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Best Japanese cars from the Fast & Furious franchise

Words by
March 30, 2023
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It’s official, Fast X is on its way to cinemas in May and, once again, we can’t wait to witness the obligatory collection of crazy automotive creations ripping up the tarmac – including the Datsun 240Z street racer we all spotted in the official trailer.

As dedicated fans of modified Japanese imports, we’ve seen more than our fair share of tuner car icons used on screen since The Fast and the Furious stormed the scene way back in 2001. There’s even been a few true-blue JDM examples along the way.

In fact, there’s no doubt that the F&F movies have become synonymous with Japanese car culture over the years. With everything from the Skyline GT-R and Nissan Maxima playing key roles to bona fide Japanese supercars such as the Lexus LFA and Honda NSX making cameos, these movies have served to keep Japanese metal in the modifying zeitgeist for over two decades now.

And therein lies the question of the day: what are the most iconic Japanese cars to grace the big screen throughout the Fast & Furious Saga? Well, we’ve narrowed it down to 10 of our all-time favourites.

1. 1994 Toyota Supra A80

The most famous JDM car of them all? Well, that’s probably half true. The Lamborghini-Orange “Nuclear Gladiator” Toyota Supra may be the most well-known Japanese car of the entire franchise. But the turbocharged, targa-top hero used in the original movie was a left-hand-drive US model. So, strictly speaking, you couldn’t call it JDM.

What this car was, however, was a genuine modified monster. And that was before the film was even in development. The Fast and The Furious was a relatively low-budget flick, so – to save on the budget – the car was rented from the film’s technical advisor, Craig Lieberman. His A80 Supra was already sporting a heavily modified 3-litre 2JZ-GTE engine and pushing out a whopping 570bhp – nearly double that of a standard Twin Turbo Supra. In fact, the only changes that the production team made for the movie were the wheels, body styling and orange paint job (originally the car was yellow). Just about everything else was already there.

And if you’re wondering about the ‘junker’ on the back of a tow truck in the movie, that was indeed sporting a 2JZ engine – but not the legendary twin turbo lump they were describing. It would have taken way more than 15k to get it up to full ‘Race Wars’ spec too. In reality, they would have put well over 100k into this build. But that’s Hollywood for you, eh?

Aside from the genuine hero car, a host of other replicas were built for stunts and racing scenes, some of which were repainted and used for Slap-Jack’s car in 2 Fast 2 Furious. There’s also a white 1995 US Twin Turbo model at the end of Furious 7, but this wasn’t a rehash of one of these cars; that one was from Paul Walker’s personal collection.

So, what happened to the orange Supra when filming wrapped? It simply went back to its original owner. Although it did turn up again in 2021 where it was sold at auction for $550k. Not a bad payday for a 90s Toyota, is it?

2. 1993 & 1997 Mazda RX-7 FD

Everyone’s favourite rotary-powered Mazda had two of the most important roles in the franchise. First, one of these introduced Dominic Toretto to the series in The Fast and The Furious, and it was the only Japanese tuner car he raced before breaking out the trademark American muscle cars. And second, the main hero car from Tokyo Drift was Han Seoul-Oh’s widebody ‘Fortune’ RX-7 FD.

In the modifying world, of course, the Mazda RX-7 is something of an icon – the very reason why it was used in both movies. As with Brian’s Supra in the first film, the frugal producers rented a ready-built example (this time owned by Keith Imoto) and made a few cosmetic changes. The car was originally a left-hand drive US model in grey with heavily modified 13B engine and a roll cage. The producers painted the car red, and then removed the cage, simply because Vin Diesel couldn’t fit in it. A few clone cars were also built, but these were standard, except for the exterior styling and exhausts.

Dom’s Mazda is shown to have a huge aftermarket sound system in the movie, but these shots were actually taken from another car. The real-life version only had a factory audio system – it was a lightweight racer, after all. This car was also repainted and used in 2 Fast 2 Furious by Orange Julius.

