July 25, 2024

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13 JDM Cars We Can Get For Cheap

Every country has its own particular automotive style. A sort of signature to their car culture that sets them apart and makes a car from that country immediately identifiable. If it’s the throaty tone and curve craving designs of Italy or the thunderous and intimidating quarter-mile-pounding muscle cars of the United States, there’s something distinct about a country’s car culture that sets it apart. Like with most other things that Japan does well, they do cars in a way that is wildly distinct from anywhere else.

Updated January 2022: cool and rare JDM cars are some of the best and most affordable vehicles to buy and collect, and the market is filled with amazing classic examples that are rising in value fast. Here’s a rundown of the cheapest JDM cars any enthusiast can buy right now.

A lot of these identifiers are down to the demands and resources of their native lands. Small roads carving through countrysides lend themselves to nimbler cars, wide-open terrain with dry lake beds and unused airstrips favored the big muscle car, these things help define the way a country makes a car.

Japan is a very populous country on a very small island and while there is a rich tradition in Japan, there is also an intense interest in innovation. Like any country that produces fun-to-drive cars, practical concerns can give way to more passionate priorities with no shortage of twisty mountain roads and drivers willing to tackle them.

related: 10 Japanese Cars That Can Be Used As Daily Drivers And Weekend Warriors

Thanks to market pressures or emissions or safety concerns, we don’t get a lot of those JDM cars in the United States except through grey market imports or waiting for the magical 25-year mark to pass that allows us to import the distinctly overseas JDM cars. Here are 17 of those cars that have made it to our shores and can be had for cheap and 11 we’ll have to wait a little longer for.

13 Toyota Soarer


Toyota Soarer
via carinfo.com

This JDM car had a brief life on our shores, but it was sold under a different badge. In a time when JDM cars had garnered a reputation for affordability, the inevitable label of ‘cheap’ wasn’t exactly helping when trying to get into the upmarket car market.

So, the big manufacturers in Japan created new brands for their nicer cars, Acura for Honda, Infiniti for Nissan, and Lexus for Toyota. This luxurious Toyota Soarer was briefly sold by Lexus as the SC300 and was available worldwide as the SC430. The JDM versions offered different trim and powertrain options and the early versions can be had for anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000.

12 Eunos (Mazda) Cosmo


Mazda Cosmo
via supercars.net

If you’re a fan of the rotary engine, then you know the name Cosmo. The Cosmo was Mazda’s halo car and the car that would introduce the Mazda rotary engine to the world. While the first Cosmo managed a respectable 4th in the Marathon de la Route, an incredible endurance race at Nürburgring in Germany, it set the stage for the first and only car made in Japan and rotary engine to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The final generation of the car was sold under Mazda’s luxury badge Eunos in Japan and can be had here in the US for around $13,000.

11 Autozam AZ-1


Autozam AZ-1
via thedrive.com

Suzuki’s road to a sports Kei car had a lot of different roads not taken. One of those roads was a mid-engine tube frame design that didn’t become the Cappuccino was picked up by Mazda and became the gullwing microcar that has developed a small cult following in the US as they start to hit that 25-year window.

related: Here’s How Much An Autozam AZ-1 Costs Today

Fans include none other than Jay Leno, with Road & Track reporting the celeb as a fan. The design was one of three deemed the most conventional, which is hard to imagine. Because of its cult following cheap might not always be a term that will apply, Bringatrailer.com recently auctioned one-off for just under $19,000.


10 1993 Mazda Miata


1993 Mazda Miata
via motor1

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past three decades knows what a Miata is and why they’re so popular as sports cars. Whether you buy a 30-year-old model or the brand new MX-5, these cars all have exceptional reliability records and make perfect platforms for mods.

When creating the first-gen Miata, Mazda basically copied all the best parts from classic British roadsters, but with one important difference — the Miata was actually reliable and could be driven on a daily basis. While far from the most powerful cars on the road, weighing in at just over 2200 lbs makes them a hoot to drive on a twisty road or a track day. And best of all, ’90s Miatas are some of the most affordable convertibles you can buy, costing just a couple of grand in great shape.


9 1991 Toyota Sera


Toyota Sera
via jalopnik.com

For those who need a little more wheelbase than a Kei car but are still looking for crazy door arrangement on a car that can’t be mistaken for anything else, then the Toyota Sera is the car for you. It’s heavier than its gullwing cousin and shares a lot of parts from the rather unlovable Paseo but it does feature those standout butterfly doors.

Crazy doors have always been reserved for the exotic supercar, but then so have mid engines and this was offered as an alternative to Toyota’s mid-engine sports car, the MR2. Apart from that, the Toyota Sera also has a rich history that makes it a cool collector’s item. You can grab one if you can find one, and there are a few on Autotrader for less than $10,000.


