12 incredible cars that define Japanese car design

Nissan Fairlady 240 ZG classic Japanese car design

From its humble beginnings in 1902, Japanese car design has pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in automotive design. We take a look at some of our favourite designs over the years, from classic Coupes to quirky three-wheelers.


Six of the ten largest car manufacturers are Japanese and Japan is the third-largest manufacturer of cars in the world. Why is it so successful? Over the years Japan has gained a reputation for producing well built, reliable, high tech vehicles. In its 120 years of automotive history, Japan has been at the forefront of developing new technology from robotic manufacturing plants to hybrid engines.

Here though we will be putting the technology to one side to focus on the aesthetics of Japanese car design. Cars that stick in the memory for their looks, their build, their design.

The Cars

Toyota 2000GT

Top of the list has to go to the stunning Toyota 2000GT. Designed by Jiro Kono and Satoru Nozaki this car is nothing short of iconic.

How much is a Toyota 2000GT worth?

If you’re lucky enough to find one for sale or auction, expect to pay a lot. One of them went to Auction recently with a reserve price set for over half a million pounds. With the limited production run, this car is rare and sought after.

How many Toyota 2000G were made?

The factory produced just  351 cars over a three-year production run. Of those 351, only a handful were produced with left-hand drive for the export market. The car was produced in a very short three year period between 1967–1970.

How fast is a Toyota 2000GT?

The Toyota 2000Gt has a top speed of 137mph and reach 0-60 mph in 8.4 seconds.

The Toyota 2000GT and James Bond

The 2000GT featured in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, which was filmed primarily in Japan. Two one-off topless models were made especially for the film and the current Bond Daniel Craig considers the Toyota his favourite Bond car of all time.

Prince R380

Having been beaten by the Porsche 904 in the second 1964 Japanese Grand Prix, Prince Motor Company set out to build Japans first real race car.

Led by head engineer Shinichiro Sakurai, the Prince team began designing a custom body to sit on the conventionally open Brabham chassis. Low and aerodynamic, the aluminium-bodied R380 was unlike anything previously produced in Japan.

Racing Prince R380

With the 1965 Grand Prix being cancelled, Prince had to wait for its debut race. The third Japanese Grand Prix in 1966. Prince entered several cars and came in first driven by Yoshikazu Sunako and second place driven by Hideo Oishi to beat Porsche.

Following the merger of Prince Motor Company and Nissan Motors in 1966, the R380 was modified into the Nissan R380-II. Nissan went on to develop the car further until they eventually designed the Nissan R382

Nissan R382

Mazda Cosmo

This very popular car was produced in various designs between 1967 and 1995. it is though probably just first-generation series L10A and L10B that fetches the attention of collectors due to its beautiful styling. The series L10A and L10B were produced from 1967 to 1972.

Designed by Heiji Kobayashi and Kenichi Yamamoto Mazda produced just 343 series 1 cars and 833 series 2.

Mazda used the name Cosmo because of the international fascination with space and the space race.

This was one of the very first Rotary-Engined cars manufactured.

How much does a Mazda Cosmo L10A or L10B cost?

Expect to pay between $250,000 to $350,000 for a car in good condition. The cars are very difficult to find outside of Japan and were expensive even for the Japanese when they were for sale.

Was the Mazda Cosmo sold in the US?

The car was only sold in Japan. As Jay Leno explains, the use of new engine technology, unusual styling and a relatively short amount of time that had passed since the war, made this a very difficult sell in the US.

Fuji Cabin

Introduced at the 1955 Tokyo Motor Show the Fuji Cabin is a tiny 3 wheel car manufactured by Fuji Toshuda Motors.

The car had two front wheels and one at the rear and the monocoque was fabricated from fibreglass. The Fuji Cabin featured two seats and one front-facing headlight.

Only 85 cars were ever built over a one year period from 1957-1958. The car had a top speed of 37 mph.

