By on March 10, 2016

1994 Chevrolet Impala SS Front  at United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Lemon Lot, Japan, Image: © 2016 Thomas Kreutzer/The Truth About Cars

When I started kicking tires and taking photos at the Fleet Activities Yokosuka Lemon Lot, I was hoping to document the dark underbelly of the Japanese Domestic scene. I figured I would find all sorts of bottom dwellers — you know, cars that should have been consigned to the junk pile years ago. That hasn’t been the case.

There are tons of large, respectable people movers on display and next to them are dozens of cheerful, little economy cars. Once in awhile we get a performance car, or at least something that could have been sporty if it had the right options, but I have yet to see any bestickered, black hooded, wanna-be drift cars. Finding interesting cars has been really difficult, so today I will show you something I have hitherto been ignoring – the imports.

On offer this week are three “foreign” cars: two small, sprightly examples from Bavaria and one good old fashioned Yank tank.

First up is this really nice looking 2007 BMW 320. On sale for $10,500, its information sheet (which is as long as your arm) indicates it has 158,000 kilometers on the odometer. It also tells me the car had adjustable coil-over suspension added in October 2015, and custom wheels. Inside, it has an Eclipse 770HD radio, a digital, touchscreen TV with navigation and DVD, an iPod controller and an ETC device that lets you zip through the toll booths.

2007 BMW 320 Front 3/4  at United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Lemon Lot, Japan, Image: © 2016 Thomas Kreutzer/The Truth About Cars

My early-morning walk around found the outside of the car to be absolutely stunning, with no dents or scrapes that I could detect. I liked the custom wheels and thought the carbon fiber rear spoiler was quite tasteful. Inside, the interior was nice and tidy with a few touches of wood in just the right spots and … what’s that? … an honest-to-God stickshift! Bestill my beating heart! What a car!

BMW 325i Front 3/4 at United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Lemon Lot, Japan, Image: © 2016 Thomas Kreutzer/The Truth About Cars

Across the lot was another BMW, this one a dark blue 325i. On offer for just $5,000, this little car is nowhere near as fancy as its competition, but still looks nicely presented. It also comes with its own long list of options, including keyless entry, power adjustable seats and a six disc CD player. The info sheet notes the car has just 65,000 km on the clock and claims that the car has never been smoked in; believe me, smoked-in cars are a real thing in Japan. Although it’s equipped with an automatic, the equipment, condition, and price make this car a serious contender.

1994 Chevrolet Impala SS Front 3/4 at United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Lemon Lot, Japan, Image: © 2016 Thomas Kreutzer/The Truth About Cars

Last up is the kind of car that makes your heart skip a beat when you see it rolling down the wrong side of the road: a 1994 Chevrolet Impala SS. Equipped with a Caprice 9C1 police package V8 and planted by a sport-tuned suspension with reinforced shocks and springs, this all American beauty is offered up for a mere $9,500. It’s offered with 25 months of pre-paid Japanese compulsory insurance and a fresh 24 month base inspection. Also, the seller will take care of the licensing, including the hour long journey up to the Land Transportation Office in Yokohama. Finally, perhaps the greatest selling point of all, because this car comes from the land of the free and the home of the brave, it can go home with you at the end of your tour. Who wouldn’t want that?

My quick look the Impala found it in decent enough shape. I didn’t note any real bumps or scrapes, but did find what looks to be an emerging rust bubble just starting on the hood. Inside, the interior looks like, well, a 22-year-old used car with worn seats and the same sort of never-quite-dirty, never-quite-clean grey carpeting that used to cover the floor of my ’92 GMC Jimmy.

I don’t know what I even think about this car. The Impala SS is an American icon and the kind of vehicle that I want to root for despite its flaws. It’s that fat-but-cute girl at the dance, the one with the good heart that you know you could whisk away and build a life with. Who the hell wants that?

The rules of the game dictate that, of the three imports on offer today, I must choose one. Will it be the racy but well-used BMW 320, the middle-of-the-road, slushbox-equipped 325i or that Heartbeat of America vintage Impala SS?

In the end I choose the 325i. I’m not fond of the automatic in what should be a sporty car, but the kilometers on the odometer and the really stunning dark blue paint that has a depth and shine that the photos can’t capture. It wins the day. The fact that it’s almost half the price of both its competitors helps too — but that’s my money. How would you spend yours?

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21 Comments on “Lemon or Lemonade: Enter the Imports...”


  • avatar
    Rday

    I thought Japanese annual inspections were costly and the taxed went up exponentially as a vehicle ages…to the point where you are almost forced to buy a new vehicle long before the old one has reached its’ limit. Is this not true?

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      American servicemen are exempt from a lot of that, as part of the Status of Forces agreement. That also means there are more than a few of those beaters Thomas hasn’t found yet. They’re often not sold at that lot, but handed down from sailor to Sailor – it’s often easier to give it away to the next guy; you have to prove to the Base Commander you have disposed of your wheels before you can leave. I paid $75 for my beat-to-hell-and-back ’78 Skyline sedan and sold it for the same amount when I left Yokosuka. I also knew a guy whose Japanese neighbors gave him their Subaru XT, all he had to do was get it registered up in Yokohama. It was cheaper for them than paying a junkyard to take it.

