Updated October 2020: At what point does a car become old school? Well, if you're Super Street, a brand that celebrates Japanese cars and car culture, we'd say pretty much everything that came pre-'90s. The decade isn't arbitrary; it is when most agree the import tuning scene in America hit its apex, so it makes sense that vehicles manufactured before that time should be considered revered classics—respected forerunners, if you will. We understand it's already been 30 years since 1990, but for now we're making the claim and sticking by it; in 10 years, we can rewrite this story and move '90s cars into the "old-school" group.
We make the distinction so we can write up this fine gem of a roundup, a recap of the most beloved old-school cars we've ever featured. Anyone who has followed us for any extended length of time knows we've produced volumes of content about modified classic Japanese cars in addition to all the other stuff we publish. On a lark, we decided to see which of those stories got the most views, and from that report we pulled the top 20 for this compilation—11 cars from the '80s, 8 from '70s, and one 1968 Honda. By make, the list includes 6 Datsun/Nissan, 6 Toyota, 5 Honda, 2 Mazda, and a Mitsubishi. Make sure to click the links below to see the full story for each car.
- Tyler Powell's 1972 Datsun 240Z
- JDM Legends's 1973 Datsun 240Z
- Daniel Wu's 1968 Honda S800
- Nick Higgins's 1989 Honda Civic
- Satit Suwantong's 1988 Honda Prelude
- Mathias Johansson's 1989 Toyota Corolla GTi
- Billy Edmonds's 1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S
- Mikie Sorrell's 1987 Mitsubishi Starion
- Hertrech Eugene, Jr. 's 1988 Mazda RX-7 Turbo II
- Dino Hilario's 1987 Toyota Corolla SR5
- Kong Vue's 1975 Toyota Celica
- Pruk Pruksathorn's 1970 Toyota Corolla (KE25)
- Daniel Song's 1972 Datsun 240Z
- Victor Ho's 1978 Honda Civic
- Will Tetro's 1988 Mazda RX-7 SE
- Ryan Wedig's 1985 Honda CRX Si
- Richy Contreras's 1977 Datsun 280Z
- Brandon Miller's 1984 Nissan Skyline (R30)
- Keiichi Tsuchiya's 1986 Toyota Sprinter Trueno
- John Healey's 1971 Datsun 1600 Wagon (510)
1972 Datsun 240Z - American Revolution
What We Wrote Then: "So how does a Corvette guru pick up Datsun's beloved Z? It dates back to [owner/builder Tyler Powell's] childhood. 'One of my favorite Hot Wheels toys was a Z,' he explains. 'The Z is just so sleek and I've always loved the coupe profile. It's lightweight, handles great, and in all honesty, it's very Corvette like. Also, a friend of mine bought a Z in college and I thought it was the coolest thing ever, so I made a mental note that it would be a car I would one day build!'"
Why We Love It: This classic Z is unlike anything we've ever seen. It's basically an S30 body grafted onto a C6 Corvette Z06 with a ton of custom fab work to boot, but the execution is damn near perfect. And if the story about the car isn't wild enough, the tale behind Powell—who's an engineer by education, was an FBI agent for a time, builds custom cars on the side—is equally impressive.
1973 Datsun 240Z - Restoration Refined
What We Wrote Then: "...JDM Legends isn't the first shop of its kind, but it certainly lives up to its name by not only importing vintage Japanese vehicles (exempt from the 25-year rule), but restoring them as close to their former glory as possible-or however detailed or modified the vehicle's future owner should choose. Because of this, the company has quickly earned a reputation for delivering collector's items to those looking to add a Japanese legend to their garage."
Why We Love It: JDM Legend's '73 240Z is to period correctness what Tyler Powell's S30 is to all-out customization. Again, here the craftsmanship is astounding, and with its timeless RS Watanabe wheels tucked under the most tasteful of overfenders, this classic looks plucked from the pages of a history book. We are most smitten with that super clean engine bay, which features a stroked 3.2L L-series outfitted in DCOE 45mm carbs and mesh-topped JDM-L custom velocity stacks that helps the car put down north of 300hp—not too shabby for an old timer.
Daniel Wu's Restomod 1968 Honda S800 with Custom Pandem Kit
What We Wrote Then: "Life and direction changing, the hospital stay prompted [owner Daniel] Wu to get to work on finding the right car to break down and build back up. But why a Honda S800? Look at Wu's current stable of cars and you get a mixed bag that includes the aforementioned [Datsun] 510, along with a Focus RS, '88 Porsche, 2018 GT3 Touring and even a '61 Lincoln Continental. Go back through his 30 years of vehicle ownership and you're in for a lengthy list of models from various eras and styles, but very little Honda involvement."
