Tag: Japanese cars

Celestial Pony: Toyota’s First-Generation Celica

The first-generation Toyota Celica is one of those cars that used to be everywhere, only to fade into an undeserved obscurity. Often ignored or dismissed by English-language automotive histories, the original Celica was a popular and significant automobile with many interesting permutations, only a few of which ever made it to America and other export markets. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we take a look at the complicated saga of the original A20/A30 Celica, Japan’s first “pony car.”

1974 Toyota Celica hardtop (RA21) fender badge © 2011 dave_7 (with permission)
(Photo: “1974 Toyota Celica badge” © 2011 dave_7; used with permission)
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Pillarless Under the Rising Sun: Japan’s Four-Door Hardtops

Most English-language automotive histories will tell you that the four-door hardtop became extinct in the late seventies, a victim of American safety regulations. That may have been true in the U.S., but Japan’s love affair with hardtops continued well into the nineties, including some models you probably didn’t know you knew. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we present a brief survey of the Japanese four-door hardtop.

1992 Nissan Laurel Extra Diesel four-door hardtop (Q-SC33) open doors © 2001 Scott McPherson (used with permission)

(Photo © 2001 Scott McPherson; used with permission)

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Bridging the Gap: The Honda / Acura Legend and Rover 800

Japanese cars have a reputation for appliance-like reliability, but are often criticized (fairly or not) for lacking character. Character is a quality of which British cars have rarely been short, but dependability is quite another matter. In the early eighties, Honda and Rover decided to collaborate on two shared-platform luxury cars that promised to bridge that gap: the 1986–1990 Honda / Acura Legend and 1986–1999 Rover 800 (a.k.a. Sterling 800). The long and complicated story of how that project came about and what became of it is our subject in this installment of Ate Up With Motor.

1989 Sterling 827SLi five-door Rover decklid badge © 2014 Aaron Severson

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High-Tech High Roller: 1981–2001 Toyota Soarer Z10, Z20, and Z30

Before it became a Lexus in 1991, the Toyota Soarer enjoyed a decade of success in Japan through two successive generations, becoming the favored choice of Japanese yuppies. A cousin of the Toyota Supra, the Soarer was a sporty, sophisticated personal luxury coupe boasting an array of high-tech features that have only recently become commonplace on high-end cars. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we look at the complete history of the Soarer including the 1981–1985 Z10, 1986–1991 Z20, and 1992–2000 Z30, with a brief look at the final 2001–2005 Z40.

1983 Toyota Soarer 2800GT-Limited (MZ11) decklid badge © 2011 Aaron Severson
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Thunder and Lightning, Part 2: The AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno

In the eighties, the Toyota Corolla and its Japanese-market Toyota Sprinter sibling switched to FWD, but not without one last fling for the sporty rear-drive coupes. In the second part of our story, we look at the origins and history of the final RWD Corolla — the 1983–1987 AE86 Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno — and consider the later history and fate of the Levin and Trueno coupes.
1986 Toyota Corolla Sport SR5 (AE86) - Corolla decklid decal © 2014 Aaron Severson
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Thunder and Lightning, Part 1: The Toyota Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno

Although the Toyota Corolla is one of the world’s bestselling automotive nameplates, it’s not one that generally arouses much enthusiast interest. Twenty years ago, however, the Corolla Levin coupe and its near-twin, the Sprinter Trueno, were sporty rear-wheel-drive cars that are still coveted by street racers today. We’ll get to the legendary AE86 in part two. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we examine the history of the early DOHC Corolla and Sprinter coupes, their Yamaha-developed 2T-G engine, and the more mundane cars on which they were based.

1976 Toyota Corolla SR5 hardtop (TE37) rear fender badge © 2011 Aaron Severson
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Compact Cult Classic: The 1984-1991 Honda CRX

Recipe for a cult hit, Honda-style: Take one competent C-segment hatchback, lop a few inches out of the wheelbase, tidy up the suspension tuning and aerodynamics, and repackage the results as a pint-size sports coupe. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we examine the history of the 1984–1991 Honda CRX (née Ballade Sports CR-X) and its erstwhile successors, the del Sol and CR-Z.

1987 Honda CRX tail badge © 2011 Aaron Severson
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RX-Rated: Mazda’s Early Rotary Cars, Part 2

Between 1971 and 1978, Mazda launched nine new rotary-engined vehicles, including the Capella (Mazda RX-2), Savanna (RX-3), Luce (RX-4), Cosmo (RX-5), and the REPU. By 1979, only three survived and the company had come perilously close to collapse. In the second part of our history of Mazda rotary engines, we take a look at those vehicles and trace Toyo Kogyo’s dramatic reversals of fortune in the 1970s.

1977 Mazda RX-3SP grille badge
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RX-Rated: Mazda’s Early Rotary Cars, Part 1

Mazda has a long history with rotary engines, going back to the Cosmo Sport and R100 of the late 1960s. With the recently announced demise of the RX-8 — the last rotary-engined model still in production — we look back at the origins of the Wankel engine and the history of the early Mazda rotary engine cars: the Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S, Familia Rotary (Mazda R100), and Luce Rotary Coupé (R130).

1971 Mazda R100 coupe badge
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Soaring High: The Lexus SC and Toyota Soarer Coupes

The arrival of the Lexus LS400 in 1990 was evidence that the Japanese could build a serious luxury sedan, but stylish coupes were another matter entirely. In 1991, Toyota tried to challenge all preconceptions with a sleek new 2+2 coupe intended to face BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes on their own terms. It didn’t quite succeed, but it was a unique and memorable design with an unusual story behind it. This is the history of the 1992-2000 Lexus SC and Toyota Soarer.

1992 Lexus SC400 headlight
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Upwardly Mobile: The Lexus LS400 and the Birth of the Japanese Luxury Brands

If the idea of a Japanese sports car would have been laughable in 1965, the thought that a Japanese company might one day take on the finest European luxury sedans would have seemed utterly mad. The idea that it might actually succeed would have been too outlandish to contemplate — yet that’s exactly what happened in 1989. This week, we look at the origins of the 1990-2000 Lexus LS400.

1996 Lexus LS400 emblem
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The Original Datsun Z-Car

In 1965, the words “Japanese sports car” would have elicited unsympathetic laughter from most America consumers. Five years later, many of those same scoffers were lining up to buy a racy little GT car wearing a Datsun badge. The Datsun Z car soon became one of the most popular two-seat sports cars of all time, inspiring many generations of sporty Japanese coupes. However, for all its eventual popularity, the Z was a car for which its own manufacturer never had much enthusiasm and the fact that the car was built at all — let alone that it became such a success — is a testimony to the dedication of Yutaka Katayama, the head of Nissan’s U.S. operation, who fought a long and bitter battle to show the world what Japanese automakers were capable of. This week, the history of the Datsun 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z.

1978 Datsun 280Z Z-badge
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