Contributing Author: Craig Fitzgerald
It’s 2022, and a sizeable portion of folks who are involved in the automotive hobby community still look at you funny when you say “Japanese Collector Car.” Whether these people are paying attention or not, vintage Japanese cars are setting impressive sales records at auction.
We took a look at the most expensive collector cars sold for each of the top Japanese automotive brands. A couple of notes here about how we selected these:
It seems like every year, big auction houses like Barrett-Jackson end up setting records for Japanese cars, but those new cars are sold almost exclusively as a benefit for charity. While it’s great for the organizations that these auctions support, for the purposes of this article, we’re interested in cars sold for real money to people passionate about what these cars represent, rather than the fat tax write-off.
Second, we chose one car from each of the top 10 Japanese brands. You could easily fill this list with just the cars from the three biggest Japanese brands, solely because they’ve been in business longer. You could probably fill out the entire 10 with just the Toyota 2000GT, but what would be the fun in that?
Finally, we included sales of Japanese luxury brands like Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura to round out the list, since they exist as separate entities in the minds of collectors.
The interesting thing about this list is that for every multi-million dollar car sold, there are several here that sold in the much more reasonable $25,000 price range, or less. If you’re interested in these vehicles at all, don’t think you’re priced out of the hobby. Very cool vehicles from brands like Isuzu and Daihatsu have sold in the $7,000 to $8,000 range.
1967 Toyota-Shelby 2000GT: Gooding and Company, Amelia Island 2022
Every Toyota 2000GT is expensive. There were only 337 ever built between 1967 and 1970, and they were wildly expensive at the time. Only 60 ever came here to the United States.
This one in particular, though, is singular in its significance. This may be a bit of a bold statement, but the 1967 Toyota-Shelby 2000GTis the most significant Japanese car ever built. First off, it’s the first serial-numbered Toyota 2000GT (MF10-10001). Second, it was retained by Toyota Motor Corporation for promotional duties, meaning it was never sold to the general public. Finally, it was one of just three 2000GTs prepared by Shelby American for SCCA C-Production competition.
At auction, anything with Carroll Shelby’s fingerprints on it sells for top dollar, and this car was no exception. With those superlatives in its curriculum vitae, this car crossed the auction block at Gooding and Co.’s Amelia Island sale this past February at a staggering $2.535 million, including the buyer’s premium.
2012 Lexus LFA Nürburgring Package: Bring A Trailer, March 18, 2022
Most of the top auction sales of Lexus-branded vehicles are charity auctions of new cars from Barrett-Jackson. But this 2012 Lexus LFA Nürburgring Package with just 2,000 miles was a sale that didn’t involve a tax break.
The LFA on its own is a special car. Just 500 were ever produced during the car’s two-year run. These 4.8-liter V-10-powered beasts were built at the specific direction of Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, as a means of elevating the Lexus brand with what was called a “true global icon.” This example is even more special, though. Originally delivered to Balise Lexus in West Springfield, Massachusetts, it was one of just 64 examples of the Nürburgring package, and one of just 15 delivered in US-market specification.
The car sold on Bring A Trailer in March of 2022 for $1.625 million.
1970 Nissan Fairlady Z432R: BH Auction, January 2020
We got the Datsun 240Z in the U.S. several months after the car debuted as the Nissan Fairlady in the home market. These have always been special cars. They may not typically be as expensive as the Toyota 2000GT, but these cars truly cemented the reputation of not only Nissan/Datsun, but of Japanese cars in general here in the United States. Even if you’re not a fan of Japanese cars in general, you probably have a soft spot for this Jaguar XKE-inspired two-seat sports car.
However, this example is not your ordinary Z car. The body panels may look familiar, but they’re 0.2mm thinner, dropping the car’s curb weight by 220 pounds for competition. It has a 100L fuel tank for endurance racing, and most importantly, it features the S20 2.0-liter inline six-cylinder that was typically bound for the much larger and equally impressive Skyline GT-R. Between 30 and 50 of these cars are estimated to exist today.
