Which is your favourite from our list of Japanese grey model imports?

First published August 28, 2013

Review by Brendan McAleer, Photos by Brendan McAleer and courtesy Manufacturers

Your humble author was having a discussion with a few other automotive writers the other day about what kind of cars had carried them into the business. One character had started out with a Corrado VR6 as his first press car. Another had first-footed with some sort of anonymous Toyota product. The first thing I ever reviewed? A Nissan S-Cargo.

I’ll tell you a bit about that wacko machine in a second, but the important thing is: it was never sold here. Built for the quirky Japanese home market, the particular S-Cargo I nabbed the keys to had been imported by a small local firm called Japanoid that specialized in brokering these sorts of cars under Canada’s grey market rules.

These fairly generous importation guidelines – US citizens eat your heart out – let Canadians bring in all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff as long as it’s over fifteen years old.

Sometimes they’re wacky, sometimes they’re really fast, sometime they’re quite sensible. Here are five of my favourite JDM imports.

Nissan S-Cargo

Introduced at the 1989 Tokyo Auto Show, the Nissan S-Cargo was an unusually-shaped cargo van with a friendly face and a spacious interior. I’ll stand by my original assessment that it looks like a Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite driven partway through an enormous marshmallow, and handles like a novelty gardening shed nailed onto the chassis of a Nissan Sentra. Which it sort of is.

Built by Nissan’s oddball special projects division Pike Factory, the S-Cargo is full of amusing details. The snail-themed floor mats, for instance, flesh out the obvious “Escargot” pun, and then there’s the removable sushi tray and single-spoke Citroën-style steering wheel.

Equipped with a 1.5L engine and a three-speed automatic, the S-Cargo is gastropodal in performance as well as appearance. It’s quite fun though – you get a lot of attention, and it’s great for advertising. Parts aren’t too hard to come by either as it’s basically a Sentra under there.

Nissan S-CargoMitsubishi Delica
Nissan S-Cargo & Mitsubishi Delica. Click image to enlarge

Mitsubishi Delica

I live in North Vancouver, BC, a place where the official vehicle of choice used to be a rusty Toyota 4Runner with a five thousand–dollar mountain bike hanging out of the rear tailgate. These days though, everyone drives too-tall Mitsubishi vans.

The Delica first became popular in BC almost a decade ago, and as most of them are shipped over with turbo-diesel engines, biodiesel fans have converted plenty of them. There’s all sorts of weirdly named variants roving the neighbourhoods these days, and I suppose my favourite would be the Space Gear.

It’s easy to see why these narrow, jacked-up minivans have gained quite the following. They’re reasonably efficient, have decent off-road ability with good ground clearance, and are big enough to function as a base camp. Many of them even come with pop-up style camper conversions like the old Westfalias.

A word of warning though – parts for Delicas aren’t quite as easy to come by as other, more interchangeable brands. There are a few companies that specialize in servicing them out here, but major repairs can turn into a headache.

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