Pop Culture

The 10 Best Cars of Initial D

When night falls on Mount Akina, the racers arrive. They are specialists, skilled at the uphill or downhill race, at one with their highly tuned machines, ready for battle.

Drift style, grip-style, front-driver, rear-driver, mid-engined monster. While Initial-D includes a certain amount of melodrama about its main characters, this is no Japanese interpretation of The Fast and the Furious. Leave the neon underbody lights at home and bring your stickiest tires.

In Japan, the manga and the animated series would become a phenomenon. First released in 1995, Initial-D would also end up crossing the Pacific, riding on a crest of interest in Japanese domestic car culture that connected with games like the Gran Turismo series. As much as the characters that featured in the storyline, it was the cars that made the show, so here's a look at the 10 best, and some examples we found on autoTRADER.ca.

Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86 (Hachi-Roku)

Painted in a signature panda white and black, and emblazoned with the logo of the Fujiwara Tofu shop, this is the hero car of the series, driven by young racing prodigy Takumi Fujiwara, who doesn't actually seem to care much about racing.

The Sprinter Trueno is very similar to the Corolla GT-S that Canada got, and the popularity of the series led to a huge jump in value for these once-neglected cars. Regrettably, while many young men were trying to learn to drift like their animated hero, they often ended up making an unintended off-road excursion, meaning that even fewer have survived – we just couldn't find any.

Subaru WRX STI Type R

Takumi's father Bunta is a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, semi-retired street racer from the old school. He secretly honed his son's skills by getting him to do the morning tofu deliveries at high speed through the mountain passes without spilling a drop from the open cup of water in the AE86's cupholder.

But the old man's skills are still there, and he soon buys his own car to show Takumi that there's more to driving ability than drifting an old Corolla around corners. His WRX STI is extremely fast and easily clips the young Takumi's wings.

Mazda RX-7 Turbo II (FC)

Takumi's high-speed abilities soon attract the attention of Ryosuke Takahashi, one of a pair of street-racing brothers. The more cerebral of the two, Ryosuke recognizes Takumi's innate skill as having great potential. Super potential, you might say.

Nicknamed “Akagi's White Comet,” Ryosuke drives a pale second-generation Mazda RX-7 turbo. He spends his time glued to his laptop, analyzing race results and breaking down the possible modifications a rival might have.

Mazda RX-7 Twin-Turbo (FD)

Ryosuke's hot-headed brother is Keisuke, and he doesn't like to lose. Going head-to-head against Takumi, he can't believe that the young racer with the old car can hold him off – he declares Takumi his rival and continually tries to figure out ways to beat him. Eventually, they become teammates.

Keisuke's car is a third-generation Mazda RX-7, heavily modified for racing. We got these in Canada in essentially the same specification, but the cars were as temperamental as Keisuke himself, and many suffered fatal engine issues due to overheating or problems with boost.

Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32)

One of Takumi's early races is against the mighty GT-R, considered by many to be the hero car of the JDM scene. We never got one, being instead fobbed off with the (admittedly very good) 300ZX twin turbo.

The R32 GT-R was the first and perhaps best of the mighty Godzilla Skylines, and while this one can't beat Takumi either, that's probably down to driver talent. The style favoured here is grip, as the all-wheel-drive GT-R doesn't need to drift to get down the course quickly.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV

Canada eventually got the turbocharged Evo version of the Mitsubishi Lancer, but not until well after the US, and certainly not before the legend was fully forged. When Takumi and friends face down the Emperors racing team, they've got a tough fight on their hands.

Fitted with an incredibly clever torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, the Mitsubishi EVO excelled in real life at the twisty tarmac sections of rally racing. The fictional cars were deadly too, with the highly aggressive Emperor drivers mounting the decals of their defeated rivals upside-down on the spoiler.

Nissan Silvia (S13)

Takumi's first real introduction to street racing comes as a result of his friendship with Koichiro Iketani. They all work at a local gas station together, and race on Mount Akina at night.

Iketani's ride is an S13-chassis Sylvia, one which he carefully modifies piece by piece. He's not an amazing driver, but represents more of a journeyman approach to the night-racing culture.

Nissan 180SX/Silvia (Sileighty)

The world of Initial-D isn't all a testosterone-fuelled quest for glory. The two-woman team of Impact Blue is tough to beat on their home turf, and soon prove a challenger to Takumi's friend Iketani.

Mako Sato is Impact Blue's skilled driver, and eventually goes pro racer by the end of the series. She drives a Nissan 180SX converted with a Silvia's front end; a very popular modification, this added a little lightness to the 180SX's front.

Honda Civic Type-R (EK9)

Finally, the Honda Civic Type-R is back, and this time it's coming to Canada. It's a thrill for any Honda fan, even if the modern car is far more complicated – and turbocharged – than the original.

Campaigned by the very professional Toda School, a dangerous rival to Takumi, this sixth-generation Civic Type-R had excellent handling a rev-happy power. Even though it was a front-driver, it still got the respect, and very nearly beat Takumi's beloved AE86.

Honda S2000 (AP1)

The Honda S2000 was a very dangerous car in the racing scene, combining the best parts of the Type-R Civics with the rear-drive driftability of the main character cars. Best of all was the first generation car, which was purer, lighter and trickier.

In the series, it's a car belonging to Dr. Toshiya Joushima, an expert driver and physician known as “God hand.” Capable of driving in a tricky style and surgical with his inputs, Joushima eventually passes Takumi on the downhill but makes himself sick doing so – Takumi's car takes a technical victory.