The 30 most valuable Japanese cars in history
Japanese cars have never done well on the auction block. The record price for an Italian car is $48.4 million, for a German car $31.1 million, $22.5 million for a British car, $22.0 million for an American car, and $10.4 million for a French car ... while the Japanese record is just $2.1 million.
The reasons for that vast discrepancy are many. Elite Japanese supercars have been few, relatively recent, and they were invariably made in such numbers that scarcity, the other factor required to achieve a high price at auction, has rarely come into play.
The corollary to this is that there's an absolute cornucopia of eminently collectable Japanese classics that are an order of magnitude cheaper than Italian cars of roughly equal performance – at least for now. The obvious trends emerging at present show generational change in the collector car market with new attitudes and a new set of dream cars are fulfilling their destiny. To the outgoing generation of collectors, "Made in Japan" had negative connotations, but Japanese brand values to this new generation mean "reliable", "fast", "economical" and "easy to work on."
Subaru's WRX series, Nissan's 240+ Z series, the Nissan GT-R dynasty, Toyota's Supra, and Mazda's rotary-engined performance cars were all rewarding cars, but they were built in such numbers that you'd think they'd never be rare enough to command heavyweight collector car prices.
Introduce rarity, and the laws of supply and demand come into play, with the Mazda Cosmo sports car being an example of demand outstripping supply. Three prototypes, 80 pre-production test units, 343 Series I and 833 Series II cars were produced and the Cosmo sold for around $4,100. The Series I cars had a 110 hp 982 cm3 two-rotor Wankel engine and the Series II cars were upgraded to 128 hp, which gave the 940 kg cars a top speed of 115 to 120 mph and a standing quarter mile in the low 15 second bracket.
The highest price paid for a Series I Cosmo so far is $264,000 (Gooding & Co | Pebble Beach, 2016) with the second highest price going to another white Cosmo Series I at €138,000 ($187,415 | Bonhams | Paris, 2016).
Nissan's Z-car dynasty
Nissan's Z dynasty sold in great numbers, with 520,000 of the original 240Z sold around the world, the first sportscar to sell in such numbers and it is still the world's top selling sportscar and most likely always will be. The best-known high-value production variant of the Fairlady is the Z432 which uses the drivetrain from the third generation Skyline 2000GT-R. The 160 hp 4-valve DOHC six is named "432" for its 4 valves, 3 carburettors, and 2 camshafts.
Only 420 were built and they were all originally sold in Japan where they are closely held and hence rarely get to auction. The record for a Fairlady Z 432 is $253,000 (RM-Sothebys | Amelia Island, 2015) with another 1970 model selling for $170,500 (RM-Sothebys | Amelia Island, 2017).
There is an even rarer variant of the Fairlady Z432 that was built for racing - the Z432R - and one of these homologation specials went to auction in January 2020 at Tokyo's Best Heritage Auctions, selling for JPY¥885,500 (US$809,022), the first time that any model of the car that democratized sportscars had moved into the top 20 Japanese car prices of all-time.
Perhaps the most interesting recent trend is the performance of the standard 240Z at auction. When we first produced this list in 2018, perfect examples of the original 240Z were selling for $50,000 to $60,000, but the sale this week on Bring a Trailer (BaT) of a 21,000-mile 1971 Series I 240Z for $310,000, brought to light a clear trend - the 240Z is clearly on the rise.
BaT provided a chart of its 240Z sale prices over recent years, and although it's only one auction house, the sales prices clearly show a significant increase in top sales for the pristine 240Z cars over the last 12 months. Indeed, 10 of the top 11 240Z prices happened during 2019.
Nissan's GT-R heritage cars
Yet another collectible from the Nissan stable is the Nissan Skyline H/T 2000GT-R with fabled limited edition cars such as the 'Hakosuka' (1,115 produced from 1970 and 1972) that fetched $242,000 (RM-Sothbys | Monterey, 2016) and the 1973 'Kenmeri' (197 examples produced in 1973) that sold for $176,000(RM-Sotheby's | Monterey, 2015).
