Close your eyes and imagine it’s 1997. Men in Black is killing it in theaters, people are reading this new Harry Potter book and going crazy about it, and Princess Diana’s death is dominating the news. You know what else? There were some of the most awesome cars ever built. And, since 1997 was 25 years ago starting in 2022, that means we deprived children here in the States can finally legally own them.
I’m here with 9 JDM cars that are finally legal to import. Well, it’s more like 10, and there are a lot of Toyotas, but more on that later.
Nissan R33 GT-R NISMO 400R – The Best R33
We’ll start with an old Nissan called the R33 GT-R 400R. The R33 is the ugly middle child of the Skyline family. The older brother, Mr. Godzilla R32, is considered an instantly recognizable classic that everyone loves. The younger, overachieving R34, is the one Paul Walker drove in that movie, so it’s even more prestigious and expensive.
But, the R33 still had a lot to offer, including a special edition meant to dominate Le Mans called the NISMO 400R. What did that mean? It meant that the already-fast R33 could hang with supercars, no problem. Specifically, while a normal R33 made about 300 horsepower, the 400R made 400 with its RB-X engine. It also had better suspension and used a ton of carbon fiber, which was nearly unheard of in 1997.
If you ask me, it was honestly a better car than the R34 GT-R until the Z-Tune came along. Take that how you will. Unfortunately, there were only ever 40 of them ever made, so good luck. Hagerty says that a fair condition 400R today will cost you a measly $800,000! So, if you’re that reader who’s interested in buying one, can I borrow $20?
If you’re like me, while you think the special editions are really cool, you’re more into things that normal people can afford. The Toyota Caldina fits the bill.
Toyota Caldina GT-T – Sleeper Hit Reddit’s Dream
What if I told you that you could get an all-wheel drive, turbocharged wagon with 260 horsepower that isn’t a Subaru? It’s called the Toyota Caldina GT-T. And, while the Caldina has been available to import for a while, its high-performance trim didn’t exist until 1997, meaning it’s primed for you next year.
So, if you think WRXs are too played-out and want a really unique rally monster that will leave people staring in disbelief, set aside about $10,000 and get a Caldina. Actually (and this is absolutely insane) but you may not even need that much. These things are cheap and slept-on, so keep an eye out. I keep seeing them hover around $5,000 in other markets.
Wagons not for you? Too ugly, you say? Then get a special edition of one of the coolest cars of the entire era. It’s the NSX Type S and S-Zero.
Honda NSX Type S and S-Zero – Lightweight Legends
The NSX is one of the most radically designed cars Honda ever made with its mid-engined layout and almost Ferrari-like body. I mean, you know what the NSX is, otherwise you wouldn’t be watching this channel. What you might not know is that 1997 Honda released two special editions of the NSX.
The first is pretty straightforward. The Type-S was made for winding roads and had a bunch of stock upgrades that everyone else was putting on their Hondas anyway, such as MOMO steering wheels, BBS alloy rims, and Recaro seats.
The more interesting special edition was the NSX Type-S Zero. The Zero was meant to say that this NSX went on a serious diet. And, even though Honda wouldn’t resurrect the NSX-R nameplate, that’s really what it was.
It had hardcore suspension, super lightweight flywheel and clutch, and they got rid of nearly everything on the inside. I mean, it didn’t even have power steering. The only option you could get was air conditioning if you were a total wimp.
The Type-S Zero was 1.5 seconds faster than the original NSX-R, making it the fastest real NSX you can buy. Just be prepared to spend a ton for it. Only 30 Type-S Zero models were ever built. And it’s pretty much impossible to figure out how much they’re worth. Get the Type-S instead. Those are only a little over $300,000. No big deal, right?
Alright, fine, I said I couldn’t afford an overpriced special edition JDM hero. And I know most of you can’t either. But you can afford one of the most luxurious cars ever produced in Japan. They call it the Century.
Toyota Century G50 – Executive Class
Toyota is full of surprises. But, if you watched our video on the 25 greatest JDM cars ever, you’d know that the top-secret Supra was powered by a V12 built by the Titanic manufacturer. That 5.0-liter V12 was found in the second generation Toyota Century, first available in the magical year of 1997.
And, while the engine is awesome, the real selling point of Century was that the comfort and class rival Bentley or Rolls-Royce. There’s Toyota, then above that is Lexus, and way above Lexus is the Century. It has a “C” and a “V12” embroidered on the door pillar in Gothic font. That’s the kind of VIP we’re talking about here.
You don’t even close the door yourself; electronics do it for you. That’s really amazing for a car that you can get for less than $15,000. Now, buying one yourself, right now there are almost no G50 Century models on the market. They’re not as popular as the Skylines and sports cars, but it looks like you can source a V12-powered Century from Japan for around $13,000 shipped!
Now, I know you guys just want to go fast. And I know you all watched our video on one of the greatest sports cars Japan has ever made right? Well, 2022 is going to be the first year that one of the best front-wheel drive cars ever is available to us. It’s called the Civic Type R!
