In the US automotive industry, the 1970s was marked by underperforming cars throttled by fuel-economy concerns. When the 1980s came around, it seemed like every car on the block seemed unexciting and lukewarm. But the 1990s ushered in the good times when you were interested in performance cars.
And why shouldn’t you get a performance car in the 1990s? The times were finally better than ever. Financing was accessible, fuel was affordable, and the much hated 55 mph speed limit was finally repealed. And into this perfect storm came a tide of Japanese supercars that were so revered that even today there are highly lusted after.
1. Toyota Supra. If there’s one Japanese super during the decade which can represent the rest of this list, it’s the Toyota Supra (MkIV) Twin Turbo. Its American existence was brief, as it lasted from 1993 to just 1998. Yet its design and performance left an indelible mark in the minds of American motorheads of the time, and for years to come.
Even today, prices for the Supra are just ridiculous, even if they’re 2 decades old and they have 6 figures on the odometer. Part of the reason for that is because it still looks good. The Supra just oozes sexy masculinity from the outside, and on the inside the design is simple and practical. And to say it was fast doesn’t do it justice. When it was first launched in 1993, hardly anything on the road could match up to it. The Supra took just 13.1 seconds at 109 mph to finish a quarter-mile, and to reach 60 mph it took just 4.6 seconds.
It wasn’t just great at straight lines either. With its grippy tires, double wishbone independent suspension at all corners, and a cutting-edge 4-channel ABS brake system, it could handle the curves just fine. All these things were done with 1993 technology, when cellphones and the Internet weren’t exactly everyday technology.
And even today, the Supra is highly reliable. After all, that’s what Toyota is known for, right?
2. Mazda RX7. All the other cars on this list aren’t really sports cars, if we were too strict about our definition. Those other cars would probably head under the GT classification, but not the Mazda RX7. It exemplifies the traditional sense of a sport car because it is so lightweight at just 2,800 pounds.
It’s that lack of heft that had let the RX7 zoom all over the place, because on paper its specs are a bit underwhelming. Its 255 HP and 217 lb-ft of torque don’t exactly give you goose pimples. But that’s only until you realize just what kind of power to weight ratio you have here. Simply put, there are no slow base-model RX7s. Even the Supra had to offer a rather humdrum regular version with just 220bhp under the hood.
The Mazda is notorious for its use of the Wankel Rotary engine, but that 255 HP was more than enough to hurl the dainty RX7 way faster than the Corvettes of the time. So what if those American brutes had 5.7-liter engines? The Mazda had no trouble reaching 8,000rpm, especially with the close ratios and short throws on the 5-speed manual transmission.
It was only available from 1993 to 1995, sadly. Yet its presence on American shores even for just a few years was still a blessing for US aficionados.
3. Nissan 300ZX. It’s not exactly fair to compare the tech and speed of the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo with the other cars here, as technically it wasn’t launched in the 1990s (although it became popular during the decade). It first came out in 1989.
But while it may be tad slower than the others, you wouldn’t exactly call it slow at all. This was the car that heralded the arrival of Japanese supercars. In other words, if the Supra was like Jesus, then the 300ZX was like John the Baptist.
Of all the cars here, this one offered the best-rounded performance. It offered 300bhp and 283 lb-ft of torque, and it reached 60mph in 5 seconds flat.
4. Mitsubishi 3000GT. This was available from 1990 to 1999, so you’ll have lots of versions to choose from. But the changes over the years were actually minimal. It offered great looks (especially the 1999 model) and a 3.0-liter engine with 320bhp and 306 lb-ft of torque during the later years. It was also 4WD.
This was the heaviest of them all, but that engine was still able to get it to 60mph in just 4.9 seconds.
Their reign wouldn’t last, but that wasn’t because these cars suddenly turned ugly or performed poorly on the road. The problem was that the exchange rate between the yen and the dollar resulted in staggering prices for the Japanese supercars on American soil. That meant that some these cars were more expensive than Porsches of the time! Add the increase in insurance premiums and the surge of interest in SUVs, and these cars were done for. But it sure was a fun ride while it lasted!
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