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20 Funny Looking Japanese Production Cars

Vukasin Herbez July 26, 2018

Long before the Japanese car industry became a global player, local manufacturers displayed amazing levels of engineering ingenuity and forward thinking. In post-war Japan, technology and materials were scarce, so engineers needed to find innovative ways of producing automobiles. When Japan became one of the global players in the automotive field, the spirit of innovation became even more apparent.

Japanese manufacturers encouraged their designers to produce advanced concepts to gain an advantage in the highly competitive car industry. Over the years, the Japanese car industry produced numerous interesting and even quirky cars. In most cases, the cars were examples of the different approaches. But sometimes those models were crazy, funny and insane vehicles. To illustrate that fact, here is a list of the best Japanese production cars to show you just how outrageous Japanese car companies can be sometimes.

Interestingly, all these cars are regular production models. In fact, they produced some of these beauties in big numbers, officially selling them in the U.S. So, keep reading to learn fascinating facts about some Japanese offerings like Kei Cars, those micro automobiles that deliver a massive amount of fun.

  1. Mazda 1100 S Cosmo

Back in the ’60s, the biggest news among car engineers was the Wankel rotary engine. It was an innovative concept of a single piston engine lighter and smaller than conventional units. However, it came with more power and revving capacity, captivating the imaginations of the major car manufacturers. So in 1967, one of the first companies to introduce the engine in mass production was Mazda.

And they did so with their little sports coupe, the 110 S Cosmo. This was a sharp looking two-seater with a modern design. It came with a tiny 982cc engine with 110 or 130 HP in later versions. Since the car was extremely small and light, the performance was vivid, especially for the standards of the day.

They imported the Mazda 110 S Cosmo to America, but the reception was nonexistent. Mazda was a new name to American consumers. Also, the Wankel-powered two-seater at a Corvette price was a hard thing to sell. That is why they only made around 1,300 cars. And those left-hand Cosmos are rare today. However, this little sports car showed how those Japanese engineers pulled off such an advanced, innovative concept.

  1. Mitsuoka Orochi

One of the world’s most obscure supercars comes from Japan in form of the Mitsuoka Orochi. It is a groovy looking two-seater with Lambo doors and a controversial design. The Mitsuoka Company was famous for building restomod cars using regular models. But in 2006, they entered the supercar market with the highly-exclusive Orochi.

They named the car after the mythical Japanese dragon with eight heads that influenced the design. The Orochi is a regular production model that looks like a dragon-like creature from somebody’s worst nightmare. They based the Orochi on the Honda NSX platform. It comes with Toyota’s 3.3-liter V6 engine with 240 HP.

Those numbers may not sound like much, but the car is light and nimble, so the performance is exceptional. They never intended to sell the Orochi outside of Japan or other Asian markets, and especially not in the U.S. They only made this car in a right hand configuration and Mitsuoka is not interested in foreign buyers.

  1. Toyota Previa

The first-generation Toyota Previa is a popular ’90s minivan that’s common on American roads. From the outside, it looks ordinary and outdated. So, you might wonder why this family car is on a list of the strangest Japanese cars. The reason is the technical layout.

While it looks forgettable from the outside, from the inside, the Previa has the same technical layout as the world’s best supercars. You probably didn’t know it, but the Previa has a mid-engined 2.4-liter four-cylinder configuration. Toyota tilted the engine at 75 degrees, making it almost flat and low to help the center of gravity. Also, they positioned the engine below the driver’s seat.

And in some versions, they equipped the Previa with a supercharger. The power output was 158 HP. Those numbers are small, but the handling was beyond what anybody expected from a 90’s production minivan. Unfortunately, for the next generation models, Toyota abandoned the advanced mid-engined layout. Instead, they went with the standard front engine, front-wheel drive model they based on the Camry.