In early 2020, a low mileage, very original 'Kenmeri' sold at Best Heritage Auctions in Tokyo for ¥ 47,300,000 (US$432,148), indicating that the origins of the GT-R badge will be respected by collectors, in just the same way that the original Porsche and Ferrari performance cars have been.
Toyota's Mk IV Supra Twin Turbo shows signs of auction block stardom
Toyota’s Supra developed quite a following across four generations of the GT car produced between 1978 to 2002, though the twin turbo variant of the final generation was a beast, and became the dream car of many enthusiasts who are now financially capable of buying whatever they want. People buy their dreams, some recent indicators suggest that the MkIV TT features in quite a few dreams.
Though a niche vehicle by Japanese car standards, more than 45,000 Mk IV Supra were produced, and U.S. sales of the Supra Mk IV Twin Turbo were around 7,000 units. Just the same, even with a supply as generous as that, RM-Sotheby’s sold a pristine 1994 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo Targa for $173,600 at Amelia Island in 2019. The car was low mileage but had no particular provenance to commend it, yet it still nearly took the Supra Mk IV price record held by the 1993 Supra driven by Paul Walker (Brian O'Conner) in The Fast and The Furious (2001) movie that sold at a Mecum auction for $185,000. What's more, another low mileage (7,000 miles) 1994 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo sold for $121,000 in January, 2019 on BaT.
The most expensive non-charity Japanese car so far is...
Dealing with the charity cars separately, the current record for a Japanese car at auction is held by a Mazda 767B racing car which won its class at Le Mans in 1990, with the race car being sold by Gooding & Co at Amelia Island in 2017 for $1,750,000.
The Group C race car is one of just three built by Mazda, and was twice a factory entrant in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning its class in 1990. The desirability of the car is further enhanced by its competitiveness in vintage racing, where its potent 2.6 liter four-rotor Wankel (rotary) engine pushes out 630 hp. Being eligible for the most prestigious classic racing events around the world is very desirable, but this is competitive too.
The new car charity auction
The three most expensive Japanese production cars ever sold at auction were all sold to the benefit of charity, which to some extent, detracts from their auction block performance. All three were VIN #001 examples, being the first-off-the-production line 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible, the first of the fifth-generation 2020 Toyota Supra and the first example of the second-generation Acura NSX.
The relatively recent practice of auctioning new cars for charity appears to be a non-zero-sum-game where significant gains can be made by all concerned, and the biggest winners are those who need it most. Everybody wins.
Our recent feature article "The spectacular rise of the new car charity auction", explains the forces at play in the charity auction market, and how cars that sell for $X on the showroom floor, can sell for 10X at a charity auction, and the recently recognized monetizable lure of having the very first of a species of car (that is, Vin #001). The top 40 cars sold for charity list is truly a site to behold.
Just the same, several of most expensive Japanese production cars ever sold at auction were designed and built in America, indicating that globalization is also beginning to blur the lines of marque nationality.
Toyota's 2000GT takes 18 of the top 30 places
The meat of the Japanese collector car for the last decade or two has been Toyota's 2000GT. There are 18 2000GTs in the top 30 most valuable Japanese cars ever sold. Two cars share the $1.155 million highest price ever paid for the model at auction being a yellow 1967 model 2000GT sold at RM-Sothebys (Fort Worth 2013) and Gooding & Co (Pebble Beach, 2014).
Just 351 Toyota 2000GTs were made in 1967 and 1968 and that balance of scarcity, exquisite beauty and the Toyota name mean the 2000GT will most likely continue to appreciate indefinitely. Toyota is the world's largest car producer, and it will be in contention to be the world's largest personal transport company for the foreseeable future, so there is little doubt the Toyota (nee Lexus) brand will continue to dominate this listing, and the most plentiful model in the top 100 will continue to be the 2000GT.
