five-speed manual transmission for true sports car fun.
2 Honda Civic Type R
Toyota created the pinnacle of turbocharged four-cylinder hatchbacks with the Civic Type-R. It takes the “hot hatch” title to the extreme, and, more impressively, it’s a front-wheel-drive car.
The top comes in the form of a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out an impressive 306 horsepower. The Type-R also set the Nürburgring record for FWD cars in April 2017. Since then the record has been broken, but the 2022 aims to complete a lap under 7:40.
1 Toyota GR 86/ Supra/ Yaris/ Camry
Not to be outdone, Toyota has stepped up investment in its Gazoo Racing department. They took the time to upgrade many of Toyota’s bland vehicles and even sports cars specifically for the race track. It’s quickly becoming what STI is to Subaru, a performance-minded powerhouse.
Models that sport the GR treatment include the boring Camry and Yaris, as well as the 86 and Supra. Each of these upgraded sports cars features power upgrades, track-inspired suspension upgrades and, of course, GR badging everywhere imaginable. Either way, the GR treatment proves that sports cars are alive and well. The future looks bright!
While it’s taken the industry a while to catch up and realize how cool some JDMs are, some of them don’t deserve all the hype.
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