RAC Cars News


Best Sports Cars Japan Has To Offer

By raccars Published

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Japan has a great history of making entertaining but affordable sports cars, in some cases with performance matching Italian supercar standards. The trend began way back in 1959 with the Datsun Sports, known as the Fairlady in domestic territory. The MG Midget style convertible carved out a great career in SCCA road racing.

In 1963, the first Honda took to the roads, the S500 roadster with motorbike style chain driven wheels. Then a couple of years later, Toyota introduced the Sports 800, its first sports car with a removable roof panel and 44bhp. By 1967, Toyota had seriously caught the sports car bug, getting together with Yamaha to come up with the supremely elegant and nimble 2000GT, often compared to the Jaguar E-Type.

Datsun really hit its stride in 1970 with the stunning 240Z, also known as the Fairlady. It swept the affordable sports car market in the US, previously populated by Italian and British numbers.

By the end of that decade, the Toyota Celica had arrived, a sports car with back seats. Legendary status wasn't instant, but a later restyle and a power boost to over 200bhp saw the birth of a cult favourite.

By 1985, a familiar style was starting to emerge when Toyota came out with its shark like MR2 coupe, taking its cue from Ferrari with a mid engined layout. This is when Japanese sports cars started inhabiting their own distinct niche.

In 1990, Mazda managed to distill all that Japanese auto makers had learned about funky little sports cars into the sensational MX-5, which has become the ultimate expression of lightweight fun and the most popular roadster in the world.

At the same time, Nissan was taking things in a more brutal direction, releasing the Ferrari inspired NSX, with a motorcycle style VTEC 3.0 litre V6.

To celebrate the Millennium, Honda took its lead from the MX-5 with the lively and sexy S2000, an excellent way to celebrate the brand's 50th anniversary.

Along the way, Mitsubishi had been fulfilling boy racers' dreams with its legendary Lancer Evolutions, which reached an apotheosis with the eighth generation version in 2003.

Nissan's awesome GT-R added sophistication to the sector in 2009, and in 2012, Lexus got in on the action with the limited edition and very expensive LFA supercar. It was a joy for speed freaks but strayed too far from the principles that had made Japanese sports cars special for the last five decades. The current crop includes an all new MX-5, showing that Japan still knows how to produce the most entertaining lightweight sports racers in the world.

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