WHEN we talk about performance cars that are cloaked in the plain clothes of hatchbacks or family sedans, inevitably our prejudices drift us towards the old continent. But in reality, there are quite a few juicy offerings from Japan from as early as the 1970s.
While warmed-up Euro sedans and hatches are nice, they are rather more predictable and we can guess where they are coming from and what formula they will use. On the other hand, our friends from the East are not hung up on formulas and will sometime just wing it and come up with models with far higher capabilities for curling eyebrows and pursing lips.
Among Japanese manufacturers, Mazda is quite legendary in its willingness to give anything a go and one thing that they have been fettling with is Felix’s wonky engine.
The Cosmos is a car that is inspired by 1960s science fiction but the 1971 Capella Rotary is an English-lit teacher’s car missing a few conrods, literally.
Shipped abroad as the RX-2, the Capella Rotary was powered by 1.3-litre rotary engine that cranked out a surprisingly healthy 130hp, giving it a specific power output of more than 100hp/litre.
Although we would like to think that Mazda bolted on the rotary engine for performance reasons, they probably did it to help Japanese buyers avoid the higher 1500cc tax bracket for their cars.
In 1980, Mitsubishi started getting visions of rallying and decided a Lancer 1800GSR may be just the ticket for dirt loving fast drivers.
In Europe the car came with a 2,000cc blown unit producing nearly 200hp and topping 200kph in a few independent tests. This car is seen as the grand daddy of all Lancer Evo and continues to tug at the heartstrings of Mitsubishi lovers.
Then there is the Daihatsu Charade Turbo which started as a mad group B rally project in 1985 code-named 926R. They took the 926cc three-cylinder engine, wring the head off with a turbo, moved it behind the driver’s seat and made it spin the rear tyres.
The car had huge blistered fenders and air intakes where you’d normally expect the rear window to be.
It cranked out 118hp but was dead on arrival, on account of the FIA cancelling group B rallying because it was so lethal.
All was not lost — the company had prepared 200 units for homologation and those went on sale to lucky customers. In road form, the engine developed 75hp from 7psi of pressurised intake.
In 1990 Nissan rubbed their itch by producing the Pulsar GTI-R. A genuine fire-breathing monster that came complete with various air scoops and gills for breathing and cooling the turbocharged heart.
It was meant to take part in the world rally championship so the engineers packed a turbocharged SR20DET engine under the bonnet and massaged 227hp from the motor. It is retroactively called the baby Gujira.
It was a hoot and a half and quickly cemented Nissan’s reputation as a company that is capable of producing genuinely mad cars.
In 1992 Subaru introduced their first-generation Impreza, probably the only family sedan designed with rallying in mind. Even the outback or station wagon version came with bonnet scoop and turbo.
The WRX is not a pretty looking car. In fact it looked as if the designers were specifically told to take design cues from worn out soap bars and then try to make stand out a bit less.
All is forgiven and the car quickly gained cult status thanks to the WRX versions which introduced to the average driver, the sounds and sensation of a turbocharged flat-four engine.
The thump-thump and throb of the engine is like nothing else and the surge of torque is so intoxication, it made many drivers teary eyed just looking at the car.
Some of these cars are available in Malaysia, others exist as modifications of the base model but what is sure is that these cars will become desirable in the years to come.
If you happen to spot one, quickly make an offer.