Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Grey Import Classic

Is it time to go grey? Published: 24th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Grey Import Classic NISSAN SKYLINE GT-R (1989-2002)
Grey Import Classic MITSUBISHI FTO (1994-2000
Grey Import Classic SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI (1994-DATE)
Grey Import Classic TOYOTA SUPRA (1993-1999)
Grey Import Classic TOYOTA STARLET GT TURBO (1986-99)
Grey Import Classic MAZDA RX-7 (1991-2002)
Grey Import Classic HONDA INTEGRA TYPE R (1995-2006)
Grey Import Classic NISSAN SILVIA S13/ S14/S15 (1989-2002)
Grey Import Classic MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO (1992-DATE)
Grey Import Classic MAZDA EUNOS ROADSTER (1989-2005)

Related Reviews

Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Japanese car expert Chris Rees puts the case forward for a Grey Import classic

Should you consider going grey? No, this doesn’t mean it’s time to start looking like Silvio Berlusconi – there’s another way to excite your youthful side. Japanese ‘grey imports’ are performance car bargains of the first order.

The Japanese parallel (or ‘grey’) import business began as a tiny trickle some 20 years ago. It boomed massively in the ‘Noughties’ but now it has reverted back to a trickle again – mainly because the yen exchange rate is currently so unfavourable. But it could well change. Why go grey? There are lots of reasons. Let’s start by saying the obvious, which is the fact that Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) cars are all right-hand drive and so eminently suitable for UK roads.

All sorts of interesting cars are available in Japan that were never sold over here. We’ve highlighted a few below but there are dozens more. Where there’s an ‘official’ UK import equivalent, grey imports may be cheaper alternatives. 

More likely, though, imports will be better. JDM versions of the Mazda MX-5, for example, often have air conditioning, luxury trim and a hardtop. And they’ve usually – although not always – been well looked after in Japan.

Buying cars direct from Japan remains pretty uneconomical at the moment (again this may change), so we’re concentrating on used classics that have already found their way over. There are literally thousands to choose from.

How do you tell if your used Japanese car is in fact a grey import? It’s not always easy. If you’re uncertain, check the safety belts – JDM cars have a stitched-in marker with the year the car was manufactured.

What are the drawbacks of grey imports?

Insurance is often more expensive, or occasionally very diffi cult to arrange. If your regular insurance company won’t insure you (and some won’t) or hikes the premium too high, try a specialist such as Adrian Flux.

Many cars were never undersealed in Japan, so this is a wise thing to do if the car’s not a fresh import. Also, you’re very unlikely to have a full service record with the car, and verifying the mileage is not always possible.

As for servicing, most franchised dealers are happy to look after grey imports, or there’s a big network of independent specialists with particular skill in cars like Subarus. The parts situation for most grey imports is also pretty good these days; many items can be fl own over from Japan on a week’s notice while many specialists and even main dealers can help out..

Make sure your car is registered in the UK and for our roads. If not, it will probably need to pass a Single Vehicle Approval test, which can be expensive and on certain cars may be very difficult to achieve. Speak to a specialist or teh SVA if in doubt.

So, which grey imports are worth seriously considering? Here are our Top 10 favourites.


GT-R (1989-2002)
Skyline is to what Impreza Turbo is to Subaru and the GT-R is the granddaddy of Japanese performance cars and, without doubt, one of the world’s greatest supercar legends – and it’s not hype wither. Nicknamed ‘Godzilla’ would you believe, the Skyline GT-R lives up to its billing with four-wheel drive, amazing grip, powerful brakes and most of all, a hugely tunable 2.6-litre six-cylinder turbo engine – a Japanese Audi Quattro in many ways. A whale-tail rear spoiler, deep front spoiler, fl ared wings and fat alloy wheels make the GT-R stand out but many go much further with the bling. This is one of the quickest, most memorable driving machines in history, improved in the larger R33 and sharper R34 versions. Even the two-wheel drive GT-S is worth checking out. 

