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European Supercars from Japan – Part 1

I’ve had such great access to supercars since I came to Japan.

Generous friends and acquaintances in the “car scene” here have let me spend time with their treasured, magic machines. And they are magic; pure mechanical magic. Even their names are magic: Lamborghini, Lotus, Ferrari, Mclaren; Countach, 348, 355, Modena, Esprit, Elise, Exege, 570S. Because of their owners’ generosity, I’ve driven, or been driven in, all these supercars here in Japan. And I’m not counting the Japanese supercars in this post, only the European supercars.

Spectacular and Scary

The times I’ve been given rides were usually more spectacular than the times I drove myself; the owners knew their cars and knew how far to push when showing off. When I was behind the wheel I wanted to be careful, partly I was not the owner, of course, but mostly because I was just terrified. Ever floored it on a Supercharged Lotus Exige? Yep. Scary.

Or your hands are in the ten and two position in a Lamborghini Countach and the front bonnet slopes down so steeply that you just see the world out there, no car, and that world is coming at you real fast. Yeah, I’d say the Countach was the most frightening because of that, and because of the sort of “hand built” feel of the dash with all its switches and gauges and flat surfaces, and because you can actually feel the mass of that V12 engine behind your seat.

European Supercars from Japan

When I was a boy the Countach was my supercar idol but, having been in one now, I don’t think I’d buy it, even if I had the money for a nice used Lamborghini from Japan. Maybe I’ve become kind of wimpy. Or, maybe…..sensible. Or maybe…..maybe I actually would buy a Countach.…maybe I’m not all wimped out yet. (There’s a lot of “maybes” in life.)

Give Me an Esprit for My Birthday

I’d certainly buy a late model Lotus Esprit Turbo, the one by Peter Stevens. Like the one I had a spectacular ride in a few years back at an informal car rally off the Tomei Highway near Kakegawa.

European Supercars from Japan
That was FUN! That car just slams its power into the back of your seat. It’s the only serious supercar with a four cylinder engine, but what an engine! 2.2 liters of high-blown bhp in a light, but low and wide, body shell. That’s the package, man, that’s the package.

European Supercars from Japan

The Esprit stopped so fast it took my breath away, and cornered so sharply I nearly left half of my face plastered to the door window. If I were looking for a used supercar to buy here in Japan, the Lotus Esprit would be my first target.

But I’ll Settle for a Ferrari

The Ferrari 348 I was in reminded me of the in-service F-14 Tomcat I got close up to on a runway once: a rough scrapper, very….how can I say?….”real.”

European Supercars from Japan

When he took me for a spin in that supercar the owner (an engineer in my company, actually) said: “Oh, it’s not so fast, really. It’s just noisy and sounds fast. Ha, ha!”

Um, well, no, it was fast. But, yes, the 348 was noisy, true.

European Supercars from Japan

But all the old school supercars were noisy, and maybe that’s why he later bought a Modena, a way more civilized vehicle. And, yes, it was quicker than his old 348 but it didn’t feel quicker to me, and it certainly was not as rough, no.

The only other Ferrari that I’ve had time with actually lives in my neighbourhood. A nice red (of course) 355. And that supercar impressed me not just for its acceleration and braking and handling and looks (all the things you expect in a supercar), but more for how warm and balanced the car felt. Usually we (at least I, at any rate) think of pure, full on classic supercars as hard machines; unforgiving, brutal, dangerous, although often ravishingly beautiful. But his 355, is just such a warm, lovey feeling car. I guess because the car itself is so loved by its owner. And this is the case with all the supercars here in Japan that I have ever dealt with. The owners love and love and treasure and precious these cars.

I’ll Be Happy with an Elise, Too

When another friend of mine got his 30-year company bonus he bought a new Lotus Elise R-Type. He loves that car.

Here we are with that terrific Esprit I mentioned earlier.

European Supercars from Japan

Retired now, he goes for wonderful drives through the hill country and on the highways. He babies that Elise. I’m honored to say that he lets me drive it, so he must think that I am gentle enough and have good enough mechanical sympathy to be allowed time with his treasure.

It’s his sweet dear, but, as anyone who has driven an Elise will know, it’s a hard car. There’s just a few inches from your butt to the road, the bathtub chassis is inflexible aluminum plates, the engine is high compression and high response, and the light body panels do not shield you much from the elements and sounds of the high speed world around you. And he says it’s his “gentle baby” ?! Wah!

I loved driving the Elise, though, but was happy to get back into my Miata.

