QotW: Would you import a JDM car that you could get in America?

There are many degrees of JDM-ness, but we think it can be classified into four main categories. If we were to list them in order from most JDM to least, something very JDM like a Skyline GT-R that has absolutely no US equivalent would be a JDM4. Next up, a JDM3 would be a car that has the same body but a powertrain that is not offered in America, like a GC WRX STi. A JDM2 car would have unique options or colors that were only available on Japanese variants, like an AE86 Black Limited. And finally a JDM1 car would be a car that has minimal differences from its US counterpart, stuff like lights, folding mirrors, and the steering wheel on the other side. We’ve seen quite a few JDM1 cars here in the US, and it’s always made us wonder what made someone to go through the trouble.

Would you import a JDM car that you could get in America?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What will my 3-year-old’s first car be?“.

This was a very personal question and I genuinely appreciated all the answers. For what it’s worth, I see many friends with kids of driving age getting Miatas as their first car, and perhaps by 2035 a used ND might make a good choice. My first choice, though, is that he wants to inherit the AE86.

On the other hand, many answers took into account the looming changes in the industry. daniel suggested I start converting the Hachiroku to run on hydrogen as Akio Toyoda suggested. In the same vein, f31roger proposed an EV conversion. Jonathan P. was more bleak, downgrading him to a Nissan Leaf. Hopefully there will be more sporty EV alternatives by then. Taylor C. made a good point – that even if he inherits the AE86 he probably won’t daily it anyway, and an easily maintainable car is paramount.

Art, facing the same situation with his daughter, plans to buy a car that he can repaint pink and purple per her request. speedie points out that by 2035 the 25-year-rule will apply to a number of interesting cars and there will be no shortage of good candidates. Bryan Kitsune pitched a very good one from that era, the ZZT231 Celica. Jim Klein recommended that right of passage for so many car aficionados, the Cozy Coupe.

All of these comments were peppered with excellent advice, but the winner this week was Jim Daniels, who gave a really thought-provoking answer that I will continue to refer to for a long time:

Ben, I know it is not unusual for my input to be different. This will be no different. My input will be from a father with off spring that already are driving and a father who had kids later in life. First, all cars are not created equal just as all people are not created equal. People come in all sorts of sizes, strengths, mentalities, intellect and so on. There are today and will be ill handling un interesting boats built in the future and few if any 16 year olds will be interested in them.
An AE86 is a true modern sports car with good looks and handling. Possibly the equivalent of lets say a Datsun 240Z of 50 years ago. The first gen Z are archaic compared to a modern car. However people still like them for many reasons. I will assume it will be the same for the AE86.

Now for the true parental advice and this is more important than what he will be driving. This information is how to keep your son interested in classic cars and enjoy driving them. Never force you child to do what dad in interested in. Allow your child to participate with you at his level and try to meet him at that level. Can be as simple as stacking washers in order. Do not have a plan to accomplish a project in a time frame the time spent with your child is more important than accomplishing the project. Your child will want to be with you and try to be involved in your passions. Do not give him projects he can not be successful with. You want positive experiences with Dad and cars. Do not make him spend hours out in the sun at car shows. He will be board. Allow him to play away from peoples cars at a child’s level.

Keep the Hot Wheels coming. Keep him away from electronic wizardry cell phones and all until he actually needs The constant stimulation and vivid lighting is to much for the developing child. Take short spirited drives with him their attention span is short. Allow him to sit in the drivers seat with supervision. He will want to do what Dad does, turning the wheel and rowing the gears. In the long run his interest may not be to your level but he will have memories of Dad and cars and that is the goal.

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12 Responses to QotW: Would you import a JDM car that you could get in America?

