By on February 19, 2016

Toyota Soarer Celica

I had another opportunity to visit United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka last week and, naturally, I brought along my camera for another visit to the “Lemon Lot.”

While my last visit noted the many people haulers for sale and focused on a pair of cheerful Toyota Fun Cargoes, this time, my attention was drawn to sportier fare.

First on the list is a 1992 Toyota Soarer. A walkaround found it to be a relatively clean example, if not especially well optioned. A look in the window found a velour interior rather than leather, and what appears to be a rather down-market single DIN stereo where there could have been something much nicer. The advertising and information on the car was just as austere stating only that the car has a 1JZ twin turbo, which Wikipedia tells me is a 2.5-liter inline-six of dubious reliability, backed by an automatic transmission. The seller is asking $4,800 and indicates the car is inspected and road legal through May of this year.

Toyota Soarer at United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Lemon Lot, © 2016 Thomas Kreutzer/The Truth About Cars

Next up is a 2000 Toyota Celica in what appears to be very nice shape with a list of aftermarket add-ons. The body modifications are obvious in the photos and, regardless of whether or not you find them tasteful, there can’t be any argument about their fit and finish. A look inside finds an interior a generation or two more advanced than the Soarer. A double DIN HDD/DVD player that includes car navigation is backed by a decent set of speakers and a trunk-mounted subwoofer. Advertised for $5,000, the car claims to be inspected and road legal through February 2017.

Toyota Celica at United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Lemon Lot, © 2016 Thomas Kreutzer/The Truth About Cars

The final car on today’s list is this 2003 Mazda RX-8, Originally on offer for $4,500, but now marked down to $3,900, it appeared to be in generally good shape. Inside, the car is simple and utilitarian with the only additional bells and whistles being aftermarket sound and an ETC electronic toll payment device. Information on the car claims has an automatic transmission, custom front bumper, 75,000 kms, and is inspected through February 2017.

Mazda RX-8 at United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Lemon Lot, © 2016 Thomas Kreutzer/The Truth About Cars

Although all of today’s cars are rather more interesting than the Fun Cargoes we saw the last time I visited the Lemon Lot, nothing here would have me reaching for my wallet. To begin with, I think they’re all overpriced and, with the exception of the Celica, I see no attempt on the part of the sellers to add any excitement to what are decent — but dated — vehicles.

Second, automatic transmissions in cars with sporting aspirations leave me flat cold and I can’t imagine that any of these would be fun to drive. Of course, I understand the reasons: Driving a vehicle with a manual transmission in Japan is a pain in the ass that requires an extra endorsement on one’s driver’s license. But I also know that, for military personnel, the endorsement is done on-base and only requires a quick road test. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be rowing your own gears in any of these cars. Seeing automatic gear shift levers in these cars just fills me with “meh.”

Lastly — and probably most importantly — none of these cars feel very exotic. All three models were offered for sale in the United States in one guise or another and I could likely find something similar at any stateside buy-here-pay here lot. They are, in my book, just “regular old cars” and no one back home will be amazed by a photo of a Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) RX8, Soarer or Celica because they see them on the street every day.

That’s the lesson here, I think. Living overseas comes and goes pretty quickly for most people and in the end all you have are stories to tell and pictures to show. If you shoot the works on any old thing, you are cheating yourself. If a photo of your wife’s Fun Cargo elicits more reactions than your hot JDM sports car, you need to reevaluate your life, son — you’re doing it wrong. Get out there and take some chances!

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83 Comments on “Lemon or Lemonade?: Zing in Your Thing...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    You made Friday even more worthwhile. Love the lines on the Soarer, but of course I have a sickness…

  • avatar

    Those first automatic RX-8s were down something like 60 HP to the manuals, too.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Boo! All of these are disappointing. The Soarer needs the 4.0L, as well as gold Lexus badges. Dal will yell at me shortly for saying this.

    You didn’t do a final choice, Thomas! You MUST pick one, which? And yeah they’re all overpriced, so just include a $500 discount to make it palatable.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Short of the early run of engines it seems that there’s nothing inherently bad about the 1JZ besides the fact that it isn’t a 2jZ, and most issues arise when boost is tweaked WAY up. Both are well respected in Russian Far East tuning circles as very hardy and modifiable platforms, be it in a Crown, Mark II, Chaser, Soarer, Supra, etc.

