Should your next car be a JDM import? | Buyer's Guide

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Jul 17, 2022 | import, JDM, Buyer's Guide, Gran Turismo | Posted in Buyer's Guides , Features | From the Aug. 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

It’s like bringing a puppy,” explains Vu Nguyen, executive director for the Porsche Club of America, noting how this ride will draw a bigger crowd than his air-cooled 911.

The life of the party? His tiny Suzuki pickup imported from Japan. When pushed to the limit, the 550cc-powered truck can just about cruise at interstate speeds. 

These Japanese-market imports don’t have …

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Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
6/27/22 10:21 p.m.

My son and I have talked about getting a Century or  Sunny Pulsar GTi-R

Defined motorsports
Defined motorsports SuperDork
6/28/22 10:35 a.m.

Everyone wants one, no one wants to shell out the unnecessary taxes for them. The folks that bought r34 GTRs are already spoken for. The poorer people of the planet will never see one in their garage. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/28/22 10:38 a.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

Either would be way cool.

There's a kei fire truck in our neighborhood. My wife knows that I want one. 

fatallightning
fatallightning Reader
6/29/22 11:00 a.m.

In reply to Defined motorsports :

I wouldn't call it unncessary taxes. 2.5% duty on import. Now if you're talking what stateside importers mark up vehicles, that's a different story. 

Ian F (Forum Supporter)
Ian F (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
6/29/22 11:35 a.m.

Every now and then I get a hankering for a JDM Mini. That was tempered when Hagerty allowed me to add my 2006 MINI to my classic car policy, which significantly reduced the annual costs for keeping a toy car around.  Anyway... should the stars align and I find more storage space for toy cars, then a JDM Mini will probably be one of the first cars I look for. 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/29/22 11:42 a.m.

In reply to Defined motorsports :

Not necessarily--I thought Pat's route to an R32 in the article was a pretty clever workaround. 

Rons
Rons GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
6/29/22 12:22 p.m.

Americans could do a fly and drive on this

I like the name

te72
te72 Reader
7/3/22 11:26 p.m.

There are so many unique JDM cars out there that I've thought would be neat, but never pulled the trigger on any of them. If I hadn't found my way into an Exocet, a Cappucino would likely have been in the garage by now. Or possibly a Beat, but the high altitude would be quite the hamper on a NA Beat here... An AZ-1 is obviously the coolest of the three, but they're by no means a bargain anymore.

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Dork
7/4/22 5:00 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

In reply to Tom1200 :

Either would be way cool.

There's a kei fire truck in our neighborhood. My wife knows that I want one. 

A local sprint car team here in Edmonton uses a kei truck as a pit mule

CrustyRedXpress
CrustyRedXpress GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/17/22 10:46 a.m.

I've been looking (probably idly, but don't tell my wife) at using the 25 year rule to import a Honda Type R from...Europe. 

The steering wheel is on the left side and they are a good bit cheaper in the EU with slightly better trim packages.

I've also seen a couple of semi-rare Mercedes Benz models that were imported to Japan decades ago and then imported to America. 

Global arbitrage, yo.

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia UltraDork
7/17/22 11:05 a.m.

Have you driven right hand drive cars ?

Have you parked on the street but could not get out because the curb was too tall .

driving winding roads is "interesting" if you do not have a copilot to "spot" you when you try and pass that slow truck , 

I do like the idea of buying in Europe so it's left hand drive......

ohhh and always a laugh when your instinct is to shift with your right hand and you grab the door handle !

Berck
Berck Reader
7/17/22 11:27 a.m.

I really wanted a Beat, Cappuccino or AZ-1.  I'm 6'2", but I fit fine in an NA Miata, so I figured fitting in one would be no big deal.  Fortunately, I got the chance to sit in both a Beat and an AZ-1, and discovered there's absolutely no way either one will work for me.  Not in the sense of, "I feel a bit cramped," but rather, "This is not possible."  I simply couldn't work the pedals and close the door...

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/17/22 2:50 p.m.

