The 70s brought us many JDM legends that are still to this day considered some of the greatest cars to have come out of Japan.
The 70s was quite an eventful decade for many Japanese automakers. Previously, during the 50s and 60s majority of the sales from Japanese automakers were domestic, meaning there was just a handful of cars exported internationally. And almost every one of the few cars exported was boring commuters’ cars.
But during the 70s many of the Japanese automakers rolled up their sleeves and really put out incredible vehicles worthy of competing internationally with the behemoths of BMW, Ford, Audi, and Mercedes. These cars that we are going to present really put Japan on the map and proved that they indeed good produce great sports cars.
These cars were lightweight, handled fantastically, and offered great performance despite having relatively small displacement engines – and they were cheap. This proved to be a recipe for success as many of these cars sold in massive quantities.
The Datsun 510 was an extremely important vehicle for Nissan. Previous to it, Nissan had only produced slow and subpar family cars on the international markets, but the 510 received a new engine that made the 510 the fastest car within its competition.
The 510 was powered by a variety of I4 engines known as the L-series and was quickly marketed for its affordable performance. The 510 sold in massive quantities and proved to Nissan that there could potentially be a gap in the market for an affordable sports car.
Thanks to the success of the 510, Nissan started producing affordable performance vehicles such as the Datsun Fairlady Z (240Z) and Skyline GT-R.
The RX-7 is one of Mazda’s most important cars. Not only can it be seen as Mazda’s first mass-produced rotary sports car, it was also significantly lighter and more powerful than some of its competition, at a fraction of the price.
In Japan, the RX-7 was marketed as an affordable sports car. Due to its tiny rotary engine, the RX-7 was placed in a lower tax bracket than many other sports cars, despite having similar, or in some cases even more horsepower.
But this was not Mazda’s first rotary-powered sports car, that prize goes to the Mazda Cosmo which you can read about a bit further down.
Today, Mitsubishi is famous for its incredible rally history with countless victories across many different races, perhaps most well known is the Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer. But before all of this success was a car known as the Mitsubishi 1600 GSR that would change Mitsubishi’s take on rallying.
Nicknamed the ‘King of Cars’ the 1600 GSR was powered by a 1.6L I4 producing 110 hp in street form and 170 hp in rally form. The 1600 GSR would go on to take home several victories in the grueling 5000 km long Safari Rally race. Simply finishing this race would be considered a feat of success, let alone winning it several years in a row.
The 1600 GSR would go on the be replaced with the also very successful Mitsubishi Lancer.
Mazda has always been an interesting and innovative company. Prior to making cars, they manufactured corks and weapons so it’s safe to say they’ve experimented in a few markets. Their innovative characteristics seemed to remain with the cars they produced, such as the Mazda Cosmo. This Japanese Sports Coupé is the world’s first car befitted with a rotary Wankel engine.
This was revolutionary at the time, considering this small engine with only 982 cc displacement produced over 130 hp! The Cosmo really put Mazda in the center of attention for a while, but would eventually be overshadowed by something even greater, the Toyota 2000GT.
Thanks to the major success of the Datsun 510, Nissan’s USA president at the time, Yutaka Kayatama saw huge potential in creating an affordable sports car, and so the Datsun 240Z was born. The 240Z shared a lot of its components with other models under the Nissan brand which made it cheap to manufacture.
The U.S. version received a powerful 2.4L I6 (L24) engine with twin carburetors that produced 151 hp, meanwhile, the JDM version received a less powerful 2.0L (L20A) producing 130 hp.
The 240Z was extremely successful, its lightweight, great performance, and affordability allowed Nissan to sell an astonishing 160,000 examples in just four years, making the Z one of the world’s most successful sports car launches ever!
The very first Skyline GT-R was launched in 1969 and made a name for itself during the 70s. The 1969 GT-R was also known as the ‘Hakosuka’ and was powered by a 2.0L DOHC I6 producing 160hp @7,000RPM that was derived from a racing engine.
To date, the Hakosuka is the most successful racing car to have come out of Japan. In less than 2.5 years, the Skyline GT-R racked up 50 wins, and 49 of those were won consecutively. There was no other car that was even close to challenging this behemoth, and the only real competition would be another Skyline GT-R.
Two decades later, the 1969 GT-R would go on to inspire some highly deemed JDM legends such as the R32, R33, and R34 Skyline GT-R.
The Toyota 2000GT is not only a milestone for Toyota but for the entire Japanese automobile industry. This car was such a revolutionary feat that brought an international presence never seen by a Japanese sports car before. Prior to this car, the Japanese automakers were internationally known for producing commercial and commuters’ cars, never would someone care to purchase a Japanese sports car.
The Toyota 2000GT was good-looking, lightweight, and powered by an all-new 2.0L inline-6 producing 148 hp. This was new because previous Japanese sports cars had almost always featured small displacement Inline-4s. But this new Inline-6 engine allowed for more power, while still maintaining its lightweight.
The 2000GT put Japan on the map and proved the Western society that Japan indeed could also make great sports cars. And it is perhaps why we today have cars such as the Nissan Z, GT-R, and Toyota Supra.
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