A treasure trove of interesting Japanese cars and trucks
Japanese cars and trucks — particularly from brands like Honda and Toyota — enjoy a well-earned reputation for dependability and reliability. Still, the ravages of time and unforeseen events eventually befall us all. In this gallery, we've gathered together 20 of the most interesting and noteworthy vehicles from Japan in our long-running Junkyard Gems series. Resident wrecking yard expert Murilee Martin photographs these cars in junkyards all across the United States.
We've ordered them from oldest model year to newest to keep things tidy. Click on the image above to get started.
1974 Datsun 260Z
The first generation of the Nissan Z-Car was sold in the United States for the 1970 through 1978 model years, and it was a good-sized sales hit. These days, the value of a 240Z, 260Z, or 280Z in good shape can be quite high, but rough examples still show up in the nation's low-priced self-service wrecking yards. Here's one that I saw in Denver a few months back. Read more.
1978 Toyota Hilux longbed pickup
The second-generation Toyota Hilux pickup (known simply as the "Toyota Truck" in North America) was sold for the 1973 through 1978 model years, and it revolutionized the way Americans looked at small pickups. Sure, you could buy a Datsun pickup, a Ford-badged Mazda pickup, or a Chevrolet-badged Isuzu pickup, but the Toyotas and their seemingly immortal R engines made the competition seem less than serious. Here's a bright orange '78 that I found in a Denver self-service yard yesterday. Read more.
1982 Subaru BRAT
Like the AMC Eagle, the Subaru BRAT was a big sales hit in Colorado, much more than in the rest of North America, and you still see plenty of examples of both vehicles on Colorado streets ... and in Colorado wrecking yards. Here's a 1982 BRAT with camper shell that made it to age 35 before being forcibly retired. Read more.
1983 Mazda RX-7
The first-generation Mazda RX-7 was sold in North America for the 1979 through 1984 model years, and California car shoppers loved these high-revving Wankel-powered sports cars. Most were hooned to death, sadly, ending their careers against concrete freeway abutments or suffering the death-of-a-thousand-cuts induced by backyard "tuners" over the decades. Here's one that made it to age 34 before winding up in this San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard. Read more.
1983 Mitsubishi Starion
Americans had been buying Mitsubishis with Dodge or Plymouth badging for more than a decade when the first Mitsubishi-badged cars began showing up on these shores. For the 1983 model year, Mitsubishi USA offered the Cordia, the Tredia, the Mighty Max, and the Starion; the latter was a futuristic-looking rear-wheel-drive sports car that took direct aim at potential buyers of the Supra, the 280ZX, the RX-7, and even the Camaro. Here's a rare first-year "narrow-body" Starion in a Denver self-service wrecking yard. Read more.
1985 Nissan 300ZX Turbo
With 19 model years of production, the 300ZX version of Nissan's venerable Z-Car was built for more years than any other member of the Z family (that's 18 years if you don't want to count the Japanese-market '83). The first generation, the Z31, was the first of the Zs to get a V6 engine instead of the I6 of the earlier cars, and here we have an early example of the 300ZX Turbo, found in a Denver self-service wrecking yard last month. Read more.
1987 Honda Civic CRX
I'm a big fan of the first-generation Honda CRX, as well as all members of the third-generation Civic family, having owned quite a few of the gas-sipping two-seaters. These cars rusted to nothingness generations ago in the Northeast and Midwest, but you'll still find them in the warm, dry parts of the country. Here's a white 1987 CRX, spotted in a Phoenix self-service wrecking yard. Read more.
1993 Honda Civic VX Hatchback
Disclaimer: I own a battered, high-mile 1992 Honda Civic hatchback, it has been the most reliable motor vehicle I have ever owned (including numerous other Civics), and I'm not entirely rational when it comes to discussing fifth-gen Civics. That said, it would take a hard heart indeed to not find some love for today's Junkyard Gem: a '93 EG hatch in Denver that gave its all. Read more.
1994 Mazda MX-5 Miata
For the first couple of decades of the Mazda MX-5 Miata's existence, nearly all crashed or worn-out examples ended up purchased by Spec Miata racers (who would then crash them some more), and few ended up in wrecking yards. Finally, enough of these amazing little cars existed that the racer market became glutted, and they now show up at your local U-Wrench-It yards in reasonably large numbers. During a recent trip to a San Francisco Bay Area wrecking yard, I decided I would photograph the first Miata I spotted. Here it is. Read more.
1996 Subaru SVX LSi
Even as Subaru nailed down its position as the world's top maker of sensible all-wheel-drive cars, the company was willing to take a chance with a big, expensive sporty car with science-fiction looks. That car was the SVX, built for the 1992 through 1996 model years. Here's a final-model-year SVX, spotted in a Denver-area self-service wrecking yard. Read more.
1996 Toyota Previa All-Trac
The Toyota Previa minivan, available in the United States for the 1991 through 1997 model years, was an extremely sensible vehicle, though a bit cramped for American tastes and on the funny-looking side as well. The All-Trac version, with Toyota's proprietary all-wheel-drive system, sold well in Colorado, which is where I photographed this high-mileage example. Read more.
