Random Car Guy: “So, you like cars? What’s your dream car? Mustang? Camaro?”
Me: “Well, not really. Um. I mean, I’m kinda into cars that most people don’t like. Like, most people think they are ugly. And slow. And poorly built. But they aren’t! I mean, uh, did you see the game last weekend?”
This is a tough conversation for anybody. Fortunately, I’m here to give any fellow classic JDM-lover like me the ammunition they need to stand up against even the toughest critics.
1. They're seriously cheap.
Do me a favor. Go to Hagerty.com and play with their valuation tool. Find your favorite muscle car and look at the average price. For fun, let’s just pick 5 that you're likely to always see at car shows:
- 1969 Pontiac GTO Base Model: $29,320
- 1967 Ford Mustang GT 289 Convertible: $46,822
- 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS L78: $47,292
- 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454: $59,945
- 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi: $118,978
That’s an average cost of $60,471 in a group of 5 muscle car queens. Sure, there are some top trims in there, but I challenge any card-carrying car enthusiast to find another group of comparably popular muscle cars that's substantially cheaper than these ones. In comparison, looking at every single Japanese car on Hagerty (sans the $757,710 Holy Grail of JDM culture, the Toyota 2000GT) brings us an average cost of $10,504. That’s a $50,000 difference that could easily pay for the ground-up restoration of your car and have enough left over for that rhinoplasty you’ve been thinking about all these years.
2. They're different.
Remember that car show we were talking about? You know, the one that the nearby town holds every summer during their ______-celebration/fair/a-palooza? Well, I know you took pictures last time you went, probably looking like this:
You know what I’m talking about. Rows of Chargers, Mustangs, Corvettes, and various hot rods. There’s a few pickup trucks, maybe a Plymouth Prowler, and that one guy that just bought a GT-R and can't keep it to himself. Welcome to every car show in Anytown, USA.
Now, when was the last time you saw an RX-3? A TA22 Celica? A Colt Galant GTO? If you answered with anything other than “Not really ever”, then either you live in a way cooler area than me, or you’re taking the question way too literally. It’s the concept. Want a way to stand out from the crowd? Show up with a knock-off BRE 510.
...or a real one. That's cool, too.
Want to start conversation? Every person in the area will want to share their childhood stories with you when you hard park your CVCC. “No one likes them because they aren’t muscle cars, though,” you say to yourself before questioning if the Zyprexa you just took is really a placebo. “They were cheap knock-offs, and not particularly fast. They are definitely not cool.” Well, about that:
3. They're Interesting.
Every Japanese car has a story. Most “car guys” will think of it as a detriment, but I think it’s character. It’s the elephant in the room, the reason JDM is cheap and muscle is expensive.
Japanese cars are not American, but they wanted to be, really badly. Yes, Japanese manufacturers in the 60’s and 70’s (and 80’s and 90’s) were struggling to find their own voice, so they borrowed some popular designs of the times. This is no mystery. The real mystery here is why people think that’s a bad thing.
Think about it: the TA27 Celica looks like someone took a Mustang, put it in a copy machine, and hit 75%. How cool is that? While the Mustang was an everyman’s car, the Celica was an everymanincludingpoorpeople’s car. It’s a true underdog story, and everyone loves those.
One of these things is not like the other...
In addition, there’s an uber-cool, mega-interesting Japanese alternative to just about every segment:
Looking at buying a Classic E-Type? Get a 240Z, instead.
BMW 2002 looking a little spendy? A 510 will fix that right up.
Everyone on your block has an MG? Datsun Roadster FTW.
4. There’s way more variety.
We all know what an El Camino looks like. How many of you out there has ever seen a Toyota Crown Coupe? A Datsun Cherry X1R? A first-gen Subaru Leone?
Also, whatever the hell this thing is.
With importation laws the way they are in the US, you can legally import any Japanese cars built on or before March 2nd, 1989. That’s basically all of the cool ones (alright, most of the cool ones). “Importation is expensive,” you may be saying. You know what’s more expensive? A $60,000 Chevelle, of which they made 20 million examples.
5. They’re easy to work on.
Because most Japanese cars were built to be inexpensive, they had the most spartan of options. That means you don’t have to replace that expensive freon-based air conditioning unit, because it doesn’t have one. Automatic convertible tops? Probably not. Overdrive? Nah.
For the most part, you’re going to be working with 4 to 6 cylinders. There’s probably not going to be any form of computing devices or ECU in the car, and parts are likely going to be relatively cheap. I have used a hammer on my Datsun Roadster more than I have used a screwdriver.
Side note: Due to the low cylinder count, don’t forget the gas savings. Your B-210 is a gas miser at 45 mpg, while that Hemi acts like the Cookie Monster in the Keebler plant.
Another bonus of having a car with a tiny engine is that the engine bays are generally pretty barren. This opens up the possibility of engine swaps to classic JDM cars substantially. Your muscle car buddies won’t get off your back for owning a 240Z? Throw a 350 in it.
Or better yet...
And on that note…
6. They’re Fun!
For the most part, classic rice-burners are light, rear-wheel drive, low-powered, and reliable. These things all add up to unbridled, adolescent fun under the speed limit. Let’s say you feel a little crazy in your GTO Judge. You’ll drive out to an abandoned strip of road, do a couple of burnouts, drive way too fast, and crash into a light post. $50k worth of fixes later, and you’ll have learned your lesson. You’ll never take that thing past 3/10’s again if you ever take it out of the garage.
Alternately, let’s go for a drive in your 96-horsepower 510. 14 burnouts and 37 donuts later, you’re still going. Even if you did wreck it, you’ll be back on the road with a roll of duct tape, zip ties and $37.50 worth of Bondo.
These are cars that you can drive at 10/10ths to the track, to the grocery store, and to the plastic surgeon. Hoon all day, every day, and you won’t get in much trouble save for a sticky carburetor every once in a while. It’s about driving slow cars fast, instead of driving fast cars slow. There’s something to be said for that, and the intoxicating way it makes you feel.
"I have to pick up my dry cleaning!"
For those of you out there that share my views, hold your head up next time someone asks you what kinds of cars you are into. Use the ammunition I’ve given you, and make them feel foolish for ever having an opinion that’s different that yours. Better yet, take them for a drive in your rust bucket and show them that you can indeed get an 8-cylinder smile from a 4-cylinder engine.
For everyone else: please see #1.
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