Japanese automakers are really greedy. These companies build amazing cars, then only sell them to the Japanese market. Cars like the Nissan Skyline were never imported to the US, and we aren’t allowed them ourselves until they are 25 years or older. Some of these JDM cars are so cool that we desperately wish we could have them in the US. Japan has made many unique cars over the years that people outside of the country may have never even seen before. These are our 10 favorite JDM cars that we bet you’ve never heard of.
Mitsuoka is one of the smallest automakers in Japan, so its likely that you’ve never heard of it. The company actually built a supercar back in 2006 that was sold until 2014. The car was called the Orochi and it was available as a coupe or a convertible. The car never caught on because it was powered by a 3.3-liter Toyota V6 that was mated to a five-speed automatic. Not everyone will like the styling of the Orochi, but it is certainly unique.
Mitsubishi hasn’t built a cool car since it killed of the Evo back in 2015. One of our favorite cars that the company ever built was the FTO. The car was built from 1994 to 2000, but was never sold in the US. The FTO came with either a 1.8-liter four-cylinder or a 2.0-liter V6 engine with a manual or semi-automatic transmission. The most powerful V6 produced 200 hp, which was not bad at the time. We like the FTO’s unique looks, but new Japanese safety standards led the car to be discontinued.
The Nissan March is the JDM version of the European Nissan Micra. Back in 1988, Nissan built a special limited run of 10,000 cars called the Nissan Super March (or Super Turbo). The Super Turbo had a unique 930cc four-cylinder engine which produced 110 hp. This tiny engine was able to produce so much power because it had both turbocharging and supercharging. This is a rare engine configuration that isn’t put in production cars very often.
No, that is not one of the Minions that you are looking at. It is a Toyota called the bB Open Deck. The bB is the JDM equivalent of the Scion xB, and the Open Deck is a weird pickup version that was built for Japan only. We have actually had a chance to drive one of these in the US, and we were amazed at how sporty it actually was. The bB Open Deck is extremely useful as a camera car and we drove one that is used for that purpose. The owner calls his bB “Dave” because everyone tells him that the car looks like one of the Minions from Despicable Me. He simply embraced it, and now “Dave” is possibly the only bB Open Deck in the US right now.
It may seem crazy to think that Nissan almost built a rival to cars like the Ferrari 348 and Acura NSX. The car was called the Mid4, and it was first shown at the 1985 Frankfurt Auto Show. The Mid4 was powered by the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 from the Z00ZX and had an AWD system with a 33% to 67% front-to-rear bias. Nissan even built a second generation of the Mid4 for 1987, which had a more powerful 3.0-liter VG30DETT engine with around 330 hp. Nissan never figured out how to build it for a reasonable price, and it was sadly never produced. This car could have been what the Audi R8 became more than 20 years later.
We bet that we may have stumped even the most hard core JDM fans with this one. This odd little Kei car is called the Suzuki C2, and it was a concept car that was revealed back at the 1997 Frankfurt Auto Show. This amazing little car was supposed to use a 1.6-liter V8 engine with 250 hp. That would have been enormous power for a car that only weighed around 1,800 pounds. Unfortunately Suzuki never built it, which is why you’ve probably never even heard of it.
Part of the reason why Nissan has so many JDM models that don’t make it to the US are because of the company’s less-than-aggressive names. The Nissan Gloria (also known as the Cedric), would have never done well in the US with those names. In the US, this car was sold briefly as the Infiniti M45. In Japan, the Gloria was replaced by the Fuga, which is what the US received as the Infiniti M35/M45. The JDM versions were not sold with V8 engines like the US versions, but rather turbocharged V6 and inline six engines. These were very comfortable sedans that would have been nice to have in the US.
Toyota has a knack for building JDM sedans that look more interesting than their US counterparts. The Toyota Crown is a line of full-size sedans that are built specifically for the Japanese market. Some of these cars were brought to the US as the Toyota Cressida, but we really love the new Crown Athlete, which is similar to a Lexus GS 450h. The Crown is currently in its 14th generation, and it no longer comes with a V8 engine. The 13th generation Crown could be had with a 4.6-liter V8 from a Lexus LS460, which was extremely smooth.
It’s easy to tell when a car is rare when manufacturer photos of it are nearly impossible to find. The Mazda Lantis was a neat looking five-door hatchback that was sold from 1993 to 1998. The Lantis was also sold as the 323F, Astina, Allegro Hatchback or Artis Hatchback. The rare Type R version was only sold to Japan and came with a 2.0-liter V6 engine with a limited-slip differential. The US did get this engine in the Mazda MX-6, which is one of the best-sounding V6 cars of all time.
The Toyota Chaser is another excellent example of Toyota building a sedan that we would have loved in the US. While we were stuck getting the boring Corolla and Camry, Japan was getting the Chaser with its RWD drivetrain, turbocharged inline-six engine and manual transmission. That is the holy trinity of badass sleeper sedans, and Toyota didn’t think to bring it to the US. The Chaser was probably the closest thing that exists to a Supra Sedan, and we can’t wait to import one. 276 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque is plenty, especially when put in such a fun package.