PRICE RANGE: £4000-£30,000
FOR: Nürburgring-beating performance, prodigious grip, reliable
AGAINST: Expensive to run, disappointing cabin
MAX SPEED: 155mph
0-60MPH: 4.5 secs (R34)

MITSUBISHI FTO (1994-2000)

For some strange reason, the Mitsubishi FTO coupe was only ever available in the UK as a grey import. Strange because it’s such a charismatic, funto- drive car. At its heart lies a gem of a 200bhp V6 twin cam engine with a system known as MIVEC. This provides silky-smooth cruising with a throaty surge of power when you rev the engine hard. Sharp suspension offers up grippy and entertaining handling with a remarkably grown-up feel. The GPX and GPR versions are best (the GX and GR have 170bhp, while the entrylevel GS with its 125bhp 1.8-litre four-cylinder is best avoided).

PRICE RANGE: £700-£5000
FOR: Interesting styling, superb driver’s car, fabulous engine in MIVEC form
AGAINST: Cramped in the back, buzzy to drive on motorways
0-60MPH: 7.0 secs (GPX/GPR)


British drivers love the four-wheel drive Impreza but we’ve always felt a bit short-changed – Japan has always kept the best versions to itself. The STi is the real thing – surprisingly close to a world rally Impreza – and was available in Japan from 1994 (it took till 2002 to reach the UK). Power from the blueprinted engine sits between 250bhp and 320bhp, its close-ratio gearbox helps deliver devastating in-gear performance. The STi went through evolutions on a virtually annual basis – all are excellent. The revisedshape Impreza arrived in 2000 and the hatchback in 2008. The ultimate ones are badged Spec.C. Buy as standard an example as you can fi nd and keep it that way to preserve future values.

PRICE RANGE: £2000-£30,000
FOR: Big following, excellent value, huge performance and grip, toughly built
AGAINST: Drab and cheap cabin, uncomfortable motorway car
MAX SPEED: 150mph
0-60MPH: 4.6 secs (STi)


Welcome to the fastest road car ever made by Toyota. Big, brash and powerful, the Supra Twin Turbo munches A-roads more voraciously than any other Japanese supercar. The Supra’s trump card is its engine – as long as you buy the twin turbo version (badged RZ or GZ in Japan). While the Supra dropped out of the UK market in 1996, you could still buy a new one in Japan as late as 1999, so is there’s more choice and younger cars. Six-speed manual is rare and sought-after but ETC-iS auto is not a bad choice either, with its steering wheel buttons for manual shifts. We reckon that this car will be a classic, however fi nding an un-tuned Supra is all but impossible these days (most are customised and blinged up too), so check carefully that mods have been properly engineered. That said it was made when Toyota was a byword for durability.

PRICE RANGE:  £2000-£15,000
BEST MODEL:  Twin Turbo
FOR:  Butch styling, extremely quick, composed chassis, unbelievable value
AGAINST:  Iffy image, expensive to run
MAX SPEED:  158mph
0-60MPH: 5.1 secs

MAZDA RX-7 (1991-2002)

The Generation 3 RX-7 was the world’s last rotary-powered supercar. Compact dimensions, a twin-turbo engine and relatively light weight all led to excellent speed. The RX-7’s lithe curves and subtle doublebubble roof looked fantastic – and still do. Superlative handling, grip and poise combined to make a raw sports car. Very high UK prices saw sales of just 124 examples. While UK cars had 240bhp, Japanese ones had a meatier 280bhp. A JDM Touring version was also available with automatic transmission. High-mileage engines often need expensive work, and wear is severe on tyres and brakes. It pays to get someone who knows the cars to check things over thoroughly but luckily there are Wankel engine specialists who can care for the engine.

PRICE RANGE: £3000-£10,000
FOR: Still-stunning styling, delicate handling, huge power potential
AGAINST: Shocking fuel economy, fragile engine
MAX SPEED: 156mph
0-60MPH: 4.9 secs


It’s not celebrated enough, the little Starlet GT Turbo. That’s because the non-turbo Starlet as sold in the UK was dull as porridge. The Japan-only GT Turbo couldn’t be more different. The fi rst-gen version (1986-89) sported a tiny 1296cc turbo engine with 105bhp, which in a car weighing 770kg made it very peppy indeed. Even better was the 1989-1996 version with its bigger 1331cc intercooled turbo lump, good for 135bhp. The Mk3 GT Turbo (1996- 1999) was heavier and slower. You often fi nd these badged Glanza V.