  1. Honda S600/S800

Honda was one of the first Japanese car companies to enter the American market in the 60’s. But, the first Hondas weren’t cars because the company sold only small, durable scooters in those days. However, Honda wanted to produce cars. And one of their first models was the cute little roadster they called the S600.

Honda introduced the S600 in 1964 as a two-seater convertible. It had extremely compact dimensions and was lightweight with a small 600cc engine. Although it only delivered 57 HP, it provided a lively performance since it weighed just 1,500 pounds. Interestingly, the S600 had a chain drive, a primitive drivetrain system from motorcycles.

In 1967, Honda introduced the S800. It was an upgraded, more powerful version with a bigger 800 cc engine and 70 HP. It was also available as a coupe. They discontinued the production in 1970 after building more than 22,000 Kei car roadsters and coupes. The car wasn’t initially popular on the American market. However, today, it is highly sought-after.

  1. Autozam AZ-1

If you don’t know what the Autozam AZ-1 is, nobody can blame you. It is a tiny sports car powered with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine with 660 cc and 64 HP. Although Mazda built the car, Suzuki sold it in limited numbers from 1992 to 1995. During that time, they made less than 5,000 of them.

Despite its size and 1,500 pounds of weight, the Autozam AZ-1 was a proper sports car. In fact, some consider it the only supercar in the Kei Car segment. The perfect chassis, gullwing doors and decent performance made it the favorite driving machine in Japan.

The bizarre styling but lively driving dynamics provided a unique driving experience. And this is one of the reasons you should consider importing this little gem. Although they never sold it outside of Japan, you can now import it to America since it is older than 25 years.

  1. Subaru BRAT

You might think this vehicle is a pickup truck. But, if you look close enough, you’ll see two rear-facing seats in the bed. This transforms this compact truck into a passenger vehicle. The Subaru BRAT stands for “Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter.” They conceived it in the late ’70s to take advantage of the popularity of compact trucks in America.

However, there was a steep import tax for foreign trucks at the time. Subaru knew it would kill all their profits, so they sold it as a passenger car by installing two seats in the back. Although this would not be possible today due to safety concerns and standards, it was legal in late ’70s when they introduced the car.

Thanks to its unusual features, affordable price and dependable mechanics, the Subaru BRAT was one of the most popular Subaru models during the 80’s. And it’s still a cool classic today. Some owners removed the seats for more usable space, ruining the coolness and quirkiness of this unique car.

  1. Nissan Figaro

Even before retro thinking was a thing in global car design, it was popular in Japan. So several domestic manufacturers introduced their own retro-inspired models for the local market. However, the most interesting, unique one was the Nissan Figaro. It was a crazy and cool one-year model they produced as a right-hand drive car only.

They presented the Figaro in 1991 and it caused a stir among Japanese car fans. Nissan announced that it would be a limited-edition car they based on the Nissan Micra platform. But, this car came with a bespoke interior and automatic transmission. Also, it had a full options list and a stylish new body with a big sunroof as standard.

When the Figaro arrived, Nissan couldn’t keep up with the demand. The company even organized a lottery for interested consumers to buy the car. The unique aspects of the vehicle were visible even under the metal. The Figaro had a diminutive 987 cc turbocharged engine with 77 HP. Yet it still delivered a lively performance thanks to its small weight.

  1. Suzuki Cappuccino

If you are a fan of Kei Cars with diminutive dimensions, small engines and lots of fun, you’re in luck. The Cappuccino is a tiny roadster Suzuki built from aluminum with rear wheel drive. However, it has a cramped interior and a small trunk. Although you probably think the smallest Japanese convertible is the Mazda Miata, the Cappuccino is almost half its size.

The engine only gets 64 HP from the 670 cc three-cylinder unit, but it likes to rev. And thanks to weighing only 1,400 pounds, this car provides a lively performance with unbelievable driving dynamics. Suzuki produced the Cappuccino in the right-hand-drive configuration exclusively, selling it in selected markets in Asia and Europe.