Why We Love It: No one uses Honda S800 Coupes for project vehicles, especially in the US since they were never officially exported there from Japan, so to find a built one of this caliber was mind-blowing. The SEMA Show display car also has the blessing of Kei Miura, who developed the custom aero for Daniel Wu's classic. The re-barreled 13-inch OEM wheels with gold powder coat and black painted hub caps are perfection.
1989 Honda Civic - The Pursuit of Happiness
What We Wrote Then: "If you had seen Nick Higgins' Civic hatchback in its previous form, you'd think most would've stopped there. Project's done; it doesn't get any better. Fashioned after the popular kanjo style made famous by underground street racers in Osaka, it was equipped with enough JDM EF9 goods to make you think it was actually fresh off the streets of Japan. Looks to thrill, powered with a semi-built B16A outfitted with ITBs, it's the sort of build old-school Honda enthusiasts go wild for (including me). And then, one day, Nick decided to redo it from scratch."
Why We Love It: There is so much that is amazing about Nick Higgins's EF build, from the track-focused chassis to the breathtaking K24-swap and all-around engine bay cleanliness under hood. That it was completed during the unfathomable loss of both of his parents, who ultimately served to inspire Higgins to finish the project, makes this Civic hatch all the more special.
1988 Honda Prelude: A Jewel in Thailand
What We Wrote Then: "In 2005, [owner Satit Suwantong] owned a fourth gen. Prelude that he loved. In fact, the only Honda he loved more was the third gen. but coming across one in Bangkok was a rarity. Four years ago, however, he got lucky and caught wind of someone selling this '88 model online and he didn't hesitate to pull the trigger. He enjoyed the car as-is for a short stint but eventually wanted to put the car on the drag strip."
Why We Love It: Another platform hardly anyone tunes, Suwantong's third-gen. Prelude is a one-of-a-kind Thai creation that puts a big dumb smile on our face. It's got a built K24 swap and is set up for drag racing, but the exterior is about as factory as it can get—our kind of sleeper.
The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback
What We Wrote Then: "...You probably have two questions [about Mathias Johansson's '89 Corolla]. The first is, what the hell is a Corolla GTi? Known in the U.S. as the Corolla FX16, it wasn't the most popular chassis to modify and today they're seldom seen. In other parts of the world, like Sweden for example, where this GTi model hails from, the lightweight FWD hatchback found more success. Your second question is, undoubtedly, how on earth this late '80s chassis, which has been modified to the nth degree and can't possible get any wilder, is deemed a 2017 model by Swedish officials."
Why We Love It: It isn't simply that Johansson converted a nondescript FWD econobox to RWD or swapped in the most potent and desirable of Toyota inline-6s. It's that his Corolla GTi looks like it came from the factory that way. We're still gobsmacked.
1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S with a Formula Atlantic Motor
What We Wrote Then: "On the outside, [owner Billy Edmond's] Hachiroku is minimal with a Levin front-end conversion and a set of Compomotive wheels. But Billy's ride is a classic example of when 'looks can be deceiving.' The magic lies underneath the surface; resting in the engine bay is arguably the holy grail of 4A-GE motors: the Hasselgren. But wait a minute... This wasn't just any 1.6L Hasselgren motor ..."
Why We Love It: Edmonds's AE86 Corolla GT-S is the only one in the world with a 1.9L Hasselgren race-spec 4A-GE engine. We're grateful to have even found the Hachi, considering it doesn't go to shows or get tracked.
1987 Mitsubishi Starion - A Star Is Born
What We Wrote Then: "The best thing about driving this car around is no one has a damn clue what it is, and the confusion gets worse when I pop the hood. I've heard everything from a DeLorean, Celica, Supra, Daytona, Porsche, Ferrari, Fiero, Fox body, and even had a guy say, 'Nice Lamborghini!' at a gas station."
Why We Love It: The Starion is hit or miss when you talk to enthusiasts today, but those who are old enough to know what one is and was capable of almost unanimously dig the underappreciated Mitsubishi turbo-4 RWD. Sorrell did the 1JZ engine swap and the lion's share of the work in the build and it came out brilliant.