PRICE RANGE: £1200-£5000
BEST MODEL: Mk2 GT Turbo 16V
FOR: Glorious rear-drive handling, massive tuning potential
AGAINST: Anonymous styling, low-rent interior
MAX SPEED: 124mph (Mk2)
0-60MPH: 6.9 secs (Mk2)


The Integra brought Formula 1 technology to the road. The Type R really feels like a race car, despite its front-drive chassis. Grip is phenomenal, its NSX-derived brakes are sharp and the limited-slip diff negates understeer. It’s the engine you’ll really remember though: a 1.8-litre 200bhp lump with 111bhp per litre, all without turbocharging, and red-lining it at 9000rpm is pure heaven. The Type R DC2 arrived in Japan in 1995 but it took until 1998 to hit the UK, so imports are more common than UK cars. Rust and worn suspension are the killers these days. In 2002 came an all-new import-only Integra DC5 – bigger and easier to live with but pricier used. One of the nicest cars of them all. 

PRICE RANGE: £2500-£12,000
FOR: Peerless handling, sensational engine, unburstable engineering
AGAINST: Expensive insurance, cramped rear seats, iffy styling
MAX SPEED: 145mph (DC2)
0-60MPH: 6.2 secs (DC2)

NISSAN SILVIA S13/ S14/S15 (1989-2002)

The oddly named Silvia was known as the 180SX and 200SX in the UK. In all three generations (1989-94 S13, 1994-99 S14 and 1999-2002 S15), this was a superb-handling rear-drive coupe with a turbocharged engine. Beloved of the drifting community, finding unmolested examples is hard these days, but worth the trouble. The import-only S15 is best: more charismatic styling, a better cabin and more power (up to 250bhp). There’s even a rare S15 convertible called the Varietta.

PRICE RANGE: £1500-£10,000
FOR: Glorious rear-drive handling, massive tuning potential
AGAINST: Anonymous styling, low-rent interior
MAX SPEED: 149mph (S15)
0-60MPH: 6.0 secs (S15)


The celebrated Mitsubishi Lancer Evo series goes back to 1992, when Mitsubishi effectively let a rally car escape on to the road. Early ones came in three generations, I, II and III, then came the 1996-2001 Evo IV, V and VI, then the VII, VIII and IX, and fi nally the latest X. All share a tenacious four-wheel drive chassis and a mighty turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making between 250bhp and 400bhp, with plenty of tuning potential. No car grips or handles like an Evo and they have a huge following. They may not look very subtle but if you want the thrill of a lifetime, buy an Evo.

PRICE RANGE: £2000-£30,000
FOR: Unbelievable 4x4 grip, supercar performance, unassailable image
AGAINST: Loud styling, poor interior trim, not a good long-distance car
MAX SPEED: 150mph
0-60MPH: 4.4 secs (Evo VI)


Eunos Roadster is the name for the Japanesemarket version of the first-generation Mazda MX-5. In almost all respects the Eunos is very similar to the UK car but there are some important differences, mostly better trim and extra equipment like air con, wood/leather cabin and sporty seats. It’s worth hunting down high-spec limited editions like the V-Special, RS and SR-Limited. Mazda’s race/ tuning wing Mazdaspeed also offered a bolt-on supercharger taking power up to 170-180bhp, plus there was an auto option never sold in the UK. Servicing and parts are no problem; stick to 6000-mile oil changes and cambelt changes at 54,000 miles. Avoid cars with a stuttering idle, rusty wheelarches and damaged roofs. 

PRICE RANGE: £700-£10,000
FOR: The classic modern sports car, great value compared to MX-5, superior spec
AGAINST: Mk1 models look different to MX-5, worth less when you sell it on
MAX SPEED: 122mph (1.8)
0-60MPH: 7.8 secs (1.8)

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Free Downloads