The world of Japanese domestic market automobiles is a large and exciting one. For decades people from across the world have been lusting after the special machines sold in Japan’s home market, and many of them are globally known and loved.
The Nissan Silvia is one of those cars, along with the Mazda RX-7, the Toyota Celica and Subaru Impreza just to name a few. But along with those universally popular cars, Japanese automakers have also cranked out some much more obscure, but equally interesting vehicles over the years.
These cars might not enjoy the same recognition and international following as their more favored counterparts, but for Japanese car geeks they are every bit as cool. For every Integra Type R there’s a Honda City. For every Skyline GT-R there’s a Nissan Leopard. And for every AE86 there’s a Toyota Carina.
The Carina was introduced in 1970 as an intermediate model in Toyota’s lineup. Available as a coupe, a four-door sedan and later a wagon, the Carina slotted in between the small Corolla and Toyota’s larger sedan offerings. It was also aimed more toward the enthusiast side of the market, with the first generation cars sharing their underpinnings with the Celica.
While it never enjoyed the widespread popularity of the Celica, the Carina continued to occupy a unique space in Toyota’s range. It delivered a decent amount of space, along with a tighter, more sporting character than you’d find in larger cars like the Mark II, which were aimed more toward the luxury/comfort side of the market.
With the introduction of third generation A60 model in the 1980s, the Carina continued to serve as a unique choice for those looking for a practical rear-wheel drive experience. It was even used for competition in the Paris-Dakar rallies during the early part of the decade.
The A60 Carina was available with a few different engine options, including a 3T-GTE turbo four cylinder and the legendary twin cam 4A-GE made famous in the AE86.
And because it shared the Hachiroku‘s engine, as well as a similar footprint and styling, in many ways the A60 Carina sedan can be considered a four-door AE86. It’s thanks to those attributes that the Carina has developed a cult-like following among drifters and Toyota enthusiasts.More Doors, More Fun
One of those Carina lovers is Nakamura-san from the N-Style crew in Japan, who Larry recently met during a drift day at Nikko Circuit.
Despite their age and rarity, A60 Carinas can still be had for cheap, and Nakamura’s car is the perfect example of street/drift car built on a blue collar budget.
In terms of exterior styling, Nakamura has used the same techniques that many of his AE86-driving friends have applied, letting the angular early ’80s lines do most of the talking.
The body of the car remains largely original with the primary additions being a subtle chin spoiler up front, and most notably a set of N-Style’s custom-made over-fenders, which help add some aggression to the Carina’s boxy profile.
Nakamura also removed the Carina’s rear bumper and then had the entire car painted in coat of bright Ferrari Rosso Corsa red. Because why not?
The sedan has also received plenty of attention in the suspension department, mainly for more athletic movements at the track, but also to give the Carina the same aggressive stance that all N-Style cars share.
Up front it’s running a set of adjustable coilovers, while the rear is home to a pair of modified shocks with custom aftermarket springs. The Carina has also been fitted with drift car necessities like adjustable arms, and upgraded knuckles and tie rods.
Like his Corolla-owning buddies, Nakamura has run several different sets of classic Japanese wheels on his Carina, and on this day the car was equipped with a set of deep-barreled SSR MKIs.
The wheels measure 14×8-inch all around, and spacers have also been added to both the front and rear to further push them outward.Small Power & Big Grins
Under the hood sits the venerable naturally aspirated 4A-GE, but rather than going for big power, Nakamura has kept his engine modifications simple to promote reliability. Changes include upgraded plugs and wires, an aftermarket header and air intake along with a subtle custom exhaust system. The trans is a 5-speed stick, and a Cusco LSD helps to ensure that the modest power is correctly put to the wheels.
The interior of the Carina has the same straightforward vibe as the rest of the car. There’s no rollcage, and because the car sees plenty of street use Nakamura has refrained from gutting the cockpit. He sits in a secondhand bucket seat while the rest of the car’s seating is factory original.
Other touches include a Nardi steering wheel, an aftermarket vacuum gauge, a double-DIN head unit and the classic screwdriver handle shift knob.
You know you’re in a car from the 1980s when you see the words ‘Twin Cam’ upholstered endlessly across the seats and door panels. Gotta love it!
While we love sharing stories of mega-horsepower, incredible fabrication and big budgets, the truth is, these grassroots cars are just as important. What they lack in exotic materials, they more than make up for with a whole lot of style and spirit.
As we’ve shown time and time again, in the world of Speedhunting a car doesn’t have to be expensive and exotic to excite us, and this Toyota is a great example of doing more with less. It’s stylish, unique and most importantly the owner squeezes out every last drop of enjoyment the car has in it.
The Toyota Carina might not be the internationally-known JDM dream car, but to us that’s just one more thing that makes Nakamura-san’s little red sedan so special.
Long live the underdog.
Photos by Larry Chen