Japanese muscle-cars?: Two early imports that deserve a second look

Over the past couple decades, foreign marques have completely overwhelmed the domestic automotive market. Even though Chevy and Ford still rocked the top spots in terms of sales during September, half of the top 10 bestsellers came from Japanese automakers.

Nowadays, these brands are known for their dependability, safety features and trend-setting good looks. However, this was not always the case, especially in the '60s and '70s, when many of these nameplates were new to the domestic market and not equipped with lineups that appealed to the average American consumer.

However, there are a few models from the era that may not have gotten a ton of love when they came out, but totally deserve a second look from driving enthusiasts of today.

One example is the Toyota 2000GT, which was brought to the United States in 1967. This car looked less like the petite sedans that the company was known for in the late '60s and more like British sports coupes ala the Austin Healey.

As far as style went, this thing was pretty much all front end with a very tapered off tail and a minimized cabin. The 2000GT looked fast, with its low stature and wide stance, and was known for handling better than most offerings that came out of Detroit at the time.

Looks can be deceiving, though, as this car had a surprisingly low zero-to-60 time, usually coming in at much higher than 10 seconds, with a quarter mile of roughly 15.9. Although, Before arriving stateside, the 2000GT broke 16 world speed and endurance records, as it sported a brisk dual overhead cam six-cylinder engine.

Like many other Toyota's of the era, rust was a problem for these vehicles, as the salty winter roads of the northern United State's were no match for models that were designed for a much more temperate-tropical climate.

Nissan's transition into the American car market has at least one thing in common with Toyota's, as both makes hoped a sports-car would help them get in the good graces of American muscle-heads. In fact, the Toyota 2000GT was actually born out of a failed relationship between Nissan, Yamaha and famed car designer Albrecht Graf von Goertz.

When Nissan, who at the time sold cars under the moniker Datsun, decided that the Yamaha DOHC two-liter engine wasn't powerful enough, Yamaha developed a prototype of their own, sold it to Toyota, and together they built the 2000GT.

Datsun saw greater success stateside later on when they produced what was arguably the greatest Japanese car of the era, the 240Z. Not only was this model a trailblazer for Japanese automakers, it turned out to be one of the best selling foreign cars of the '70s. Introduced in 1969, its sales peaked with more than 50,000 units sold in 1972 alone.

This car had a L24 inline-six engine with twin SU carburetors that produced 151 hp. It may not have been as powerful as many American hot-rods, but this car had a smart design with clean, even looks, making it a healthy balance between sports car and daily driver.

In the '60s and '70s, these cars may have been niche vehicles compared to offerings from domestic manufacturers, but they helped brands like Toyota and Nissan get a feel for a market they would soon be key players in. Now, the best-selling car in the market is the Toyota Camry, and the Nissan Altima continually outsells all other domestically produced mid-sized sedans.

Although it is safe to say that the muscle car era clearly belonged to the American makes, do you think these Japanese cars are worth of some acclaim? Leave your comments below: