Currently reading: Japanese oddities from £2500 - used car buying guide
Fancy something a little different? You might want to consider a Japanese import

1 - Honda Beat (1991-1996)

The Beat has all the ingredients you’d want from a sports car, including a naturally aspirated mid-mounted motor that spins to more than 8000rpm, and very little weight. With prices starting at significantly less than £2000, what’s the catch? The truth of the matter is that the Beat is tiny.

As one of Japan’s heavily regulated Kei cars, it’s barely three metres long and has just 660cc to push it along. But while it only produces 63bhp, it weighs just 760kg and has a genuine go-kart feel. A project car will be less than £1000, but budget nearer £2500 for a decent one that’s ready to drive.

2 - Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution (1997-1999)

It wasn’t just the Lancer that got Mitsubishi’s Evo treatment. In the 1990s the Pajero (or Shogun as we know it) got its very own homologation special that was arguably even wilder. Built for rally raiding, it received a 3.5-litre V6 with 276bhp, additional aluminium skidplates and a distinctive bodykit.

The bodykit housed much wider tracks courtesy of an all-new, fully independent suspension set-up. Mitsubishi’s hard work paid off and the car dominated its Dakar Rally class.

Only 2500 were made, but they’re surprisingly cheap; less than £10,000 will net you a good one.

3 - Nissan Autech Stelvio Zagato (1989)

Mention the name ‘Zagato’ and you’ll no doubt think of limited-run Astons or rare coachbuilt Italian cars, not a late-1980s Japanese super-coupé. So while Nissan may have dealt with the Autech’s mechanicals, including a twin-turbo 3.0 V6, the cars were sent to Zagato in Italy for interiors and bodywork.

Ah yes, the bodywork. While it may feature the trademark ‘double bubble’ roof, this is a design that you could never call classically handsome, pretty or even vaguely attractive. Still, you do get aerodynamic door mirrors built into the front wings, and besides, how else will you get a Zagato for less than £30,000?

4 - Nissan Stagea RS Four (1996-2007)

This is the Skyline GT-R’s more practical brother, sharing its RB-series straight six engine and many other bits. Go for a Series 2 Stagea and the turbocharged 2.5-litre engine will produce 276bhp.

Most RS Fours were four-speed autos, but transmission swaps aren’t unheard of. One answer is to hunt down a rare 260RS model — basically an R33 Skyline GT-R estate. You’ll pay between £3000 and £4000 for an RS Four but around three times that for a 260RS.

5 - Mitsuoka Viewt (1993 - present)

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What do you get when you cross a Mk2 Jag with a small Nissan? The Viewt, a Micra that’s been beaten with the retro stick. And not only do you get the Jag’s face but they’ve also grafted on a boot.

Inside, there’s leather and walnut veneer, but the car’s humble roots are clear to see. That’s fine, though, because the Micra is the automotive equivalent of a post-apocalypse cockroach, so is unlikely to cause any major issues. Budget £5000-£6000 for a good one.

6 - Toyota WiLL Vi (2000-2001)

If driving the most distinctive car possible is a priority, the WiLL Vi is for you. There really is nothing else like it. Designed to appeal to Japan’s youth market, it was part of the ‘neo-retro’ movement that also gave us Nissan’s Figaro. It manages to look both retro and futuristic at the same time, but the mechanicals are pure Toyota Yaris.

This means a 1.3-litre engine mated to an automatic gearbox. It won’t be fast or particularly fun to drive, but it shouldn’t be too costly to run, either. Nor will it be that pricey to buy. Around £3000 is the going rate, with a few cars reaching the UK as grey imports.

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Chris C 13 November 2015

Toyota Will

Check out the other two models in the Toyota Will series which can also be found in the UK in very small numbers - proof again that Japanese manufacturers can produce cars with brave styling. There are many other examples, eg Daihatsu box vans with noses copied from the original Mini, tiny gullwinged Mitsubishis and all sorts of weird Kei cars.
Sonic 13 November 2015

No mention of the Toyota Sera

No mention of the Toyota Sera?
Leslie Brook 13 November 2015


I've seen a WiLL Vi on the M25 and it was interesting in a Citroen Ami sort of way. A nice one of those for 3k seems like a good deal to me. I'd buy one.