Barker’s 10 worst Japanese coupes: an introduction

Barker’s 10 worst Japanese coupes: an introduction

Chris Barker is a fine wordsmith. Still criminally under-followed on Twitter, the good chap has once again decided to grace PetrolBlog with his fine words. Only this time, PetrolBlog had a bit of a problem. Not that his attack on Japanese coupes isn’t well observed and wonderfully constructed. It’s just that, well, many if not all of the cars mentioned by Chris happen to be much loved within PetrolBlog circles.

But PBHQ is a fan of free speech, Quavers and Blue Nun, so we invited Chris to pull up a chair and, when he’d finished munching on cheesy crisps and cheap wine, turn his attention to spouting some fine waffle. Here, he presents his introduction…

‘Bateman’s 10 Worst Japanese Coupes Ever Built Between 1986 And 1995 That Aren’t A Honda NSX, Toyota Supra, Toyota Celica, Toyota MR2, Mazda RX7,Mitsubishi 3000GT/GTO, Nissan Skyline, Nissan GT-R, Nissan 300ZX, Nissan 350ZX, Nissan 370Z, Mitsubishi Starion, Mazda MX5, Lexus LF-A Or Subaru Impreza WRX P1 Amongst Others’

We all know that Japanese manufacturers have a rich history of churning out stylish coupes. They’re well documented in circles not just privy to motoring types. Often agonisingly gorgeous looking cars, built on a relatively strict manufacturer budget, yet appearing like money was indeed no object from the outset.

Yet the best bit about this seemingly never-ending succession of eye-candylicious, body-beautiful cars which first homed into UK view in the 1960s and has continued to do so right up to present day, is of course, the cost. That cost being £affordable. Yup, today’s sermon is, as suspected, dedicated to the humble, unassuming Japanese coupe; cost effective sports cars that deserve their rightful place in a hall of performance car fame. Or is it?

Well, no it isn’t, as on closer scrutiny not all of them are what you might call ‘worthy’; the likes of which I’m ACTUALLY going to focus on across a series of blog posts. And I’m fairly well-placed to highlight the less than salubrious (and celebrated) examples of ‘really crap’ Jap crappage given my proliferation of the genre over the years.

Whilst petrolheaded, post-pubescent  friends (following chronologically by post-pub colleagues) from my once promising youth, Thomas, Richard and Harrison got all hot and bothered over their Nova SRIs and Fiesta XR2s, boyo here more often than not turned to the land of the rising sun to deliver his automotive wet dreams, and rarely regretted it.

Toyota Celica

Girding my fledgling car-fettling loins over the temptresses that were the Toyota Celica and MR2. In fact, anything with a Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda or Mitsubishi badge that hadn’t been previously owned by an octogenarian, a mother of a rowdy brood in excess of four strong or a trawlerman (who liked to remove his boat from the encroaching tide with his trusty Japanese motor vehicle) blipped away on my keen radar during my formative years.

You see, with Toyota you could pretty much take your pick from stylish and affordable sports coupes, as they had a habit of knocking up some tasty looking metal for a formidable period in the mid-to-late ’80s onwards (and before, although they’re of no concern to us here and now). Unfortunately, and as I hinted at the top, despite having a plethora of performance-specced and/or  seductively-styled iterations from which to choose, I have instead elected to go down an alternative route. Not so much Memory Lane, more a Horror Highway. Or nightmare on Almera Street.

Lest we forget that for every Honda NSX there was a Honda Prelude. For every Nissan Skyline, a Nissan 100NX. For every Mitsubishi GTO, an FTO. I think you get my drift (and not in a good, Nissan 200SX sort of way). A Japanese yin and yang as it were. Focusing specifically on the European market, Japanese coupes manufactured between the late 1980s and mid-90s too, there’s – regrettably on this occasion – no mention of the fabled Datsun Z cars the 1970s, alas. Nor deliberations of a positive nature over the gorgeous Toyota 2000GT of a decade before that, which also gave us the torturously pretty Isuzu 117 coupe (circa 1968).

Toyota 2000GT

To stress just how wrong even the Japanese can get it in terms of sports car design and manufacture from time to time – and before we get into the documentation of such vehicular criminality – may I just re-familiarise you with the benchmark of obscenely attractive sports cars that they can produce when they put their minds (and more pertinently, their best designers and engineers) on the job in hand.

Honda NSX R

Iconic cars lifted straight from the pages of sports car folklore, like the pulsating Honda NSX, the pioneering Subaru Impreza WRX STi and the peerless Nissan Skyline from a few years distant, as well more recent additions to the good book courtesy of the Nissan GT-R and Lexus LF-A.