The car sold at a Japanese auction house BH Auction in January of 2020 for 88,550,000 Japanese Yen, at the time about $805,000.
1989 Mazda 767B: Gooding & Co., Amelia Island 2017
Two of the three cars above this were intended for competition, but this is the only purely purpose-built race car on our list, and it has an amazingly impressive resume.
The 767B was one of three of these cars ever produced by Mazda. The car features a beastly 2616cc four-rotor Wankel engine good for 630hp at a screaming 9,000 RPM. It was built specifically for endurance racing, and competed twice at Le Mans, where it won its class in 1990. In the years since, it has been a favorite entrant in vintage racing events around the world, including the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Monterey Historics.
The 767B found a new home at Gooding & Co.’s 2017 Amelia Island sale for $1.75 million.
2000 Subaru Impreza S6 WRC: Collecting Cars, May 2021
Performance cars from Subaru have always tended to bring significant money when the gavel falls, but none have set records like this ex-Richard Burns Subaru works team rally car campaigned in 2000.
Said to be “the most original WRC car in the world,” it was purchased immediately following Richard Burns crossing the finish line of the 2000 Network Q Rally GB, after which it was mechanically recommissioned and used in demonstration events.
When the hammer finally dropped in May of 2021, Chassis #11 sold for £610,000, the equivalent of about $762,200 in US funds.
1992 Infiniti Q45: Cars & Bids, January 2021
There have been more expensive Infiniti vehicles sold at auction. Former leases sell as certified preowned cars for more than this every day. But this is the most expensive of what anyone would consider a “classic” Infiniti, from the first generation of Nissan’s luxury flagship.
This example made it 30 years with just 8,800 original miles. This is the car that introduced Infiniti to the world, and while it never caught on as much as the Lexus LS400, it was an advanced vehicle in every way. Its 4.5-liter V-8 turns out 278hp, which doesn’t sound like much today, but it was world-beating in 1989 when the car debuted, beating the pants off of rivals from Germany and Great Britain, at a price of about half of a 12-cylinder Mercedes-Benz.
2009 Honda S2000 CR: Bring a Trailer, April 2022
The Honda S2000 has been something of a collector car ever since it debuted in 1999. It married the idea of a Mazda Miata with more modern styling and a hair-raising 9,000RPM four-cylinder engine.
This example is from the second generation, known as the AP2, which debuted in 2004 and ran through 2009. More significantly, this is the S2000 CR, or Club Racer, which showed up here in 2008 and was the first time the S2000 was available in more than one trim level in the United States. It featured a revised body kit, a lower ratio steering rack, a revised exhaust, darker colored wheels, clear side markers, a stiffer suspension, and Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tires. The power top was removed and replaced with a black hardtop, and the well where the soft top normally stowed was stuffed with chassis bracing.
This example was consigned to Bring A Trailer and sold for $200,000 in April of 2022, besting the last big sale of an S2000 by about $70,000.
1999 Acura NSX Zanardi Edition: Bring a Trailer, September 2020
The first-generation Acura NSX was a revelation. While Lexus and Infiniti were attacking the traditional German and British luxury car markets occupied by Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Jaguar, Acura went right for the Italians. When the NSX debut in 1990 it was a revelation, proving that this upstart Japanese brand could outperform Ferrari and Lamborghini at a fraction of the cost.
In 2010, you could buy a first-generation NSX for less than $20,000. These days, you’re looking at around $75,000 for a relatively high mileage example of what you’d call a “base model.” If you’re looking at low-mileage examples of the more rare versions of this car, that number goes up exponentially.
This specimen is a one-owner, 12,000-mile 1989 Zanardi Edition, the last of 51 of these specially prepared cars commemorating Alex Zanardi’s CART championships with Honda in 1997 and 1998. This car was a gift from Honda to AMA Superbike Champion Miguel Duhamel, after he won both the AMA Superbike and 600 Supersport races with a broken leg.
Duhamel was the car’s sole owner until September of 2020, when the car sold at Bring a Trailer for $277,017.
