Have you ever noticed that, when you look around at most of the newer cars on the road these days, they all, kind of, sort of, basically…..look the same?
I mean, unless it’s a Lamborghini or something. Of course, there are a few reasonably priced machines that catch the eye, like the Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ or the Nissan 370Z, (which we call the Fairlady Z here in Japan). Yeah, a few. But it’s not simply a question of how much money you pay, like if you pay lots of money you get lots of good looks and great, unique styling, right? Ummm…no; often not. If in the moderate price bracket the world of new cars is rather dull, I have to be honest and admit that even a lot of the newer top end vehicles don’t really stand out like they used to.
Sure, when it comes to comparing with older, 20 or 25 year old cars, the newer vehicles these days generally have better performance, better braking, and handling is usually very fine, indeed. Crashworthiness ratings are higher for the newer machines; although, since with so many new cars you can’t see at all well out the rear and rear side windows (a big ongoing beef of mine), the makers had better be giving us improved prang performance.
It’s just that, with newer cars, I miss the good looks and creativity of design that were so marked in the ’80s and ’90s, especially in the Japanese cars of that time. (Think: Celica, Supra, MR2, Soarer, to name only a few of Toyota’s contributions to automotive beauty.) And since many of those great good-looker supercars of times past were not the most reliable things (think Countach, Esprit, and pretty well any Alfa Romeo), I’ve always especially appreciated the good looking Japanese cars of the ’90s that let us have the reliability, too.
And because you can still get good condition, reliable and low mileage used Japanese cars from the 1990s (we find them at the Japanese used car auctions and at the used cars dealers that we work with here) you can have a unique car, a striking, good-looking, eye-catching car, that is not going to ask you to spend pot money on repairs and running costs.
A perfect example of these unique, good-looking, but economical and reliable ’90s Japanese cars is this Toyota Sera that one of Japan Car Direct’s customers recently bought here in Japan for direct import to the USA.
What a totally fresh look this car has! Check out our photos here. And what a clean unit! On the body there’s only a scuff on the lower front bumper on the left, a small bit of paint off on the right rear mud flap support, and a small rust spot at the base of the window frame just behind the right side window. Not bad for a 29 year old car! Of course, he’s only got 95,162km (59,103 miles) on him, so that’s another reason the car is in such good shape.
And this is the kind of car that you are looking for when you decide to buy a used car from Japan to import back home yourself. You want a car that’s old enough to import easily into your country. (This Sera is a 1991. The Sera was in production from 1990 to 1996 so the first ones are now available for easy import to America under the 25-year-old car rule. Same in Australia now. And, of course, no problem to import to the UK or Canada or the EU.) You want a car that has relatively low mileage on it. (But not too low, because, if it looks like the car was hardly ever driven, you have to ask “why?”) You want a car that was loved and cared for. (The really fine full body paint job this Sera received – the car was originally red – indicates that the owner was willing to invest in the upkeep and improvement of his ride.)
Another thing to keep in mind when you are buying a used car from Japan is the whole issue of parts cross over. The more parts that were common with other models of the time, the better parts availability will be going forward.
Our customer made a good choice with the Sera here because, although the butterfly doors (this car was Gordon Murray’s inspiration for the doors when he designed the McLaren F1), the jet-fighter-like glass canopy roof, and many other features make the Sear so unique and such an eye-catcher, the car in fact shares the basic chassis body under (floorpan) with the Toyota EP82 Starlet. Same wheelbase at 2,300mm. The steering gear is the same and so are the brakes. The suspension parts are the same, too, which means that you can make use of the various after-market suspension options that are available for tuning the EP82 Starlets. (Two of the guys I know from my old company here race EP82s at Fuji Speedway in the “Fuji Champion Race” class. Suspension upgrades are key, of course, if you want to get the best out of these cars, but you won’t want to waste a Sera on the track, it’s just good to know that you can upgrade the suspension as and when you want.)
Another good point about the Sera is that it uses the very reliable Toyota E-series straight four engine. Same engine series as the Starlet, although in the case of the Starlet the 1,331cc 4E-FE is used, while the Sera gets the bigger 1,497cc 5E-FHE. This is good because the Sera, at 930kg (2,050lb) is 100kg heavier than the Starlet Gi that weighs in at only 830kg (1,830lb). Both cars have a decent bit of initial grunt and you’ll be surprised how quickly they’ll get you going from the light. But, in the end, these are small, economical engines running modest compression (and burning regular gas, yeah!) 9.6:1 in the case of the 4E and 9.4:1 in the case of the 5E, so they are not in the same class as an Aventador when you want to accelerate above 70mph. Aaaaah….No.
But with the Sera you’ve got the Japanese build quality and the car’s own take on exotic looks.
And here’s a nice little thing about the Sera I can tell you: It has been my privilege here in Japan to be acquainted with an excellent artist (no names for the moment) who was on the design team for the very beautiful second generation MR2 (SW20), among other cars. He retired last year and wanted to give himself a present. It was a toss-up for him between a First Revision MR2 Turbo T-Top or a Sera. Both cars just so pleasing to just look at. And as an artist, for him the appeal was equal.
So if you want unique good looks with reliability and tuning potential and economy, then put importing a Toyota Sera direct from Japan high on your list.