Meet the rarest of the rare.
The acronym JDM has been floating around car culture for decades now and is often misused. It simply stands for Japanese Domestic Market and indicates where the car is only marketed and sold by dealers. Japanese brand cars built outside of Japan are not JDM. The vast majority of JDM cars are only suited to that market. We're talking about tiny Kei cars designed to meet stringent Japanese size, engine capacity, and power output standards for citizens that want tax, insurance, and, often, parking benefits. However, it's also the banner on which some Japanese automakers have released limited production or special edition models. These are cars that didn't get sold outside of Japan for many reasons. Most often because the business case for building something special that would meet regulations for multiple countries is too expensive.
The Type R edition of the first generation Honda NSX is a given for this list. The reliable supercar was already one hell of a vehicle on and off the track, but the Type R unlocked more track performance over street comfort. Anything that didn't help the car perform was removed to save weight, including the stereo system, spare tire, air conditioning, and sound deadening. The suspension gained stiffer springs and sway bars, and the chassis was made more rigid with aluminum body braces. Inside, it got Recaro carbon-kevlar bucket seats and a Momo steering wheel. Honda saw no reason to mess with the 270 hp engine, but the weight savings of 265 pounds knocks 0.5 seconds off its zero to 60 mph time, taking it down to 5 seconds flat. Only 483 were built, making it a scarce bird.
When we think of fast wagons, we typically think of the German automakers. However, there was enough demand in Japan that the Nissan Stagea wagon got a huge upgrade with the help of the tuning company Autech. Mechanically, the first generation of Stagea was similar to the R33 Nissan Skyline, but by the time Autech was done with it it was more like a wagon version of the almighty R33 GTR. It used the legendary 2.6-liter RB26DETT to deliver power to the R33 GTR's all-wheel-drive system and limited-slip differential via a five-speed manual transmission. It was marketed as having the 276 hp agreed on by the Japanese automakers, but like many fast Japanese cars at the time, nobody believes that number is accurate.
When it comes to the often-idolized fourth-generation Toyota Supra, there is one version that is ridiculously fast and rare. Just before the Supra was entered in the Japanese Grand Touring Championship (JGTC) in 1994, the Toyota Racing Division showed off the road-legal version of its GT500 class race car. TRD made all of the components available as dealer-fitted accessories, but a factory-built model was also sold. TRD built 35 models with their own VIN codes. That reclassified the car as the TRD 3000GT rather than the Toyota Supra, and it's a beast.
Most of the bodywork is replaced with fiber-reinforced plastic pieces, and the aerodynamics are drastically improved by items like the new bumper and splitter, with the bumper's new intake sucking twice as much air as the original. The geometric bonnet vents then release the air pressure created by the new intakes. The car is also 2-inches wider at the back and 2.4-inches wider at the rear. The back end also got a choice of two different wings, a Type-S and Type-R. The Type-R and its six different settings for the angle was the more popular option.
For generations of the MX-5 (just called Roadster in Japan), Mazda has sold a stripped-down and upgraded version legal enough to drive on the road to the track and perfect to race on the weekend. It's called the NR-A and features performance goodness like Bilstein height-adjustable suspension, front suspension tower brace, a rear stabilizer and tunnel brace bar, larger brake rotors, and a torque-sensing Super LSD.
For the current generation, though, Mazda has introduced the RS version for Japan that includes all the performance additions but some added comfort and convenience for road use, like a nine-speaker Bose sound system and Alcantara/Nappa leather Recaro seats. It also features adaptive front headlights as well as lane departure and blind-spot warning systems. The roll cage is an optional extra.
Of all the legendary road-going Skyline GT-R editions, the Nismo Z-Tune is the rarest of beasts. It started as a concept by Nissan's tuning arm when it learned the Skyline GTR was going out of production in 2002. To create the Z-Tune, Nismo bought lightly used R34 GT-R V·Spec models and stripped them down to be rebuilt by hand using all the upgrades needed.