The 2000GT was powered by a two-liter, 148 hp DOHC six developed by Toyota in conjunction with Yamaha. The aim from the outset was to build a hero car and the development costs of the sleek, balanced 2000GT reflected in the price despite undoubted subsidies from the parent company. Most 2000GTs still live in Japan and only around 60 cars were exported to America, where at $6,800, it was more expensive then a Porsche 911 or E-Type Jaguar.
Such low availability finally pushed pricing past the million dollar barrier in 2013, with three more million dollar sales in 2014 making a total of four 2000GTs that have sold for more than a million: $1,001,844 (€728.000) by RM-Sothebys (Monaco, 2014) and $1,045,000 RM-Sothebys (Monterey, 2014) plus the two that sold for $1,115,000 apiece. There will be many more is the world collector car market moves into its next phase.
Lexus LFA: Japan's most significant supercar
Only 500 Lexus LFA supercars were built, and only 50 of them were blessed with the Nürburgring performance package and a $465,000 price tag when they sold in 2012. Thanks to one of them setting a Nürburgring Nordschleife production lap record of 7:14.64 in 2011 (an unofficial record for a production car on non-competition tires), LFA Nürburgring models are now selling for a lot of money and threaten to sell for a lot more in the future. In 2018, two sold for $825,000 and $770,000 respectively, and in 2019 three sold ($885,000, $912,500 and $918,500). You don't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to join those dots!
To say that the Lexus LFA has been under appreciated as a supercar is an understatement. Auction prices have been suppressed because many remained "unsold" on American dealer books, who knew the $465,000 sell price had been significantly subsidized by Lexus in its quest to go over-the-top in building a real supercar.
Here's how the list of top-selling Japanese cars looks today:
30 | $550,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
Gooding & Co | Monterey, 2018
29 | $560,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
Bring a Trailer | Houston, 2016
28 | $660,000 | 1990 AAR/Toyota Eagle HF89
Gooding & Co | Amelia Island, 2015
27 | $665,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | Scottsdale, 2018
26 | $683,200 | 1968 Toyota 2000GT
Keno Auctions | New York, 2015
25 | $750,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
Mecum | Indianapolis, 2017
24 | $751,775 (JPY¥83,600,000) | 1970 Toyota 2000GT
BH Auction | Tokyo, 2018
23 | $770,000 | 2012 Lexus LFA Nürburgring Package
Barrett-Jackson | Palm Beach, 2018
22 | $797,500 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | Amelia Island, 2016
21 | $803,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
Gooding & Co | Monterey, 2015
20 | $809,022 (JPY¥885,500) 1970 Nissan Fairlady Z432
BH Auction | Tokyo, 2020
Between 30 and 50 Z432R units were built for racing, with weight reduced by more than 100 kg, facilited by the use of a fibreglass bonnet, an outer body shell 0.2 mm thinner than the Z432 and side/rear windows of lightweight acrylic. The 100-liter fuel tank in the Z432R run was built for endurance racing, being considerably larger than the standard 60-liter model.
19 | $820,059 (JPY¥88,000,000) | 1969 Toyota 2000GT
BH Auction | Tokyo, 2019
Only 337 units of the Toyota 2000GT (Model MF10) were produced between 1967 to 1970, powered by at the Toyota Crown’s 2000cc straight-6 engine but topped with a high-performance DOHC head designed by Yamaha. The engine produced 150ps @ 6600rpm, and was mated with either a 5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic transmission.
Expecting great public acceptance of the 2000GT, Toyota began developing a SOHC 2300cc model with Left-Hand-Drive for the North American market. Equipped with three Solex carburettors and producing 140 ps @5800 rpm, nine prototypes were produced before the project was cancelled. This vehicle is the first 2300cc prototype produced, and one of two three-speed automatic models produced.
