Your Favorite Japanese Performance Cars Just Entered the Era of the Muscle Car Truth Test

Illustration for article titled Your Favorite Japanese Performance Cars Just Entered the Era of the Muscle Car Truth Test

I remember growing up and so vividly memorizing detail after detail so that I could tell if that’s a real GTO, Trans Am, or factory 440 Cuda, or if you just stuck some badges on a base model. I am both proud and sorry to report that the same fate has reached your favorite Japanese performance cars.


Just the other day I spotted How To Tell If That’s A Real Skyline GT-R on YouTube, a kind of how-to video I didn’t have the heart to click on. It made sense. We’re just starting to get these cars legally in America thanks to the 25 Year Rule, and we’re all rubes. We’re inexperienced, but we’re willing to spend.

More than that, it stood out as something I hadn’t seen in a while. Car shows used to be full of these checks for fakes, these Muscle Car Truth Tests (MCTTs). It made sense, sure.

American carmakers loved to make extremely limited-production super high performance factory specials, and they quickly became like pieces of the cross brought back from the crusades. There have been many more fake Shelby Cobras built than real ones, and the car nerds among us tested ourselves and each other by running MCTTs on everything we saw.

And now we’re entering that territory with conversions of low-spec JDM cars into high-spec ones, passed off as real to otherwise-unfamiliar Americans. (At least that’s how the YouTube algorithm is presenting it.) And we’re now facing JDM conversions of USDM cars, as Regular Car Reviews shows in his newest ep.

He’s driving a lovely AE92 Corolla GT-S. It’s the front-wheel drive one after the rear-drive AE86. It’s a faster car than you’d think, with a better engine than you’d think, and is sort of unappreciated as a performance car.


So instead it’s the kind of vehicle that someone rebadges as a Japanese-market Trueno, with JDM corner lights, even though we can all see that it’s left-hand drive and all the labels in the car are in English. We’re doing the same checks for veracity like we did on Hemi Cudas, just now we’re doing them on Corollas.

It’s only a matter of time before this all gets out of hand, like it did for the muscle cars. At least we know there’s a far side to it all, when nobody cares what engine swap you do, when good reproduction parts are common, and all our pride is given up.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.



My second car was a 1987 Toyota Corolla. I loved it, because it was light as a feather and eminently tossable (and easy to get up on two wheels cornering in parking lots), but thinking on it now it was an absolute deathtrap and it’s a miracle I survived driving it for 4-5 years. I can’t imagine why anyone would want a 1990 vintage Japanese car when you can get infinitely more performance and safety and tech and everything from a newer car, often for a lot less money.