      I’d stay away from the Lemon Lot on principle and hunt down a clean Z30 chassis Toyota Soarer for my JDM personal luxury coupe fix, that or an older S130 Toyota Crown “Royal Saloon G Supercharger.” Toyota is truly the OG obnoxiously-long model name manufacturer.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        So the Crown Royal G is basically the hardtop JDM Cressida? I can’t tell the size from the pics, but it looks almost Camry sized.

        I forgot how much the Mark II looks just like the rear of a late model MKZ.

        http://toyotacars.kamikaze-drive.com/MARK2023R.JPG

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          MX83 chassis Cressida is a Mark II.

          Crown is bigger than a Cressida, but not enormously so, and the styling is pretty similar. The biggest distinction is that the S130 Crown is a body on frame design believe it or not! I couldn’t believe it myself but it’s true, and might explain some of their appeal as a used car in a rugged climate such as Russia’s hinterlands. I rode in a Salon G Supercharger taxi back in 2004 as I recall. 14 years on, half of which I assume was in its second life on Russian roads, that Crown was a very nice car to ride in (and inhale copious amounts of second hand smoke in while listening to techno that the graveyard shift cabbie was using to stay awake). Good times.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Consider yourself yelled at.

      Also, what that Soarer really needs is 2JZ-GTE and a 5-speed. It’s just a Supra in drag.

    • 0 avatar
      DeeDub

      “You didn’t do a final choice, Thomas! You MUST pick one, which?”

      F the Mazda, marry the Celica, kill the Soarer.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      I agree, looking in that lot wouldve had me not bothering to turn in, or if I did, to not get out.

      Im speaking as if I am the American in Japan in this situation. Id pass on all in the States, and these JDMs are even less desirable than 10 other examples one could find on craigslist here in the States.

      I like the rear of that generation Celica, especially in yellow. But honestly, the only reason Id buy any of these cars would be if they were super cheap with body damage or something else that would send their values stupid low, so I could sacrafice their drivetrains to make other cars better.

      If the Celica is a GT, put its 1.8L into an xB (or bB lol). I tried to buy a wrecked 2001 for that very reason last year, because I found an xB that needed an engine and I read online that it was a fairly straight forward swap. I planned on parting out the rest of the Celica to make more money, save for its “GT” emblem that would look sweet on the boxy ass of the xB, lower RH corner of the hatch. And Id just love to hear someone say “yeah right, a GT huh? Sticker power!” Then Id simply pop the hood. I was also thinking of getting one of those chrome “1.8L” badges off an upmarket RWD Corolla (early 80s, just before it went tits-up with FWD). Always liked that little badge, and the boxy Corolla it was afixed to.

      If in the states, that Lexus (badged) I-6 would be screaming to be put in something old. I doubt itd fit in an old Corona or Crown, but itd be awesome if it did! What about a T-100? Id have to give it some thought. My favorite super early (USDM) Toyotas are the 1960s Stout truck and the first gen Celica. Though it obviously tried to emulate the Mustang, it still looked great doing it. Its not often that a copy can shine in its own right, if not as highly as the one it copied. Anyway, I seriously doubt an Inline 6 would fit in a Stout or early Celica. They were obviously only designed for I-4 power, as with the Corona and Crown.

      For the Mazda, I found a mid 70s RX-3 with no drivetrain in Florida a month or so ago in excellent condition otherwise. Need I say more?

      I realize the last two are more pipe dreams at this point, but I think they are compelling ideas if one had the skill to pull it off, especially the RX-3. That little guy would SCREAM with the RX-8’s engine!

    • 0 avatar

      The only car here that really floats my boat is the Soarer. I once had an 87 twin turbo Supra (albeit with a 2.0 liter twin turbo) that that feels very similar. Truth be told though, I’d probably take my money and look for a decent buy on a previous generation Soarer or seek out a 4wd Celica GT Four. They are much more up my alley.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        You’ve made the right choice! I’d choose a prior Soarer also – the Aerocabin.

        http://www.birdhasacamera.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Aerocabin_Wallpaper-3.jpg

        Oh pleeeeease write one up while you’re there, before they all end up in America ha.

