Seven years ago, I offered Road & Track readers some collector-car market predictions. Here’s an excerpt: “Gen Xers are chasing cars from the Seventies, Eighties, and even the early Nineties. Leading the charge? Yep. Fox-body 5.0L Mustangs.... Which brings us to my pick: 1984 to 1993 Saleen Mustangs.... With a significantly improved suspension, brakes, and upgraded interior trim and exterior styling, they are indeed the 1965/1966 GT350s of the Eighties. And just like those Shelbys that were quite inexpensive even in the Nineties, the Saleen prices of today will seem ridiculously cheap in the next 10 years.... The 5.0L Fox-body cars are increasing in value rapidly—at least 10 percent a year from what I’ve seen. And the really special versions, such as the Cobra Rs and Saleens, are exceeding that by a large margin. Examples: a showroom-quality, low-mileage 1988 LX 5.0 5-speed will trade around $15k. A similar quality 1988 Saleen Mustang is $25k.”
Well, I just returned from a Mecum Auctions sale in Indianapolis, where I witnessed a 1989 Saleen Mustang sell for $192,500. Now, granted, this one had just 15 miles on the odometer, but still, almost $200K for a Saleen Mustang exemplifies what I am seeing: Eighties and Nineties cars are—what’s the emoji the kids use today? Oh, yeah, fire.
In any event, it shows that a lot has changed in the past seven years. Also, I am still all in on Fox-body Saleen Mustangs as a strong buy. First, they are an absolute riot to drive. Second, they have racing history and were built in minuscule numbers. Third, they have a tremendous following, club support, and a loyal group of owners. These are the same things that have kept 1965–70 Shelby Mustangs A-list collectibles for decades. There are plenty of good Saleens to be had outside of the headline auction sales, and in another seven years, we’ll probably be looking back and laughing about how cheap they were at this point too.
But it isn’t just about Mustangs from the Van Hagar years. Not even remotely. The values of some cars from Stuttgart, such as air-cooled 911s, have been on a meteoric rise. Stepping into the time machine again, in 2016, I also wrote about buying a 1984 Porsche 911 Carrera for $14,000, spending $20,000 on making it nice, and hitting a “home run” by just barely getting out with my clothes on when I sold it on Bring a Trailer for $34K. That was a ridiculously high result, according to the BaT crowd. That same car today? Twice that, minimum. Now, amping that up a bit, the Widowmaker 911/930 Turbos are also under full boost in the marketplace. You won’t find one for under six figures, and a decent one is smartly above that. This is also twice (or more) what the same car would have brought six years ago. The same is true for 993 Porsches, the last air-cooled 911s, especially the 1996–97 models. Good 993 Turbos were a hard sell around $100K then, and they sell instantly in the $200,000–$300,000 range now.
These cars haven’t improved. The skyrocketing prices are the result of the buyers changing. Increasing nostalgia? Technology fatigue? I will leave the philosophical debate to others. But the demographic certainty is this: People have more money to spend as they grow older and become more successful. Buyers are paying more for cars from the Eighties and Nineties because those are the cars they grew up worshiping. The buyers who crave restored Fifties jet-age machines and Sixties muscle are aging out of the market.
Not long ago, these Eighties and Nineties rides were simply used cars. But that’s how it happens—there is always that tipping point when a used car matures into a collector car. When your depreciating asset is suddenly an increasing liability. In the pre-internet days, this happened at more of a glacial pace; interesting vehicles from years gone by would slowly gain a following and be acknowledged as something to treasure. They’d be accepted at events, people would start restoring them, clubs to support their owner group would form, and values would slowly trundle upward.
But today’s world is supercharged. Things happen quickly. It has been a perfect storm. Gen Xers and millennials now represent the lion’s share of car collectors in the acquisition phase, as boomers—and the silent generation more so—slow down or even dispense with their collections. And what have people always collected? The cars of their youth. A ’59 Caddy doesn’t tug at a millennial’s heartstrings and wallet like a ’94 Supra Twin Turbo. Add to that a constant feed of rad cars on social media and shows dedicated to having fun with cars, stonewashed jeans, and neon-colored windbreakers, and presto. You have a phenomenon. Gone are the stodgy days of chrome-laden monsters lumbering onto a perfectly manicured lawn with khaki slacks and a blue blazer required. Nope. We’re here to show off monochromatic paint schemes and BBS wheels, wear wigs, break out old Fila tracksuits, and walk around with dual-cassette boomboxes on our shoulders.
