When it comes to desirable, and legendary car genres for modern enthusiasts, few are as idolized as the world of JDM cars. Standing for “Japanese Domestic Market,” JDM represents cars we here in North America were never supposed to have. This isn’t just a superficial desire for exclusivity though, as many of the cars Japanese brands reserved for their home market are among the best of their time, even if few know about them.
While today the plethora of unique and cool JDM cars can be seen by just about anyone on the internet, back in the late ’90s this wasn’t the case. With many of today’s car enthusiasts growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s, series like the Fast And The Furious helped introduce legends we had never seen before. But, even deeper than that, with the first Gran Turismo video game released in 1997, many of us got our first chance to drool over, and take control of previously unseen JDM beasts through it, thrashing them to the limit with glee.
10 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R
The legendary Godzilla, the R32 Skyline GT-R was made legendary by more than just Gran Turismo, but when it came to actually taking control and experiencing its performance yourself, the game is to blame for many people considering it a dream car
Featured in every Gran Turismo game except for the third installment, the R32 GT-r debuted in 1989 as a high-tech monster, with 4WD, and a wicked twin-turbo RB26DETT inline-6 giving it supercar beating performance. A car Americans could only dream about owning, the R32 GT-R came in several awesome trims like the V-Spec N1, all of which were seen as a sort of exotic, forbidden fruit when many gamers saw them for the first time in Gran Turismo, and made even more desirable once their performance became evident.
9 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R
It’d be impossible to mention the R32 Skyline GT-R without including its later, just as legendary descendant – the R34. Made legendary as Brian O’Conner’s ride in 2 Fast 2 Furious as well, the R34 Skyline GT-R is among the most iconic JDM classics out there.
Introduced in 1998 to replace the underappreciated R33 generation, the R34 GT-R was an evolution of the high-tech, high performance beast. Coming in with the awesome RB26DETT, a shorter wheelbase and more aerodynamic body that looked brutally aggressive, yet properly refined at the same time, the R34 is perhaps the best Skyline GT-R – as the current R35 generation GT-R is no longer a Skyline. Featured in Gran Turismo 2 and onwards, the distinct rear end of the R34 GT-R was burned into the memories of many young car enthusiasts, who discovered just how much of a beast Godzilla truly was thanks to the game.
8 Honda NSX Type R
Sold in North America as the Acura NSX, Honda’s supercar flipped the notion of what an exotic mid-engine performance car could be, offering a reliable and ergonomically sensible experience with everything else you’d want in a supercar.
A JDM exclusive special edition though, the NSX Type R was released in 1992 as a track-focused monster sold only in Japan. Stripping away most comfort features, shedding a significant 265 lbs from the car’s weight, and adding stiffer handling upgrades that made it stunningly agile, the NSX Type R was a true track weapon. Available in every Gran Turismo game so far, the JDM exclusive NSX Type R showed us what the already dream worthy NSX could truly be.
7 Honda Civic type R (EK)
Perhaps the most legendary JDM Civic in existence, the EK generation Civic hatchback was the start of the awesome Civic Type R (CTR) nameplate that today has finally made its way to North America. Back in the ’90s though, the CTR was something you could only dream about owning.
Taking the already light and nimble 6th generation Civic and throwing in a high revving B16B inline-4, the CTR threw down 182 hp to the front wheels, and handled like a dream with an LSD, partially seam-welded chassis for rigidity, and lighter weight all around. Featured in the first Gran Turismo onwards, the EK9 became a legend of JDM culture when it showed people just how well the humble Civic could perform, and for many people this was learned about through the games.
6 Subaru Impreza WRX STI (1st Generation)
While entering the US market on the second generation of Impreza, and today a well known Japanese performance car, the WRX STI in its first generation was similar to the CTR as an unobtainable performance version of a humble car we knew in North America.
Building on their incredible rally success in the ’90s, thanks in part to Colin McCrae, STI released the often forgotten Legacy STI in 1992, then brought their tuning to the Impreza WRX as it took over in rally duty. Released in 1994, the first generation WRX STI had 247 hp from its turbocharged boxer-4, and was a lightweight, rally-bred AWD beast. Legendary worldwide as a rally car, as a road car the first taste most Americans got of the first WRX STI was in Gran Turismo, with the many variants of it being featured across all games in the series.
