HomeThe MarketCars made in Japan moving from niche to mainstream with collectors

Cars made in Japan moving from niche to mainstream with collectors


Toyota's 2000GT has become a million-dollar classic | Mathieu Heurtault photo for Gooding
Toyota’s 2000GT has become a million-dollar classic | Mathieu Heurtault photos for Gooding

One in a series of previews for the 2015 Arizona classic car auctions

They are the Big 3 of collectible Japanese-produced classic cars, and one of each will be offered for sale at the Arizona auctions this month. They are the Toyota 2000GT, the Mazda Cosmo and the Nissan Skyline.

But perhaps just as newsworthy is the fact that they aren’t the only Japan-produced vehicles being offered up at the auctions. As we paged though the various auction catalogs and websites, we encountered numerous Toyota FJs. Seemingly every auction has at least one of them; Barrett-Jackson has 16!

But we plan to do a separate preview on trucks being offered at the auctions and we’re going to include the FJs in that story. This one is focused on Japanese-produced cars, which increasingly are making their presence felt in the classic car marketplace, and which spans more than the Big 3.

For example, and seemingly much more affordable: Bonhams has a 1968 Toyota Corona two-door hardtop on its docket, Barrett-Jackson has a 1970 Subaru 360 and a 1972 Honda Z600 among its lots, and Russo and Steele will offer a 1987 Toyota Celica convertible and a 1959 Maziat 600, which turns out to be a “mini resto-mod” that combines a Fiat 600 with a hot-rodded Mazda engine.

The attention, of course, will be on the Big 3 J cars.

Twiggy, 007 part of 2000GT history
Twiggy, 007 part of 2000GT history

Working with Yamaha, Toyota debuted the 2000GT at the 1967 Tokyo Motor Show in the form of a gold-painted show car that shared its stand with Twiggy, the British model and actress to whom Toyota presented the car after the show. A 2000GT converted into a convertible was part of the automotive array in the 1967 James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice.

The 1967 2000GT being offered at Gooding & Company originally was sold in Switzerland but has been in its current owner’s possession since 1982. The pre-auction estimated value, Gooding says, is $900,000 to $1.1 million.

Jay Leno is among those who own a Cosmo | Bonhams photo
Jay Leno is among those who own a Cosmo | Bonhams photo

Bonhams will offer a 1970 Mazda Cosmo, the then-young Japanese automaker’s first rotary-powered sports car. To showcase the car’s potential, Mazda entered a pair of them in the 1968 Marathon de la Route, an 84-hour endurance race at Germany’s grueling Nurburgring track. Both cars ran among the leaders much of the race. One finally succumbed after 82 hours while the other one finished in fourth place behind a pair of Porsche 911s and a Lancia Fulvia.

Jay Leno is among those who own a Cosmo. Bonhams estimates the twin-rotary powered car at its auction should bring between $140,000 and $180,000.

'Hakosuka' means 'boxy Skyline' |Anthony Bellemere photo for RM
‘Hakosuka’ means ‘boxy Skyline’ |Anthony Bellemere photo for RM

Meanwhile, RM’s catalog includes a 1970 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R “Hakosuka,” the third-generation of the famed Skyline series and nicknamed the “boxy Skyline” because of its four-door sedan bodywork. But this is much more than a sports sedan. The engine is based on the 2000 GT power train that had the second-generation Skyline finishing only behind a Porsche 904 Carrera GTS in the GT race that accompanied the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix

Only 832 “Hakosuka” sedans were produced before Nissan switched the Skyline onto a coupe platform.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
  1. Larry, back in the late 50s and early 60s Japanese car makers borrowed a bunch of European cars and copied everything the Europeans had designed, such as efficient engines, quick steering and handling packages. Then they put all this stuff in Datsun taxi cabs. They road-tested the taxis around Yokosuka and Kobe and scared the bejeebers out of young American sailors. They even made a little knock-off Datsun roadster that reminded the sailors of MGBs. Then later they built a whole new line of Japanese cars and flooded the world market with Super Duper Sports Cars such as Mitsubishi Eclipse, Nissan 300 Z and Dodge Stealth, and scared the bejeebers out of old retired former American sailors. Nobody bought the Stealths even though they were identical to the 300 Zs, because the Stealths said DODGE on the front and nobody wanted an inferior American car that had no horn.

  2. Not sure why anyone would even consider a 1970 Nissan Skyline GT-R to be a classic, notwithstanding its Toyota 2000GT powertrain roots, some racing history, and arguable rarity. I don’t get it!

    Why is it that the 1988/89 Toyota MR2 SC remains in classic car limbo when the car has an exceptional powertrain, including a superb, bullet-proof 1.6L DOHC supercharged engine, superb 5-speed transmission, superb manual rack & pinion steering, superb brakes, and overall superb handling, not to mention superb, if 1980s, styling? These supercharged MR2s are also fairly rare, with only about 1,000 and 600 supercharged models produced in 1988 and 1989 respectively, and they were only available in America and Canada as far as I know. Regards.

  3. I don’t care what anyone says cars from Japan are not at all classics I mean an fj really that car has no style and does not even look at all cool same with the gtr and I’m only saying this because I never have and ever will like import cars and I know I might be to harsh but i really do not like these cars at all.

  4. 2000, Cosmo, Skyline. There’s three cars that have been out of my price range since forever. But if you want a pre-smog Japanese car, the pickings are slim. So many lost to bad steel and neglect.

  5. A vehicle’s historic provenance doesn’t rely on your liking domestics nor whether you prefer another car from nearly 20 years later.

    Get over yourselves.

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