Could your next classic come from Japan?

Photography Courtesy Duncan Imports unless otherwise credited • Lead Courtesy Nissan

For $14,900, less than the price of a lightly used Honda Civic, Duncan Imports & Classics will sell you a 1990 Toyota Crown hearse, its black sheet metal offset by traditional Buddhist styling: so much wood, so much bronze. This right-hand-drive wagon is an easy button for winning just about any local cars and coffee and, yes, it even has a manual transmission.

Gary Duncan, owner of the dealership, didn’t recently discover Japanese classics. He’s not trying to follow the latest fad. This Virginia dealer has owned a Honda store since 1977, and his family has been in the new car business since 1955. 

Back in the day, they handled icons like Studebaker and Rambler, MG and Triumph. In addition to that Honda franchise, today’s lineup covers Acura and Mazda plus Ford, Dodge, Lincoln, BMW, Audi, Jeep, Ram, Hyundai and more.

But five years ago, Duncan launched a new venture: selling Japanese classics from overseas. Once a car has celebrated its 25th birthday, it can legally be imported stateside. 

“I just love the Japanese people and love the Japanese products,” Duncan tells us. “I have always loved them.”

Photography Credit: Josh Cooper 

Duncan’s Japanese-market offerings fall into two camps, with examples from both regularly priced at the lower end of the collector car market. “They’re inexpensive, they’re rare, they’re unique,” he notes, “and they’re in the price range where you’ll never lose money.”

The first group features Japanese-market versions of stateside favorites like the Honda CRX, Subaru WRX, Toyota MR2 and Mazda RX-7. In addition to right-hand drive, you’re likely to find options and configurations not sold here: maybe more power, maybe just that je ne sais quoi. 

Then Duncan offers many models never officially imported—for example, a ’90s-era Mazda Cosmo, Japan’s take on the pony car. Instead of sporting a V8 under that long hood, however, this one’s rotary-powered. Budget about $15,000 for the pleasure. 

Starting at about the same money, you can also buy a 1980s or ’90s Toyota Century, the brand’s version of the traditional luxury sedan: V8 power, chrome bumpers, plush interiors and all of the electronic aids possible using the day’s technology. 

Or you could go small with a 660cc-powered kei car, mini pickup or retro-styled Nissan Figaro. Duncan usually has about a hundred Figaros in stock, ranging from less than $10,000 to about $40,000.

His menu tops out around $50,000, the going rate for a ’90s Nissan Skyline GT-R. That’s the twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive monster that dominated touring car racing for years. 

Duncan figures he has imported close to 3000 of these pre-owned Japanese cars so far and tends to keep about 500 cars in stock—some in Christiansburg, Virginia, and the rest just outside of Nashville. He favors unrestored examples. “I want you to see them as pure as I bought them,” he adds. 

Registration and Title Work

Each car sold by Duncan Imports comes with a Virginia or Tennessee title. However, the car registration process can vary. “Each state is a little quirky,” Duncan reports, adding that shoppers should do their due diligence.

Financing and Insurance

“Surprisingly, there are a lot of lenders who love these cars,” Duncan notes. Specialty insurance companies should welcome them, too, he adds.

Parts and Maintenance

This can vary depending on the make and model, with some being served by their own cottage industries here in the U.S. And then there’s always the internet. 

Rising Prices

A caution from Duncan: Rising prices on used cars aren’t just a U.S. phenomenon, as he’s seeing the same happen overseas. 

Favorites From Japan

Someone just paid more than $300,000 for a 1998 Subaru Impreza 22B STi, one of approximately 400 examples built to commemorate the brand’s third-consecutive World Rally Championship. Subaru didn’t offer this model stateside, making it a holy grail among fans of Japanese performance cars. Put it up there with other Japanese classics that can now fetch six figures: the Datsun 240Z, 1969-’72 Nissan Skyline GT-R and Toyota 2000GT.  

But not everything rare and Japanese has to cost so much. Gary Duncan, owner of Duncan Imports & Classics, offers a few other favorites for more modest budgets.

 

Nissan Figaro: Retro styling over ’90s running gear, with prices starting around $10,000.

 

Honda Beat: Mid-engine layout, a top that goes down, and prices starting around $10,000.

 

Mazda Cosmo: Where the original Cosmo can fetch six figures, the ’90s version sells in the teens.

 

Suzuki Cappuccino: A 660cc-powered roadster usually sold in the teens. 

 

Toyota Century: The first gen ran from 1967-’97; $10,000-$20,000 buys an ’80s or ’90s example.

 

Honda CRX: The Japanese version received twin-cam power; prices are in the teens.

 

Toyota Land Cruiser: Trucks are hot, and about $20,000 buys a Japanese-market version. 

 

Lexus SC 430 convertible: Figure about $50,000 for a Japanese Benz SL.

 

Honda Element: Top prices for Honda’s box on wheels have bounced back into the low teens. 

 

Japanese wagon: About $10,000 can put you in a wagon from Nissan, Toyota or Subaru.

 

Autozam AZ-1: Gullwing doors and supercar lines for about $25,000.

 

Fire trucks: How about a pint-sized fire truck for less than $10,000?

 

MG RV8: Many examples of the final version of the MGB went to Japan. Might be worth about $40,000.

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Comments
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CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter)
CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) New Reader
7/26/21 2:32 p.m.

“They’re inexpensive, they’re rare, they’re unique,” he notes, “and they’re in the price range where you’ll never lose money.”

What's not to like? Check your ego at the door and just go have fun. Looks like the owner has a pretty significant private collection as well.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
7/26/21 3:00 p.m.

In reply to CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) :

100% agree. Japanese carmakers have made a lot of Japan-exclusive car models that much of the world hasn't seen or even knows about. Parts availability might get tricky, but the only other hurdle I see is learning how to drive a RHD car in a LHD country.

sir_mike
sir_mike New Reader
7/26/21 4:07 p.m.

No....

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/5/21 8:32 a.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

It seems that even those with the models never imported here–Beat, early Skyline, etc.--manage to find what they need. They might have to wait, but the parts are often out there somewhere. 

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