8 1991 Nissan Figaro


1991 Nissan Figaro
via autoweek.com

The nostalgia and retro trend was not something that hit the US and European markets alone. As far back as the early ’90s, Japan began looking to give a nostalgic update to classic looks. One of those studies was the Nissan Figaro.

related: Here’s How JDM Cars Have Influenced The Automotive Industry

Part of the Pike Cars family, a group of retro design study cars all made at the Pike Factory in Japan, this was a one year only car that now falls into the import window. The distinct drop-top car borrows looks from influences ranging from Citroen to Fiat but certainly stands out on its own. Imported Figaros can be found for around $12,000.


7 1st Gen Suzuki Jimny


Suzuki Samurai
via motor1.com

The US eventually did come to know this plucky little 4X4 under a different name, the Suzuki Samurai, but that wasn’t until the second iteration was made. The first generation didn’t even start out as a Suzuki but rather as a Hope. The Hope Motor Company had a line of tiny off-roaders but hadn’t made many before being taken over by Suzuki and remodeled.

The plucky little off-roader even managed to compete in the Mexico 1000 Rally in 34 hours according to Motoringresearch.com. Select models can be found in the US now for around $10,000.

6 Toyota Crown


Toyota Crown
via youtube.com

When those in the US think of Toyota sedans, most likely they think of the stalwart Camry as the flagship sedan of the Toyota brand. In Japan, however, the flagship sedan is the long-running Crown, which has been in production since 1955. Though it sold in the United States from the late fifties to the early seventies, it was eventually replaced by the Corona and the Crown remained a primarily JDM car.

The Crown lacks the outlandishness that we’d normally associate with a JDM car but if you want a sedan that is subtly distinct, the latest model in the import window, the S130 from 1988 to 1995 can be had for around $10,000.

5 Nissan Cima


Nissan Cima
via dealeraccerlerate.com

If you want to know what car the Cima was meant to compete with, look no further than the hood ornament. It features a single acanthus leaf that Greece used to make crowns.

The Cima is Nissan’s answer to Toyota’s long-living Crown, coming into production in 1988. The US would eventually know a version of the Cima as the Infinity Q45, but the generations before and after that we all Japan. First-generation Cimas can be imported and bought for around $10,000 if the Crown isn’t your speed.


4 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado


1992 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado
via youtube.com

The Land Cruiser is a known element in the United States, with early models being the indestructible alternative to Land Rovers and Jeeps and later models being the retro design SUV that developed a popular following in the US. While for the US markets the Land Cruiser is a single entity, for Japan it represents a range of vehicles and in its center is the Prado.

Essentially the Prado is the slightly more civilized cousin of the rough and tumble Land Cruisers that we know. Current models can be had as a Lexus GX with the same body panels and engine as its JDM counterpart but a 199os real deal Prado can be had in the US for around $15,000.


3 Suzuki Cappuccino


Suzuki Cappuccino
via bringatrailer.com

One Suzuki to never make it to US shores officially in any configuration is the tiny but distinct Cappuccino. Built for people who think Miatas are too bloated and heavy, the 1,480-pound Cappuccino makes the most of its 9000 rpm 100 hp motor.

A liberal application of Colin Chapman’s philosophy of ‘adding lightness,’ the little car is reportedly a joy to drive. For people looking for an even purer expression of the simple top-down sports car than the stalwart Miata, Cappuccinos 25 years and older can be had for around $5,000-7,000.

2 Honda City


Honda City
via build-threads.com

Japan has a class of car that they rarely export and are built specifically for the demands of their crowded city streets, and that’s the Kei Car. Built to a set of specs that keep the cars extraordinarily small, no longer than 11’2″ and wider than 4’10” with 660cc engines, Kei cars come with a series of exemptions and tax breaks that make them attractive to overseas motorists.

The super tiny cars also can become a novelty outside of Japan, and one of those is the plucky Honda City, with importable versions on sale for less than $10,000.

1 1992 Nissan Cedric


1992 Nissan Cedric
via bringatrailer.com

Imagine a movie where a scientist creates a formula that when someone takes it they split into two different people, one with all of the athleticism and aggression and the other calmer, and more refined. If that scenario was a car, the Nissan Cedric would be the Dr. Jekyll to the Skyline’s Mr. Hyde.

Both cars share the same origin, having been the Prince Skyline before being folded into the Nissan lineup. The Skyline became the premiere sports car from Japan and the Cedric the performance sedan cousin. With a 255 hp range-topping six-cylinder, one went for $7,100 at BringATrailer.com

Sources: Autotrader, Road and track, Jalopnik, Top Speed


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