  • avatar
    KrohmDohm

    Ah yes the used car buying experience in Japan. There is nothing else like it in the world. I was in northern Japan in the early to mid ’90’s so our selections consisted of mid 80’s metal. There was a wonderful variety of weird, wild and wonderful offerings not to be found in the states. Want a Turbo Subaru Leone(Legacy) with real 4WD hi and lo? No problem. Fairlady Z’s weren’t an uncommon sight. My personal favorites where the large for over there black sedans from every maker. We called them Yakuza limousines. Adorned with white linen doilies on the headrests. Little 1 liter microvans with sliding doors on both sides. They swarmed the roads like gnats in a Deep South summer. Beloved for their cheaper road taxes and high utility. The most sought after van was the Mitsubishi Delica, in 4WD off road configuration off course. That thing took us deep in the woods and mountains for many a paintball outing.
    The best thing about the used car market at an overseas base; it wasn’t uncommon to re-buy your old car when you rotate back. I saw that happen more than once.

    Ah the good old days.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Sounds awesome. I’ve gotten to experience a sampling of these RHD goodies over the years on my visits to family in Siberia, but the truly quirky and cool late 80s-mid 90s stuff is starting to get old and worn out. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a Toyota Mark II was THE car to be driving in Siberia and the Russian Far East, the equivalent of a W124 Mercedes back in the western part of the country. That or a big SUV adorned with huge yellow driving lights and weird vinyl graphics replete with “Engrish.” 80 series Land Cruiser, Y60 Patrol, or Pajero. Those SUVs have proven to be quite durable, as those original imports still prowl the streets and thousands of miles of secondary roads in the taiga.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Sounds great. Id love to check out the awesome little kei cars, as with weirdo cars like Nissan’s S-Cargo, Pao, etc. A Pajero mini (kei) would be so awesome!

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Speaking of cutsey JDM cars, my cousin bought his wife a little old 80s Honda City to learn to drive in, it looked totally badass with some fat 80 series sidewall tires and a bunch of dirt on it (lots of unpaved roads out their way). She now has a late 90s Honda Partner as her ride, the Civic Wagon we never got in the States. The Partner is a courier variant of the nicer-trimmed Orthia, with unpainted bumpers, steel wheels, and a pretty plain interior.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’d probably just spend all my money purchasing and feeding a Toyota Century.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      The most superior Japanese car.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I’ve never gotten it. What does it have except 12 weak cylinders and a super-heaping helping of Japaneseness?

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          It’s huge and formal! And unique among Toyota/Japanese offerings in that it’s largely built by hand to impeccable standard.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Huge, formal, but also ugly as sin, both inside and out. I’d far rather arrive to a state dinner in the back of an Executive-equipped LS600hL.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Whaaaaa? I love it, it’s so traditional. It has the slab-sided nature I love that went away circa 1979.

            http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/zyoro26cqtjc2exxyrhp.jpg

            Formal roof, nice lines, full-moon alloys, 12 cylinders. How do you -not- like it?!

            The interior matches in simple luxury. Everything about the car except the length is understated.

            https://spct2000.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/2015-toyota-century-interior.jpg

            The LS460’s flim flam has ruined you, go sit in an LS400 for one hour as punishment.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            The interior would have been beautiful in 1997 when the car was introduced. But it hasn’t evolved, and luxury interiors have gotten SO MUCH BETTER just in the last few years. Do you really prefer that to this, complete with full leather dash:

            http://www.reviewsofnewcars.com/wp-content/uploads/2016-Lexus-LS-600h-L-interior-min-800×511.jpg

            The exterior is worse. The shape is awkward (slab sides or no) and the detailing looks very tacked on by modern standards. Just look at those door handles. So 1980s, and not in a good way.

            (Edit: substitute an x for TTAC’s dumb times sign in the URL for the picture to work.)

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Hmpf! If you put a Cadillac crest on the front and moved the wing mirrors to the door, everyone would rave about the rebirth of the Fleetwood.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            The final old-school Cadillacs just have so much more pleasing proportions and exterior details.

            ajla is exactly right — the perfect boulevardier would be a Brougham with the engineering and build quality of a Century.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Well, although I appreciate the assumption I can afford a $100k vehicle, I’d be getting a used one.

          That makes the dated look of the interior much easier to accept. I like it for the “classic” car appeal and cultural reputation not because it necessarily competes well with modern luxury cars.

