The 90s - the days where 'The Fast and the Furious' franchise stayed true to its heritage and the Granturismo series had just taken off - both of which ignited a global thirst for what is now considered Japan's golden era in the race for automotive perfection.
Japan had already given us some brilliant cars up until this point. Take for instance, the Datsun 240Z, or the Toyota 2000GT. But even these cars could not keep up with some of the monsters that Europe had begun to conjure up.
At the start of the 90s, the nation's top manufacturers had ended up in some kind of mass brawl about who could create the best sports cars and the results were phenomenal. They had no problems going into a fist fight with Europe. What's most interesting about this era was the difference in approach taken by the country's biggest manufacturers and this really shows in the individual qualities each car had.
Every petrolhead has their personal list that they pretend they don't know by heart. Some, have probably even gone to the extent of laminating their list. Thereafter, proceeding to stick it neatly on the corner of a wall in their man-cave. I've limited my list to six for a very specific reason. I grew up in the 90s playing Granturismo and as previous players would know, the game used to set up with grids of six cars per race and it's under this specification that I’ve compiled this list.
To keep it a little fairer, I didn't include special edition variants as not each car ended up having one. Rather, I stuck to more mass-produced vehicles. I also did this because during this era, a ''gentleman's agreement'' was made. This was to limit the power of the cars that any of the manufacturers who wanted in would produce to 280bhp, so as to keep it an even contest. This doesn't sound like much these days, but boy did they move.
Here's how my list looks:
GRID P6: Subaru Impreza WRX STi (GC8)
If it's good enough for Colin McRae, it's good enough for anyone.
The Impreza was first introduced in 1993 and was originally intended to battle it out with the Corollas and Sentras of those days for the title of best daily commuter car. It ended up completely transforming Subaru's reputation across the globe and birthed the idea of a cheap, reliable, turbocharged all-wheel drive car that, as intended, could be used every day.
Its 2L boxer engine ended up creating one of the most recognisable soundtracks ever. The Impreza also wrote itself into the history books as one of the best rally cars ever made. Colin McRae letting the back end of a navy blue Impreza slide across a muddy special stage route in Wales has become one of the great moments in motorsport history.
GRID P5: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (VI)
You can always count on an Evo for a result.
The original Lancers were nothing special - just your average, every day family saloons. With the Japanese car war in full chat, Mitsubishi wanted to show what they could do and they did so by rebuilding the Lancer for one thing: The World Rally Championship. It went on to dominate during the 90s.
The Evos and Imprezas that came out between the early 90s and late 2000s were so similar in performance, durability and purpose that they became locked in an eternal battle for supremacy. Which comes out on top is still up for debate to this day, rather, it's just a matter of opinion.
GRID P4: Mazda RX-7 (FD3S)
Just look at that ass.
Mazda's contribution was by far the most different to the rest. The third of its name, the RX-7 was lighter, sleeker, and, to my eyes, better looking than all of its rivals. The one quality which made it so much different than the others though was its engine: a turbocharged 1.3L rotary engine.
It revved like no other and whilst rotary engines are notoriously unreliable, the notes they hit, especially high up the rev range, are like nothing else - it was almost like listening to an orchestra.
Now, it's practically impossible to buy one which hasn't been tampered with. The ones that do remain stock demand outrageous sums of money. I think that provides testament to how wonderfully weird the RX-7 is, though.
GRID P3: Toyota Supra (A80)
I once sat in one that was ramped up to 630bhp. it was terrifying.
Breaking into the podium is the first of what many consider to be the ultimate 90s Japanese sports car - and with good reason. It was the first to break the '' gentleman's agreement'' and with its frightening 3L twin turbo flat 6, churned out an estimated 326bhp. It matched up to 911s and M3s of its day and possessed a higher power-to-weight ratio than the then modern Ferrari - the 358.
As stock, it was limited to 155mph. But with the limiter taken off, it would edge its way towards 180mph. It did haul around a fair amount of weight - 1,565 kg to be precise - but it was still nimble in the corners. A big reason for this was the chassis upon which it was built. The barebones of the car was so good that Toyota even used it for racing, whereby it achieved moderate success.
Its most formidable party piece, other than its raw speed, was its braking ability. The car went from 70mph to a stand-still in just 45 metres - a record it held for nearly EIGHT years until the £300,000 Porsche Carrera GT wrestled that title off it.
GRID P2: Nissan Skyline GTR (R34)
Over the years, there have been many iterations of the Skyline, but it wasn't until the R32 that people began to take an interest. With the R34, however, the entire world took notice. Much like the Supra, the R34 produced more power than Nissan claimed - usually closer to 300.
But it wasn't so much the power that took the world by surprise - rather its perfect combination of turbocharging and an all-wheel drive system that was years ahead of its time. It's only fitting that the R35 GTR, a car which is one of the best all round supercars money can buy, was derived from something as perfect as this.
Heralded as one of the purest driving machines to ever come out of Japan, the R34 will be remembered for as long as automobiles cease to exist. As a car, it's pretty faultless. In my opinion, only one machine would come before it in this race...
GRID P1: Honda NSX (NA1)
The Ferrari killer.
A car that simply couldn't remain in the sports-car class - because it demanded promotion to the supercar class. Aerodynamics were a fundamental focus for this car and not often does the result of a few science experiments look this good.
Powered by a 3.0L V6 like many of the others on this list, the NSX had its engine placed slap bang in the middle. Why? Aside from perfect weight distribution, the purpose was simple: Honda wanted to commit to a project that exceeded the performance of the then Ferrari range. They couldn't have predicted that their cut-price mid-engined supercar would topple the prancing horses of its time, however.
It was Japan unshackled. As you've probably heard a million times, the late, great, Ayrton Senna helped develop it. Let's be real though, that's all that needs to be said about a car for someone to know it's something special.
That concludes my personal list of six favourites from the 90s era. Let me know if you’d make any alterations to this grid down below. I’ll leave you with an iconic photo of the man who was the living, breathing, human equivalent to these cars – and also, with one of my favourite quotes of all time:
''Spirit. Thank you. Thank you for providing us with the direct-port nitrous... uh... injection, four-core intercoolers, ball-bearing turbos, and... um... titanium valve springs. Thank you.''