1988 Mazda RX-7 Turbo II - Hert So Good
What We Wrote Then: "In '11, Hert scooped up his current FC through a friend of his, a car that he calls the 'cleanest, bone stock-looking, cookie cutter RX-7,' except it had a 700hp LS motor under the hood. Compared to his first FC, it was wilder even if it didn't initially run, and for $500, a junkyard 5.3-liter LS was swapped in to get the car on the road again ... But despite gaining a following for his drifting antics and mega-powered LS setup, Hert decided it was time to take his FC back to its rotary roots."
Why We Love It: We're fans of Hert and fans of his FC, in all of its iterations, rotary or LS. He's always had style for miles, and his Mazda is approaching legend status.
1987 Toyota Corolla SR5 - Go Hard
What We Wrote Then: "The AE86 teaches you so much about driving and drifting-a lot of [Corolla] guys can jump into an S chassis and do 10 times better in that car than their own. But it doesn't work the same way when Nissan guys jump into an AE86. The 86 proves you need to be in tune with your own car and driving in order to progress. "—Owner Dino Hilario.
Why We Love It: Hilario's was a simple, commonsense journey that we wish more car fans would take, evolving his build as his driving prowess grew. The Nissan SR20 that motivates his Toyota Corolla is the ideal centerpiece for this well-rounded drift composition.
1975 Toyota Celica - True to Roots
What We Wrote Then: "We've featured a number of Toyota's well-known '70s icon in the past. Some have done SR20DET engine swaps, others have opted for Honda's high-revving F20C from the S2000. [Owner Kong Vue], on the other hand, can't relate to cross-platform transplants. 'I just don't get those types of swaps. With my car I wanted to keep a Toyota engine under the Toyota hood. We wanted to go with a 4th generation 3S-GTE. '"
Why We Love It: Vue set out to execute a high-level Celica restomod and we think he nailed it. Everything feels right about the build, from the SSR Longchamp wheels to the '71 taillight conversion, and yes, the 3S-GTE swap in the bay, too—even the Corvette gunmetal gray paint fits right in perfectly.
1970 Toyota Corolla (KE25) - Recycled Rotary
What We Wrote Then: "It's the engine swap you never expected, stuffed into the '70 Toyota you never saw coming, and it's exactly what you didn't know you were waiting for ... This car ... [proves] to the rest of Thailand that it's OK to be different. And to think twice before chucking that rotary of yours."
Why We Love It: It's a shipshape widebody "Mango" Corolla (as these were called Stateside back in the day) with a Mazda 13B rotary swap owned by the proprietor of an Italian restaurant in Thailand, and it's fabulous. We can't make this stuff up.
1972 Datsun 240Z - The Fairest One of All
What We Wrote Then: "When you've spent the better part of your car-building years working with 'contemporary tuner cars,' nothing says flip the script more than going the classic route. For Daniel Song, after 15 years of Hondas, Scions, and the occasional Lotus, it was time to go old school. "
Why We Love It: Song sent his S30 to JDM Legends to have them work their magic for most of the build and they delivered a masterpiece. Bonus points for the L28 engine swap and the combo of 240ZG overfenders and Volk TE37V wheels—we're big fans.
1978 Honda Civic - Homebuilt Hatch Gets Widebody'd & Turbo D16
What We Wrote Then: "Victor [Ho]'s first-gen Civic stood out like a sore thumb, but in a good way. It's not every day you see one of these OG Civics, let alone one that's been widebody'd, lowered on air and turbocharged. And for that generation/chassis of Honda, it wasn't anything that I would've expected."
Why We Love It: Who modifies a first-gen. Civic? Victor Ho does, that's who, and his overpowered, custom widebodied '70s Honda commuter car might make a believer out of you. We're amazed by Ho's persistence with this project (15 years and counting!) and the ingenuity it took to customize the vast amount of parts it needed—often from other makes of vehicle altogether.
1988 Mazda RX-7 SE - 1,100hp Afterthought
What We Wrote Then: "Will Tetro isn't exactly the superhero you think he is, ... mobbing to work and back in an '88 Mazda with roughly eight times the power it's supposed to have. 'Honestly, this car was never supposed to be brought to this level,' he says, dashing whatever image you may have already formed of full-throttle passes home from the grocery store with a ham on the passenger seat."
Why We Love It: Say what you will about V-8 swaps into RX-7, V-8s in any chassis never look this good. And this one is twin turbo; Will Tetro found a way to keep AC, power steering, a heater, and traction control in his FC with two big ol' snails in front of the engine—that's amazing in itself.