2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX Special Edition: Bring a Trailer, March 2022
If there’s one Mitsubishi that even people who aren’t particularly aware of Japanese collector cars know about, it’s the Lancer Evolution. These cars are every bit as special as the STI cars from Subaru. You could equate this Lancer Evolution IX Special Edition with some of the S cars from Subaru’s STI division, such as the S209 and the legendary 22B.
This one had just 2,200 miles and still featured the original Monroney sticker, factory manuals, two sets of keys and a temporary license plate from the year it was delivered.
Like the STI car, the Lancer Evo IX featured all-wheel drive and a manual gearbox to make the most of the 286hp four-cylinder. The Special Edition cars had an aluminum roof panel, 17-inch BBS wheels and specific exterior details.
1991 Isuzu Impulse RS Turbo AWD: Bring a Trailer, August 2021
Just a note here: There were more expensive Isuzu vehicles sold in the last year. Kei-class trucks kitted out like fire engines have sold in the $25,000 range, but they’re something of a special market outside of what most people would consider a “Japanese collector car.” You can also find Isuzu Troopers and the occasional VehiCross sell for more, but this is the most expensive Isuzu “car” we could put our hands on.
This car is a bona fide classic, and chances are you’ve never heard of it. The 1991 Isuzu Impulse RS Turbo was every bit as cool as the Integra Type R, with the bonus of all-wheel drive. And subjectively, the styling is better than anything Acura turned out at the time.
What’s impressive about this car’s sale was that it sold for $11,000 on Bring a Trailer in August of 2021, despite having 90,000 miles and aftermarket wheels.
1989 Suzuki Samurai JL: Bring a Trailer, October 2021
Derided as “unsafe” when they were new, the Suzuki Samurai is finally starting to gain the reputation it has always deserved. These cool, diminutive off-road competitors are every bit as stout as the vehicles that Jeep was producing at the time.
This example had just 4,000 miles since new, and has been modified with faux wood paneling and aftermarket wheels. It also features a rare fiberglass hardtop which was difficult enough to find when these vehicles were new. The interior is beautiful, though the “wood” details inside are a matter of taste. The period-correct Kraco AM/FM cassette player with a graphic equalizer rounds out the package.
This Samurai sold for a surprising $29,500 in October of 2021 on Bring a Trailer.
1992 Daihatsu Hijet Jumbo 4WD: Bring a Trailer, October 2021
Daihatsu vehicles barely made a dent here in the United States. The brand – which had been building rugged vehicles in Japan since the 1950s – showed up here in 1988 with the Daihatsu Charade and the Suzuki Samurai-like Daihatsu Rocky. In just five model years, it folded its tent and left the US market for good.
These Kei-class trucks do show up from time to time in the United States, now that the EPA’s 25-year-rule allows for their importation. They’ve become so popular, in fact, that the state of Maine has rescinded any registrations it issued for these, and the similar Subaru Sambar, Suzuki Carry, and Mitsubishi Minicab. This Hijet is a beautifully preserved truck. Loads of these were used up before they ever reached our shores, but this one featured just 32k kilometers (about 19,000 miles) when it was auctioned. Inside and out, it looked nearly new. The final sale price was $14,600 on Bring a Trailer, a record for one of these microtrucks.
As you can see, prices for collectible Japanese cars are all over the map. If you’re a well-heeled 1%er, there are cars like the 2000GT that belong right alongside your Ferrari 365 GTB/4 or your Lamborghini Miura. But if you’re in the 99%, there are hundreds of collectible Japanese cars that are headed nowhere but up in the next few years, available now for less than what you’d pay for a decent side x side.
Craig Fitzgerald began his automotive writing career in 1996, at AutoSite.com, one of the first online resources for car buyers. Over the years, he’s written for the Boston Globe, Forbes, and Hagerty. For seven years, he was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and today, he’s the automotive editor at Drive magazine. He’s dad to a son and daughter, and plays rude guitar in a garage band in Worcester, Massachusetts.