Honda Civic Type R – The OG Arrives
When Honda introduced the Type R badge with the NSX and, more famously, the Integra. The world waited in anticipation to see what was next. In 1997, the Civic Type R was delivered. It was one of the best front-wheel drive cars ever built when it was new, and it now defines Honda as a company.
The good news is that 1997 was 25 years ago, starting in 2022, meaning that you don’t have to buy a broken EK9 with a blown engine just to do a swap, you can import your own real Type R.
Unfortunately, these have been enjoying the “legendary” status for a while now, so you’re not going to find one for cheap. I was able to find one that can be shipped here to the States for around $22,000, which is a hell of a deal. And I think in a few years it’ll be worth twice that!
Speaking of wrong-wheel drive, one of my favorite cars to look at got its facelift in 1997 and can be yours next year!
Mitsubishi FTO – Not a Sports Car
I’ve talked about the FTO before in a video about JDM cars that you can afford. It’s like a Mitsubishi Eclipse but longer, better-looking, and better-sounding. Yeah, it’s front-wheel drive, but it’s a car regularly called “the best bargain sports car,” so who am I to argue?
Now, the FTO has been around since 1994, but you want the 1997 version since that’s when they updated the design, which was also the last time I updated my design. Fancy that. The “new” ’97 FTO got a more aggressive front end and an adorable little spoiler. It has the same engine options as the older ones, though, and you’re going to want the 2.0-liter MIVEC V6.
The FTO never came with the 4G63 because this is the company that made the Eclipse Cross, so you can’t expect amazing from them. But the V6 is a peppy engine that sounds great, so it’s fine. It’s hard to say how much you need to own one Stateside. I did find a beautiful black one with the facelift for about $15,000 delivered. Of course, be ready to deal with the fun of importing a car and whatever that costs.
All these road cars… how about something different? How about a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution?
Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution V55W – The Big Fat Evo
Do you know what the Paris Dakar is? If you don’t, make sure to look it up after this article. It’s the most insane, wild, grueling, car-destroying race ever conceived, and it’s a true proving ground for manufacturers, manufacturers like Mitsubishi. In 1997, they were riding high with rally wins, thanks to the Lancer Evo, and they decided to try to win the Dakar rally too.
But, they needed to sell a homologated racecar. So, they took a second-generation Pajero Sport, which is this awesome little two-door SUV, and injected steroids into it until it was pretty much completely unrecognizable. I’m talking about a little SUV that has fender flares, a massive hood scoop, a wing, and just about everything else you love to buy from the “Forbidden Isles” at your local parts store.
Now, unfortunately, it doesn’t have the legendary 4G63 like you’d expect an Evo to have. Instead, it has that MIVEC V6 we mentioned when talking about the FTO, so don’t feel like you’re missing out. You will have to shell out some cash, though, since they sit at about $20,000 overseas. And that doesn’t include shipping to the States. And, for the record, they did win Dakar 12 times.
Do you wish you were drifting? Do you wish you were drifting big sedans? Do you wish you had a Supra? Well, let’s take all those little baby wishes and stuff them under our pillows and go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow for the honorable mention.
Toyota Chaser JZX100 – Chasing Dreams
It’s called the Chaser, one of the coolest sedans Toyota has ever built. And it’s powered by a turbocharged inline-six that’s widely known for its infinite tunability. Sure, it’s the 1J instead of the 2J, but don’t let that stop you. Think of it like a four-door Supra that’s easier to work on and a whole lot cheaper. For some reason, Toyota didn’t think we wanted that, which is annoying as hell because they’re sort of perfect.
Technically, the sixth-generation Chaser, also known as the JZX100 that everyone wants, rolled off the line in late 1996, meaning you only really had to wait until October of 2020 to get one. Realistically, you’re not going to see many of them available yet because they were released for the 1997 model year, but that means you can start searching right now!
Look, you could get a Chaser for $20,000 with the manual transmission, that beautiful 1JZ GTE, and a stunning blue finish. Or you could get a piece-of-garbage Mark IV Supra that doesn’t even run. Or you could bump the 2.5-liter 1JZ GTE up to the 3.0-liter. You know it and love it: the 2JZ GTE. Next year will be the year to buy the greatest Toyota Aristo ever.
Toyota Aristo – The Four-Door Supra
Just take everything we said about the Chaser, add a layer of refined luxury, and bump the power output up to 300 horses. See, unlike all the people that talk about the Supra-powered IS300 (or the Supra-powered whatever), the Aristo actually is Supra-powered. That Mark IV Supra 2JZ GTE only came in two cars, the Aristo and the Supra. That’s actually a big reason the 1JZ, like in the Chaser, is still such a desirable engine.
You can still get them. And, honestly, for all you JDM junkies out there, I think this is one of the best buys on our list today. If you get in a pickle, you don’t have to order parts from Japan. Just go find a Lexus GS300 at a junkyard and rob it for its good bits and you’re good to go.
And, with prices hovering in the $5,000-area, these things are probably the cheapest way to get a 2JZ GTE, and I’m including buying a junkyard engine from the back of a shady shop in Los Angeles.
Jump down in the comments and tell me if you’d take the Aristo over the Chaser? Or let me know if you’d choose something else on this list instead.