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The Sport Compact / Import Market Matures


I guess you have to be of a certain age to really understand and appreciate the old adage, “history repeats itself.”

I was fresh out of college when “The Fast and the Furious” hit theaters, stirring up a storm in the sport compact and import market. With a new job and new money in my pocket, I promptly sold my college clunker and put myself into the driver’s seat of a shiny, black Toyota Celica (see this week’s Reader’s Ride on Friday to have a look). I had it about two days before I started tearing it apart and replacing factory parts with aftermarket.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say the movie created the sport compact boom, but it certainly put it out front and enter for the whole world to see. There’s no denying its impact, especially since it is more than ten years later and they are still churning out sequels.

But we have come a long way since Paul Walker’s orange 1995 Toyota Supra flashed across the big screen. People still love the cars, but I think for different reasons, and the popular modifications have definitely changed as well.

The market has matured, and so have the mods. The flamboyant and flashy style of then—wild graphics, loud paint, big noisy exhaust, etc.—has now given way to more subtle, toned-down look, and dare I say, a more functional approach. I mean, let’s be honest here, for a street car, there is just no reason for a loud exhaust other than to be obnoxious and say, “hey look at me.”

One of CarTech’s most popular sport compact related books is “Honda Engine Swaps.” The B-series used to be king of the Honda hill, and while many enthusiasts still look the venerable B for more horses, many are now turning their attention to Honda’s K-series. The K-series can now be found in almost every car Honda offers from the Civic Si to the Odyssey. There’s that whole history repeating itself thing again.

If you are an import fan there’s no denying the influence of Japanese popular culture on the car scene. Popular manga and tv shows like “Initial D” made their way across the pond along with the cars, and had a huge impact on Japanese import car market and enthusiasts. Heck, it practically birthed a whole new motorsport: drifting. Formula D has been the premier United States drifting series since 2003. (Ironically, American muscle has taken the crown in four out of the past eight championships.) Before long, enthusiats were giving their cars a drifting look even though many were front-drive or all-wheel-drive and had no chance of actually performing a “real” drift. (By the way, Formula D is still going strong, with more than 60 drivers competing this year, as well as a sister series in Asia that began in 2008.)

Over the past several years there has been a resurgence of factory muscle cars, the new Camaro, Challenger, and Mustang taking styling cues from the muscle car heyday and playing off the nostalgia. Does that mean 30 years from now we’ll see a new Supra or NSX with nostalgic styling cues from the mid to late 90s models? Will the prices of old sport compacts and imports go up or go down in the years in between? Will we see factory-restored RX-7s crossing the auction blocks at Barrett-Jackson, demanding prices upwards of $30k?

So, as the enthusiats matures, so do his/her tastes, and as such the desired mods mature, and the market follows the trends. A sort of waterfall effect, if you will. One thing is for certain—people will continue cruising, continue racing, continue modifying, and continue to love cars.

Josh Brown

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