Right hand drive is no big deal, especially if you have an EZ Pass for tollbooths. Sure drive thru food is a pain but you can do better than that food wise anyway smiley

I would love to have a kei car, there is a turbo Daihatsu locally that is tempting.  Or preferably one of the Subarus because 9000rpm.  But finding parts would be quite a challenge.

 

There are at least two right hand drive FD RX-7s local to me.  I understand that it is cheaper to import one than buy one from the US. FDs are also well supported here and abroad.  BUT they are not nicknamed Funds Dumpsters for nothing.

Patrick
Patrick GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/17/22 3:09 p.m.

In reply to californiamilleghia :

as someone who was featured in the article......

passing a slow vehicle on a 2 lane road sucks without a passenger but i generally have to do that twice a year, and if you're not right on someone's ass you can see around them by hugging the center line anyway.

i'm not usually street parking my skyline, but that issue would be the same if you had a passenger needing to exit at the curb. it would have to be a really tall curb, as I didn't have passenger issues with curbs and my C4 either. ground to door bottom height on both is similar with the skyline 2-3" lower than stock. 

it took an hour to get used to shifting left handed and I never grabbed the door handle.  It's legitimately more difficult to go from my column shifted truck to my wife's floor shift car because I grab for the column shifter in the car. 

I don't do drive thru food so no problem there, and I have an EZpass if I ever take it on a toll road. 

the "omg RHD is so bad for america" stuff is overblown in my opinion aside of the odd old guy rolling his window down to laugh hilariously at himself saying my steering wheel is on the wrong side.

 

thus far nothing has popped up that's had to be overnighted from japan. Nissan USA had the skyline specific radiator bushings in stock and here in a few days, oil filter from summit racing, brake pads from rock auto, sway bar bushing bracket cross referenced to a Z32 300zx so $22 shipped for a pair. 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/17/22 3:49 p.m.

You may find that an amazing number of components cross reference to Z32.  A few decades ago, Henri Helanto in Finland converted a GT-R to left hand drive, made his own moulds to make the appropriate dashboard ("can make in fiberglass or carbon fiber") and noted that a Z32 rack bolted right up.  And the steering shaft cleared the turbos just fine.

Of course, at the time everyone said this was impossible because the Z32 was a Nissan product and the R32 was from a separate internal division from the absorption of Prince and there was heavy internal rivalry yada yada yada.  I will take the word of someone who says it all bolted together when he tried it.

BTW - when I was at Saturn we had a fair number of customers with right hand drive S-series and L-series cars. Anybody who wanted one could order one.  They were made for rural mail carriers but people who exercised their dogs loved them.  And some people just wanted to be different.

msterbeau
msterbeau New Reader
7/17/22 5:58 p.m.

Some of them are worth owning just for the entertaining name:  Probox (Toyota), Toppo BJ (Mitsubishi), That's (Honda), Fellow Buggy (Daihatsu), etc... 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/18/22 12:05 a.m.

Glad you enjoyed the piece, and that was a fun one to put together. Working with Patrick was a treat.

The story actually grew out of my Cappuccino research. Did I really want one? I admit, our Cappuccino kinda talked me out of it. I think it would be fun to play with, but if it can't really run at I-4 speeds, then it's less useful for me. The same thing kinda doomed our "classic" Mini. The Mini was way cool around town, but getting to Orlando became a bit of a hassle. Yes, I know there's a back way, but by highway, it's just an hour to downtown.

However, last week at Mecum I sat in a CRX SiR. I had a fake one years ago, but there was something about it. It didn't sell, and the bidding went way north of what I'd want to spend, but it does get you thinking. If not a CRX, maybe another wishbone Honda–but I think I'd want a JDM one just because. 

 

j_tso
j_tso GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/18/22 12:41 a.m.

The V12 Toyota Century just hit the 25 year mark. Care and feeding one of those could be interesting.

 

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
7/18/22 7:40 a.m.

