By on November 14, 2019

Think back to the Eighties, that optimistic decade when automakers hired aftermarket companies to create convertible versions of their two-door models. The big three Japanese brands each offered their own aftermarket “sports themed” convertible in the first half of the decade.

Which masterpiece is worth a Buy?

1982 Honda Prelude
1982 was the final model year for the first-generation Honda Prelude that debuted in 1978. Honda farmed out the conversions of its high-priced Celica competitor to various coachbuilders. Under hood was the CVCC engine from the Accord, making 72 horsepower out of 1.8 liters. Between 1981 and 1982, around 150 convertibles were sold. Dealers weren’t shy about asking prices, demanding around $41,000 (adjusted for inflation).

1983 Datsun 200SX
This Datsun is the most luxurious and broughamic of today’s trio. The 200SX convertible was available one last time for 1983, as the aged, square design made way for a new model that was a bit more sporty. A company called ACC in California handled at least some of the Datsun’s conversions. The 200SX (nee Silvia) entered production in its original form in 1979. In 1982 the engine was upgraded from a 2.0-liter inline-four to a 2.2-liter unit with fuel injection. 103 horsepower were shifted through a three-speed automatic in these convertibles.

1984 Toyota Celica
The Celica is the newest offering today. It was offered in convertible format and sole GT-S trim for the first time in 1984. ASC handled the third-generation Celica’s roof surgery. Introduced in 1981, Toyota made small changes to the Celica each year as emissions regulations shifted around. For 1982, the standard engine became the 2.4-liter 22R (105 hp) mill from the Hilux, paired to a five-speed manual. The first-year Celica convertible was very limited in production — only 200 were made. 1985 was this generation’s final year, as the fourth-gen soap bar Celica was ready.

Three obscure Japanese convertibles, each of them Rare Rides even when new. Which one’s worth buying?

[Images: Toyota, sellers]

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25 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Early Eighties Converted Convertibles From Japan...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    Wow, talk about halo cars… little cherub halos but halos. I wonder what the production numbers were on the 200SX?

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Burn. Burn them all. I am as much or more of a Japanese car fan as the next guy, and more than some, but 1980’s Vacuum Hose Syndrome (VHS?) makes all of them a hard pass. That’s before we get into the whole “getting parts for an aftermarket convertible” nightmare.

    Not familiar with VHS? Here’s an example:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/Justrolledintotheshop/comments/94w7p6/vacuum_hose_diagram_for_87_civic/

    • 0 avatar
      ravenuer

      Love the diagram! Had a 1980 Datsun 510 wagon, so I’m familiar.
      It started to ping pretty badly when fairly new. Took it to the dealer and was immediately handed a copy of a sheet with about 25 “things” that had to be done before they would even look at the problem. Don’t remember the cost, but it was significant. Tossed the paper back on the counter and left. Went home, popped hood, removed the hose to the vacuum advance on the distributor, stuck a screw in it and proceeded to drive, ping free, for several years until I sold it.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Buy the Datsun because it has an automatic.
    Drive the Toyota because I think it looks the best.
    Burn the Honda because of internal bias.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Burn them all. These cars were so seriously compromised by chopping the roof off that you wouldn’t want any of them

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    The Toyota is at least a looker, so drive. Burn the other 2.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I am a shameless Japanese car lover. However there isn’t much here to pick from.

    Buy the Silvia because it was one of my favorite Hot Wheels even when I didn’t care for Japanese cars. One of the few new design HWs with an opening hood in the 80s.

    Drive the Celica because, well, I guess it might not break down? What an awful looking generation this was.

    Burn the Prelude since I always hated the styling of this generation.

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    Buy: The true answer is “none”, but I like to play by the rules, so I’ll say Toyota, mostly because Toyota.

    Drive. Datsun, for the sheer Broughminess mentioned. To me it kinda looks like a Japanese Lincoln Mark V

    Burn: Honda. The proportions of this car just seem very wrong to me. Although my grandmother had an earlier Civic from this generation (much better looking car too) that she drove reliably and faithfully for the next 30+ years, so it’s probably a good bet.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Burn them. I try to play by the rules but this question just doesn’t make it possible.

    Convertibles need to be engineered as such from the ground up. These would cowl-shake themselves into oblivion. In all three cases, though, having a copy of the original coupe would be pretty cool.

    For the coupes, I’d say Buy Toyota, Drive Honda, and (reluctantly) Burn Nissan.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Buy the Celica. I saw one listed for sale yesterday with a 5-speed and am thinking about it. It’s too far away to go look at and has been repainted, so I probably won’t.

    Drive the Prelude. It’s a Honda, and Hondas tend to drive well.

    Burn the 200SX. It has an automatic transmission.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Oof, $41k for an Accord thats had the roof chopped off, what did a Saab convertible go for at that time?

    Of these three only the Celica is redeemable by virtue of having some style to it, its also the only one I’ve seen in person. I’d buy it as a novelty.

    The Datsun/Nissan I….what was it again? I dunno, dont care enough to scroll up. Did these have Nissans naggy lady in them?

    Burn the Honda, I’d rather have an S800 instead.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The Celica GT-S did have the Supra’s excellent sport seats. Other than that, I got nothin’. Burn ’em all.

    (Worth noting – the convertible conversions no doubt added a lot of weight to cars that were already slow as hell. Plus, they probably had the structural rigidity of a piece of al dente lasagna. Hard pass on all of ’em.)

  • avatar
    marc

    Odd comparison.

    The 85 Celica GTS Convertible is in a class by itself here. It sold in moderate amounts, and it wasn’t the afterthought the other 2 were. The final picture of it above (the black one) is all wrong. That is an aftermarket job, probably done by an owner, definitely not authorized by Toyota. The ad at the top shows that the Celica conversion was very professional. It may have been outsourced to ACC, but with the full backing of Toyota.

    The other 2, I’m not even sure that Honda or Datsun sponsored these, and no doubt that is reflected in sales of a under a couple hundred. Living in SoCal, I saw aftermarket conversions of both the Prelude and 200 SX, and they looked as hideous as the pics above. But there were many 85 Celicas sold by dealers, on their lots, with full Toyota warranties. (I don’t recall the 84s at all.) They were pretty popular, and retained their value for years. I almost bought used ones a couple times, ending up with an 88 instead.

    So…
    Buy the Celica. Obviously. I still might someday.
    Drive the Datsun. Might be fun.
    Burn the Prelude. Especially the one that left me stranded on a freeway, convertible or not.

  • avatar
    07NodnarB

    Can I just be honest? BURN BURN BURN ALL 3!!!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Holy Cowl shake Batman.

    Buy: Celica. It has the best structure of the three since the later ASC built the factory ones for Toyota with the rear quarter windows.
    The GT-S seats are the best of the era, maybe ever.

    Drive: Datsun-Also Rear drive, a near Z car.

    Burn: Prelude- Doesn’t seem to work aesthetically. The vacuum lines are a MC Escher maze of madness. I owned a 82 Prelude also in blue and was somehow able to diagnose a issue with it.

    Honorable mention: Dodge 400/600 turbo convertible.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    My sister had an 200SX coupe of this model and it was a kicking little car for the era. I rode in preludes of that era as well, and they were nice enough but I never saw the attraction, honestly. Although these cars were built into the 80s, there were both really late 70s cars and, as such, are a generation behind the Celica.

    The Celica GTS is no Supra, but has enough in common that it would be pleasant to own and use. I think that would be my choice.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    I’d go for the drop top Quaalude for pure weirdness, although the second generation Preludes were much better cars.
    That said my ideal Japanese convertible would be a 70 series Landcruiser

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