How much does a Fuji Cabin sell for?

Expect to pay $150,000 for a good condition car.

Japanese Car design

Datsun (Fairlady) 1500-2000 Roadster

Datsun’s two-seater roadster was released in Japan in 1962 as the Fairlady 1500 SP310. The Roadster developed further into the 1600 (SP311) in 1965 and the 145PS 2000 (SR311) in 1967 to give an improvement in performance

Datsun had begun producing a proper sportscar, which became very popular internationally especially in the States.

Datsun’s Roadster was the first sports car from Japan to be taken seriously and in some parts, that’s due to its success in motorsports.

Costing less than an MGB the Datsun delivered a similar performance at a much better price. Radios, heaters, seat belts etc were offered as standard, whereas European carmakers were charging for these optional extras. Buyers picked up on the value and reliability of the car and sales grew rapidly.

How much does a Datsun (Fairlady) 1500-2000 sell for?

Expect to pay over $25,000- $35,000 for a car in great condition. It is possible to find them cheaper and in worse condition but even a car requiring plenty of restoration can go for as much as $10,000.

1998 Nissan R390

Designed by Tony Southgate, Ian Callum and Nismo’s Yutaka Hagiwara, this late 90s car boasts an impressive 550 horsepower, 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 200+ mph.

This Japanese car deserves probably more recognition than it’s given. In fact, the Nissan R390 is still the fastest factory-built Japanese car. Built-in Atsugi Japan the car was meant for racing, in particular, the Le Mans 24 hour race under GT rules which meant a road version of the car must also be built.

Only ten R390 were built. Eight of those were built for the track and two for the road so you’d be fortunate to ever see one.

1978 Dome Zero

Dome Zero design and history

Designer Minoru Hayashi started Dome in 1975 with the aim of producing a road-going sports car with exceptional styling. Three years later the Dome Zero was revealed to the world at the 1978 Geneva Auto Show. Despite several different versions and designs including the P2 the Dome Zero never got approval from the authorities to go into series production. It’s thought that had the car made it to market it would have sold for between US$30,000 to US$60,000.

Did the Dome Zero ever race?

As a result of the frustrations with the authorities, the carmaker turned to motorsports and the Vero RL was developed. This new car was first raced in 1979 at Silverstone in the UK. Qualifying in third the car eventually finished in 12th. Two Zero RLs raced in the Le Mans 24 hour in 1979 but both cars failed to complete the race. The cars were raced again after some modification in 1980 and 1982 but again unable to finish the race. This was effectively the end for the Dome Zero.

The Dome Zero might not be racing or driving anymore but lives on in the hands of E drivers, featuring in several versions of the popular driving game Gran Turismo and continues to be a fan favourite.

Dome RL the racing version of the Dome Zero

1970s Toyota Celica Liftback and Export models

Launched in 1970 at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Celica was Toyota’s response to the American 1964 Ford Mustang.

The styling although going through several changes remained consistent until 1978 when the second generation of Celicas was brought in with harder lines and a more 80s feel to the design.

The Liftback

The Toyota Liftback was nicknamed the Mustang Celica or Japanese Mustang due to the obvious styling similarities.

Whereas early models were based on an earlier version of the Mustang these cars took their fastback looks from the muscle car the 1968 Ford Mustang.

Export Versions

From 1973 through to the end of the decade Toyota made several variations for different international markets. The muscle car styling remained but with subtle changes to bumpers, badges and grilles. The car achieved great success not just because of it’s styling but all the reputation Toyota had for building quality cars.

How much does a vintage Toyota Celica cost?

Expect to pay upwards of $25,000 for a good condition 70s Liftback or Export model.

Honda S600 and S800

The S600

The precursor to the S800, the S600 is fabled for its impeccable styling. First released in 1964 this beautiful little Japanese car was the first car to be offered as either a coupe or roadster.

