The Quirky Universe of JDM Vehicles

‘What’, you may ask, ‘….is JDM?’ It’s the acronym for ‘Japanese Domestic Market’ and it applies to cars and other vehicles intended for the Japanese domestic market, not for export abroad.

A casual Google search for the terms ‘JDM’ & ‘Japanese domestic market’ will lead you initially to pages and images of fearsome-looking cars such as the Mazda RX7, Honda NSX, Subaru Impreza WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo etc (see below for the last two)..

But dig a bit deeper and you’ll find some of the weirdest, wacky quirky rides to roll off a production line. Quirky Rides started life supplying Eastern European Cold War cars to film and TV but we evolved over time to become avid JDM fans. Not so much the Fast and Furious JDM cars but the weird, the wacky, the quirky. For those of us who are diagonally parked in a parallel universe, Nirvana can be found towards the bonkers end of JDM.

The header pic for this post is a rather cute Nissan Figaro built between 1989-91 at Pike Factory; Nissan’s special projects factory. There’s the similarly cute (we think) but less well-known Nissan Pao, the BE-1 and the S-Cargo that were also produced at Pike factory from the late 1980s to the early 1990s (see below). The S-Cargo (a pun on the French word ‘escargot’, meaning ‘snail’, which is what the S-Cargo is meant to resemble.

All of these cars are now highly sought-after by a niche but growing Quirky JDM interest group. Not only in right-hand driving environments such as the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Australia/NZ, South Asia and the Far East but increasingly left-hand drive places such as the US and elsewhere.

People ask us to acquire these weird and wonderful cars for them, which are still affordable but increasing in value as they become rare and their contribution to automotive design is increasingly understood. The Nissan Cube (below), is included in the Design Museum’s “50 Cars That Changed the World”. The Cube isn’t strictly a JDM vehicle as it was exported. However, export sales were so bad that Nissan stopped exporting them and limited sales to Japan instead. People outside Japan now realise what a brilliant car the Cube is and there’s consequently a thriving market in JDM Cubes (& related models such as the Daihatsu Materia) in the UK and elsewhere.

2002 Nissan Cube

The Nissan Cube is not the only JDM vehicle to punch above its weight in automotive design terms. Ever heard of the Toyota Will series? ‘Will’ was a Japanese consumer branding exercise aimed at young people and it included the Toyota Will series pictured below.

The first car is our favourite ‘Marmite car”, the Toyota Will Vi. Aimed at young women, it’s a ‘love it or loathe it’ car with its reverse-raked rear window, ‘sand dollar’ motifs and distinctly retro style. It looks like a Mazda Carol and a Ford Anglia got it together.

It was made between 2000-01 and was a commercial flop. We’ve had 6 of these cars, including 3 ragtops. People slow down and take pictures as they pass us on motorways. The majority of people wouldn’t be seen dead in one, but those who like them fight tooth and nail to get a good example. Based on Yaris Mk1 mechanicals, they’re nice to drive and easy to maintain.

The Will Vi was followed by the Toyota Will VS from 2001-2004, of which 4000 were produced. The VS is something of a JDM cult icon; years ahead of its time it influenced the design of the Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane & Nissan Leaf. The VS introduced sharp, angular styling, LED rear lights, a projector-style light cluster & an illuminated dash display.

Quirky Rides imported a Toyota Will VS a few years ago. We loved it. It’s so ahead of its time (it’s from 2001) and influenced the design of the Vauxhall Astra. We even managed to be refused entry to the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Show in 2018 in this car. “You can’t bring THAT in ‘ere” barked the Steward at the gate, presumably he thought it was some modern production car. But what did he know? We got in anyway.

Toyota Will VS

Then it seems that Toyota had another crack at the Will Vi from 2002-05 in the form of the Will Cypha. As with its Marmite inspiration, the Will Vi, the Will Cypha focussed on being decidedly odd. Its angular exterior contrasted with the round shapes of its interior & its front light cluster with 4 lights each side.

To say that that Will series was a commercial success would be an overstatement, despite the cult status of the the Will VS. Its Will companions the Vi and Cypha were probably just too odd to appeal to the mainstream. But times change & there are now more Will fans than cars; they were never common, even in Japan.

Ever heard of the Daihatsu Naked? The Toyota Sera?

The Mitsuoka Viewt? The Subaru Sambar? Perish the thought that they might be trying to mimic other cars.

In this blog post we’ve only really scratched the surface of the weird and wonderful world of JDM cars and vehicles. There are so many of them. We like them because they’re different, some of them are design influencers and all of them are the perfect vehicle to park diagonally in a parallel universe.

If you want an affordable modern classic that’ll increase in value and turn heads then think JDM. As a parting shot, here’s our Daihatsu Midget 2 pickup.

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