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.
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!
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.
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?