A word of warning—this could get a bit ugly because, in case you didn’t figure it out by the title, I’m about to fire some shots on all the JDM hype that seems to be getting a bit out of hand here in the States.
Just so it doesn’t get too ugly, let me say I’m a fan of Japanese performance. My garage currently holds a 2004 Mazda6S five-door and a 2002 Infiniti I35 Sport, the latter of which I purchased after almost buying a 2004 Mazda RX-8 that had even more issues than a normal RX-8. So before the hate comes rolling in, know that I’m not a hater. Just the opposite—I’m an open-minded connoisseur of performance.
Ironically enough, this open-mindedness came when I finally purchased a 1992 Mustang 5.0-litre convertible after spewing familiar muscle car hate for the better part of a decade, even though I’d never driven one.
Of course, I’m speaking about petrolhead life in the United States; I know it’s different elsewhere, and I respect people’s individual tastes. But here’s the thing - after years of making fun of these cars, I never realised how entertaining they actually are to drive. Prepare to have your mind blown, but maybe that’s why they’re so freakin’ popular.
The same holds true for Camaros and Firebirds, and if anything, they’re even cheaper to make fast than Mustangs. At least that’s the case in America, and when I think of the thousands of dollars I spent in pursuit of maybe 40 extra horsepower on other cars just because I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ with the poseur muscle mobile, well let’s just say I would’ve done things very differently.
I’m not arguing against taste or personal preference here. That’s not the point of this article. I’m all for folks investing their cash into whatever gets them giddy, and if that means a stripped-out Honda loaded with expensive JDM goodies, then I salute and respect you. But do it because you want to build that car, not just because you want to hate on the other team. Because let me tell you something about the ‘other team’ - on US shores they have major advantages, whether some people want to admit it or not.
Having sampled both sides, here’s why I’ll go muscle over import every single day of the week if I want to build a long-term, high-performance project car. Go ahead, cue the commenters posting photos of their 600bhp Supras. They’re cool, but you know there’s always something out there faster. Always.
I can pull up ads in any town all across the United States and find a Mustang or Camaro for sale. If I have some decent cash flow up front, I can find a pretty darn nice one to start with, but even broke college students can score a running/driving V8 Mustang or Camaro for less than the cost of a semester’s worth of textbooks. Can’t say the same for the Supra or RX-7 you always wanted; at least one that’s actually running.
And when it comes to parts, even 30-year old Z/28 Camaros have replacement parts available at the local parts store. If not, then just buy the parts car down the street. How do I know there’s a Mustang or Camaro parts car down the street? Because there’s always a Mustang or Camaro parts car nearby. Meanwhile, best of luck tracking down the replacement lighting control module so the brake lights on your 1986 300ZX will work right. I guess you could overnight it from Japan - for like $300 in shipping.
As mentioned, from the cars themselves and basic repair parts to the go-faster goodies that make them monsters; you can’t beat the bang-for-buck you get out of a Mustang or Camaro. And spare me the bit about crap interiors or poor quality. How many serious project cars even keep their full interiors? Because you know, weight reduction bro. And as someone who once worked for a Mitsubishi/BMW dealership, trust me when I say even the ‘high end’ machines are still built by people who screw things up from time to time.
Yes, there is a rich aftermarket community for Toyotas, Nissans, Hondas and so forth in the States. But Mustangs and Camaros have it even better, and for the most part, it’s much cheaper.
Yes, I know there will be people nitpicking this in the comments by posting specific parts and specific prices, but that doesn’t change the overall market. Mustangs and Camaros have been around for 50 years, hence the reason why there are far more Mustangs and Camaros trolling Main Street USA, and far more aftermarket goodies available to their owners.
I want to be absolutely clear that this is not a comparison of who is better. We are all enthusiasts, we all love cars and we’re all one big dumb dysfunctional family. Some of the best car people I’ve met are import fans, including plenty of awesome enthusiasts at 605racing, the local crew right here in my South Dakota home where pickup trucks are supposed to rule the roads.
That doesn’t change the fact that Mustang and Camaro guys still benefit from a broader community across the country. Both makes benefit from large, national organizations with some degree of manufacturer involvement. Mustang and Camaro-specific events can see well over 1000 cars. Just about every town has a Mustang or Camaro club. And whether you’re in it for the camaraderie or the resources, having that many people at your back certainly makes project car ownership a bit easier.
Let me say it again—I’m not anti-import. But all things being equal, I’ve learned my lesson. If I’m going to build a bonkers project car in the States for either the drag strip or a road course, sticking with ‘Murican muscle will take you farther and faster for less cash.