When I was a kid, my favourite game on Playstation 1 was Gran Turismo.
One thing that always used to confuse me, however, was the fact that so many cars in that game all showed a power figure of 276hp:
But why are Japanese cars limited to 276hp/280ps (or near enough to that figure)?
In this article we take a look at the interesting story of Japan and horsepower limits.
Origins Of The 276hp Limit
In the 1980s, there were concerns in Japanese society about the number of injuries and deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents.
In 1988, Japanese auto manufacturers came together and agreed to a “gentleman’s agreement” – cars would not produce more than 276hp and were to be limited to 180kmh; at least for cars produced for the Japanese domestic market (read our article here on the meaning of JDM if you’re not sure what this entails).
The concept of mutual self-restraint meant that for approximately two decades, Japanese car makers were careful not to produce vehicles that claimed to have more than 276hp (sometimes rounded up to 280hp).
It was thought that by limiting stated horsepower figures, this would help to reduce road accidents and injuries/deaths as well as have the effect of staving off an automotive “arm’s race”, as improving technology allowed for ever more powerful and capable cars.
Others have also claimed that the limit – at least in part – was to allow Japanese car manufacturers to compete in certain categories of motor racing that had power limits on cars as well. Certainly, this would make sense when you consider for example that the “R32 Godzilla” was so successful in motorsport.
Power Limits Were “On Paper” And Not On The Street
This is where the story takes a turn.
On paper, no Japanese domestic market vehicle was meant to exceed 276hp, nor be capable of exceeding 180kmh.
However, the truth is that by the mid 1990s, many Japanese car makers were claiming one thing on paper (that their vehicles complied with the limit) but achieving very different results in reality.
A clear example of this is the Mitsubishi 3000GT/GTO. In the United States, the facelifted 3000GT VR-4 had 320hp. In Japan, it came with 276hp, despite both having exactly the same engine. Read our Mitsubishi 3000GT/GTO buyer’s guide for more information on this. Funnily enough, Mitsubishi didn’t even bother to change the torque rating on the JDM versus US market models; they just typed in a lower HP number to satisfy the “gentleman’s agreement”.
Another example of this – and perhaps a more famous one – is the Nissan Skyline GTR.
The R34 GTR was claimed to make the 276hp limit, but quite clearly (as anyone who has driven one, seen one in real life, or even watched a video of one would know) this was a big fat lie. Dyno testing reveals that the R34 GTR generally produced around 330-340hp; almost 70 more than claimed!
Something had to give. Japanese car makers were all “in on the game”, producing cars that complied with their unwritten agreement on paper but broke it on the street and track. The status quo was never going to continue forever!
Japan Dumps The Horsepower Limit
In late 2004, a big change occurred in the Japanese car market.
Honda became the first manufacturer to publicly exceed the 276hp limit, with its 296hp Legend powered by a 3.5 litre v6.
Realistically, this change was just Japanese car makers fessing up to what everyone had known for a while – cars were becoming more powerful, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to credibly maintain that 276hp limit.
The horse had bolted, and there was no longer any point in locking the stable door. From that point, Japanese car makers have continued to one-up each other in the power and performance stakes (much as American and European auto makers have done).
Now we get to enjoy much more powerful vehicles than the old limit.
Conclusion – Why Are Japanese Cars Limited To 276hp/280ps?
To recap, firstly it is important to note that Japanese cars aren’t limited to that figure any more. This limit was lifted in around 2004 (check) and you now have Japanese cars that produce substantially more power.
For example, the first of the R35 GTRs came with a power output of 479hp/485ps – far beyond what would have been considered acceptable only a few years earlier.
The 2020 GTR Nismo edition comes with 600hp; more than double the old “limit”.
Even a more modest vehicle, such as the current WRX STI, sports 310hp.
The truth is that cars in the 90s and early 2000s were producing higher than stated figures anyway – it was purely that the “gentleman’s agreement” meant no one manufacturer wanted to be seen to be starting a horsepower arms race!