Mugen 1985 Honda CRX Si
What We Wrote Then: "Years later, sometime in 2005, Ryan [Wedig] was surfing through Redpepperracing.com and spotted an almost completely stock '85 CRX that someone inherited from their uncle and put up for sale. Clearly cared for and in excellent condition, it was obviously a sign (at least that's what we like to tell ourselves), so Ryan hit the road and 650 miles later purchased his new project ... A set of Mugen MR5s were bolted on to the new obsession, as was a carbon fiber hood, new seats and some of the rarer bits and pieces that he couldn't bear to part with on [his] first build. Things were looking great, right up until that dreaded impact."
Why We Love It: We're not sure what's more extraordinary about Ryan Wedig's '85 Si, the amount of era appropriate Mugen parts it rocks, or the incredible luck he had in finding some of the rarest components.
1977 Datsun 280Z - Running with the Devil
What We Wrote Then: "After speaking with the vehicle's owner, Richy [Contreras] was disheartened to find someone was heading to Portland to haul it back to Cali before he could. Determined to see his dream come true, the Datsun enthusiast baited the seller with a promise that he would pick the car up two days earlier and promised to send a down payment in order to solidify his claim to the keys. Richy transferred the doughy down payment and looked at one-way tickets to the Pacific Northwest. The only issue now was who in the hell would be free to take on a cross-country road trip under such short notice? Fortunately, Richy was able to convince his father. Tickets in hand, both men boarded a plane, unsure of what awaited them and excited to see what would happen next."
Why We Love It: The Panasport G7-C8S wheels, Marugen Shoukai fender flares and three-piece spoiler, custom grille, corner bumpers, paint, shaving and bodywork by Fast Eddie's Hotrods, and OE Bluebird fender mirrors are a great look for Richy Contreras's 280Z. The sentimental value the car holds will hit you right in the feels.
1984 Nissan Skyline HR30
What We Wrote Then: "You don't have to be a diehard Nissan fan to realize this old school, 1984 Nissan Skyline R30 is wicked cool. However, it's safe to say many of us probably don't have a clue as to what its history is and why this particular coupe is so unique. Perhaps we're all well-versed in GT-Rs and RB inline-six engines, but how about the boxy R30 generation and its four-cylinder FJ from the early '80s? Today, finding these cars is as rare as finding true love on Instagram, which is why when we discovered Brandon Miller's pristine 1984 Skyline, we knew we'd just struck gold. It takes an extraordinary type of Nissan buff to import a JDM Skyline, especially one that's not on everyone's wish list, however, one that is just as iconic as the GT-Rs we all hold in such high regard."
Why We Love It: Points to Miller for flexing a largely unloved Skyline platform that rarely gets this kind of treatment. The build is amazing, too, with a super-clean FJ20 swap and Millennium Jade paint borrowed from the R34 Skyline GT-R color palette that makes the classic Nissan a dream machine.
1986 Toyota Sprinter Trueno - Original Gangsta'
What We Wrote Then: "Tsuchiya-san's AE86 has gone through many different configurations, including a 20v engine swap and SSR Doridori wheels, but the car always had a consistent street style. That means no widebody, big wing, or gigantic wheels. Its exterior is simply upgraded with a TRD wing, Carbon Gate trunk, Impulse carbon-fiber roof, and a custom dry carbon hood."
Why We Love It: This purpose-build JDM drift Hachiroku belongs to one of the most prominent roots figures in drifting lore, Keiichi Tsuchiya. His Trueno rolls with a TEC-ART'S 1.8L "7AG" engine swap and a bunch of other cool custom TEC-ART'S bits, ready to slide at a moment's notice.
1971 Datsun 1600 Wagon (510) - Slow & Low
What We Wrote Then: "Three years in the making, John Healey's wagon might just be the perfect package. A build that grabs your attention, not because of bright colors or a turbo the size of a human head peering out of a hood cutout, but because it's the end result of finely tuned attention to detail. Classic design, with just enough new-millennium technology to be enjoyed every day, and it gets even better the closer you look."
Why We Love It: On a list of sporty coupes and hatchbacks, we tip our hat to the only wagon that made it. Healey's 510 wagon is a foundation for some superb customization, like how he had to swap in a four-link rear end and custom 280ZX-based struts to get the universal Air Lift kit to fit, or how the Work CR01s had to be re-lipped to get the offset perfect—those blinds in back are pretty sweet, too!