Even before retro thinking was a thing in global car design, it was popular in Japan. Several domestic manufacturers introduced retro-inspired models for the local market. However, the most interesting and unique one was the Nissan Figaro. It was a crazy and cool one-year model which they produced as a right-hand drive car only.
They presented the Figaro in 1991 and it immediately caused a stir among Japanese car fans. Nissan announced that it would be a limited edition they based on the Nissan Micra platform, 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 buyers to win a chance to buy the car. The unique aspects of the vehicle were visible even under the metal. They powered the Figaro with a diminutive 987 cc turbocharged engine delivering 77 HP. Even so, it produced a lively performance thanks to its light weight.
Chrysler Valiant Charger
The Chrysler Motor Company wanted to participate in the Australian muscle car class, so in 1971, they introduced the Valiant Charger. Based on the regular Valiant platform but with a sporty new two-door body, the Charger got its name from its American cousin, the Dodge Charger.
To keep up with those mighty Falcon GTs, Monaros, and Toranas, the Valiant Charger came with several performance engines. They started from the hot version of Chrysler’s six-cylinder engine which featured new cylinder heads and better intake systems. But in the R/T version, the 4.3-liter six delivered over 240 HP.
However, the most powerful version was the Charger 770 SE E55. Under the hood was the infamous Mopar 340 V8 producing 285 HP and a three-speed automatic. In America, they usually installed this engine in the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda.
If you are a fan of Kei Cars, those fun Japanese micro automobiles with diminutive dimensions and small engines, now is the time to show it. This is a tiny roadster of aluminum with rear wheel drive, a cramped interior and a small trunk. You probably think the smallest Japanese convertible is the Mazda Miata, but in fact, the Cappuccino is almost half the size.
The engine only gets 64 HP from the 670 cc three-cylinder unit, but it likes to rev. Also, thanks to weighing just 1,400 pounds, this car delivers a lively performance and unbelievable driving dynamics. Produced in a right-hand-drive configuration for selected markets in Asia and Europe, the Cappuccino is quite rare with a total production number of around 28,000.
BMW 333i E30
The BMW 333i E30 was a true example of a factory hot rod. BMW used the muscle car philosophy of installing the biggest engine in the smallest body to create a performance car. Back in the late â80s, the smallest BMW was the 3 Series coupe and the biggest engine was 3.3-liter from the 7-Series luxury sedan.
Although some buyers could get the 325i with six cylinders, it wasn’t available for BMW South Africa. However, in 1988, SA BMW introduced the 333i E30 coupe with a 3.3-liter straight six. It pumped out 194 HP, giving it a vivid performance. In fact, a 0 to 60 mph sprint took around seven seconds, which was better than the M3 E30.
The 333i came with a plush interior, but only two options, air-conditioning or power steering. Apparently, the big six cylinders took so much space in the engine bay that buyers had to choose between an air-conditioning compressor or a power steering pump.
At first glance, the Toyota Sera looks like a generic Japanese compact from the early â90s. But, when you open the door, you will see why this little car is so special. They built it on a regular Corolla platform and powered it with an ordinary 1.5-liter four-cylinder. In fact, the Sera is technically a regular car, but the design and technical solutions of the cabin, doors, and roof are unique.
The production of this feature was demanding, so Toyota needed special tools and machines just to fabricate door mechanisms and make the specially curved glass. However, the Toyota engineers managed to pull it off, introducing the Sera in 1990. It stayed in production until 1996, during which time they built over 16,000. Unfortunately, they sold almost all of them exclusively in Japan.
Ford Falcon GT HO 351
Probably the most famous of all Australian muscle cars was the mighty Falcon GT HO 351 Ford introduced in 1971. Despite the performance portfolio, it was still a four-door sedan, but with proper muscle car equipment. Under the hood was a Ford 351 V8 with a shaker hood, beefed up suspension and brakes.
The power output was 300 HP for the standard version, but Ford offered their Phase II and Phase III options. The car looked the same, but due to the upgraded mechanicals in the ultimate Phase III version, the Falcon GT HO produced over 350 HP.
The performance was astonishing with a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of in the six-second range. Also, it hit top speeds of over 140 mph. As expected, the Falcon GT HO was successful at racing, dethroning its archenemy, the Monaro GTS 350.
Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R Hakosuka
Possibly the most famous model name in the whole history of Japanese performance and sports cars is the Nissan Skyline GT-R. Nissan presented it in 1968 as the performance version of the upscale Skyline model. However, they gave it significant design and mechanical changes, transforming it into a JDM performance legend.
They called the first GT-R the Hakosuka, which is a Japanese term for a box since it featured squared lines and a boxy profile. But underneath the sheet metal, there was some serious sports car technology with a high revving 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine pumping out 160 HP. Also, the Hakosuka GT-R had race tuned brakes, steering and an independent rear suspension.
And all that made it capable on the streets and on the race tracks, too. Unfortunately, they never imported this model to the states. But today, it is highly collectible, expensive and desirable, especially since they only produced it in a right-hand configuration. Nissan built them from 1969 to 1972, in slightly less than 2,000 examples.
Holden Monaro GTS 327
The late â60s brought the muscle car war from Detroit to Australia. So, the Holden engineers decided to present their muscle car, equipping it with a bigger engine and upgraded components. And in 1968, the Holden Monaro GTS 327 was born. It was the first Australian two-door muscle car ever.
This car looked and sounded like a proper muscle car coupe. It featured a two-door Monaro body with bigger wheels and a graphics package. Also, it had a sportier interior and a Chevrolet 327 V8 engine under the hood. The V8 produced 250 HP which was more than enough for an exciting performance.
Immediately, Holden pitted their new Monaro muscle car against the Falcon GT in Australian touring car races. The GTS 327 won the 1968 Bathurst race, which was the first Holden victory on that track.
The Cerbera was one of the best affordable sports/muscle cars on the British market in 1996. They designed it as a two-seater coupe with a V8 engine up front, so it was a cross between a classic coupe and a muscle car.
The design was retro-futuristic with a long hood and aggressive silhouette. Today, even at over 22 years, this car still looks great. The best engine option was TVR’s own 4.7-liter V6 engine with the interesting “Red Rose” performance pack. It delivered 440 HP and an exhilarating performance.
The Century was a hand-built, limited production and highly formal limousine Toyota designed for the Japanese royal family and for high-ranking Yakuza members. They introduced the first Toyota Century in 1967. It stayed in production for 30 years with minimal changes to its technical layout and design. They produced it only as an RHD model, selling it in Japan and a few select Asian markets.
The first generation of the Toyota Century was powered by a 3.0-liter V8 engine delivering 170 HP. The interior was full of the finest leather, wood and chrome trim. Also, each car came standard with climate control, which was an advanced option for the period. The ride was extremely comfortable and quiet. In fact, the Century cruised effortlessly, even on the roughest terrain.