I went to the Muscle Car Nationals car show yesterday in St. Paul, MN; among all the Mustangs and Camaros, someone was there with a Toyota Century.

fatallightning
fatallightning Reader
7/18/22 9:27 a.m.

In reply to j_tso :

I'm kind of amazed by how cheap the older V8 Centurys seem to sell for. They must sort of fall into a niche that currently doesn't appeal to the enthusiast market. You'd think VIP guys would be all over it. Duncan has a quite a few already here, under 10k, and they're not known for bargains.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/18/22 1:51 p.m.

In reply to fatallightning :

Those Centurys do seem like a deal. Brad, one of the owners interviewed for the article, made it sound like a positive ownership experience. 

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/18/22 2:41 p.m.

Here's a fresh JDM import. Guy has a V12 Century on the way, too.

Wally (Forum Supporter)
Wally (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/18/22 3:12 p.m.

I have never tried shifting with the wrong hand but almost always turned on the wipers instead of turn signals.  Passing on a two lane road wasn't much trouble other than then planning ahead any box with a small diesel would need.  As for drive thrus it pays to be good at driving in reverse. 

AMiataCalledSteve
AMiataCalledSteve New Reader
7/18/22 3:34 p.m.

I've been wanting a Century for forever, and I prefer the look of the V8 cars. Something about the passenger seat pass-through makes it impossible to resist. I'll import one some day, based on my experience self-importing the two cars below it's not all that difficult.

 

I too go for the wipers whenever I drive my parents' Honda Acty, at least for the first turn. Shifting with my left hand was never much trouble for me, I got used to it within 2 minutes when I owned my Honda Beat.

 

 

ae86andkp61 (Forum Supporter)
ae86andkp61 (Forum Supporter) Dork
7/18/22 11:34 p.m.

I also have no issues with left hand shifting. I do get confused by the swapped control stalks, probably the hardest part of it all, IMO. In a kei car, one strategy for passing is to use the small size to your advantage, cheat right in the lane to see what you can past the right side of the vehicle ahead, then quickly cheat left as far as possible in the lane, and if it looks clear, pop out of the lane (remain ready to pop back in if needed for a second) then accelerate and pass.

 

Berck said:

I really wanted a Beat, Cappuccino or AZ-1.  I'm 6'2", but I fit fine in an NA Miata, so I figured fitting in one would be no big deal.  Fortunately, I got the chance to sit in both a Beat and an AZ-1, and discovered there's absolutely no way either one will work for me.  Not in the sense of, "I feel a bit cramped," but rather, "This is not possible."  I simply couldn't work the pedals and close the door...

 

I am about the same height, and I do OK in my Cappuccino. Obviously fit also depends on body type and torso/arm/leg proportions. I tried an AZ-1 and it was a hard no-go. The Beat I tried was stationary with the top down, and I seem to remember considering it "doable" but the car overall just didn't grab me. Scroll down partway in the thread below for specifics and photos of the Cappo fit:

https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/forum/build-projects-and-project-cars/another-stateside-jdm-kei-car-95-ea21r-suzuki-capp/175159/page1/

 

 

Berck
Berck Reader
7/19/22 10:41 a.m.

In reply to ae86andkp61 (Forum Supporter) :

Oh, interesting.  We're the same size, though I have shorter legs and longer torso.  Given that it was the leg room that was a clear no-go for me in the AZ-1 or Beat, maybe it *is* possible.  Now I just need to find a Cappucino to try on...

AMiataCalledSteve
AMiataCalledSteve New Reader
7/19/22 12:14 p.m.

I'm 6'3" and built like a ferret, but I was just barely able to fit in my Beat. Without its aftermarket flat-bottom wheel IDK if it would have been possible. My head stuck up above the windshield, but with the double-bubble hard top I didn't quite touch the roof. It was a tight squeeze, but I made it work!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/19/22 1:49 p.m.

Last night, a friend mentioned that he wants a Beat. I wouldn't call him tall. He's lived in Japan and knows what to expect. So maybe one day? 

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