Upgrades included more carbon-fiber bodywork, aggressive aero, aggressively tuned Sachs suspension, and a Brembo brake system set up specifically for the Z-Tune models. The engine was also stripped down, strengthened, stroked, and tuned using upgraded turbochargers. The now 2.8-liter straight-6 engine revved to 9,000 rpm and making a declared 493 hp at 6,800 rpm. The Z-Tune is close to a complete redesign and a unicorn among GT-R enthusiasts.
In 2017, Subaru showed off its Japan-only performance-upgraded WRX STI, and instantly made us jealous. The 450 units of the Subaru S208 came with more power, better suspension and steering, and a lower center of gravity due to a carbon-fiber roof. The Japanese-spec STI's 2.0-liter flat-four generates 324 hp versus the US-spec 2.5-liter engines 305 hp. It also has tuned Bilstein dampers, a quicker steering rack, and active torque vectoring for the 19-inch aluminum rear wheels. Aero is improved by a carbon fiber spoiler and a new front splitter, while the inside has STI Recaro bucket sports seats and new dials to remind you the S208 is something special.
Of the 450 built, 350 came with an NBR Challenge Package to celebrate Subaru's Nurburgring achievements. The pack includes a dry carbon-fiber roof and an even more prominent rear spoiler, complete with an S208 logo. Thankfully, the next special edition in the line, the WRX STI S209, did come to other markets including the US.
You can call it the Sileighty or Sil80 because what you're looking at here is a hybrid of the Nissan Silvia and the Nissan 180SX. It was a popular conversion amongst Japanese drifting enthusiasts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It came about because the Nissan 180SX was the drift car of choice, but when the front end got damaged, it was cheaper to bolt on the front end and headlights from a Nissan Silvia. It gained popularity as the Silvia parts were also lighter and easier to source.
A Japanese tuning house called Kids-Heart reached out to some Nissan dealers and asked if they would be interested in a ready-built version to sell, and the response was so positive that 500 "official" Sileighty models were planned. Its popularity then increased in anime and video game culture, turning it into a legend. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell without getting close up if you're looking at a real Kids-Heart edition or not, and there are many homemade versions out there. It's also not documented how many were made in the end, and the lowest estimate is two.
The last FD generation Mazda RX-7 to make it to US soil was in 1995, but in Japan it carried on until 2002. The final 1,500 twin-turbo rotary engine objects of performance and beauty built were Spirit R editions. Over half of those were Type A versions, meaning they had just two seats and a five-speed manual transmission. Only one left-hand drive version was built, and that was for Mazda North America senior VP Robert Davis.
The Spirit R was, effectively, Mazda throwing everything it could at the car to make it special. It runs on forged, staggered BBS wheels and Bilstein shocks, cross-drilled brake rotors, an adjustable rear wing, and it had an exclusive color called Titanium Grey. According to Mazda, "The Type-A Spirit R model is the ultimate RX-7, boasting the most outstanding driving performance in its history." That, and its low numbers, make it the most desirable of the collectible RX-7 models.
For the longest time, the Civic Type-R was forbidden fruit to us here in the US, and one of the best examples is the FD generation that Mugen went to work on. While the FD2 wasn't the greatest Civic Type-R, it was no slouch and faster and lighter than the FN2 version available outside of Japan. Mugen made 300 units of the RR, and it includes an even larger reduction in weight through, among other things, carbon-fiber upgrades and an aluminum hood. It also features 18-inch Mugen seven-spoke wheels, Recaro SP-X racing bucket seats, and other interior and exterior embellishment. The centerpiece, though, is an engine hopped up with Mugen parts and revs out to make 237 hp at 8,000 revs. It was only available in Milano Red, and last time we saw one on the market, it went for over $100,000.
You don't have to be a Japanese company to sell a special edition just to that market. Ferrari rolled out ten jaw-droppingly gorgeous J50 models to celebrate 50 years in Japan in 2016. It's based on the 488 Spider and its 680 hp, 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8, but the bodywork is unique, and it sits on bespoke wheels. Every panel of the J50's bodywork is new, including the wide mesh grille and thin headlights. At the back, and entirely unlike the 488, it has four taillights.