There are several reasons why an automaker would design an incredible and potentially game-changing car and end up building only one unit of the car. Some of these one-offs are a special request from a wealthy customer, while others may be for display at shows and special events, for homologation purposes, or just for fun. All one-off cars have common characteristics, irrespective of the reason an automaker has for building them—new styling, new engines, and the use of non-traditional materials.
While some one-offs are prototypes from which production models are developed, others are concept cars used as platforms to test customers’ reactions to new technology. Getting it right at this stage of the game often translates to tremendous success when it gets to the production stage. Being one of the top car-producing countries globally, Japan contributes in no small way to the number of one-off vehicles in the world. So, read on for a list of some great JDM one-off cars.
10 Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R LM
For the past five decades, the GT-R badge, beginning with the Skyline GT-R, has spawned a good number of special editions. One of such models is the Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R LM, a one-off street-legal beauty with a super-wide bodywork that currently resides at Nissan’s Zama DNA garage.
Not to be confused with the R33 GT-R LM Limited, the puffy-cheeked silver-painted LM was built for homologation so that the R33 LM could race at LeMans in 1995. Under the hood, it hides a 300 hp RB26DETT straight-six unit that takes it to 62 mph in 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph.
9 Nissan 370-Z Clubsport 23
Created by Nissan Motorsports as a show car for the SEMA 2018, the Project Clubsport 23 was based on the Nissan 370Z. Power for the highly modified 370Z is supplied by a 3-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine sourced from the Infiniti Red Sport 400 models.
Getting the 370Z Nismo’s 6-speed manual transmission to work with the new engine required MA Motorworks to develop a new clutch and flywheel assembly. In addition to a long list of performance modifications, the interior was stylishly upholstered in quilted black leather with contrasting stitching, while the exterior got some styling enhancements too.
8 Dome Zero
Finally unveiled at the 1978 Geneva Motor Show, the development of the Dome Zero road car prototype began in 1976 and was motivated by the desire to compete at Le Mans. Dome built the Zero on a steel semi-monocoque chassis, representing a technological leap for the new company while the bodywork was glass reinforced plastic.
Driving the rear wheels through a 5-speed manual ZF transmission was a Nissan-sourced engine tuned to produce 145 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque. Despite the Zero’s popularity in Japan, all that came out of the project were licensing deals with toy manufacturers.
7 Nissan R390 GT1
Built in 1997 as a prototype for developing the R390 GT1 racing car, the road car is currently housed in Nismo’s Zama facility. Behind the cabin lies a 3.5 DOHC V8 sending 550 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque through a 6-speed sequential manual transmission to the rear wheels.
In a show of solid performance, the R390 GT1 can hit 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and clear the quarter-mile in 11.9 seconds. Although the automaker gave it an official price tag of $1M, Nissan never marketed the lone road car.
6 Toyota Rav4 Limousine
Working during their off hours for four months, 200 employees at Toyota’s Takaoka production plant in Japan built the Toyota Rav4 Limo. The limo had a length of 26 feet while offering only two rows of seating and miles of legroom for the rear passengers.
The one-off RAV4 is painted an exclusive orange color that stands it out, featuring a uniquely designed interior and handcrafted side panels. Built for fun, the stretched RAV4 retained many parts from the standard version.
5 Toyota Century Convertible
Almost identical to the standard Toyota Century, Toyota created the convertible in 2019 to ferry the new emperor to his coronation ceremony. Replacing a 1990 Rolls-Royce Corniche III as the official parade vehicle of the Japanese royal family, the one-off Century wears the imperial seal instead of number plates.
One of the subtle differences between the convertible and the standard car is a rear seat raised by 4 inches to allow a clearer view of the new emperor. Power for the luxury car is provided by a 5-liter V8 engine that pairs with an electric motor to make 425 hp.
4 Daihatsu Basket
Revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2009, the Daihatsu Basket is a 4-seater convertible compact concept car with a minimal and boxy design. Despite its small size, it offers excellent utility since the rear bench seat can be folded flat to increase storage.
Referred to as a slow-life vehicle by Daihatsu, it is powered by a 0.7-liter 3-cylinder engine that sends power to the four wheels. Over the front section of the cabin is a removable fiberglass roof, while a canvas top covers the rear seat.
3 Daihatsu X-021
One of the showstoppers at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show was the Daihatsu X-021, an attractive 2-seater sports roadster. Developed to compete with the popular Mazda MX-5, the X-021 was not just smaller and lighter; it also boasted a better power-to-weight ratio.
Tipping the scales at 1543 pounds and powered by a 140 hp 1.6-liter I-4 power unit, the X-021 could hit a top speed of 125 hp. Despite scoring high on aesthetics and handling, the X-021 unfortunately never made it past the concept stage to the production stage.
2 Honda HSC
Debuting at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2003, the Honda HSC with its sleek design was tipped by many to be a replacement for the Honda NSX. Built with carbon fiber and aluminum, the weight was low enough to allow the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 engine to give it an excellent power-to-weight ratio.
Mated to a 6-speed transmission, it took the HSC to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 186 mph. Designed to deliver pure driving thrill, the HSC combines stellar performance with agile handling.
1 Honda JV-X
Looking at the sleek lines of the Honda J-VX with its scissor doors and Lamborghini-like good looks, there is nothing to hate about the J-VX. Unveiled at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, it was the world’s first supercar concept to use Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system.
At the heart of the hybrid system is a 1-liter 3-cylinder engine that combines with an ultracapacitor instead of batteries to return excellent fuel economy. Furthermore, the Honda JV-X boasted safety features like ABS and seatbelts with integrated airbags that inflated in frontal collisions.
We wish these stunningly beautiful cars were mass-produced, so we could see them every day.
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