Junkhunting Japan: The Abandoned Z-Cars

If I had the space, the money and a welder, I would save them all. I have none of the above, which is a shame because I’m getting dangerously good at spotting rotting old Japanese cars out of the corner of my eye. I’m not sure if it’s quite a super power, but I’m hoping it will prove useful one of these days.

Continuing on my Junkhunting Japan series, in which I’ve already brought you the De-Evolution Of A Mitsubishi Lancer Evo I, today’s offering is a three-course buffet of old Nissan Z-cars.


It was the grape juice purple colour of this S130 Fairlady Z (280ZX) that initially caught my eye. I pulled a u-turn and stealthily rolled up to the garage overflow yard it was parked in. Okay, so technically these cars are not abandoned, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the decay is harrowing enough to warrant a quick nose around.


Not wanting to outstay my welcome, I did a quick walk through the yard to see what other piles of iron I could find returning to the earth, and tucked between two kei cars was this Z31 Fairlady (300ZX) Turbo. With only a few early signs of body rust in various places, this was in very salvageable condition.


I’m guilty of spending far too much time looking at old dilapidated cars and dreaming about full nut and bolt restorations in my fantasy workshop, so I know all too well what kind of money these restoration-base cars are going for. Porsche 911s, BMW 635s and Z-cars are all on my watch list, and I can tell you, even prices for non-running rust buckets are ridiculous in Japan these days.


So why are these cars being left out in the elements with seemingly no regard for their value? It’s happening all over Japan and nobody really has a single definitive answer.


Firstly, the Japanese don’t see JDM cars the same was as foreigners do. The exotic allure just isn’t there. There was a time when these Z32 Fairlady 300ZXs and cars like the Skyline GT-R were just seen as cheap, fast fun. So for some mechanics in their 40s or 50s, this isn’t potential street cred, it’s just a relic taking up space.


‘So why not sell them?’ I hear you ask. Well, that’s a good question. I’ve asked the same question many times, and the simple answer is that deregistering and selling these cars takes too much time and effort, and people just can’t be bothered. Or maybe time just gets the better of them.

‘But it’s a waste letting these cars just rot away.’ Tell me about it…


You and I can both see the potential in this S130. Sure, it’s a car that has obviously lived, but what stories it could tell if you stripped it back to bare metal, massaged those big arches back into shape and laid down some fresh purple paint.


There’s so much to love about this car, from the ghetto mismatched body kit using what is possibly a very early Trust front bumper, to the flexible silver ducting acting as an intake. Not to mention that colour. It was probably never a show car, but you can imagine this Nissan having some charisma.

Side note: This style of front bumper (VeilSide also had their own version of it) was used on a number of tuned-up Z-cars that competed at Option magazine’s top speed trial events at the Yatabe banked oval test circuit in the 1980s, where some hit speeds of 280km/h.


Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done in terms of rescuing these old JDM cars from their deathbeds. All we can do is hope and pray that one day the owners will make the effort to list them on Yahoo! Auctions for people like me to browse and dream about that next big restoration project.

Stay tuned for more Junkhunting Japan…

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_



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Cars in barns was/is a website I went to often to see cars sitting there rusting away slowly. I’ve bought a few cars in this condition and spent countless hours working on them, it wasn’t work to me. I hope that the owners of cars like this at the very least get them up off the ground and do some rust prevention and cover them up until they can be saved.


Junkhunting Japan =) Give Wasabi Cars some competition!

It's cliché but the old saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure" is true about RHD/JDM cars


It's so see many good cars just rotting away but alas this is what happens in life


I'm surprised by the "it takes too much time and effort to deregister" reasoning, in all the time I've spent working in Japan, laziness was never a quality I would associate to people there. And if anything, people I worked with were overly meticulous.


It’s not about being lazy, it’s about finding the time to take off work (and work is what the Japanese are always doing) and visit the local transport office, fill out the 500 pages of paperwork, list on Yahoo, attend to all the inquiries ect ect. When the Japanese are working 12 hr days, old cars soon rust away.
It also depends very much which industry you work in. There are plenty of chaotic workshops out here.


If you're gonna have words on the site, do a minimal amount of journalism and try to talk to someone instead of making pointless speculation based on stereotypes.


Hi Ernest.
I’ve talked to many people about this, garage owners, mechanics and fellow journalists and , as I said in the story, there isn’t a definitive answer.

Every case is different, I’m just pointing out some of the probable reasons.


The 240z I bought was pretty rough but I brought it back to life: Ace240z.com


Thanks for the nice article, Toby.

In my country, the problem of old skool jap cars being abandoned are because of lack of replacement parts. I get a lot of weird look from auto parts shop owners when I go look for auto parts, mostly from 1990s era.

At one time when I was looking for a replacement part for my dad's Toyota KE30 at a shop, I was asked "Are you that poor and why are you still running that old junk?".

On the same note, my relatives often question me "Why is your dad driving the old junk, that totally lack so much of safety feature and comfort?. What a road nuisance, a rust bucket eye-sore on the road, etc".


Glad to hear you and your dad are keeping the classics on alive!


If those "2.0 TURBO" stickers on the back of the Z31 are original, it would be a 200Z or 200ZR with a VG20ET or RB20DET... possibly even more interesting than a "regular" VG30ET-powered 300ZX!


Cool article, really enjoyed reading it.

The Z32 looks like a Version S edition with the optional BBS wheels. Love it.


Well, i can tell my own experience in my on country (little bit long sorry inadvance).
My freind's grand dad was sick and couldn't drive in his lat days but they kept his vehicle in front of his house out of respect. Years later he passed away and the family had to decide what to do with that rotten w123; the problem is that paying all the taxes to re-register it (and the lengthy process) was not reasonable but 1 of the boys was insisting on restoring it while th other opted for the most logical option which was running an angle grinder over the VIN and sell the parts.
Finally they couldn't agree and the car is still collecting rust; i think scraping it is a better option in order for the others to keep surviving.


That’s a real shame, you could offer to give it a second life?


Neither time nor money from my side that's why i voted for scraping it. Plus, i have a couple of rusty metal of my own: dad's 182 Peugeot 505 still his daily an refuses to change it so we need to keep tinkering (plannig on a full restorationg once it's retired), 2001 BMW 325i with blown engine an gearbox (long story short a 1JZ found its way in it) and a 2011 BMW 135i.


*sigh* off to the 'part removing car' section of Yahoo auctions to daydream here at work in Canada...


... and that's the problem here in Canada (and maybe Japan?), it's one thing to want to restore a car, quite another to actually afford it in this day and age.

I used to purchase (or at least entertain) every used Datsun for sale. I now have a 620/510/S30 and it cost me a small fortune just to get them mechanically running. If you want them to actually look good? Paint can easily double that cost. My first CRX Si was $1000k to paint, my customer's restored 510 is $30,000+. Crazy...


It’s an open tab round here


Nice article , it was sad to see all those beauties rotting away. But it also allows you to dream about your own resto project and how you would bring a classic back to life. Thanks for sharing your finds.