The S600 was first offered as a right-hand drive car only but soon became available as both left and right-handed to appeal to the export market.

Apart from the standard model S600, Honda also introduced a special version called the SM600 this featured special bodywork colours , radio and speaker, heaters, cigarette lighter and a badge only available for the SM600

At the height of demand, Honda was manufacturing upwards of 8000 cars per year. This declined as they introduced the new and improved S800.

What’s a Honda S600 worth in 2021?

As usual prices vary considerably and can fluctuate in the market. We found a 1965 S600 Coupe in pristine condition for around £25,000. We were unable to find an SM600 at the time of writing.


The S800

The first Honda on our list, the company began all the way back in 1959. The sporty S800 debuted at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show and replaced the very popular S600. Like its predecessor, the S800 was also available as a coupe or roadster. What made this car so special? well, some styling changes to the car and an increase in performance. This car was built to go toe to toe with the very popular Austin Healey Sprite and the Triumph Spitfire.

Honda aimed to introduce the car to the American market in 1968 with a new version the Honda S800m, however, changes to emissions regulations made this a non-starter and without the American market, Honda pulled the plug on the S800.

Whats the difference between a roadster and a coupe?

A roadster is typically a sports car with an open roof. Sometimes also referred to as an open two-seater or a two-seat tourer.

A coupe or coupé is a passenger car or sports car with a sloping or truncated rear roofline and just two doors. Coupé comes from the french word to cut. and was used to describe horse-drawn carriages for two.

What’s a Honda S800 worth in 2021?

We have found good condition cars in the UK selling this year from £17,000 to £45,000, depending on the car and seller.


Nissan Silvia CSP311

Another car that debuted at the 1964 Tokyo Motor Show. It was though at the time known as the Datsun Coupe 1500. By 1965 however, it became known as the Nissan Silvia CSP311 as Nissan which owns the Datsun brand decided to change the name.

The car was designed by Nissan’s in house designers, Kazuo Kimura and Fumio Yoshida with some guidance from Albrecht Goertz a German industrial designer who had previously designed cars for BMW.

Few cars were made because much of it was semi handmade, this meant that less than 600 cars were built before production stopped in 1968. It was recognised as one of the first sports coupes and was used as a highway police car in Japan.

Can you buy a Nissan Silvia CSP311?

Given the limited production run, it’s very rare to find them. Only a few were exported and as such most remain in Japan.

If you do come across one for sale expect to pay over £100,000.

Nissan Skyline GT-R 1973

Japanese cars from the 60s and 70s took many design cues from American cars and American muscle cars in particular. The Nissan Skyline GT R 1973 is no exception.

This was the fourth generation Skyline from Nissan and became very popular through its ad copy “Skyline for Ken and Mary.” Even though it was a popular car with the public, Nissan only produced less than 200 cars due to the oil crisis and stricter standards on emissions.

The car itself was offered as a coupe and only for one year. It’s a beautiful rare classic.

Nissan Skyline GT-R 1973 at auction

With so few cars ever made it’s rare to see them at auction. The last one in near original condition and 43,460km on the clock fetched over £350,000 in Japan.

Nissan 240Z-G Fairlady

Last but definitely not least is the stunning Nissan 240Z G Fairlady. For many one of the most beautiful cars ever made.

Also known as the Datsun 240ZG the car was released in late October 1971 in Japan and was made to sanction the 240Z for Group 4 racing.

Nissan offered the car in just three colours in an attempt to simplify production. Grande Prix Red, Grande Prix White, and Grande Prix Maroon.

The “G” suffix stands for “Grande” a nod to the grand touring cars it hoped this would be.

Sports Car International liked this car so much it was named number two on their list of the best sports cars of the 1970s.

Nissan 240Z-G Fairlady for sale?

This car can be found at auction and online. Prices vary considerably as does the condition of the cars available.

We have only scratched the surface with this selection. Japan made many fine cars through the 80s and 90s and beyond.

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