Welcome to Found, a series where classic goods are handpicked by Gear Patrol‘s writers and editors and ready for a good home.
Yes, Japan makes sports cars, but aside from the exceptional MX-5, the few modern options available are less than exhilarating. The BRZ/FR-S (now the Toyota 86) is a step in the right direction, but without the option of a significantly more powerful version (no matter how much enthusiasts begged), it has fallen flat. The Nissan 370Z gets closer still, but going on seven years it’s showing its age and borders on being too heavy. The Subaru WRX and Mitsbushi Evo don’t count because they’re sedans (the latter is on its way out, anyway) and the NSX and GT-R are more super than sport.
It wasn’t always like this. Japan has a history of subverting the svelte European sports car with its own similar-but-different offerings. This tradition goes back all the way to the late ’50s with the Datsun Roadster, but reached its peak in the ’80s and ’90s, when Japanese brands, inundated with cash from an economic bubble, created affordable, (mostly) reliable sports cars that outpaced their overseas competition. Eventually, their numbers dwindled by the aughts, and since then we’ve seen very few true sports cars that live up to the originals that encapsulate our vision of Japanese driving perfection.
1972 Datsun 240Z
What we like: While the 260Z and 280Z were victims of their time (the mid-to-late ’70s), adopting larger bumpers and unnecessary chrome trim, the original 240Z was easily one of the best-looking machines to come from Japan. 240Z’s are becoming incredibly difficult to find at good prices and in good condition — this particular example has relatively few visual flaws, has the original drivetrain and has been repainted in its original factory color.
From the seller: “The only noticeable faults are one small chip on the passenger side near the gas intake, a scratch at the rear of the driver’s side fender, and a very small fleabite on the passenger side of the back fin.”
Location: San Francisco, California
1981 Mazda RX-7
What we like: The original RX-7 isn’t as lusted-after as the beautiful third generation, but it’s still charmingly handsome in the only way a Japanese sports car from the ’80s can be. It has classic proportions, a small and nimble chassis, a unique rotary engine and, until the recent rise in nostalgia and desire for old-school Japanese cars, it has been an overlooked gem. Get one while you still can.
From the seller: “With such low mileage and good documentation, like the window sticker and owner’s manual, this feels like a great investment in a quickly appreciating market segment.”
Location: Lutz, Florida
1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo
What we like: The MR2 was proof that you could, in fact, make a successful, modestly priced, mid-engine sports car. All three generations are fantastic, but the second generation has aged incredibly well. Most turbocharged MR2’s of this vintage were sold with T-Tops in the US, so a full hardtop coupe in absurdly clean shape is one hell of a find.
From the seller: “Rare MR2 Turbo. One out of 10 without T-Top in the US. [Ed note: we’re skeptical, though the seller may be referring to the number in this color or model year.] 100 percent like new.”
Location: Ripon, California
1991 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4
What we like: Mitsubishi may not be doing so hot these days, but in the ’90s they were on fire. And really, their greatest hit was the 3000GT VR4. It was unbelievably advanced for its time, offering advanced aerodynamics, four-wheel steering, a twin-turbo V6 and AWD long before that formula became so common on the European performance cars of today. They’re a bit of a handful to take care of today, but models in good condition (like this one) make for a great piece of automotive history.
From the seller: “Mint one-owner VR4, 37k miles with all records and advertising materials.”
Location: Collierville, Tennessee
2002 Honda S2000
What we like: Unless you count the NSX, nothing that Honda has done before or since has come close to the same kind of driving experience the S2000 offered: it had a high-revving, naturally aspirated engine, a spartan interior and the classic proportions of an old-school roadster. This particular example hasn’t been ruined with chintzy modifications, has low miles and is near the low end of the S2000’s current price range.
From the seller: “Cars like this are getting really hard to find. Only two tasteful mods: Comptech intake and a cat-back exhaust. Top with zero cuts or damage. The leather interior barely shows any wear.”
Location: Hickory, North Carolina