1970's Japanese Cars: Why So few Survive?

I saw a strikingly nice 1979 Nissan 240Z yesterday-in perfect shape (even the interior was nice). Here in the NE, you very rarely see any Japanese cars from before 1995 or so-they just don’t seem to last. Is it:

  1. rust? Japanese cars in the 70’s had thin steel, usually no undercoating
  2. lack of spare parts?
  3. general ugliness?
    Rarer still are 60’s japanese-though I guess 40+ years is old for any car. They just don’t seem to have collecter interest-or maybe they all got crushed?

I don’t know the real reason, but my money is on rust. My family had Toyotas in the 70’s (a Corona, then a Corolla) and they lasted about 5 years before the rust started to be a problem. Thirty years later, I imagine there is very little left of them.

The bodies would rust away - the same thing was common of Italian cars from the same era, if I recall correctly.

I still do see a few vintage Celica fastbacks around. Those things are badass!

I don’t mean to be picky here, but in 1979 Datsun was already up to the 280ZX, after having gone through the 240Z (1970-1973), 260Z (1974), and the 280Z (1975-1978).

An old girlfriend had a 280ZX 10th anniversary edition. I loved driving that car.

Are there really that many cars of any manufacturer from the 1970s still around? I would imagine you don’t see them as often because they didn’t sell as many back then as they do now, compared to the Detroit 3.

I mean, you don’t see that many 1970s British Leyland or Alfa Romeos around either, do you? oh, wait…

I’ve owned three Datsun 240-Z’s. All of them rusted away, despite my best attempts to keep them clean. It wasn’t just the bodies - the undercarriage would rust out as well. I had one that had both front quarter panels replaced with fiberglass when the originals rusted out. I repaired the back quarter panels when they rusted. Then one day the seat just broke off its mounts while I was driving and damned near killed me. It turned out all the attach points were rusting through, so it was sold off for parts.

Another one refused to hold a wheel alignment - this one had been undercoated. We scraped away the undercoat and discovered hastily-repaired rust all over the place. That one was parted out as well.

Yes. There are TONS of American cars from back then still on the road.

It’s funny this thread came up because I’ve just recently started looking for a 1970s Honda - preferably a 1st generation Civic or a Z600, but at this point I’d take what I could find. They are frustratingly rare.

I know the singular of data is not anecdote, but my mother actually drove a 1979 Aspen no more than 3 years ago.

Since I drove one 20 years ago, I’ve been looking all over for a c. 1985 model Toyota Tercel econobox. Haven’t seen one in almost ten years. I found exactly one 80’s model for sale over at cars.com.

Something I notice in Southern California is that while there are fewer older non-classic cars on the road, a larger percentage of older cars are Japanese. This may in part reflect the penetration of the Japanese automakers into California more extensively than the rest of the nation, but I think it is also the lack of body rust. Many of the Japanese automakers (along with the Germans) are known for producing very robust powertrains that far outlast the rest of the car (unlike Detriot autos of the same era) but actually chassis that rust away to nothing with the slightest dusting of salt on the roads.

Of course, you don’t see many Chevy Vegas driving around either; now there was a real American car that would rust away before your eyes.


In California there is something even more effective than rust at taking old cars off the road. It is called smog check. It used to be that smog checks stopped once the car was 25 years old. That provision got frozen at 1975 a few years ago. So if you won a car that is between 1976 and about 1996 smog tests get harder and harder to pass. Add to this the state has made the inspection more comprehensive* that it was in years past, and it is a son of a bitch to get some cars to pass.

*When these cars were new, there was no loaded mode (dyno) testing. Now these cars are dyno tested, so failures for Oxides of Nitrogen are common now, where they were unheard of 25 years ago, as this was not tested.

Maybe from the 80’s and 90’s. This thread is asking about 70’s Japanese cars, though. I frequent California and believe me I would notice if there were a bunch of 1970s imports driving around. American trucks from that era are still ubiquitous, and mustangs, camaros, corvettes, a few muscles cars, cadillacs, lincolns, et al of the 1970s aren’t exactly rare.

The most common import at the time, and still the most common import of the period to see on the road is, of course, the VW Beetle.

I had a 1979 Datsun 210 station wagon. It was a great little car, but it just rusted apart. When I finally gave it up to the boneyard, it was running fine but the body was barely hanging together

I still see the occasional Datsun 510 and Celica around here. I always loved the styling of the 1976 Celica because it looked like a mini-Mustang to me. Datsun 510’s were a very popular enthusiast car and for a long time there were tons of them around. Not so much anymore, but you could get all sorts of aftermarket parts for them. I think they were the original ricer car for young men.

My first car was a 1976 Corolla and my second a '79 Celica. This was in '88 and '90 respectively. I know that you see a lot more cars from then in Arizona (where I grew up) than you do other places I’ve lived and this leads me to believe that the rust is indeed a large factor. You don’t get nearly as much rust in Arizona. In fact, I seem to recall at the time someone telling me that you could get more money for your car if you sold it somewhere else and listed it as an “Arizona car” because people would snap it up for not being rusted out.

There are heaps of them in New Zealand- I used to have a 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste, and it was built like a freaking tank. The fact it was built so solidly saved me and some friends from a 4WD which ran a red light, too. Most of the guys I knew at school at late '70s cars- Ford Escorts/Cortinas, Datsun 120Ys, Minis, VWs, Toyota Corollas/SR Coupes, and that sort of thing. (This was back in 1998/1999 or so, and the last time I was in NZ things didn’t seem to have changed appreciably).

You still see a few 1970s cars on the roads here in Australia- mainly Holden Kingswoods and Holden Toranas, but you get the odd Ford Falcon, Jaguar, or Mercedes-Benz as well. Morris Minors from the '40s and '50s are more common than you’d think as well, for some reason.

Old cars are more often encountered in Queensland because we don’t have annual Warrant of Fitness/Roadworthy checks; the only time a car gets a Roadworthy is when its sold.

As we all know, most of the older cars have appalling fuel efficiency, and so they’re starting to come off the roads now because with fuel at over $1.50 a litre it’s really not practical to be driving a 1976 HQ Kingswood around as an “Everyday” car.

Hey, cool, my first brand new car was a 1976 Corolla SR-5 liftback, in screaming zonker yellow. I drove and abused that thing for 14 years, but I still saw it around occasionally for a few years after I sold it. I bought a new car because the driver’s door kept jamming, and I had to climb over the console and get out the passenger side; a little undignified in a suit. I’d taken it to body shops several times, but the door would start jamming again after a couple months. Wish I had it back now. I’ve tried off and on to find one, but as this thread laments, they’re hard to come by. I ran across this site during one of my fruitless searches. They have forums for various makes - chat, repairs, for sale, etc, so it’s a place I check periodically.

I have a 1974 Datsun L’il Hustler in nearly roadworthy condition. This phenomenal little truck gets 30 mpg and is quite valuable in California due to the emissions exemption. They were heavily marketed and sold on the west coast and so remain more common there. Rust has begun to chip away…

When Japanese cars start showing signs of rust, they immediately explode. It’s their way of maintaining honor.

It actually tried this. Imagine my surprise when the gushing fluid i assumed was coolant turned out to be gasoline shooting across the running engine. Very honorable.