So, the Cappuccino is quite rare with a total production of around 28,000 examples. The prices are not high presently. However, the Cappuccino will probably be more expensive when U.S. car enthusiasts start buying them.

  1. Isuzu VehiCross

Not too long ago, Isuzu SUVs were common in America. During the ’80s and ’90s, Isuzu sold numerous models in the U.S., in cooperation with General Motors. This gained them the reputation for being durable, dependable vehicles. However, Isuzu realized the future was in SUV models.

So in the early ’90s, they decided to produce the VehiCross, a new, highly capable lifestyle model. Behind this strange name was an even stranger vehicle in a three-door specification. It came with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and automatic transmission. Isuzu designed the VehiCross to be a futuristic off-roader, giving it their best all-terrain technology and components.

But, in 1997 when they presented the VehiCross, but the market just didn’t react the way Isuzu thought it would. should. The vehicle was strange looking and some people even said it was ugly. Although it came in crossover form, it was a capable and high-quality off-roader. That is why U.S. sales were slow. So in 2001, they discontinued the VehiCross.

  1. Mazda Rotary Pickup Truck

Of all the Japanese car companies, Mazda is famous for being the most innovative. That is why they kept perfecting the Wankel engine in the late ’60s. The first Wankel powered model was a little sports car they called the 1100 Cosmo. And soon, Mazda started installing this engine into their ordinary models.

The advantages of the Wankel engine are considerable. It has smaller dimensions and a lower weight compared to regular inline units. The Wankel has a high revving capacity but was of simple construction. However, the disadvantages were also significant. Wankel engines have little torque and are not durable. Also, since the construction is so specific, spare parts and components are hard to come by.

For this reason, it was strange when Mazda decided to install a small Wankel engine in its B-Series pickup truck in 1973. The B-Series was a common Mazda compact truck they sold globally. The pickup with the Wankel engine got 110 HP from the diminutive 1.3-liter engine. But this was enough since the whole truck weighed a little more than one ton.

The interesting thing was that the red line on this little engine was 7,000 rpm. This made driving a B-Series truck more like driving a sports car. Unfortunately, this truck wasn’t capable of towing or carrying a lot, but it looked cool and sounded awesome.

  1. Toyota Sera

At first glance, the Toyota Sera looks like a generic Japanese compact from the early 90’s. But when you open the door, you will see why this little car is so special. Toyota conceived it on their regular Corolla platform. They powered it with an ordinary 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, so the Sera is technically a regular car.

But the design and technical solutions of the cabin, doors and roof are unique. The Sera project showed the world how a boring compact car can be a design marvel. To do so, Toyota installed a glass canopy that partially opened with butterfly-style doors rarely seen on anything except for McLaren F1 supercars.

The production of this feature was demanding because Toyota needed special tools and machines to fabricate the door mechanisms and the specially curved glass. However, Toyota’s engineers managed to pull it off and introduced the Sera in 1990. It stayed in production until 1996, during which time they made over 16,000. Unfortunately, they sold almost all of them exclusively in Japan.

  1. Suzuki X-90

The 90’s were strange times when the Japanese car industry produced some odd vehicles. Back in the day, Suzuki was one of the biggest Japanese economy car brands with millions of buyers in the U.S. However, thanks to the successful Samurai SUV, the company wanted to explore the rising SUV market. But they didn’t want to go with the common Vitara and Grand Vitara models.

Suzuki wanted something completely different. They decided to produce a two-seater, two-door SUV with compact dimensions and a removable T-Top. They introduced the X-90 in 1995 with a 95 HP 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The X-90 had rear-wheel drive as standard or optional all-wheel drive. It had limited interior and trunk space.

Suzuki officially offered the car in America, selling 7,000 copies. However, neither the buyers nor the motoring press understood what Suzuki wanted to say with this model. Suzuki discontinued the X-90 in late 1998. However, up to this day, it is one of the strangest Japanese production cars of all time.