Same with the Exige; another very hard unit. And while, due to its very light weight of 890kg, the Elise R-Type with the NA Toyota 2ZZ-GE avoids the (relatively) poor acceleration of the Celica SS-II, which sports the same engine, the Exige with its supercharged 2ZZ just blows the doors off my friend’s “baby.” If you crave slaughtering 0-60mph and hacking down high speed corners and stopping so fast you feel like the harness will dislocate both your shoulders, then the Lotus Exige S is the machine for you. And there are many good used Exiges that we are seeing in Japan these days. Same with the Elise. Finding a good mid 2000s car with less than 30,000 miles (50,000km) on him is not uncommon. In fact, surprising to me, your used mid-2000s Elises in Japan seem to have slightly lower mileages on them than the Exiges do.

Now because some of these cars are tracked here in Japan you do need to be careful not to get a racing modded version, unless that’s what you want. It’s just that some of the track Lotus cars I’ve seen at Fuji Speedway would give me pause when I’m thinking to buy second hand. The drivers often keep them looking nicer than in some other track classes (like the cheapo 1,300cc class that my friends race in; who keeps a track Starlet in good nick?) but I know that those Exiges have had hard track time. They just don’t look it. So stick to your road only Lotus Exige when you’re used car hunting in Japan.

Mileage Isn’t Everything

But don’t get too caught up on mileage, though, when you are buying a used supercar. Take another gentleman I know here who is a committed Jaguar man. He’s in a Jaguar F-Type with the 3 liter V6 now (and an automatic transmission….”Why you do that?!?!”) but he drove an XJ-S for years and years and put a lot of miles on that car. He sold it to the garage/dealer that serviced it and he got a good price for it because the garage knew that it was well serviced, well driven, and, very importantly, driven regularly. My friend never had any major problems with that XJ-S. He know the secret of Jaguar cars: Regular service and regular use.

And this is true of all supercars and highly strung performance machinery in general, so don’t get trapped in the narrow quest for a low mileage unit at all costs. Condition is far more important than mileage, and good condition comes from proper and regular driving and service.

And when you go for buying a used supercar from Japan, these factors of maintenance, use, and condition are on your side because the guys that run European Supercars here do indeed treasure and baby them. Good, healthy miles on the car may help to lower the asking price, though, and that’s where deals on used supercars in Japan are often found.

Now, having said that, you will come across some very low mileage units that have not been neglected or left to sit. Some of the very low mileage supercars you’ll see are what I call “wealth protectors.” Take my neighbour with his Ferrari 355. He had a period some years back in the mini boom of the early 2000s here in Japan when he made very good money in his work in Tokyo. All to the good. He then decided to buy that Ferrari with two thoughts in mind: one, he just wanted that 355, end of story; two, he wanted a place to park some of his earnings that was not in the bank or in the market or in anything particularly speculative. He figured the 355 would hold its value through thick and thin. So he has his odd weekend in the red rocket, runs it up every week even if he doesn’t take it out, and keeps the gentle climate control on in the garage 24/7. That car is an investment now and it would be a very good purchase for anyone looking to import a low mileage Ferrari as a store of value for the future. When he took me for a ride in it, it’s true, he certainly did not really rip it to show off. I guess that’s why it felt like such a warm, loved car to me. No screaming lunacy, like I had in the Lotus.

I know I haven’t said anything about the McLaren, the 570S, or the Modena, but, guys, the 570S didn’t really turn my crank the way the Esprit or the 348 did. I even thought, when I got back into my Miata, that its little 1.6 engine revved up and responded quicker that the twin turbo V8 of the McLaren. Of course, the McLaren made the Miata feel slow. A McLaren 570S makes even a MiG 25 Foxbat feel slow.

European Supercars from Japan

It just wasn’t the supercar for me, that’s all. And the Modena was too civilized for me. Beautiful car, though, and a super super nice interior on it.

A Few That We Have Shipped

In this post I’ve really just been talking about the European supercars that it has been my pleasure and privilege to have dealt with here in Japan. I haven’t said much yet about the supercars that we at Japan Car Direct have been exporting in recent times, like the 1994 Ferrari 512

European Supercars from Japan

you’ll find here, or the 1991 Ferrari Testarossa (yes, Virginia, a real Ferrari Testarossa) you’ll find here.

European Supercars from Japan

And that’s not even to mention the Porches like this, now classic, 1988 911 Turbo here that we recently shipped to a very happy lover of classic supercars.

European Supercars from Japan

We’ll look more at some of the European supercars cars that we have shipped from Japan, their mileages and conditions and specs, in our next post on European Supercars from Japan. For now, have a look here at these five wonderful European cars that now clear the 25-year-old rule for easy import to the USA. And peek in here to learn a bit about some of the new and some of the old in the world of Ferraris in general and Ferraris from Japan.

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