5 Mazda RX-7 Spirit R
While many version of the FD generation RX-7 seen in earlier Gran Turismo games were sold outside Japan, the JDM exclusive RX-7 Spirit R was included in Gran Turismo 4 just 2 years after its creation, showing off Mazda’s awesome farewell to the RX-7.
As of 1995, North American sales of the RX-7 came to an end, but continued in Japan for another several years. Finally discontinuing it in 2002, the Spirit R was the send off for the beloved sports car, and came with a plethora of exclusive upgrades like that beautiful Titanium Grey paint, forged BBS wheels, better brakes, and a tweaked 13B turbo rotary engine laying down a “Gentleman’s Agreement” compliant 276 hp. Only sold in Japan, and with only 1,504 made, Gran Turismo 4 was the first, and only glimpse most people got of the ultimate, final edition FD RX-7.
4 Mazda Autozam AZ-1
One of the most memorable Kei cars of all time, the Autozam AZ-1 was a pint-sized supercar-inspired micro machine from the ’90s, that today is a JDM legend thanks in part to Gran Turismo players of the time now being able to import and afford one.
Sold under Mazda’s Autozam brand, the AZ-1 came about in 1992 packing 63 hp, exotic gullwing doors, negligible weight, great handling, and shrunken-down supercar looks. One of the most unique and adorable Kei cars ever made, the AZ-1 may not have been much more than an automotive toy, but when featured in Gran Turismo 2 and onwards, grabbed the attention of those who never knew it existed, and today is a sort of ironically cool collectible as a result.
3 Daihatsu Copen
An adorably small, and surprisingly sporty car, the Daihatsu Copen may not be what you’d call a fast car, but is popular in Japan thanks to its handling and overall fun factor.
Debuting as a concept at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show, the Copen went into production for 2002, filling the gap left by the discontinuing of sporty Kei cars like the Suzuki Cappuccino and Autozam AZ-1. Sold in Europe for a few years, the Copen saw its greatest success in Japan where Kei cars are common, and is still on sale today. While not a legend like the serious sports cars in Gran Turismo, the Copen was a memorable introduction to Kei cars for those who played Gran Turismo 4, as the convertible version was a reward given to all players while completing the in-game driving school courses.
2 Toyota Castrol TOM’S Supra GT
Already a legendary sports car in North America, the 4th generation Supra is still an absolute classic. Competing in the Japanese Gran Touring Car Championship during the ’90s, the Castrol TOM’S Supra was one of the most epic Supra racecars in existence, but may not have been as iconic outside Japan if it weren’t for Gran Turismo.
Debuting on track in 1995, the Castrol TOM’S Supra took aim at Nissan’s GT-R racecars in the GT500 class, and brought the heat with nearly 500 hp, and a lightweight aerodynamic optimized body. Winning the series in 1997, the Castrol TOM’s Supra GT continued to race through the early 2000s, and its battle against Nissan was fierce, but not all that well known outside Japan. Introducing that iconic green white and red livery to North American enthusiasts in the first Gran Turismo, the Castrol TOM’S Supra GT was featured in every following game.
1 Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak Version
While a far cry from the production car its based on, the Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak racecar is well remembered by anyone who played any of the Gran Turismo games, as it was the fastest, most desirable, and most legendary car in the entire series.
Also known as the Vitara, the Suzuki Escudo was the name used for Japanese market versions. Built for the notorious Pikes Peak Hillclimb, Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima became the first Japanese driver to win the event behind the wheel of this absolute beast. Created in 1996 powered by a brutal twin-turbo V6 laying down 985 hp to all wheels, the Escudo Pikes Peak was revamped in 1998, now with two twin-turbo V6 engines, each powering two wheels at a time. The fastest car you could buy in Gran Turismo 2, the Escudo Pikes Peak Version has been featured in almost every Gran Turismo game since.
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