1997 Acura SLX
When I'm prowling wrecking yards, I'm always on the lookout for obscure examples of badge engineering, and the weirder they are, the better I like them. While I haven't managed to spot a junked Suzuki Equator yet, I have photographed such rarities as the Saab 9-2x and Isuzu Ascender. A few weeks ago, I encountered one of the real oddities of the Honda-Isuzu dealmaking of the 1990s: a 1997 Acura SLX, a luxed-up Isuzu Trooper that sold very poorly and is now mostly forgotten today. Read more.
1997 Suzuki X-90 4X4
North Americans could buy the Suzuki X-90 mini-SUV for just the 1996 and 1997 model years. Not many did so, and the most memorable X-90s ended up being the ones with gigantic Red Bull cans bolted to their roofs. I don't see many of these little trucks during my junkyard peregrinations (I spotted this '97 in Los Angeles a few years back), so a screaming purple '97 four-wheel-drive version seemed well worth documenting. Read more.
1998 Isuzu Oasis
When I'm crawling through a big self-service wrecking yard (as I do at least once a week) in search of interesting discarded vehicles, the top of my "look for" list always includes weird and obscure examples of badge engineering, the weirder and more obscure the better. So far the Nissan-made Suzuki Equator has eluded me, but I have managed to shoot such junkyard badge-engineering oddities as the Mitsubishi Precis (Hyundai Excel), Acura SLX (Isuzu Trooper), Saab 9-2X (Subaru Impreza) and Saturn Astra (Opel Astra). Isuzu's dire need for a minivan in the late 1990s led to a deal with Honda to sell the first-generation Odyssey as the Oasis (even as the Trooper became the Honda Passport). Few bought the Oasis, but I found one in a Denver yard a few months back. Read more.
2001 Honda Insight
The original Honda Insight was the very first hybrid-electric production car available in North American (beating out the Prius by nearly a year), and nothing could touch it for fuel economy and aerodynamic efficiency. Featuring aluminum construction, all manner of wind-cheating tricks, two seats and a curb weight of well under a ton, it looked like the car of the future … that is, a nonexistent American future in which solo commuters didn't feel compelled to pilot three-ton off-road dreadnoughts to the suburban office park. Nearly all of the first-gen Insights sold here came with fun-sapping CVT transmissions, but all the first-year 2000 models and a handful of the subsequent Insights got five-speed manual transmissions. Here's one of those rare fuel-sippers, spotted in a Denver self-service car graveyard. Read more.
2002 Toyota MR2 Spyder
During my junkyard journeys, I see Toyota MR2s here and there, mostly of the first-generation 1985-1989 type. The final iteration of the MR2 was sold in North America for the 2000 through 2005 model years; sales never matched those of the earlier cars and the few that still exist seem prized by their owners for track-day duties, so I don't see many in wrecking yards. Here's a 2002 model in a Northern California self-service yard. Read more.
2002 Toyota Prius
Even though the Honda Insight beat the Toyota Prius to the North American market by a bit less than a year, the much larger and less odd-looking Prius was the car that made hybrid-electric cars seem like useful real-world motor vehicles here. The early Priuses depreciated to the point of appearing in the big self-serve junkyards a few years back, but most of the ones I see have been so thoroughly used up that I don't bother to photograph them. This 2002 Prius, the second of three years for the first-generation model in United States, was in such nice condition in a Denver yard that the original window sticker was still in the glovebox, so it seemed worth documenting. Read more.
2003 Subaru Legacy Outback
Living in Denver and spending a great deal of time in local wrecking yards, I see plenty of discarded Subarus. It's an unwritten law that every Denver resident must own a dog and a Subaru, which means you'll find dog water bowls in front of most businesses and Subarus in most parking spaces. When Outbacks wear out, they end up in local junkyards. With 2 million Outbacks sold, I don't photograph most of them, for the same reason I don't photograph Altimas or F-150s. But a rare H6-3.0 Outback is another story; here's a very clean '03 spotted in a Mile High self-service yard. Read more.
2004 Mazda RX-8
You know when a type of vehicle has reached its value tipping point (where it's not worth fixing up a broken or crashed one) when examples of it begin showing up in the big American self-service wrecking yards. During 2016, the BMW Z3 and Mazda RX-8 reached that point and began to appear, just one at a time, here and there, but obviously they were the advance scouts for many to follow. Such cars usually get picked over in a hurry ... at first. Here's a well-stripped example of a first-year RX-8 I found in a Denver yard. Read more.
2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Since I live in Subaru-crazed Denver and make a point of visiting all the local self-service wrecking yards on a regular basis, I have the regular opportunity to photograph discarded examples of just about every type of Subaru sold here since the late 1970s. BRATs and Justy 4WDs and even SVXs — I see 'em all the time here. The original pre-facelift B9 Tribeca, though, that's a real junkyard rarity. Not many were sold, and the owners of broken ones tend to repair them instead of summoning their local U-Wrench yard to send a tow truck. Perseverance paid off, though, when I spotted this clean first-year example in a yard just north of downtown Denver. Read more.