Collectible Japanese Performance Cars: Nihon Ahead of the Curve – Forbes

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2014

If a Japanese super GT like the 2015 Nissan GT-R posted elsewhere in this section seems too uncultured and unrefined, lacking in thoroughbred bloodlines, ponder this. Last August in Monterey, a 1972 Datsun (Nissan) Skyline Skyline H/T 2000 GT-R, known colloquially as Hakosuka (pronounced Hak-OH-skaa and loosely translated as Boxy Skyline), sold for $242,000 at the RM auction. Same weekend, same auction, and an elegant Toyota 2000GT sold for over $1 million.

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Hakosuka's race-derived S20, twin-cam, straight-six engine.

Hakosuka‘s race-derived S20, twin-cam, straight-six engine. The engine bay indicates that this car was not a pristine example of the breed, yet it pulled $242,000 at auction.

Whereas thoroughbred European sports cars of the Sixties have hand-formed bodies with curves Peter Paul Rubens might have found inspiring, and Sixties Alfa Romeos are available with a compelling range of specialty bodywork, most early Japanese performance cars are based on Japan Domestic Market (JDM) coupes and sedans, which means a 1972 Skyline GT-R looks like a 5/8th scale Plymouth of the same era, or a dwarfish interpretation of the Australian-market Holdens and Fords that populated the Mad Max trilogy.

Debatable esthetics aside, JDM performance cars represent a unique place in time, the fertile soil that brought us the Japanese auto industry we know today, and are spiritual ancestors of cars like the Nissan GT-R, Scion FR-S, Acura NSX and Lexus Lexus LFA. The Japanese developed their cars within the safe confines of their domestic market, evolution spurred by intensely fought Japan-only sedan race series. The Hakosuka Skyline racked up 46 straight and outright class wins and more than 50 overall wins over a three-year run, establishing the GT-R legend.

Even with US servicemen coming home from Viet Nam via Japan, few of these cars ever reached America. They’re found primarily in Japan, with a few scattered in Australia, an early export success for the Japanese.

Collecting or investing in European classic and vintage cars is relatively painless over the long term. Not only are the cars documented, vetted, and trending upwards in value, but there’s a defined network of skilled craftsmen and entrepreneurial shop owners in place, ready to keep most any car running for road or track. The same applies to American classics, Fifties cruisers and Sixties muscle cars: defined markets and an extensive network of suppliers and talent.

Only a handful of people in the US have any idea how to source parts and factory information for the “Nihon” performance cars. But for Trail Boomers and Gen X’ers who grew up with Speed Racer, for those who love Japan’s quirky pop culture, these cars hold appeal. Auction results and private transaction prices indicate a developing opportunity to buy ahead of the curve and hold for the long term. Once parts supply is sorted, these cars are relatively easy to enjoy on a regular basis, too. Fire one up and seduction begins. Seventies Japanese design may be the worst form of derivative, but the Japanese turned out first-rate small-displacement engines.

This Toyota 2000GT sold for just over $1 million last August at the RM event in Monterey.

This Toyota 2000GT sold for just over $1 million last August at the RM event in Monterey.

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