PH Service History: Eastern Promise


If you want to buy a Volvo 850 T-5R at the moment - and who wouldn't? - then you're faced with two options: either settling for a big-mileage example, or paying an eye-popping sum of money. However, there is a third way, and it's one that a growing number of savvy dealerships are becoming aware of: buy a Japanese import.

The idea of importing a Volvo from Japan might sound a little bit like going to Australia to buy a wheel of brie, but in actual fact, there's a jolly good reason for importing a JDM 850. Quite apart from the fact that the steering wheel is, of course, on the correct side, there's the other oft-quoted reason for buying a grey import, which is that the lack of salt on Japanese roads means corrosion is much less of an issue - and usually non-existent.

Then, of course, there's the small matter of the Shaken - the much-feared five-year roadworthiness test that decides whether a car can stay on the road without vast amounts of costly repair work. When a car fails this in Japan, often selling it for export to a country where testing is less strict - for example, the UK - becomes appealing. And with the 850 in particular, Japanese examples often seem to have avoided the chunky mileages that many of the cars you'll see for sale over here have done.


Then again, of course, that does mean that dealerships right now feel as though they can charge whatever they like for them, as evinced by this example - admittedly a later and fractionally less desirable 850R, but one whose £13,940 price tag would have felt about ten grand too expensive just a few short years ago. To me, it still feels too expensive, mind you; I'd probably settle for this historied 150k-er for five grand.

But it seems this trend for importing non-Japanese Japanese cars is one that's gradually on the rise - and among other marques, the reasons are as with the Volvos. Old Mercs, in particular, are starting to come in from Japan in their droves - just like this lovely, last-of-the-line SL which, although endowed with the least powerful engine in the range, has to be a tempting option for anyone looking for a wafty drop-top ready for this summer. (Check out the gadget-fest on the dash if you want a giggle.)

Even less expected is this Porsche 928 GTS, another JDM refugee imported in 2015 but only registered recently therefore, in theory at least, benefitting from years of rust-free motoring. The 928's another one of those cars which is often listed with high mileage in the classifieds, and probably because of that, it's another model which is frequently imported. This one's done just 45,000 miles and is a real rarity - and it's priced almost identically to a similar UKDM example with twice the mileage available elsewhere on the site, making it feel like a decent deal.


But arguably the most interesting JDM import I happened upon during my trawl of the classifieds was this Lancia Delta Integrale. It's an Evo II, which the advert says is in concours condition - and indeed, with the mileage set at just 13,000, I can imagine that being the case. Now, I'm not usually drawn to cars like these, as when the mileage is this low you'll never feel able to use it. And yet, there's something deeply appealing about climbing aboard an Integrale whose interior still smells showroom-fresh - especially as that interior doesn't usually wear its miles all too well.

There are, I should point out, caveats to buying any of these Japanese imports. In many cases - though not all - the history is incomplete or non-existent; and you do, of course, have to put up with certain specification differences, too. And don't forget the owner's manual will be tricky to make head or tail of unless you're a skilled linguist. But the biggest pitfall is the potential lack of rust protection. Because there's no salt on the roads many, though again, not all - manufacturers didn't feel the need to slap underseal all over their cars - so be prepared to budget for having it done as soon as you can, and if a JDM car's been in the UK for a few years already without the work having been done, get it up on a ramp and go through the underside with a fine-tooth comb before you decide to buy.

All that having been said, all four of these JDM gems look like they might be worth a punt. And we haven't yet discussed what, for me, is probably the most appealing thing they offer: not the low-mileage or the rust-free underside, but the satisfying conceit of being able to watch the expression on friends' faces when you tell them you own, for example, a Japanese Volvo.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (27) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Lockhouse 28 Jan 2018

    I've recently been looking at buying a Jap Volvo to replace my aging V40 "drive to the station" car. There are some competitively priced cars out there. Having previously owned a Jap imported Supra I would definitely go the import route again for the right car.

  • TooMany2cvs 28 Jan 2018

    FFS, I know it's a lost cause really, but I'm going to have one last try before I just give up completely and let Humpty Dumpty have his way...
    Non-Japanese brands sold new in Japan are not Japanese DOMESTIC Market...

    One of those three words is a very big clue. They are Japanese Market, and so may differ from European or US market vehicles, but they are not DOMESTIC products to that Japanese Market.

    If you need any more of a clue, then look at the US, where cars are widely referred to as DOMESTIC or imports.

    A Japanese-spec Honda or Toyota or Nissan is JDM.
    A Japanese-spec Porsche is not JDM.

  • Jimmy Recard 28 Jan 2018

    Japanese Mercedes

  • Paracetamol 28 Jan 2018

    I also find it hard to believe that any quality European manufacturer left off the underseal from their cars just because they were destined for Japan.

    It would cost more to have a separate non rust proofing production line than the cost saving of next to nothing! My own Jap import cars have the same level of undercoating as any local market or euro car.

  • Burgerbob 28 Jan 2018

    TooMany2cvs said:
    FFS, I know it's a lost cause really, but I'm going to have one last try before I just give up completely and let Humpty Dumpty have his way...
    Non-Japanese brands sold new in Japan are not Japanese DOMESTIC Market...

    One of those three words is a very big clue. They are Japanese Market, and so may differ from European or US market vehicles, but they are not DOMESTIC products to that Japanese Market.

    If you need any more of a clue, then look at the US, where cars are widely referred to as DOMESTIC or imports.

    A Japanese-spec Honda or Toyota or Nissan is JDM.
    A Japanese-spec Porsche is not JDM.
    You seem a little argumentative about this, but this is a genuine question. I thought the term "Japanese domestic market" refers to Japan's home market for vehicles; vehicles and parts designed to conform to Japanese regulations and to suit Japanese buyers. Therefore, a volvo (for example) could be JDM if it was designed to be sold in Japan and conform to Japanese regulations.

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