          A pre-’97 even comes with a pushrod V8 with almost the exact output of a Chevy 305 TBI. It’s like a Cadillac Brougham if GM knew what build quality was.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            I’m with Corey, the Century with its velour-lined interior is just on another level of quality than even an LS600hL. I like to think of it as a melding of the best of Toyota’s Toyota-goodness, with the longevity and straightforward design of a W126 Mercedes S class.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I knew you would support my Century choices.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            I do have to say that I would love it if my LS460 had the Century’s wool fabric instead of leather. The LS460 leather is very good but a wool interior would just rock.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Too late! You have rejected the Century and it will never be forgotten!

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          The V12 isn’t weak, just undertuned. I remember seeing a build with one swapped into a MkIV Supra and boosted to 800hp or so.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      I do like it, but I like lots of large Asian luxury sedan (and PLCs) we didnt get. Mitsubishi Debonair, Toyota Crown, etc. I wouldnt buy a Century simply because of the price, unless I was just stupid rich of course. I certainly wouldnt struggle for it, but thats just me. Especially if I couldnt bring it outside of Japan, where it wouldnt cost a fortune just to pay for the taxes, parking and fuel for it.

  • avatar

    That Celica does not have an aftermarket body kit. That, my friend, is the the GT-Four inspired “Action Package” option. Funny enough, it was more often available on the very pedestrian GT model (130 HP) and rarely found on the GT-S Model (190 HP). As the 7th gen Celica was stylized? in California, I always thought it doubly ironic that they offered a GT-Four inspired look on the base Celica to a consumer base that, for the most part, had no idea the ST205 even existed…

  • avatar
    jrhmobile

    Good God, I miss the military Lemon Lots …

    It’s been years since I was in the military, but the widest range of four-wheeled oddities that can be found in, say, San Antonio base Lemon Lots amongst scads of cheap cars would put France’s Retromobile to shame.

  • avatar
    sproc

    When I was stationed there, I lived in Ikedacho, about 7km south of the base. Most of the time it was an easy drive, but if it was a Sunday or I hit it wrong, that 7km could take an hour.

    That’s why automatic.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    TTAC Editors and Contributors:

    You are fast approaching PEAK CLEVER HEADLINE.

    Lemon or Lemonade.
    Zing in Your Thing.
    Digestible Collectible.
    Murilee Martin’s Malibu Maxx.
    High-Low, High-Low, It’s Off To Work You Go.
    Too Much Junk in the Trunk.
    Honda’s Hot Air.
    High-Low and Crossovers to Go.

    Is it National Alliteration Week or something?
    Not every headline has to rhyme or contain a pun, dangit!

  • avatar
    MarionCobretti

    The wheels on that RX-8! I didn’t know they had Pep Boys in Japan.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Gosh, your last article had groovy micro-vans in it.

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    “automatic transmissions in cars with sporting aspirations leave me flat cold and I can’t imagine that any of these would be fun to drive”

    Ditto! On an tangent, how about writing what it’s like to drive in Japan on the left side of the road, in the right side of the car, with a manual transmission? I’ve heard some reflexively get in the wrong side of the car. But most adapt and only confuse the turn signals with the wipers.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      I did it frequently in a friend’s Toyota with a stick. The actual car control is really not a big deal for an experienced driver mainly because the pedal arrangement is still the same. I did still hit the wipers from time to time.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Haven’t driven in Japan, but have driven stick rental cars in UK and New Zealand, both drive-on-left countries. The core controls became very natural after just a few miles. Driving on the left feels right when you’re sitting on the right. The really hard parts for me were 1) the turn signals and 2) looking the right way at intersections. Also, my left arm got really tired after a week of 3-2 downshifts away from my body.

    • 0 avatar

      Since there appears to be interest, perhaps one day I will. The truth is, if you use a couple of simple tricks, it isn’t that hard to get the hang of. I honestly think people will be disappointed once they get to see behind the magician’s curtain.

      The bigger trick I pull is driving on the left side of the road from the left side of the vehicle…

    • 0 avatar
      Noble713

      I learned to drive a manual here in Okinawa. I bought an Evo IV a week after I arrived here and got a 20-minute crash course from the seller. I spent the next month constantly grinding gears and stalling on hills.

