During the Monterey Car Week, we partnered with Infiniti to highlight some of the most important Japanese cars ever made for an event called the Japanese Automotive Invitational (JAI). All of the cars featured at the two-day Pebble Beach event were chosen because they exemplified Japanese innovation, design, and performance. But even though each one was impressive in its own way, a few stood out to us as especially impressive. Read on to find out which cars we thought deserved extra recognition.
1967 Toyota 2000GT Roadster
The hardtop version of the Toyota 2000GT is already one of the most gorgeous Japanese cars ever made. Only 351 examples were built between 1967 and 1970, also making the 2000GT incredibly rare. The car shown here, however, is one of two 2000GT Roadsters built for the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Standing next to it, you could easily understand why Toyota had to cut the roof off to make room for Sean Connery to fit inside.
1968 Honda N600
As popular as cars such as the Accord and Civic are today, it's hard to imagine a time when Hondas weren't sold all across the country. But before the N600 went on sale in 1969, you couldn't buy a Honda in the U.S. The N600 shown here was part of a group of early test vehicles and has the distinction of officially being the first Honda ever imported to the United States. It's also so small that it makes the current Honda Fit look like a Hummer H1.
1968 Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S
The RX-7 and RX-8 were certainly Mazda's most popular rotary-powered sports cars, but without the Cosmo Sport, they may have never been built. The Mazda Cosmo Sport is considered the first true sports car to use a rotary engine, but it also has the distinction of being the first rotary-powered production car from Japan and the first production car to ever use a twin-rotary engine. The design looks great in photos, but in person, it was truly incredible.
1969 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser
Most of the vehicles at this year's JAI were cars, and for good reason. Japanese automakers have a long history of building some incredible sports cars, city cars, and practical-but-fun daily drivers. The Land Cruiser shown here, however, is one of the finest examples of Japan's similarly long history of building some of the most rugged 4x4s you can buy. Even though this FJ40 is about to turn 50, it could still handle an off-road adventure.
1972 Nissan Skyline GT-R "Hakosuka"
No list of Japanese classics would be complete without a Skyline GT-R. Several versions could easily have been included in this list, but we especially liked this one. It was, after all, the car that introduced the GT-R nameplate to the Skyline. 1,113 were built, and this example's Safari Gold paint makes it even rarer. Plus, those fender-mounted side-view mirrors look ridiculously cool.
1978 Dome Zero
Although all of the cars on this list are an important part of Japan's automotive history, several are so important that they're a little predictable. But there are also all sorts of cool, classic Japanese cars that are so rare, few Americans have seen them outside of a video game. This 1978 Dome Zero, for example, is a prototype sports car that never went into production despite the concept's popularity and Dome's experience building race cars. That's too bad because the design really is still stunning all these years later.
1992 Toyota Eagle MKIII
This IMSA GTP Championship car was built and raced by none other than the legendary Dan Gurney's All American Racers. It was Toyota's first carbon-fiber monocoque prototype race car, and from 1992 to 1993, it proved to be one of the most dominant cars in its class. The Eagle MKIII won the championship both years, came in first in 21 of its 27 races, and even managed a 17-race win streak. It's also a great example of Japan's ability to build world-class race cars and not just road cars.