I've written before about how influential cars of a Japanese origin have been on my automotive life since I was a young lad. Now more than ever though I find myself somewhat disillusioned with the state of the JDM side of the car scene.
JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market, and has become a by-word for the fan-base of cars hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun, seemingly regardless of whether the cars were actually built to be sold in Japan, or whether they were built in a soulless block of industrial misery in Swindon - Honda, we’re looking at you here. Sadly though, this ‘JDM car culture’ has spawned a growing group of people who will both lap up, and defend to the death, anything even vaguely Japanese in origin, which means constantly rising prices for cars that, if we’re going to be real for a second, aren’t exactly what you’d call special.
I was going to write mainly about the state of the classic car market at the moment, but that would inevitably lead down the road of complaining about old Fords, which is one of my favourite things to do, but as I've never owned an old Ford I'd inevitably get told I'm completely clueless and should be locked away with no creative outlet allowed. They do link quite well, however, to the point about unexceptional cars with no real 'wow' factor being over-inflated on price and causing the classic market to become a right hash.
But I promised I'd not talk about old Fords, so we come back to the cars of a Japanese persuasion - I've had these, therefore can be a bit safer in the knowledge that I might have half a clue what I'm talking about. You see, for a while I’d forgotten what it was like to be interested in anything other than mass-produced Japanese metal. I longed for a Mitsubishi GTO during my teenage years, only to get one and realise they’re actually quite bad cars. RX8 ownership re-lit the fire in my heart for an FD RX7 only to realise that, considering this is a car worth varying amounts above the £20k mark depending on who you listen to, it’s not actually the pinpoint-precise driving machine I’d hoped for. I mean even the Evo, which gets unrelenting hatred for being the 10th iteration of the Lancer Evolution line, wasn’t quite the car I’d longed for since I was 11. I think the unavoidable thing about them is that, as much as these cars may be technological marvels, or be brilliantly styled, or even make fantastic noises, they all lack a certain soul. Sure, some have acres of character - just ask any Mk1 MX5 driver - but character sadly doesn’t equal soul. It’s sadly the trade off you make by buying a car from a multinational company where the decisions are made by chaps in suits, staring all day at balance sheets and profit and loss reports.
So, it's time to stop - well, for me, anyway. I think it's time for me to accept that, having now owned a car that is arguably one of the pinnacles of Japanese motoring, I'll never really be happy until I grow up and have something a bit more proper. I’m ready to make the jump now more than ever into something a little less technologically marvellous, but a little more soulful. Something that’ll give me a warm and fuzzy feeling every time I step into it, and leave me wanting more every time I get out. The kind of car you can’t help but look back at over, and over, and over again as you walk away from it in a car park. I’m not about to suggest the Twingo is the answer to this, but driving this little French wonder has been, I feel, the catalyst for this somewhat sudden change of opinion. It wasn’t a step forward in the automotive world, but as much as it’s about as well-equipped as a Sudanese prison cell, and as luxurious as a Ryanair package holiday, it was built by the French - and as much as they can be a bloody annoying lot, they’re also quite a passionate bunch. So, in my search for passion, I began to focus on not so much the cars, but the people who built them - and not only that, but trying to find cars from a time before everyone became worried about emissions control and fuel economy, but new enough to still have a chance at getting me from A to B without breaking down in a cloud of smoke and shame. The British spent most of the 70s and 80s making things that were best described with words such as ‘brown’, ‘velour’ and ‘vinyl’ - these are not soulful and passionate words. The Germans, even back then, were still finding themselves pleasured by words such as ‘quality’ and ‘efficiency’ - again, not exactly arousing to the ears of someone looking for a bit of passion. To find some better words when it came to car manufacturing, I didn’t need to take much time to find the geographical endgame.
Italy is the answer, and this is partially due to the fact that one can go out, tomorrow, and buy a perfectly functioning Ferrari that isn't a god-awful Mondial, for near enough the same money as a Mk4 Toyota Supra or a tatty Honda NSX - or even, for that matter, a somewhat old Ford Escort. The model, for the point I'm making, is the 348. Built between 1989 and 1995, and touting a 3.4 litre Tipo F119 V8, the 348 is described amongst many Ferrari enthusiasts as the best value car to ever come out of Maranello. Here lies my main issue with JDM cars - for the same price as cars built by massive multinational companies to be technically brilliant, you can have a car developed by a company that was, at the time, still under the watchful eye of Enzo Ferrari. A car designed not to be the most technically brilliant a car can be, but designed to be the best emotional expression a car can be - surely, after all, that's why we love driving in the first place - for the emotions it can make us feel?
So gone are the days where I longed for a Skyline, Supra or NSX - in a move that is both a step forward for me, and a step backward to my childhood - I want a Ferrari again.