10 Magical Japanese Cars From The 80’s and 90’s!

Nissan R34 GT-R

The Nissan GTR dynasty stretches all the way back to the late 60’s, encompassing some of the best cars to come out of Japan. The R34 GTR was a late comer to the nineties, launching in 1999 and finishing production in 2002. As one of the most iconic Japanese cars of all time, the R34 certainly has a lot to live up to, and it delivers that in spades.

With a Twin-turbocharged 2.6 L I6 engine and a 6-speed transmission, the R34 was bound to be fast. Due to Japanese car industry norms at the time, the R34 was advertised as having 276 hp but in reality it had well over 330 hp. Not only was it a power car from the factory, when tuners got their hands on these they produced some real screamers, with some reaching 1000 hp.

The R34 GT-R has become somewhat of a legend and some models are now fetching supercar territory prices. A famous example of this was a Z-Tune GT-R up for sale in Hong Kong for an eye watering $510,000.

Toyota AE86


How could we forget the AE86. A car that was not only made famous by Initial D, but also for its incredible styling and driving characteristics. Toyota introduced the car in 1983 with production ending in 87. The car later inspired the development of the Toyota GT86.

The 86 was available with a fuel-injected 4-cylinder twin-cam 1587 cc 4A-GE engine in Japan and Europe which was also used in the first-generation Toyota MR2, the Toyota Celica GT-R , and the GT Carina. This engine had a maximum gross power output of 128 hp, though it was later down-rated 118 hp in net output.

The AE86 came with a 5-speed manual gearbox, and later came with the option of an automatic. The 4A-GE engines used in the AE86 and AW11 were equipped with Toyota’s Toyota Variable Intake System (T-VIS). Additionally, Toyota offered the AE86 with the option of a LSD.

In a way, the AE86 inspired a generation of car enthusiasts. It may not be as impressive as a GT-R, Supra or NSX, but the AE86 is one of our most loved cars of all time. It also makes an excellent Tofu delivery car.

Subaru WRX STI

While rallying might not have been so exciting in the nineties as it was in the eighties, it did give birth to some of the greatest cars ever built. One of those is the Subaru Impreza WRX STI which burst onto the scene in 1992. With technology from rallying, all-wheel drive, uprated suspension and the much loved turbocharged boxer engine, the WRX has some serious real world speed.

The Subaru Tecnica International (STI) models are the most famous and were introduced in 1994. Improvements over the standard WRX included more powerful engines, improved transmission and suspension, and that STI badge. Nineties WRX STI’s are still seen bashing around rally stages today and the magic hasn’t worn off at all.

As a testament to Subaru and the WRX namesake, the WRX STI is still being produced today and has remained a top contender in its field. Driven by greats such as Petter Solberg, Colin McRae abd Richard Burns, the Impreza badge won three manufacturers’ and three driver’s titles in rallying. Subaru eventually pulled out of the rally scene in 2008 due to the financial crisis, however you will still find plenty of them bashing around rally stages all over the world.

Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R

We might as well start off this list with a bit of a bang. The R32 GT-R might not have started the GT-R namesake but it is responsible for bringing it up to legendary status. Nissan canned the GT-R name in 1973, but brought it back when they needed a new car for Group A racing homologation rules.

The R32 GT-R was a wildly different beast to the previous GT-R. It featured a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, a powerful 2.6-litre twin-turbo engine that produced 276 hp, and a weight of just over 1,400kg.

A Nismo edition was launched in 1990 with a total production run of 560. This featured some aerodynamic changes, removal of the ABS system, and weight saving. It was also only available in a gun metal grey colour.

The R32 GT-R was branded with the Godzilla name when it dominated the Australian motoring scene. The car was so dominate in Australia it tore apart Group A racing in the country and got itself banned in the process.

Toyota Supra MkIV

How could you have a best Japanese car list without the Toyota Supra. It’s one of the most iconic Japanese sports cars of all time, and for good reason. While the Supra started life in 1976, it really wasn’t until the 1990’s when Toyota perfected the recipe. Essentially a elongated Celica with a bit more width and an inline six, the Supra quickly gained a large following in the motoring world.

The Supra could unleash 320 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque from its monstrous 3.0-litre twin turbocharged inline-six engine. With that much power and a relatively low curb weight compared to its competition, the Supra was one of the fastest cars to come out of Japan in a straight line. Not only was it fast on the straights, but due to well dialed suspension, quality weight distribution and grippy tyres, the Supra could make mincemeat of most corners.

