In the early 1970’s the main Japanese auto manufacturers began a push to export their cars to Western shores – particularly the USA.
The oil crisis of 1973 created the perfect storm for Japanese manufacturers. Fuel suddenly became a scarce resource, and therefore hugely expensive and the large-capacity, gas-guzzling V8’s of Detroit and Dearborn suddenly became a hard sell to the American public.
The big US manufacturers were novices when it came to producing good cars, with small power plants. The Japanese however had perfected the art from decades of building small-engined cars for their home market.
The likes of Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota swept in, producing “American Styled” cars with fuel-efficient small engines, and advanced technology. This era began Japan’s trajectory to becoming the world’s leading car manufacturer.
We’ve curated a list of some of best Japanese “export” cars of the 1970’s!
Nissan / Datsun 240Z
The 1970’s started the first of many generations of Nissan’s Iconic S30 brand. In 1969, the Datsun 240Z was born. With many design features of a muscle car, it would not look out of place on a Las Vegas drag strip with its long bonnet, front engine, rear wheel drive setup. At the same time, it borrowed some of the styling of the Jaguar E-type, a car which had already been out for 10 years but still heavily influenced Nissan at the time, with the large bubble style headlamps and curvy rear.
The Datsun Fairlady Z (as it was known in Japan) had a 2.0L straight six, with a power output of 130bhp. The US market was provided with a beefier 2.4L straight six with a slightly higher output of 151bhp, selling over 135,000 units in its first three years which was considered a huge success. The near 50/50 weight distribution meant it overpowered many of its rivals on the track, optimally handling the bends with independent front and rear suspension and anti-roll bar setup, this meant it was excellent for racing. Nissan entering firstly in the Suzuka 1000km in 1970 then sweeping away its competitors in Formula C for 4 years in a row from 1970 to 1973.
The near 50/50 weight distribution meant it overpowered many of its rivals on the track, optimally handling the bends with independent front and rear suspension and anti-roll bar setup, this meant it was excellent for racing
How much can you pick up one of these classics for nowadays, you may be wondering?
Well back in 1969 the starting price was a mere $3526 (£2520 as of writing this), or the equivalent of around £19,000 in today’s money. However, you might be lucky to snap one for as little as £21,500 or the special Samuri Edition with brown coloured bonnet, decals and additional retrofitted rally style fog lamps for anywhere between £40,000 and £70,000.
Now when you think of the Toyota Corolla, you might think of the trivia question of the “world’s best-selling car“ in recent history. But back in 1970, it had only entered its second generation and already at a production of more than one million units, becoming a well-established family saloon.
The Corolla switched its engine several times in its second generation, initially being offered its original 1.2L I4 unit from the first-generation vehicle, totalling 67bhp. However, this was soon replaced with a more powerful 85bhp 1.4L I4, which was the decision made by Toyota to keep up with trend in the market at the time, in parallel with Japans booming economy. Toyota was a brand that punched above its weight for the sector it was in at the time, offering air conditioning, front screen washers and an FM/AM radio as part of its package.
The Corolla came in a set of body styles, either as a typical four door family saloon or a special two door coupe edition known as the ‘Levin’. This had a much wider stance and hunkered down setup which could turn eyes of passers-by as you looked at them through the wing mounted rear view mirrors. Its more powerful 1.6L, 113bhp output came from the Celica and was a huge success, winning the inauguration of the World Rally Championship in 1973, and also at the Finnish One Thousand Lakes rally.
The Corolla came in a set of body styles, either as a typical four door family saloon or a special two door coupe edition known as the ‘Levin’.
Due to the popularity of the Corolla name, a reasonably looked after one can be picked up today for as little as £5,000 in the UK for a more unique estate version in the US for around $12,000 (£8,600 at the time of writing) but picking one up for sale could be easier abroad, with the right-hand drive Australia market being a tempting solution.
The car that sparked the petrol head fascination of the rotary engine was not from the 90’s or even 80’s, it was brought to the world’s attention in the popular Mazda RX-3. A car which made Mazda a global brand.
With the RX-3 being exported to European and US markets, it came with a uniquely named ‘Wankel’ zero piston, rounded triangular designed rotor. The rotor would spin on a single shaft, and as air and fuel is fed into one cavity inside the casing, compressing this mixture into the next cavity, which would be aided by a spark, igniting the fuel and air and travelling to the third cavity at a very high 7,000 to 8,000 rpm, with the initial power output of 90bhp.
Moving on from its most interesting power unit, the RX-3 offered multiple body styles including two door coupe, four door saloon and an unusual rotary estate car. The coupe offering a similar design to the above Corolla Levin, with wing mounted rear view mirrors, whilst boasting a sporty front engine rear wheel drive setup, similar to the 240Z.
The 950kg weight meant it was slightly heavier than the Corolla, but still offered a great power to weight ratio with the rotary setup. It meant that its US competitors such as the Ford Mustang, with five times the engine capacity, were barely able out-power the later 1973 and beyond versions. Like the other Japanese Automakers at the time, it was put to the test on the race circuit, coming first in the 1972 Fuji 500, winning a further two titles up to 1975 and then the renowned Bathurst 1000, winning its class two years on the bounce in the mid 70’s.
The RX-3 is perhaps lesser known to the modern-day world, because of its successors in the RX-7 and RX-8, both of which made famous in the well-known Fast and Furious franchise. With that said, it can be hard to find one, and if you do, it can break the bank, with prices starting at AU$90,000 (£50,500 as of writing).