9 May 2016

Germany vs. Japan

It’s always fun to watch ardent German and Japanese marque loyalists go at it. “Soulless” or “appliance-like” are usually among the epithets thrown at slick and reliable Japanese cars while “needlessly complex,” “overrated” and “smug” go the other direction. But hey, we’re Switzerland in this. So, here are just the facts in some fun, German vs. Japanese performance car matchups:

1969 BMW 2002 vs. 1969 Datsun 510- Almost from the day it debuted, the 510 was referred to as “the poor man’s BMW 2002.” In 1969, the BMW cost a cool $1,500 more than the 510, and that friends was real money then. Both cars were sport sedans par excellence. They put actual sports cars of the day like the MGB and TR6 to shame in the ride, handling and even the performance department. Against the 510, the BMW has 17 more horsepower with a similar curb weight. According to Road & Track’s 1969 road test, it was about three seconds quicker to 60 and about 15 mph faster. Both cars had independent rear suspension, great handling and competent front disc brakes with rear drums. In the intangibles like cockpit comfort, it’s a draw. The 2002 has better seats, but the Datsun has a modern flow through ventilation system whereas the BMW lacks even face level vents. The Datsun was also available in two-door and four-door sedan body styles plus a useful wagon (which for some reason surrendered the sedan’s independent rear suspension). The U.S. never got the nifty Bluebird coupe. Values today can be pretty close, (there seem to be far fewer nice 510s than 2002s), so it comes down more to personal preference than anything else.

1992 Porsche 964 Carrera 2 vs. 1992 Acura NSX- Other than the fact that they’re both high performance sports cars, the 964 and NSX couldn’t be more different. The 964 was a brilliant update of a then 25-year-old car with the engine in the wrong place, while the NSX was a clean sheet, mid-engine design with input from F1 champion Ayrton Senna. The 964 added power steering and suspension updates to the 911, plus some lessons learned from the 959 supercar was the first step towards essentially making the 911’s life infinite from a product planning standpoint. The performance envelope of the two cars is actually pretty close. With the Porsche, you get the usual 911 hewn from a block of granite feeling and the classic solid “ping” sound with every door shut (and the classic but absurd ergonomics that hark back to 1964). The NSX is ergonomically brilliant, but then so was a 1990s Accord which detractors say the NSX’s interior resembles. In the end, it’s too close to call—Japanese supercar or one of the most user-friendly 911s ever.

1989 Porsche 944 Turbo vs. 1989 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo- Nissan introduced the turbo version of the Z32 in the same model year that Porsche announced it would discontinue the 944 Turbo. Take what you will from the timing, but never had Porsche and Nissan’s offerings been so evenly matched. The Nissan made a respectable (even today) 300 hp to the 944’s 247 hp. The difference came out in the wash, since the Nissan weighed about 400 lbs. more than the Porsche. Try as they did, however, the editors of Automobile magazine, in November of 1989, couldn’t get one around the track much faster than the other. They did note that the Nissan had a far more comfortable ride than the 944 and speculated that if the 300ZX’s compliance was dialed in as tautly as the 944’s, the Nissan might have had an advantage. Today, clean 944 Turbos are enjoying a steeper appreciation curve than the Nissan, but we might wager that the pretty Nissan is destined to catch the Porsche. Now is probably the time to find a great one.

1985 Toyota Celica GT-S Convertible vs. 1990 BMW E30 318i convertible- The rare convertible version of the last rear-wheel drive Celica and the first full-convertible, four-cylinder, Three-series BMW make a much more apt comparison in open form than most people realize. The 1985 Celica GT-S convertible was essentially a one year thing (a few hundred were built for the 1984 model year) with under 5,000 cars produced. The convertible was an official factory model, but the assembly and finishing was accomplished by the American Sunroof Corporation (ASC) in California. Frankly, their work was better than the design work that coachbuilder Baur did for BMW. The Celica has considerably less cowl shake than the German car but the BMW handles better. The Celica GT-S did receive the Supra’s IRS setup, but it was more of a boulevard cruiser than a Mulholland Drive weapon. Performance is about on par for the two four-cylinder convertibles with 0-60 coming up in a rather leisurely 11 seconds or so. And whereas E30 BMWs are hot collectibles at the moment, even ardent Japanese car lovers are ignoring the rare third-generation Celica convertible.

1970 Datsun 240Z vs. 1970 Porsche 911T- Back in 1970, $3,500 was real money, about the equivalent of $21,000 today. $7,000 was closer to $43,000 in 2016. That’s what the Datsun 240Z and Porsche 911T cost. It’s not very debatable that the Z was superior to its immediate competitors from Great Britain and Italy, but how did it stack up against a Porsche that cost twice as much? Pretty well as it turns out. The 911T (or “touring”) was the lowest spec 911 in horsepower and equipment with 125 hp from 2.2 liters of air-cooled flat six. It was good for 0-60 in around nine seconds. The Z with its husky 2.4-liter straight-six making 150 hp could run 0-60 in either 7.8 seconds or 8.7 seconds depending on whether you were a Car and Driver or Road & Track reader. Top speed on both cars was about 120 mph. In terms of reliability, the two were pretty closely matched, both cars were carbureted, simple and fairly well sorted. In built quality, it wasn’t close. The Z was clearly built to a price with lots of cheap plastic and tinny, not well insulated sheet metal. The Porsche was well, a Porsche. But with long hood 911 prices officially crossing the insane threshold and early Z prices simply moderately eye-popping at the moment, the Z over 911 argument is just as compelling today as it was in 1970.

4 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Dan Austin, TX May 11, 2016 at 16:54
    Having owned both the 510 (with an imported SSS engine) and a 2002, I preferred the BMW. I also owned multiple 240Z's, as I ran a restoration shop and raced them. I also had a 911E, and preferred a modified Z over the 911. Bone stock, the 911 was a much nicer car, but the ergonomics of the Z made them easier to drive fast...when properly modified. That was a key to all the 70's cars: You needed to replace the seats, and the suspensions (except the 911) needed premium shock absorbers, larger sway bars, and wider alloy wheels.
  • 2
    Paul Decker New York May 12, 2016 at 06:33
    There are other German cars besides BMW and Porsche
  • 3
    Joe Tennessee May 12, 2016 at 11:09
    ^ eh, not really. Loved reading this. Growing up, I had a 1987 951 and my brother a 1990 Z TT, you can imagine the fun we had in the backroads of TN.
  • 4
    Larry Bennett Melbourne, FL May 13, 2016 at 11:51
    Having consistently owned several Z's since 1971, from the1971 240Z to my current 1980 280ZX, I am constantly amazed how well they were built and how easy the interior and mechanicals are made for the "shade tree mechanic" like me. The only flaw I have experienced, and it is a potential fatal one, is how corrosion and rust can eat up the body.

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