Buy/Drive/Burn: Early Eighties Converted Convertibles From Japan

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn early eighties converted convertibles from japan

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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2 of 25 comments
  • Thomas Kreutzer Thomas Kreutzer on Nov 14, 2019

    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.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow Slow_Joe_Crow on Nov 15, 2019

    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

  • SCE to AUX Toyota the follower, as usual. It will be 5 years before such a vehicle is available.I can't think of anything innovative from them since the Gen 1 Prius. Even their mythical solid state battery remains vaporware.They look like pre-2009 General Motors. They could fall hard.
  • Chris P Bacon I've always liked the looks of the Clubman, especially the original model. But like a few others here, I've had the Countryman as a rental, and for the price point, I couldn't see spending my own money on one. Maybe with a stick it would be a little more fun, but that 3 cylinder engine just couldn't provide the kick I expected.
  • EBFlex Recall number 13 for the 2020 Explorer and the 2020 MKExplorer.
  • CEastwood Every time something like this is mentioned it almost never happens because the auto maker is afraid of it taking sales away from an existing model - the Tacoma in this instance . It's why VW never brought the Scirrocco and Polo stateside fearful of losing Golf sales .
  • Bca65698966 V6 Accord owner here. The VTEC crossover is definitely a thing, especially after I got a performance tune for the car. The loss of VTEC will probably result in a slower vehicle overall for one reason: power under the curve. While the peak horsepower may remain the same, the amount of horsepower and torque up to that peak may be less overall. The beauty of variable cam lift is not only the ability to gain more power at upper rpm’s on the “big cam”, but the ability to gain torque down low on the “small cam”. Low rpm torque gets the vehicle moving and then big horsepower at upper rpm’s gains speed. Having only one cam profile is now introducing a compromise versus the VTEC setup. I guess it’s possible that with direct injection they are able to keep the low rpm torque there (I’ve read that DI helps with low rpm torque) but I’m skeptical it will match a well tuned variable lift setup.