The 1997 RX-7 featured in Tokyo Drift, as you would expect, is a full-on JDM model. This car was also bought ready modified, but this time for a reported $150k from legendary Japanese tuners Veilside. Originally their company demo car, it was first built to showcase their £15K Fortune widebody kit at the 2005 Tokyo Auto Salon. It was also dark red, but the F&F team repainted it in House of Kolor Orange to make sure it popped on screen. Which – we think we can all agree – it did nicely.

3. 2003 Nissan Fairlady Z33

The JDM version of the Nissan 350Z is what you might call a bona fide Japanese muscle car. In fact, this one is practically an American fastback, simply from having a huge 3.5-litre ‘V’ engine up front, rear-wheel-drive at the back and presumably a driver grinning like a madman in the middle.

But, while large capacity VQ35DE V6 engines (which negate the need to mess about with turbochargers) was the order of the day for Nissan in the noughties, the JDM Fairlady Z used in Tokyo Drift was fitted with an aftermarket twin turbo kit developed by Australian tuning house, APS. This gave our automotive anti-hero around 450bhp, which is about 170bhp over standard and more than enough for any Drift King to break out the sideways antics.

The Z33, which went on sale around the world in various specs between 2002 and 2009, has proved infinitely popular on the global tuning scene. There’s still plenty of modified examples on the show scene today, and they’re one of the few that can still be picked up for a reasonable price. With those curvy good looks, this car was ahead of its time, and it’s one that has aged extremely well… if at all.

It has also been well catered for by the aftermarket over the years. From the very beginning, parts manufacturers were falling over themselves to offer tuning upgrades, chassis parts, body styling and wheels. This includes the mighty Veilside who were already involved with the movie with their Fortune RX-7, so it makes sense that they’d supply their equally crazy V3 widebody aero kit, massive Andrew Evolution wheels, and a whole load of carbon fibre bolt-ons for the main antagonist.

4. 1999 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R V-Spec

The fabled R34 GT-R may be one of the cars most associated with the franchise – not to mention Paul Walker himself – but this car only made a couple of major appearances. Most notably in the fourth instalment (Fast & Furious) and, perhaps most famously of all, as the introductory hero car in the second film.

Now, it goes without saying that the R34 Skyline GT-R is one of the most coveted Japanese tuner car icons ever conceived – a genuine cult classic. This 2.6-litre twin-turbocharged monster is probably THE car of the PlayStation generation, and they command prices of well over £100k nowadays. But, because the Skyline was never officially offered for sale in the US, the cars used (with the exception of a single UK model) were all JDM models. This also explains why they were all right-hand-drive cars.

Surprisingly, the 2002 Bayside Blue GT-R used for a little smuggling in Mexico in Fast & Furious wasn’t even a GT-R at all. Instead, the production team created a number of replicas using non-turbocharged, 1998-2001 GT models. These also came with basic rear-wheel-drive rather than the legendary Nissan ATSSA AWD system.

In 2 Fast 2 Furious, though, that was a genuine 1999 JDM R34 GT-R. What’s more, this one only missed out on being the star of the entire film because of a product placement deal with Mitsubishi (hence the Evo VII and Eclipse Convertible being used). The main hero car was another owned by Craig Lieberman and modified with a whole host of HKS engine upgrades and nitrous oxide. Another four cars were imported by MotoRex and fitted with matching C-West body kits, HRE wheels and the infamous House of Kolor paint job with added blue stripes.

The last R34 built for the movie – which was imported from Middlehurst Motorsport in the UK and modified accordingly – was only used for the bridge-jump scene, where it was destroyed.

5. 2002/2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII & IX

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution on wet road

There’s been two Mitsubishi Evos used as hero cars in the early F&F movies. First the 2002 Evo VII in 2 Fast 2 Furious, and then the 2006 Evo IX in Tokyo Drift.

The irony, of course, is that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has always been most famous for its rallying prowess, and there wasn’t a dirt track in sight in either movie. Because of the legendary all-wheel-drive systems used in all models of the Evo since its inception, it’s ironic that one of these was chosen as a drift car in the third movie too. Albeit an Evo IX that had been converted to rear-wheel-drive specifically for this purpose. Then again, this certainly got the car community talking, so maybe that was the whole point.