  1. Fred Langille says:

    This has already been done by me … the Nissan S-Cargo is definitely a JDM4 (never heard of these designations before but, they make sense) but, in order to answer the question, definitely yes! Everyone here appears to want or have a vehicle that is out of the perceived American norm. The S-Cargo recently took a Top 20 trophy at a show … so far, he prviously got a Top 35 and a Top 25, getting better … when I heard one of the judges say, barely when the mike was on, “I’ve never seen one of these before:

    There it is … right there. Those of us on this site have taken the unbeaten path towards having a car that NO ONE ELSE HAS. I went immediately to JDM4 but, as far as going through that list, I defintely would do so. Case in point is the Subaru 360, especially the Young edition. Finding one is hard, finding a Young version is harder. Hardest of all is a RHD Young! Also, American cars built for Japan fit here. It is due to the hook that these kinds of vehicles have in their uniqueness ,,, sometimes it works against you either in the parts and maintenance area or, which has happened to me, having your car ignored as the others don’t or want to understand it, preferring to gawk at another ’55 Chevvy clonemobile. Having a unique car can have these drawbacks.

    Put up with the comments of “weird” or, “is it electric?” or, “is it legal to drive (completely ignoring the state license plate and inspection sticker)” and, enjoy the fruits of your importation and restoration.

    I try to do that and, have my choice against the norm reminded by the People’s Choice, Most Unusual, Parade Choice, Best Import, Top 35, Top 25 and, Top 20 gold on display in my living room.

  2. ceuppens eric says:

    I wonder in which JDM category my car would be? I own a Subaru Legacy RSK 4 “blitzen”, my2000, imported it straight from Japan to Belgium, 1 owner with 90000 km, or 57000 miles, it took a while to get it on the road because of the ridiculous Belgian laws but I’m driving it for 4 years now. is it a JDM 3 or 4? it’s been completely stock until this year, I lowered it with a BC-racing coilover kit, put some original STI wheels on from a forester STI (18 inch) and build a custom exhaust (only mid- and end-pipe).it drives perfectly and is a lot of fun to take out on the streets here in Belgium. my other cars are a Lexus IS-f 2008, two Mitsubishi starion wide body (one 2.0 and one 2.6 turbo), and I’m working on a Datsun 260Z I bought from Panama, I took it apart completely, blasted it, at this moment it’s in epoxy and I’m being busy on it. grtz

  3. Land Ark says:

    Part of the draw for me to buy my ’95 Celsior last year was that, by virtue of it having a very similar model sold here, parts would not be impossible to acquire. Of course, that is not completely true across the board – like my steering rack is a little leaky and there is nothing I can do about it – but for about 80% of the car, I can usually find used, new OEM, or high quality aftermarket parts for it. Unless the parts are unobtainable now – I’m looking at you, trunk seal!

    • Land Ark says:

      You also get the added benefit of triple-takes from other folks where they see it and recognize it as a Lexus LS, realize there’s something interesting about it (suspension and wheels), and then see that no one is sitting in the driver’s seat.

  4. Land Ark says:

    Sorry, something in my post keeps getting filtered out. I’m trying one paragraph at a time.

    I seriously considered buying a Y32 Cedric/Gloria but I ultimately decided living with the Celsior on a daily basis would be a better experience – at least right now. Maybe one day the parts channels will open up and you will be able to get whatever you want easily. But for now, my drive to and from work is much more relaxing knowing that I don’t have to worry about much.

    (Here it is for a little shameless promotion)

  5. Land Ark says:

    This is the paragraph it doesn’t like for some reason – I’m trying a few re-writes.

    Finally, we all know that the LS400 was one of, if not the best built cars of all time. But in 2023 finding a 95-97 here that doesn’t have 200,000+ miles, isn’t on its 9th owner and in appalling condition, and isn’t being sold at an eye-watering price is extremely difficult. You certainly can’t find one with wool seats since it was never offered here. The only way to get a low mile, good condition one (assuming one of the previous owners in Japan didn’t take the cluster out) was to buy a Celsior.

    • Mark F Newton-John says:

      Actually, there are some critical differences between the Celsior and LS400. There is a YouTube video where a shop has a very hard time finding certain parts, because the placement of some things are reversed.

