In the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese products – including cars – were making their way to the West, and it soon became apparent that they were simply better engineered and built than most local products.
When the Datsun 240Z made its debut in 1969, it turned the whole idea of a sports car on its roof. Here was a relatively small, fast, and sporty car, offering enough space in the back for people, and it even had room for luggage. And best of all, it was affordable! The Japanese took the automotive world by storm with their reliability and durability – not to mention the styling – of their sports cars. What followed was decades of the rest of the world making brilliant sports cars, with Japan simply revealing their own take on it and selling them by the thousands. While there were many sports cars to choose over something like an American muscle car, some just simply weren’t as cool as a Ford Mustang, Oldsmobile Toronado, or Dodge Charger R/T.
So, while Japan has built some of the greatest automobiles ever created, there are still some muscle cars we’d buy over them. With that, here are five classic and retro Japanese classic cars we’d buy over any muscle car and five which just don’t cut it.
10 Would Buy Over A Muscle Car – Datsun 240Z
The Datsun 240Z was the start of the more practical range of sports cars. It was lighter, faster, and cheaper than most sports cars in its class and had the added benefit of being reliable and well-built. The 240Z was a beautiful piece of engineering, and it is still a highly desired classic automobile.
The 240Z was fitted with a 2.4-liter straight-six engine, mated to either a 4/5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic. The car produced 151 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque, being sent to the rear wheels only. The 240Z is the predecessor to all the legendary Z cars within Nissan’s line-up.
9 Would Buy Over A Muscle Car – Mazda RX-7
The Mazda RX-7 is an awesome car. First introduced in the late 1970s, the first – and second-generation cars tested the waters to see if rotary-powered sports cars were still desirable. The answer was ‘yes’ and so Mazda created one of the best Japanese sports cars in the history of the automobile.
The third generation was introduced in 1992 and was the first instance of sequential twin-turbocharging to be exported from Japan. It had a twin-rotor engine that displaced 1.3 liters and produced around 250 hp and 217 lb-ft. Despite the inherent unreliability and almost constant need for repair, the RX-7 is a fantastic sports car.
8 Would Buy Over A Muscle Car – Toyota Supra A80
The Toyota Supra followed much the same route as the RX-7 did, selling its most popular generation at roughly the same time. Unlike the Mazda, the Supra was sold with the now legendary 2JZ 3.0-liter straight-six – which was available in both naturally aspirated and twin-turbo formats.
The non-turbo Supra produced 220 hp, while the boosted one made in excess of 320 hp – with an almost unlimited amount of tuning potential, easily producing 500 hp with very few mods. The Supra A80 is truly one of the great Japanese cars – definitely one we’d have over a muscle car.
7 Would Buy Over A Muscle Car – Honda NSX
The Honda NSX was an interesting car. Built to offer the speed and handling of a Ferrari, but cost a fraction of the price, the NSX made massive waves within the motoring world. Sold between 1990 and 2005, the original NSX was the thinking man’s sports car with its comfort and performance.
The NSX was initially sold with a 3.0-liter V6 which produced 250 hp and 208 lb-ft of torque. This was updated to a 3.2-liter V6 with VTEC, with power increased to 290 hp. The power was sent to the rear wheels via either a 5- or 6-speed manual, or a 4-speed automatic.
6 Would Buy Over A Muscle Car – Nissan Skyline GT-R R32
The Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 was where the modern take on the legendary car started. Where the previous generation had a smaller engine and rear-wheel-drive, the R32 was fitted with all-wheel-drive and the 2.6-liter twin-turbocharged RB26DETT – an engine almost as well-known as Toyota’s 2JZ.
As per the Japanese gentlemen’s agreement, the R32 only produced 276 hp – but could be tuned for much more using aftermarket parts. The vehicle was only ever available with a 5-speed manual, adding to the sportiness. Nissan used the same engine until the R35 when it switched over to a V6 instead of a straight-six.
5 Would Not Buy Over A Muscle Car – Nissan 300ZX
A successor to the legendary 240Z, the 300ZX was a car worthy of the name. It was good-looking, fast, and could be optioned with a twin-turbo V6. All the great hallmarks of a Japanese sports car. It even had 300 hp going to the rear wheels.
While the 300ZX was – and still is – a good car, it is not quite muscle car good. The 300ZX lacked the true Z-car spirit and felt a bit cold and clinical, rather than special. Like all Japanese sports cars of this era, the 300ZX has an almost innumerable number of aftermarket parts available, making it a bit more desirable.
4 Would Not Buy Over A Muscle Car – Mitsubishi Eclipse
The Mitsubishi Eclipse was one of the coolest sports cars of the 1990s. It had a turbocharged inline-4 which sent power to all four wheels via either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. It produced around 210 hp but could easily be upgraded to ridiculous levels.
Unfortunately, Mitsubishi changed this, and the third generation Eclipse turned into a boring, front-wheel-drive V6 coupe, based on a Chrysler platform. The final Eclipse model followed this trend, but at least upped the power to 260 hp, thanks to the 3.8-liter V6 from a Mitsubishi Pajero/Shogun/Montero.
3 Would Not Buy Over A Muscle Car – Nissan 280Z
The Nissan 280Z was a direct relative of the 240Z, but with a longer body, a bigger engine, and a revised priority on comfort and luxury. It still looked like a 240Z but was built as a North American model, which meant larger 5 mph bumpers and catalytic converters to comply with emissions regulations.
The 280Z was great, but it just didn’t quite have the same character as the original 240Z. The 2.8-liter inline-6 produced 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, still driving the rear wheels only via either a 4- or 5-speed manual, or a 3-speed automatic. It also had some success racing in the Sports Car Club of America racing series in the 1970s.
2 Would Not Buy Over A Muscle Car – Toyota Celica
The Toyota Celica is considered by many to simply be the smaller Supra, but this cannot be further from the truth. The Celica was actually the original car and has a whole history of its own. Apart from some ingenious cheating at the World Rally Championships in the 1990s, the Celica is known for its amazing off-road racing abilities.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth generations were available with all-wheel-drive and turbocharged engines. Unfortunately, the final Celica was only front-wheel-drive and could only be ordered with a 1.8-liter i4, producing either 140 or 180 hp. This was a bit of a let-down and to add insult to injury, the Celica GT was rated one of the best value fuel-efficient cars in the US in 2004. Not as sporty as it once was then.
1 Would Not Buy Over A Muscle Car – Mitsubishi 3000GT
The Mitsubishi 3000GT – also known as the Dodge Stealth – was a larger all-wheel-drive sports coupe to fall in above the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The 3000GT was fitted with a 3.0-liter V6, twin-turbocharged in its highest VR-4 trim, producing 300 hp and 308 lb-ft of torque.
The 3000GT was a great idea and a good sports car, but it just didn’t quite catch the imagination of the public. This is why we would still buy a muscle car over it – even if it had a Dodge logo and R/T badging on the back.