As ’80s and ’90s cars continue to heat up in the collector market, Japanese sports cars from this era are experiencing a major renaissance. Today’s buyers remember these stylish and technologically innovative dynamos from when they were just kids playing Gran Turismo, but these tuner favorites are now gaining traction as legitimate classics. Case in point: these seven Japanese classics that are sure to capture people’s attention at the 2019 Amelia Island auctions.
Compared to a lot of other Japanese performance cars from the 1990s, people have overlooked the Nissan 300ZX Turbo. When it came out in 1990, the Z32-generation ZX was one of the first cars of its generation with advanced technology like four-wheel steering. The Turbo’s twin-boosted V-6 made an impressive 300 horsepower, which helped propel the top-spec ZX to top speed of 155 mph and a 0–60 sprint of 5.6 seconds.
This example on offer at Amelia shows a stunningly low 2719 miles, which is believable given that this car looks like it just rolled off the production line in 1996. Records show it sat at a Texas dealership, north of Houston, for three years before it was sold.
Prices for the 300ZX are flat, following a big bump for top-quality #1-condition (Concours) and #2-condition (Excellent) cars in 2018. Average price for Concours cars is $41,100, so this estimate is right on the money with the market. Still, Z32 Turbo ZXs still lag behind Supras, FD RX-7s, and NSXs. Only the 3000GT VR4 is priced similarly—maybe it’s the four-wheel steering?
The FD-generation RX-7 is the stuff of rotary-powered dreams. Sequential twin turbos, 255 hp, and an appetite for consuming oil are all part of the raw sports car experience, and the tuner favorite has been climbing the collector car ladder for a few years now. People love the FD’s wide stance, sleek profile, flip-up headlights, and full-width taillights, but the car is a sharp handling machine as well. These cars are tricky to keep running properly, particularly if you’re having issues with the turbo control module that controls the sequential boosters. Clean examples like this are hard to come by, and no doubt this example looks extremely babied.
RM’s pre-sale estimate is perfectly reasonable for such a clean FD with only 13,600 miles. In the last few months, values are up 8 percent for an average #1-condition (Concours) price of $49,400, so we might even see a result that beats the high end of the estimate.
If there’s any car that most exemplifies the recent surge of in-demand Japanese classics, it’s Godzilla. The straight-six-powered, 276-hp, all-wheel-drive coupe was never sold in the U.S., and as a result it was long lusted after by fans of Japanese car culture (and Gran Turismo players). Although R32 GT-Rs are not exactly rare, they’re hard to come by in the U.S., where only in the last several years have they become eligible for import under the federal 25-year rule. These cars are said to be delightful to drive and more than capable of keeping up with modern traffic.
Stock examples that are this well-kept are especially tough to locate. According to Bonhams, this car was purchased two years before it was legal for import, and then passed through customs when it became legal to do so. It’s had a bit of recent freshening, all done with the goal of keeping the car as true to the original as possible.
Given the 25,000 miles and original condition, this pre-sale estimate lines up with the high end of our #2-condition (Excellent) price for a stock Skyline GT-R—about $45,000. That seems about right. Bonhams previously sold a 1992 example for $86,900 at The Quail in 2017, but that car had tasteful NISMO performance upgrades and showed only 4000 or so miles on the odometer. It was also exceptionally clean.
The Acura NSX is widely considered the seminal Japanese supercar of the 1990s. Not only was it fantastic to drive—as Ayrton Senna professed—but the NSX was mechanically robust and usable day to day in a way that most exotics of the time were not. The car had technology baked into it that trickled down from the Formula 1 program, and the 3.0-liter V-6 benefited from dual overhead cams and variable valve timing to help make its 270 hp. Honda built the five-speed mid-engine marvel with an all-aluminum monocoque and aluminum suspension components to minimize curb weight. The NSX was imbued not only with impeccable balance, but also timeless style.
While the modern hybrid-power NSX isn’t the hit Honda hoped it would be, the market for the vintage NSX is strong. Prices are on the rise for later NSXs more so than the early cars, owing mostly to their larger 3.2-liter V-6s and six-speed manual gearboxes.
This ’91 black-on-black NSX bears a reasonable 39,000 miles on the clock, which suggests it was driven somewhat regularly in its 28 years since production. Cars in similar #2 (Excellent) condition average $61,500, which is right in the meat of Bonhams’ pre-sale estimate. Whoever buys this car should have no guilt about driving and enjoying it as intended.
This later NSX, a six-speed, stick-shift, targa-top model looking lovely in red, is expected to command quite a bit more than the 1991 car at Bonhams since 2005 is the most valuable year for the NSX—it’s the last year of production, and it’s only 14 years old. From 2002, NSXs received revised front and rear bumpers and disposed of the flip-up headlights, while Honda also reworked the suspension for improved performance. Showing 9200 miles, this is about as pristine a late-model NSX as you’ll find.
Way before Paul Walker made the Mk IV Supra Turbo world famous in The Fast and the Furious, tuners were already marveling at the absurd durability and capability of Toyota’s iron-block 2JZ twin-turbo inline-six. In stock form it made 320 hp and could sprint from 0–60 mph in 4.6 seconds, but there are plenty of verifiable claims of tuners summoning 1000+ hp from the Supra Turbo. These cars were immediately recognized for their excellent performance and impressive dynamics, but their high price made them slow sellers. That’s not the case now.
Prices for the Mk IV Turbo have been steadily rising since 2014, and in the last few months values are up 6.3 percent to $93,900 in #1 (Concours) condition. Sport-roof (targa) models like the one crossing the block at RM bring a few grand less than the equivalent coupe, but the auction house clearly has high hopes for this car if the estimate is any indication.
The Supra has only 11,200 miles on it, and the black-over-tan color scheme has aged very well. While six figures might seem totally insane for a Toyota from the ’90s, people are clearly willing to pay that much for super-clean, low-mile examples. Just a couple of months ago, Bring a Trailer sold a red 7111-mile Supra Turbo for $121,000.
Looking at this list, this 1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R “Hakosuka” is an obvious outlier. That said, a lot of people consider the original GT-R to be a foundational figure of Japanese sports car culture. The S-20 inline-six, good for 160 hp and a 7500-rpm redline, was based on the Nissan R380 race engine. This high-revving, triple-carb six-cylinder was only used in one other car—the Fairlady 432. “Hakosuka” is a portmanteau in Japanese, where hako means boxy and suka is a shortening of sukarain—a type of mountain road. Naturally, the GT-R was more than capable on a twisty road and even proved its mettle on the racetrack with 52 races won in its three years of competition.
Bonhams’ Hakosuka on offer is a rarer sedan, rather than the more well-known coupe. Nissan made 832 four-doors of the 2029 total GT-R production from 1969–72, although today the sedans are less valuable. Still, this GT-R is a majestic example of Japanese performance, and it includes upgrades like racing cams, stainless-steel exhaust, Weber carbs, an aluminum radiator, and a Nardi steering wheel. The car is the same one featured on Jay Leno’s Garage last June. And given that the Skyline impressed Jay Leno, it’ll certainly make its next owner happy every time that straight-six fires up.