Japanese Cars: Then and Now
By James Grahame
We live in a world where Toyota is poised to become the world's largest auto manufacturer and Honda isn't far behind, but it wasn't always this way. Japanese car makers struggled for decades to earn credibility and market share. Here's a "way things were" look at a few classic Japanese vehicles.
Honda Civic: An Econobox Moves Upscale
The Honda CVCC/Civic (above) was unveiled in 1972. The original shortbody 2-door was powered by a revolutionary 4-cylinder that was clean burning and efficient. This played well throughout the OPEC oil embargo of 1973-1974, which saw demand for compact cars skyrocket worldwide. The original Civic was powered by a 50 HP 1.2L engine, at a base price of around $2,200. Options included cloth uphostery and an AM radio.
Fast-forward 34 years and the Civic is now one of the leading compact cars worldwide. The modern $14,570 Civic Coupe weighs over 1000 lbs more than its ancestor and packs a 1.8L 4-cylinder that develops almost 3x the horses; a whopping 140 HP. Incidentally, it offers about the same fuel economy as the original.
Toyota Corolla: Success Breeds Success
The Corolla was first introduced in 1968 and its various incarnations have sold over 30 million units. When introduced, it was the smallest car that Toyota had ever offered in the USA. It featured a 60 HP 1.1L 4-cylinder engine mated with a 4-speed manual transmission. An automatic transmission wasn't an option, so wanna-be drivers had to learn to mash gears. It sold for a mere $1,700.
In 2006, the nineth-generation Corolla is more popular than ever. Interestingly, it sports the same wheelbase as the original upscale 1983 Camry, along with an all-aluminum 1.8-liter DOHC 16-valve engine that puts out 130 HP. Unlike it's distant ancestor, the 2006 Corolla is available with either a 5-speed manaul or 4-speed automatic.
Subaru: 4WD In The 1970s
Subaru's big claim to fame is their lineup of 4WD cars. They introduced the 4WD Leone in 1971. Until then, 4WD had been the domain of boxy off-road vehicles. A station wagon model was released a year later, weighing 855 kg (1,884 lbs) and featuring a 1.4L horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder.
These days, Subaru's entire lineup offers 4WD. Their smallest North American offering is the $18,295 Impreza 2.5i. It includes a respectable 173-hp 2.5-liter boxer engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, and either a synchronized 5-speed or 4-speed automatic transmission. It's also substantially heavier than the Leone, tipping the scales at 1,368 kg (3,016 lbs).
Nissan: A Tale of Two Z's
Introduced in 1969, the Datsun 240 Z became an instant success. It was a warning shot across the bow for European manufacturers: here was a Japanese-made sports car capable of 0-100 km/h in 8 seconds, yet selling for a mere $3,500. The 240 Z was powered by a 2.4L straight 6 that generated a respectable 161 HP. It weighed 2,300 lbs (1,044 kg) and came with a 5-speed manual gearbox. This stylish little sports car sold over 100,000 units before production ceased in 1973.
In comparison to the original, The modern Nissan 250 Z is a $27,650 monster powered by a 287 HP 24-valve DOHC 3.5L six-cylinder, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. It weighs 3,339 lbs (1,514 kg) and offers such snazzy modern features as a carbon composite driveshaft and LED tail lights, along with dazzlingly bright HID bi-xenon headlamps.