While car enthusiasts eagerly await the next iteration of the Supra badge, we can’t help but think that the Mk4 Supra will never be surpassed by another Toyota.

Honda Integra Type-R

Credit: Honda

Like Toyota, Honda was absolutely on form in the 90’s. One of there gems was one of and is still one of the most exciting and engaging FWD vehicles ever built. It’s 1.8-litre four cylinder 195 hp engine was a real screamer, and it showed that sometimes there is a replacement for displacement.

The Integra’s 8500rpm revving wasn’t even its party piece, that came out to show when you hit the corners. With a curb weight well under 1200 kg, suspension of the gods and a strong, stiff body, the Integra could blitz around corners faster than almost any car. Honda’s Integra Type-R was more of a race car for the road, rather than a traditional sports car and we love it.

Mazda RX-7

Who could not love the RX-7. Whether it’s the sound as it passes by or the sound of the petrol pump, the RX-7 is probably the coolest Japanese car of the 90’s. The RX-7 had been around for a number of years, but it wasn’t until the 90’s when the Hiroshima prefecture based car company turned there flagship into a masterpiece. It showed the world that there really was a replacement for displacement, even if it still used just as much fuel.

With 276 hp coming from its 1.3-litre turbocharged rotary engine, a low weight compared to its rivals (around 1,250kg) and a supreme chassis with balanced weight distribution, the RX-7 was a world better and an all time classic. Mazda’s successor to the RX-7, the RX-8 never captured the imagination of car enthusiasts like the RX-7 did. Maybe it was its family orientated feel, as opposed to the RX-7’s supreme looks and sporty credentials.

With talk of a RX-9 at the Tokyo motor show at the end of this year, could Mazda return to the glory days of the RX-7? We’ve heard that the RX-9 could feature 400hp in a car that weighs around 1,300kg. That could make for an exciting prospect indeed.

Honda NSX

Our favourite at Garage Dreams and one of the all time greatest cars ever built. The Honda NSX (New Sportscar eXperimental) showed the world that exotic sportscars didn’t have to be just for a weekend back-country blast, but could also be everyday drivers as well. Honda created a car that shocked the world and showed us that supercars could be for the everyday man as well.

Honda’s intention with the NXS was to provide a car that could meet or exceed the performance of a V8 engined Ferrari, while offering reliability and a lower price point. This was done by fitting a 3.0L V6 VTEC engine in the middle of the car that drove the rear wheels. In doing so, Honda produced a 270 hp masterpiece that had input from the late Formula One World Champion, Aryton Senna and styling ques from a F-16 fighter jet.

Honda recently launched a new, hybrid NSX that takes over the mantle from the previous one. While it was generally well received, many were disappointed by the lofty price and its slower performance than many of its competitors. The original NSX however; trampled on many of its competitors while coming in at a reasonable price. Still, there are rumors Honda may be launching a more simplified NSX in the future, which would certainly gives us all the right vibes.

Toyota MR2

Credit: GPS-56

Toyota shocked the world when it launched the original MR2. Nobody expected the Japanese car manufacturer to make something like it, but they somehow ‘knocked it out of the park’ with the MR2. Toyota was mainly known for its practical family cars, however the MR2 was nothing of the sort.

The first generation was introduced in 1984 with the model code “W10”. When fitted with the 1.5-liter 3A engine, it was known as the “AW10”. Likewise, the 1.6-liter 4A version is identified by the “AW11” code.

Toyota engineered the MR2 to be as light as possible, with a body weight of 950kg for the Japanese model. Handling was a primary focus of the engineers at Toyota and they decided to opt for a lightly powered, small-displacement engine for the car. Lotus engineer, Roger Becker came aboard to the design the suspension system for the MR2.

Originally, the MR2 was just sold with a naturally aspirated 4A-GE 1,587cc inline-four engine, however they decided to introduce a supercharged model in 1986. This increased power from around 128 hp to 145 hp.

The MR2 won the “Japanese car of the year” award when it launched in 1984.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Another brilliant car to come out of the rallying scene was Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution series of cars. The Evo series managed to cram six different generations into just 10 years. Mitsubishi’s Evo would go on to become the WRX STI’s arch rival in both the rallying world and on the street.

They were powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and were fine tuned for more performance as the generations progressed. The sixth generation was arguably the most iconic of all time with the launch of the Tommi Makinen Edition. This was named after the famous Finnish rally driver who won four WRC drivers’ championships for Mitsubishi. It came with a number of improvements including a faster spooling titanium turbine, faster steering, lower ride height and larger wheels.


  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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