  1. Nissan Cube

As you probably know, the Japanese car industry is full of interesting Kei Cars. They are diminutive subcompacts perfectly suited for the narrow streets of Tokyo. And one of the strangest is the Nissan Cube, which they also sold in America and Europe but with limited success.

The Cube is powered by 1.4 and 1.5-liter gasoline engines and features a strange square design with an asymmetrical rear window. The car has compact dimensions although it has plenty of room on the inside. Popular in Japan, the Cube is quite rare elsewhere.

  1. Suzuki Cappuccino

The Cappuccino is a tiny roadster consisting of aluminum with rear wheel drive, a cramped interior and a small trunk. The engine only delivers 64 HP from its 670 cc three cylinder unit. But it likes to rev thanks to weighing only 1,400 pounds. This car has a lively performance and unbelievable driving dynamics.

Suzuki produced it in a right-hand-drive configuration only, selling it in selected markets in Asia and Europe. Also, the Cappuccino is a rare car with the total production of approximately 28,000 examples.

  1. Subaru SVX

Back in the early ’90s, Subaru wanted to enter the sports car market to promote its biggest assets, the all-wheel drive and flat six engine. So, the company hired the Italdesign Company to design the sleek, modern coupe.

In 1991, the Subaru SVX debuted with strange styling and complicated side window patents. But it had sublime handling and a great performance. Under the hood was a 3.3-liter flat six that propelled this rare car from 0 to 60 in 7.3 seconds. They sold only about 14,000 in America until 1996.

  1. Toyota Will Vi

In an attempt to bring some excitement to the Kei Car class, In 2000, Toyota introduced a strange and ugly model they called the Will Vi. They sold the car on the Japanese market only. It featured a concave rear, unexpected design elements and unusual details.

It came with a 1.3-liter four cylinder mated to an automatic transmission, so the performance was quite slow. The market didn’t respond well, so they discontinued the car in 2001 after selling just a few of them.

  1. Mitsuoka Viewt

As we told you before, the world of Japanese Kei Cars is crazy and the Mitsuoka Viewt is just another example. They introduced it in the early ‘90s. The Viewt is a retro-styled subcompact car they built on the Nissan Micra base.

Mitsuoka paid much attention to the details, fabricating a new front and rear end to make the Micra resemble the classic early ’60s Jaguar Mk2 sedan. However, the drivetrain was the same as in the Micra, so it meant that Viewt delivered a modest performance and top speeds.

  1. Prince Skyline Coupe

The car industry in post-war Japan was modest and concentrated on small Kei Cars. But there was one factory that produced luxury vehicles with the looks of those high priced European models. It was the Prince Motor Company.

The best and most influential model was the Skyline Sport Coupe with its sleek design, perfect stance and luxury feel. It came with a 1.9-liter four cylinder engine delivering around 100 HP. Despite its effect on the market, the price was high, so they made just a few hundred of them.

  1. Nissan Pao

Even before retro was a thing in car design, Nissan presented an influential and crazy looking compact model they called the Pao. It was for sale on the Japanese market only and all of them came in right hand drive configuration.

The design resembled the Austin Farina or Mini, but underneath the body, the Pao was an advanced car with an independent suspension and 52 HP engine. Nissan sold it for just three years between 1989 and 1991. They made over 50,000 of them.

  1. Nissan S-Cargo

Often called one of the ugliest cars ever produced, Nissan S-Cargo has a cult following, and not only in Japan, but worldwide. The reason is simply its unusual styling and design that is unique in the car world.

Nissan introduced the car in 1989. It was a highly stylized urban Kei Car delivery vehicle with modest power and dimensions, but great usability and practicality. It got its power from a 1.5-liter engine mated to a three-speed automatic gearbox. However, despite being unique and interesting, they sold only around 8,000 of them.

Which is your favorite on this list of crazy, funny and insane Japanese production cars? Be sure to get your Kei car before it becomes rarer and way more expensive.

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