Wearing chassis number MF12L-100001, the importance of this car cannot be overestimated, as MF12L-100002 was retained by Toyota Motor Company for its heritage collection, and chassis no. MF12L-100006 is in the Toyota USA Automotive Museum.
eq 17 | $825,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | Monterey, 2015
eq 17 | $825,000 | 2012 Lexus LFA Nürburgring Package
Gooding & Co | Scottsdale, 2018
16 | $880,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | Amelia Island, 2015
15 | $885,000 | 2012 Lexus LFA Nürburgring Package
RM-Sotheby's | Scottsdale, 2019
14 | $912,500 | 2012 Lexus LFA Nürburgring Package
RM-Sotheby's | Amelia Island, 2019
13 | $918,500 | 2012 Lexus LFA Nürburgring Package
Barrett-Jackson | Scottsdale, 2019
12 | $925,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
Mecum | Indianapolis, 2015
11 | $935,000 | 1968 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | Monterey, 2013
10 | $968,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | New York, 2013
9 | $1,001,844 (€728,000) | 1968 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | Monaco, 2014
eq 7 | $1,045,000 | 1992 AAR/Toyota Eagle Mk III GTP
Gooding & Co | Pebble Beach, 2014
Going to auction from the collection of Juan Manuel Fangio II, this car was the most dominant prototype in US motorsport history, winning 14 time from 23 starts and giving Fangio the 1992 and 1993 IMSA GTP Championship. It also won the 12 Hours of Sebring Race in 1992 and 1993. The car was built by Dan Gurney's All American Racers and when it was retired, it was gifted to Fangio by Toyota. It runs a turbocharged 2.1 liter DOHC four with fuel injection and produced 700 hp in 1992, and 750 hp in 1993.
eq 7 | $1,045,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | Monterey, 2014
eq 5 | $1,155,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
RM-Sothebys | Fort Worth, 2013
eq 5 | $1,155,000 | 1967 Toyota 2000GT
Gooding & Co | Pebble Beach, 2014
4 | $1,200,000 | 2017 Acura NSX VIN #001
Barrett-Jackson | Scottsdale, 2016
When the second-generation Acura NSX supercar was ready to hit the market, Acura auctioned off VIN #001 to the benefit of charity.
3 | $1,750,000 | 1989 Mazda 767B
Gooding & Co | Amelia Island, 2017
The most expensive Japanese car that wasn't auctioned to the benefit of charity, and it's a rotary-engined race car - the 1989 Mazda 767B. This example, chassis 003, is one of three cars built for the 1989 season. Driven by Yojiro Terada, Marc Duez, and Volker Weidler, it placed third in the GTP class and 12th overall at the 1989 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the 1989 Fuji 1000 Km, it placed 11th overall and second in the GTP class. In the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans, it finished 20th overall and first in the IMSA GTP class. In the 1990 Fuji 1000 Km, it placed sixth overall and won the GTP class. Fully restored to its 1990 specification, the 767B embodies all that was so exciting and compelling about prototype racing in the 1980s.
2 | $2,000,000 | 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible VIN #100001
Barrett-Jackson | Scottsdale, 2020
This is the first 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible. The car is one of 100 cars customized to be part of the 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible Inspiration Series, with special paint, wheels and other component highlights, though the performance will be the same as other 471-hp LC 500s with a Direct-Shift 10-speed automatic transmission. The big difference is that this car bears VIN 100001, and carbon-fiber scuff plates imprinted with “LC Inspiration Series Launch Exclusive 1 of 1.”
1 | $2,100,000 | 2020 Toyota Supra
Barrett-Jackson | Scottsdale, 2019
A collectible car at the beginning of its life, the Toyota Supra's second coming was an opportunity that wasn't missed by Toyota, and the pent up demand for the Supra resulted in the most expensive Japanese car ever sold at auction. Barrett-Jackson pioneered the sale of VIN #001 cars for charity 15 years ago and extracts additional value from these cars, waives its auction fees and charity is the beneficiary. Barrett-Jackson has now facilitated more than $100 million going to charity.
Editor's note, January 31, 2020: This is a fully revised and updated version of an article originally published in October 2018.