What’s also interesting is that the Evo VII wasn’t ever available in the US. The Evo VIII model was launched later in America, but that wasn’t until after 2 Fast 2 Furious was released in 2003. Instead, the on-screen cars were donated by Mitsubishi Japan for the filming and modified by the production team with new rear lights to look like the upcoming Evo VIII. Mitsubishi shipped over four in total and the reason these models were left-hand-drive is that they were originally destined for a rally team in Austria before being diverted to the US.

Both the F&F cars have some serious high-performance heritage. Originally intended solely as a JDM model, the Evo I came along in 1992 and has “evolved” through 10 different variants, all powered by a 2-litre turbocharged engine. The Evo X was retired back in 2016. Such was the early success of these cars on the grey import market that Mitsubishi officially offered them for sale worldwide in 1998. They have since gone on to become extremely successful in motorsport, and one of the most iconic cars in the modifying community.

6. Nissan Skyline GT-R C10 ‘Hakosuka’

This particularly retro example may not have had a huge amount of screen time, but there’s no doubt that the appearance of a C10 GT-R in Fast Five was something that delighted connoisseurs of JDM classics.

The Hakosuka is a special car. The first Skyline model to sport the iconic GT-R badge, it was initially available as a 4-door sedan in 1969 and later as a 2-door coupe in 1971. Both variants came equipped with a 160bhp inline straight 6 engine, rear-wheel drive, and even a limited slip differential, making these pumped-up examples of the third-generation Nissan/Datsun Skyline far ahead of their time.

A bona fide holy grail Nissan, the nickname “Hakosuka” wasn’t officially sanctioned by Nissan; instead, it became popular on the streets of Japan where the car was known as the “Box Skyline” because of its chunky body. “Hako” is the literal translation of the word box and “suka” is a shortened version of the word “sukairain,” which means skyline.

Less than 2000 examples were ever produced, and they’re one of the most sought-after Japanese models by serious car collectors. Nowadays, you can expect to pay the best part of £200k at auction, making Brian’s 1971 GT-R Coupe turning up in Brazil one of the priciest cameos for a JDM Kyusha (old car) over the entire F&F franchise.

7. 2000 Honda S2000

Yellow Honda S2000 parked

The Honda badge is one that’s become synonymous with the street tuning and modifying scenes around the world, and when they launched the convertible S2000 in 1999 it was an instant hit. It’s easy to see why: with its lightweight frame, high-revving 2-litre VTEC engine and literally thousands of aftermarket parts available, this little 2-seater remains popular to this day. Although modern classic status means that prices are currently rising, they’re still available for reasonable money too.

The S2000 made a couple of key appearances in the Fast and Furious saga. First as Johnny Tran’s anti-hero car in The Fast and The Furious, and second as Suki’s car in 2 Fast 2 Furious… yep, the one that jumped the bridge with Brian’s R34 Skyline.

Contrary to popular belief, and despite being listed as different years in the movie specs, these two were actually the same car. The three S2000s (including the main car and stunt cars) used for the first movie were repurposed for the second.

The original Johnny Tran hero car was a US model rented from RJ DeVera, the actor who played Danny Yamato (the guy who drove the white Honda Civic in the first street race). Rather than having “more than a hundred grand under the hood,” there were just a few performance modifications, including a Comptech supercharger, pushing the car to around 290bhp. So it was a quick S2000 for sure, but it was no 10-second car.

For 2 Fast 2 Furious, the car was purchased by the production team where they repainted it pink and changed the wheels.

8. 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse

Although a 2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder is used as Roman’s car in 2 Fast 2 Furious, the most important Eclipse in the series will always be the 1995 Kawasaki Green coupe from the first movie. After all, it’s the very first street racer we see over the whole saga… and it introduces Paul Walker’s character to the franchise.

Five clone cars were created for various shots, but the original hero car was a silver US model rented from John Lapid. This came ready modified apart from the exterior paintwork.

Despite being a rather epic-looking show car clad in a full RoboCar body kit, and having a few performance modifications such as an intake and nitrous oxide system, the street racing credentials weren’t quite as impressive as depicted in the movie. This car had around 140bhp and wasn’t sporting a turbocharged 4G63 engine as stated, so it’s unlikely it would be keeping up with a standard RX-7 let alone one that’s been street tuned to perfection. But does that matter? Of course it doesn’t – it’s all in the name of entertainment.