Only this way can we put into any semblance of perspective just how God awful the Datsun Cherry Coupe, Honda Legend Coupe, Lexus SC430 and anything ever brandishing a Suzuki badge actually were. Add to this list any of the following; the Toyota Paseo, Nissan Silvia, Nissan Sunny Coupe (B11 series only, as earlier examples were of a pretty edgy, north American-looking design – like a mini Mustang or something), Honda Prelude, Honda Accord Coupé, Mazda MX-3, Suzuki Anything, Ever, but most importantly the X-90, Lexus Soarer, Daihatsu Copen (technically classed as a ‘roadster’), Subaru Legacy coupe and Mitsubishi Sapporo, and you know where we’re headed.

Suzuki X90

All beyond contempt, maybe, yet heroically not quite (never has the word ‘quite’ wielded as much power) as horrifically un-engineered or as monstrously presented as those that have made my list soon to be unleashed on to PetrolBlog.

As society dictates these days, all the best run downs feature a 10 to 1 countdown. Or 1 to 10, dependent on your denomination. The Top Ten Such And Such. Or the 10 Most Something Cars Ever. Or The World’s 10 Worst Somethingorothers. Ever. In The World. Period. Hence me jumping on the bandwagon with this snappily titled ‘Bateman’s 10 Worst Japanese Coupes Ever Built Between 1986 And 1995 That Aren’t A Honda NSX, Toyota Supra, Toyota Celica, Toyota MR2, Mazda RX7, Mitsubishi 3000GT/GTO, Nissan Skyline, Nissan GT-R, Nissan 300ZX, Nissan 350ZX, Nissan 370Z, Mitsubishi Starion, Mazda MX5, Lexus LF-A Or Subaru Impreza WRX P1 Amongst Others’ . Snappy, eh?

Stay tuned for the first Japanese car to feel the full force of Chris Barker’s rage – the Nissan 100NX. And then observe how PetrolBlog tries to mount a genuine case for the defence…

Images © Nissan, Toyota, Suzuki.

Written by Chris Barker

Chris’ first memory of cars, was one of being perched upon his father’s knees, carefully turning the steering wheel of a 1968 Triumph Herald 1200 as he helped his dad reverse the car up the driveway at home. Since then, Chris has owned a gaggle of predominantly 1990s-manufactured sports cars of a Japanese parentage and distinctly European-flavoured hot hatches (his chosen field of automotive passion, along with iconic sports wagons), including a brace of Golf GTis, a clutch of Impreza WRXs and a warm embrace of Celica GT4s.


  1. Ant

    I quite like the 100NX. And the Paseo. That they’re unbelievably cheap these days certainly helps.

    Genuinely can’t understand the Prelude being on that list though. I’d argue that once you remove the obvious high-end sports cars like the Supra, NSX et al, the Prelude is one of the best cars Japan has ever produced. Almost all were great to drive, most are quite easy on the eye, they were always technologically advanced, and they were built well even by Honda’s high standards.

    The FTO inclusion also confuses me. At one time, considered right up there with the Honda Integra Type R.

    And really confusing is the Silvia, which is merely the Japanese name for the 200SX mentioned further up (as well as other SX derivatives). Rarely that interesting to look at, but a performance bargain at one stage and now looked upon fondly as a very good way to go sideways.

    1. Chris Barker

      With due respect, none of the cars you have mentioned made it to the final 10 cars which I considered worthy of a glancing sneer, and were only name-checked in the confines of the intro as means of passing transient comparison to each of their more celebrated marquee brethren. In terms of the Prelude, used as the whipping boy for the NSX, the Mitsu FTO for the GTO and Silvia for the Skyline. All of which you’ll note were spared my personal vitriol whence the full article is published.

      I agree, that the Prelude wasn’t a bad vehicular stick in many ways, yet from an aesthetical viewpoint lacked real presence in any of its generative guises, whilst the FTO left a lot to be desired. The Silvia, as you correctly addressed was the forerunner to the subsequent 200SX, which is why it didn’t make the final cut.

      1. Ant

        Styling is such a subjective thing, I guess; I reckon the Prelude, particularly the final-generation model that was widely panned for its styling in the press at the time, is one that looks much better in hindsight. It’s possibly improved given how over-designed many modern cars look – the Prelude has always had a modest evolutionary look since the first model that I find quite appealing.

        The FTO we probably won’t agree on – it was largely praised in contemporary reports (other than for being a bit noisy) and having driven one myself I’m quite a fan. Its main problem now is the influx of Grey Imports that arrived a decade or so ago, far too many, and it’s resulted in rock-bottom prices and a lot of poorly-maintained examples knocking around.

        Incidentally, I suspect history will look on it more favourably than the GTO, which was simply an overweight attempt at beating Nissan at its own Skyline GTR game – throw lots of technology at a fat car to make it fast. Only Nissan did it right and Mitsubishi sort of didn’t…

  2. IvanhoeTrousers

    Perhaps a little late to this, so no one will read this post (and possibly that’s no bad thing.) I’d second the comment by Groaver, The Cappuccino was a fine little car and the SC100 was one of very few memorable cars I’ve ever owned. More like a jacket than a car (you put it on, rather than got in) and stuck to the road like a super-glued limpet. Felt faster than it was and still got 50mpg. My case is rested. As you were.

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