      There is a small and thriving business of folks who buy good used cars from junkyards (often driven there by their previous owners) and get them re-registered for sale on these lots.

  • avatar
    redliner

    When given the choice to have an adventure, why would you turn it down?

    Sure you could drive a compact, efficient European sedan through the streets of Tokyo, but why not have some fun? Why not drive a ginormous car that was never designed to be driven in Japan. One that that sucks gas, doesn’t fit through half the streets and makes angry noises.

    It will be painful and at times maybe even fun. But when it’s done, you will have had an adventure and you’ll have a story to tell.

    Sincerely,
    Youthful Exuberance

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    The Impala SS all the way. Non-donked good ones are somewhat rare (at least in the midwest), and a V8 rear drive sedan isn’t exactly common. As Redliner said, it would be an adventure that fits with being overseas. Get the BMWs in the US.

    Plus, the car would be a great way to meet other car guys off-base. It’s driver’s door has a Ride 27 sticker, which appears to be a Japanese car club (www.ride27.com).

  • avatar

    If you absolutely must buy a used car, choose a model that was sold in great abundance in America – thus making finding replacement parts cheap and easy.

    Preferably something with RWD so you can turn it into a BEAST with very-little out of pocket cost.

    Twin Turbocharged Crown Victoria for example with 928 RWHP.

  • avatar
    sproc

    Nice to see that things haven’t changed much. It always amused me that when you saw a BMW pull up at the piers, 9 times out of 10 it was very junior sailor that got out. Folks with families obviously bought the more practical vehicles Thomas has featured in the past, and more senior folks who were single or unaccompanied overseas were generally content with a hooptie. When you’re pulling down the first serious paycheck of your life, the heart wants what it wants.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      I imagine I would have gotten rid of my hooptie and gotten something nicer had I stayed in Yoko for another tour, but all I wanted was wheels to get around the base and occasionally out in town.

  • avatar
    Ion

    I don’t know if the Impala is the “fat but cute girl” when you’re in Japan. It’s more like the mail order bride from some former Soviet Union country. How many Impalas are bludgeoning their way through Japan versus generic European sedans?

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I think the last time a battleship like that Impala was parked on a Japanese pier, a treaty was signed on it!

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’m not that big a fan of the GM B-bodies, but I think I’d have chosen the Impala SS. It just seems like it’d be a lot of fun in the narrow streets of Japan.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Have to remember the taxation there. It’s crazy high for large engine vehicles.

      Kei 10,800 (yellow plate)
      and regular cars
      1.000 cc or less 29,000 yen
      1.001 cc ~ 1.500 cc 34,500 yen
      1.501 cc ~ 2.000 cc 39,500 yen
      2.001 cc ~ 2.500 cc 45,000 yen
      2.501 cc ~ 3.000 cc 51,000 yen
      3.001 cc ~ 3.500 cc 58,000 yen
      3.501 cc ~ 4.000 cc 66,500 yen
      4.001 cc ~ 4.500 cc 76,500 yen
      4.501 cc ~ 6.000 cc 88,000 yen
      6.000 cc ~ 111,000 yen

      $775 annually just for the car tax.
      $4.24/gal fuel in Tokyo!

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        Given the two, assuming he drives 1000 miles a month (unrealistically high, but nice and round), he’ll pay $53 a month to drive the SS. That’s not a huge jump since we know he kept the family hauler for trips with the kids.

      • 0 avatar
        ccode81

        Thanks for keeping that table.
        Another thing to mention from grey import Alfa owner, grey imported typically refused to have a contract with discount online insurance companies. To get voluntary insurance, it is required to go to Tier 1 insurers via good agencies. In lucky case they agree to sign up, you’ll be quoted quite expensive rate, since they have no database of risk level of that car.
        My Alfa costs 3 times more on insurance than pricier and newer Jag.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I knew that table would come in handy sooner or later. The insurance is a good point, rare things cost more to insure.

          That fact was lost on people during the autonomous car discussion the other day.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I agree on the 325. Too many mods on the 320 to hold my interest, whether they’re tasteful or no. And the GIGANTIC engine in the SS would put you in a car tax bracket with an S-Class or a used Century.

    On the other hand, painting the SS purple would increase your opinion of its worth by about 35%, guaranteed.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Mmmm. I would take that Impala SS. The exterior looks very clean.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    The 325 looks nice. I’d rather drive the orange March than the other two, regardless of price.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    The Impala obvs. Pre-paid insurance? Does that mean what it does here? Bring it home, clean it up, sell it for more than you paid for it.

  • avatar
    pbr

    Here in suburban ‘Murica, I’ll have the Impala, please. I have an e46 325 already. So … BTDT and a heffalump B-Body is still on my To-Do list. Might even stroke it out to “383”


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