9. 2001 Nissan Silvia Spec-S S15

Nissan Silvia parked on road

The screentime may have been limited for this one, what with the car being destroyed early on in the movie, but there’s no denying that the “Mona Lisa” Nissan Silvia was one of the biggest stars of Tokyo Drift.

A legendary car for drifting, and on the modified car scene in general, the Nissan Silvia (known as the Nissan S-Body car) has been through a whole load of iterations since being launched by Datsun in 1965. Perhaps the most well-known to the world’s modifiers are the 80s and 90s Nissan S13, S14 and S15 variants. We see a few of these over the course of the franchise, including the car driven by Letty in the first film – a US model 240SX S14 (with an S14A front end). After being repainted, this one also makes an appearance in 2 Fast 2 Furious.

The king of the on-screen Silvias, though, is undoubtedly the C-west-kitted JDM Silvia S15 built specifically for Tokyo Drift. Rumour has it that over $7,000,000 were spent on the cars alone for this movie, with over 200 being acquired and shipped from all around the world. But, even with this huge budget, this “Spec-R” Silvia wasn’t quite as it was depicted in terms of its performance.

For a start, the massive RB26DETT engine we see stripped out and slotted into a Mustang at the end of the movie was never fitted to this car. Of course, taking the legendary twin-turbocharged lump from a Skyline GT-R and transferring it to an S15 is a dream conversion for many, and reasonably common in the drifting world, but it was never something carried out by the producers. In fact, the Silvia used was also a base model Spec-S car, which didn’t come with the tuner’s favourite 250bhp turbocharged SR20DET engine found in the Spec-R either. So we’re talking around 160bhp rather than 500-odd-bhp as shown in the film.

But then again, we can forgive all this because there’s no doubt the Mona Lisa was still one of the most authentic cars used throughout the franchise, simply because they used a Silvia for drifting. It’s also an example that has spawned many replicas around the world.

10. 1993 Honda Civic Coupe EJ1

The three neon-lit Honda Civic “heist cars” from The Fast and The Furious may not be full-on street racers as such, but they are the first F&F cars we see. By all accounts, these were some of the most unloved screen cars over the entire franchise; having been built only to survive a couple of weeks’ filming, they were all considered disposable by the production team.

It goes without saying that the Civic has always been popular with modifiers, with plenty of legendary examples being pumped out by Honda to this day. 2021 saw the eleventh generation of this car hit the streets and, over the years, they have all (particularly the Type-R variants) become the bread and butter of the import tuning scene. This is why the Civics that were most popular on the streets of the US in 2001 were chosen to star in the movie. But again, the US coupe models used were about as far from full-on racing spec as it’s possible to get. The modifications here were all cosmetic, and very much of their time. They looked cool back in the day though, and perhaps that’s all that matters.

With a relatively low budget for the builds, the production team picked up a number of cheap (and rather rough) DX models, along with one EX – the one with the sunroof. These were painted black and fitted the Axis wheels, VIS GT Bomber body kits and Veilside rear spoilers. The noisy exhausts were low-cost universal items hidden away under the bumpers.

After the first movie, the Civics did get a slight reprieve, however. The survivors were repainted and fitted with Bomex kits to be used as background cars in 2 Fast 2 Furious.

Despite varying reports of these cars having highly-tuned B18 engines with aftermarket turbochargers and all the trimmings, the true story is that these were all 1.5-litre models with around 100hp. But while they may not be the most mind-blowing tuner car legends throughout the series, their cult status with many fans means that these little Hondas more than deserve a spot in our top ten.

Want to read more about JDM cars? Read our blogs on the best JDM cars of the 90s and our favourite Japanese cars.

Words by Midge Burr

With 20 years’ experience writing and editing modified car magazines, Midge Burr is an expert in all things cars. He draws on his experiences as a qualified mechanic, long-time car builder and eager road rally participant, and is convinced he’s pretty much driven every type of vehicle under the sun, from touring cars and racing lorries to monster trucks and rally cars.

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