      I once made a left turn into the right lane (oncoming traffic), but fortunately there were no cars close to the intersection so I made a big U-turn and went the correct way. Parking lots were a bigger problem, because you don’t have a bunch of other cars in motion to remind you who to follow, so you’ll naturally drift to the right side of the road….until another car comes and the driver looks at you like “WTF are you doing?”

      The biggest indicator someone is new to driving in Japan is when they try to activate a turn signal….and the wipers come on. The signal/wiper stalks are reversed on Japanese cars.

      Usually people are fully acclimated after ~3 months.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Are rear wipers on coupes and sedans sort of common over there? I don’t remember seeing that on the Australian market Soarer when I lived there, but it was a while ago.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I don’t think so. That’s ugly now that you make me notice it. So is the wind deflector positioned on the door, highlighting the upper door line in the roof so badly.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Yes, very common. That’s a favored way to JDM-ize your Evo or STI.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Ironically most 350Z owners are big fans of the rear-wiper-delete in order to clean up the look of the car. The 370Z’s don’t have the wiper so maybe Nissan took notice. I personally like have the option to clean the back glass with the flip of a switch on my Z. This option is critical on most hatchbacks, mini-vans and SUVs because aero-wise all the dirt that goes over the car just gets dumped back there. My ’85 Civic S1500 had a wall of glass for the hatch and it was always a mess. The wife’s Volvo C30 has the same problem.

        The rims on the RX-8 are horrible… those must go immediately!

        • 0 avatar
          Car Ramrod

          Interesting which cars get the wiper and which don’t. I could only tell if I was looking at a hatchback first gen Mazda6 by the presence of the wiper– to my eye the sedan looked identical otherwise.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      They used to be back when that car was made (and I was stationed there), and I still wonder why we don’t do that here. It would be nice to be able to wipe the rear window at times.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The rear wiper is a pretty common upgrade trim feature. A few high-trim Japanese cars sent to the US had them in the early ’80s, but the CHMSL killed it off here.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    “But I also know that, for military personnel, the endorsement is done on-base and only requires a quick road test.”

    Back in my day, the on-base licensing road test was done on a stickshift. There are no special endorsements, and the driver’s license is issued by the base, not by the Japanese government. You are considered an “expert driver” (no red-line plate) as soon as you are licensed. That can get expensive if you hurt someone in an accident.

    My car was an automatic (’78 Skyline sedan) because, well, $75. And it’s nice to not have to deal with one more thing driving in Japanese traffic on the wrong side of the road. But you do get used to shifting with the left hand.

    Also back in the day, the on-base taxicabs were all ran by off-duty folks and dependents, and they were all 4-speed stick Corollas (’90-91) with NO options, not even a radio. I drove one for extra cash and to keep me out of the Honch. I’m sure they’re all slushboxes now.

    • 0 avatar

      Now days they are all Nissan Cubes and the drivers appear to be almost exclusively Japanese.

      • 0 avatar
        Noble713

        “Now days they are all Nissan Cubes”

        Nissan Cubes? That’s so fancy. Almost all of the cabs, on AND off-base, in Okinawa are still Toyota Comforts. I’m amazed every time I go to mainland and see anything more modern. Living on this antediluvian tropical penal colony warps your perspective of things.

        Cubes are very popular with dependent spouses though. Nigh-ubiquitous.

  • avatar

    FYI the seller didn’t add that aero package to the car to make it more exciting – it’s a factory aero kit – which is why it has such nice fit and finish.

    I bet it has the Super Strut handling package as well (like TRD in USA).

  • avatar
    Menloguy

    I see that the white Celica has the backlit illuminated license plates from the thicker mounting. It makes sense that the servicemen gravitated towards models that are recognizable and familiar in the US and not some exotic, unheard of JDM model.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      “It makes sense that the servicemen gravitated towards models that are recognizable and familiar in the US and not some exotic, unheard of JDM model.”

      Not to me it doesn’t, I’d want to sample the forbidden fruit! I’d be cruising around in a lifted and armored L300 Delica Space Gear Super Exceed with a big bumper guard loaded with driving lights and a ladder on the back.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Should that Soarer have had a wheel with an airbag, or no?

  • avatar

    I suspect very few millennials can drive stick. (I’ve taught nearly ten of them.)

  • avatar
    Urlik

    Memories of Yokota’s lemon lot 20 years ago. Thanks for bringing back such fond memories.


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