  6. KiKi says:

    Yes, and I have. Being from England we had most of the cool JDM cars sold here new from the dealership but they were always a different spec than the imported models. I’ve imported an SW20 Rev 2 GTS, FD3S (5 various 92/94) and a DC2, I previously had a UKDM DC2 which was like the JDM 98 spec, but with the Euro front end. I purchased a JDM WRX STI V2 that was already imported over here.

  7. Ian G. says:

    No. Unless I absolutely have to. I’ve loved Japanese cars since as a kid but I have no desire to drive RHD unless I have to. I just don’t care for being on the wrong side of the car in traffic and no desire to learn how to shift gears with my left hand. A JDM4 or 3 would be what I’d go for just because of the exclusivity. So if my old Gran Turismo playing self really win out, then I would rather go for something we don’t get here. Otherwise, that same void can be filled with USDM MKII MR2’s, 300ZX’s or my current MKI MR2.

  8. Sammy B says:

    Living in Ohio, anything from the 90s or older is scarce….and that’s even before considering the high likelihood of a ton of miles and rust. Ideally I’d be interested in something *similar* to what we could get in the US, but not quite the same (e.g., XV20 Camry wagon or a 1st gen TSX wagon, or a Townace similar to the 84-89 Toyota Van). Ideally one that may even use the same engine as we got USDM just for some convenience. But even finding a nice MR2 may require importing.

    I’d love something really cool that we never got here, but I also know my budget & knowledge limits to keep something like that viable.

  9. Bryan Kitsune says:

    As some others have mentioned, it would probably need to at least have something about it we didn’t get. Maybe along the lines of the JDM3 you specify.

    For instance a few years back I strongly considered buying an already imported 1983 Toyota Celica GT-R. I don’t remember the specifics, but it looked like an ’84-85 USDM Celica GT hatchback, but came with a 4AGE instead of the 22RE. Not quite a hachi roku, but I think it would’ve been a fun car. I kind of regret letting it get away, but I couldn’t seem to get the seller to send hi-res images of the underbody.

    As Sammy B says, in this area, the older Toyotas are mostly gone/rusted out, and many of them came with better engines in Japan (the 3SGE in base models of Celicas & MR2s for instance), so there is some incentive to import rather than shipping something from California/Arizona. I’d probably also be open to importing a Celica GT-Four. Not just the st205, but st165 or st185. The USDM All-Tracs are hard enough to find that importing one might still be preferable. Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly common in Japan at this point either, so it may be too late.

    That all being said, when I was considering the Celica GT-R, I had to seriously think whether I would actually ENJOY driving a RHD car. The truth is, you have to be a pretty defensive driver and be able to be on the lookout even when driving a somewhat small car (for instance my ’02 Celica or even my ’06 Scion xA that I think is “big”). I’d be concerned how easy this would be when visibility is somewhat compromised due to sitting on the “wrong” side of the car for traffic flow. It’d be hard to feel assured I’d get full enjoyment out of the whole ordeal.

  10. Fred Langille says:

    I hopes this makes it as I already posted but, the comments of RHD vs LHD warrant it. For one thing, it IS a reason to go JDM4. Part of that coolness. Brit imports are considered classy and in the same veing (I once thought of getting a RHD MG-B …ONCE!). But, here’s the thing. Its no biggie to driving RHD. I had no trouble adapting to it at first nor, do I now and, when people say “I can’t drive that.” I respond, “I’m a retired Army captain, I belong to MENSA. I can do these things.” Hesitation for RHD is a poor excuse. I will say, shifting RHD is different than driving an automatic (which the S-Cargo is) but, its not that bad to do. Case in point is a Master Class I took in costuming for the film industry. The guy next to me went to an Australian stunt man school where he learned to drive RHD! It paid off in the states where he was recruited to drive in Japan for a film. That was him scooting across the Ginza in “Fast and Furious – Tokyo Drift”! He had all expenses paid for 3 months, got $30k@month salary for 3 months. Do the math. RHD isn’t rocket surgery … its a skill you can learn … if a JDM is RHD, don’t shy away … you can do it!

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