Buy/Drive/Burn: Japanese Coupe Action in 1986

Sporty styling, flip-up headlamps, and promises of performance. These three had it all in the mid-80s, but which one goes home with the Buy? Let’s find out.

Today’s trio came about from a discussion on the Isuzu Impluse Rare Rides post the other day. Commenter MRF 95 T-Bird is way into Eighties Japanese coupes, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Nissan 200SX

The 200SX appeared on this series once before, though in a slightly different guise. Nissan’s 200SX model (for the most part) was a North American marketing name for the company’s long-running Silvia coupe. The awkwardly styled second-generation model debuted in 1975, a decade after the introduction of the beautiful original Silvia. A very malaise second generation turned up for 1979, and muddled its way through to 1984 before being replaced by the third S12 version seen here. For the North American market, available engines included a base 2.0-liter or upmarket 1.8-liter turbo (hatchback only). 1986 was the last year for the turbo engine, as it was replaced by the VG30 from the 300ZX in 1987. Today’s selection is a turbo model, with 120 horsepower and a five-speed manual.

Toyota Celica

Debuting for the 1970 model year, the Celica shared its platform with the Japanese-market Carina sedan. Toyota aimed its new coupe right at Americans, intending to take on the Ford Mustang. A second-generation model appearing in 1978 grew larger and more American; the design was then handed off to Toyota’s California research location. With the second generation’s debut, consumers had a new coupe option, as the sportiest offering became the Celica Supra. Things changed again for the 1986 model year, as for the first time Celica became front-wheel drive. Rounded lines, more trims, and optional four-wheel drive accompanied this new, modern Celica. Today’s selection is the sportiest front-driver GT-S, with a 2.0-liter DOHC engine producing 135 horsepower. We won’t suffer the automatic today — it’ll be the five-speed manual.

Isuzu Impulse

The underdog of the trio, Isuzu’s rear-drive successor to its luxurious 117 coupe arrived in North America for 1983. Angular lines were penned in Italy, and the chassis underneath came from a Chevrolet Chevette. Isuzu saw fit to load up every Impulse it sent to North America, even though their 90-horsepower inline-four lacked power. Things got better in 1985 with the introduction of a turbocharged 2.0-liter. Unfortunately, the sportiest RS version is off-limits today, as it was not introduced until 1987. Don’t despair — today’s standard turbo produces a trio-topping 140 horsepower, sent through a five-speed manual.

Three coupes, one Buy. Make your selections!

[Images: Isuzu, Toyota, Nissan]

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