Before we even start, this list is not a super-hip, deep-cut list of classic JDM cars that enthusiasts won’t immediately know. But if you are new to the JDM thing and are looking for affordable classic cars, some of these might pique your interest. However, the way things are going, I imagine none of these JDM cars will be affordable for long. Hell, most of these aren’t even affordable now. These once cheap Toyotas and Mazdas have become quite collectible.
Classic JDM cars might be the most affordable classic cars worth buying right now
As vintage trucks and SUVs continue climbing in value, the less heeled classic car enthusiasts have to dig deeper into the vintage car world. JDM is a wild and strange world of some very quirky and cool cars that don’t have to cost a ton of money. If you want something unique to pull up to a Cars and Coffee meet but don’t work on Wall Street, some of these JDM cars might be of interest.
Meet the stud of the classic JDM car world, the Toyota Corolla
That’s right. As MotorTrend puts it, “The ’80s-era Toyota Corolla is a bona fide hero car to JDM enthusiasts.” MT couldn’t be more right. Although the Corrola we know is a boring and sensible sedan that couldn’t be exciting no matter how hard it tried.
In Japan in the 80s, a Toyota Corolla was pretty damn cool. According to MotorTrend, before the AE86, the second-generation Corolla E20 chassis served as the brand’s affordable, entry-level sled. Thanks to the curvy rear of the Corolla, it got the nickname “mango,” Which is as downright pleasant to hear as it is to see.
The British-inspired Mazda Cosmo
Although the JDM cars have plenty of unique character, some certainly riff off of other popular cars from around the world. The Mazda Cosmo is a perfect example of the European sports car styling melding perfectly with Japan’s quirk and disguised style.
Debuting in ’64, the Mazda Cosmo shook the Tokyo Autoshow. These were as rare then as they are today due to Mazda’s crazy slow production of one care per day. Aside from being very pretty, the Cosmo is important because it was the first car to use Mazda’s weirdo Wankle-Rotary engine. This one is decidedly not on the affordable list. But it still pays to keep a keen eye out if you are lucky enough to cross paths with one.
The Toyota 2000GT is as pretty as any Ferrari
The Toyota 2000GT looks like 10,000,000 bucks. If its looks weren’t enough, it is powered by a 150-hp 2.0-liter DOHC straight-six and independent suspension all the way around. After a few years of motorsports testing and development, this pretty little rocket was officially turned loose on the public in 1967.
Although it was only a one-off, James Bond even got a topless version for the film You Only Live Twice. If it’s good enough Bond, it’s probably too good for me. These were actually even rarer than the Cosmos with a total production of 337.
The Toyota Starlet is a rad and affordable classic JDM car
The JDM scene has fire-breathing monsters like the Nissan Skylines and the 2000GTs, but its bread and butter are the little compact A-B cars. The Toyota Starlet is one of the lords of this realm. The Starlet didn’t do very well in the states, but it spanned over three decades in Japan. The front-engine, rear-wheel-drive 60-series chassis, produced between 1978 and 1984, is still one of the most sought-after by enthusiasts.
These little hatchbacks are a modding dreamscape. They were cheap, simple, and had the proper bones to be turned into something special. Of course, most enthusiasts swap engines and transmissions and slap on a widebody kit before you could say, “Starlet.”
Ah yes, the Datsuns
Datsuns/Fariladys are some of the most popular Classic JDM cars today. Although we all love the Z cars, about a decade earlier, Datsun was making pretty little roadsters. These cars were closer in spirit to an MG or Austin Healy than anything else coming out of Japan at the time.
The Datsun Fairlady 1500 was set up with a beautiful little 1.5-liter inline-four paired with a four-speed transmission. The tiny roadster also featured a Jeep-like removable windshield, Classy toggle switches across its dash, and a unique sideways-facing single rear seat, almost like safari seats in an FJ Land Cruiser.
JDM cars are just exciting
For some reason, classic JDM cars are just exciting. They feel more exotic, more fun, more, everything (except room). Car lovers can’t help but love JDM. Whether you are a street racer, drifter, or off-roader, the JDM world has something that will get you going.