In-person collector-car auctions, formerly the stomping grounds of full-fledged big-bucks classics, have quickly adapted to this movement and now feature, or even headline, Eighties and Nineties cars. Even more than that, an entire industry of online collector-car auctions has sprung up. It is thriving, selling new collectors the cars they want in the manner they want to buy them—remotely, with a few simple clicks on a website and an open comment section to help crowdsource vetting the car.
Gone are the days of waiting months for a live auction event in Scottsdale, Arizona, or Monterey, California. Now you wake up, open your email, and look at what is selling today on Bring a Trailer or Cars & Bids. And if you want it? Review the comments, and if everybody says it’s a good car, you buy the damned thing from your phone and then get on with your day. The community aspect and accessibility have transformed the way we buy collector cars and reinvented how market value is determined. Like in the “greed is good” Eighties, people who are now hitting their peak earning years and want something a little different aren’t afraid to pay “too much” to get it. And every record sale seems to become the new floor price for the next one.
So, now that you know the origins of the craze, how about a lightning round focusing on the cars in question? Here are some that I like, for either fun, profit, or perhaps both:
1984–96 Corvette (C4)
Landmark performance cars in their time and a leap forward for America’s Sports Car, they’ve simply been too cheap for too long. The minty-fresh one you could have bought four years ago for $10K is now $20K or more. And they are just getting started, especially the 1989-and-up six-speeds or a King of the Hill ZR1 with its Lotus-designed quad-cam 32-valve V-8. This is no guarantee of future returns, but one can look at these instantly recognizable and now-collectible cars at this price point, in this rapidly expanding segment, and garner that there is much more upside than downside. And I don’t say that only because I just bought one, either.
1992–97 Toyota Land Cruiser (FZJ80)
The FZJ80s are magnificent beasts, the last of the solid-axle Cruisers, and you also want the 1995–97 models for the fuel-injected 1FZ-FE DOHC inline-six. These are vintage trucks that don’t feel vintage and are at home on the highway or off. You can justify the purchase as something practical for the family. Also, note while shopping that front and rear diff locks were an option, and you want the lowest-mileage, most stock and rust-free example you can find. A few of these have sold for well over $100K, but the prevailing market still lives at $50K or less. For now.
Wild Cards Are Wild
Don’t want to play it safe with any of this mainstream stuff? Well, you’re in luck. For (relatively) short money, you can often get a car that will have the biggest crowd around it at the next Eighties- or Nineties-lifestyle-celebration car show. Think Renault Fuego (if any still exist), Toyota Tercel four-wheel-drive wagon, any number of Iacocca crap boxes (K-cars, minivans, Shelby Dodges), obscure foreign-market cars you can now legally import under the 25-year rule, heck, even a Yugo (bonus points for a convertible). Remember, a large part of collecting anything is celebrating an era. And let’s not forget there was a lot of, um, not great stuff in the Eighties and Nineties. But that is what we saw on the road, rode in, and drove. So why not have some fun with it?
1989–92 Ferrari F40
Okay, you’ve worked hard, you just took your company public via a SPAC, and you’re tired of being a wallflower. Are you thinking of buying what many consider the ultimate Ferrari supercar and hooking an F40? Well, chill for a bit, as F40 prices have gone from $1M in 2019 to over $2.5M today. Ferrari built more than 1300 of them, and it isn’t that hard to find one for sale. This is why I’d recommend waiting a moment to see whether this new price level is sustainable or a blip—much like your stock price—because there is a chance these will settle out at a lower number. Ferrari booms have always been volatile, and patience remains a virtue.
1987–88 Porsche 959
If I bummed you out by suggesting delaying gratification for an F40, consider buying its Eighties co-star, the 959. A technological marvel even today, with its sophisticated all-wheel drive, adjustable ride height, legendary performance, and puppy-dog road manners, this car seems like a real value play next to the F40. With just under 300 made, they are far rarer than the Italian stallion, and while not inexpensive at current prices ($1.5 million to $2 million), the 959 seems a little more mature and its market less volatile. I’d feel safe buying one now, in other words. And when you do, please let us borrow it for a bit. We promise a good story as a result.
1997–2001 Acura Integra Type R
All right, back to reality. These fancy Hondas quadrupled (or better) in price over the past 36 months. But they are so inherently good and unique—especially once you understand their relative rarity and every little difference between a Type R and a standard DC2 Integra—that they justify the cost of admission. They may be fully priced currently and have even pulled back from their peak a bit already, but if you have always wanted one, I don’t see any real risk in buying the best one you can find today and enjoying it.
1990–92 Volkswagen Golf GTI (Mk 2)
I like big bumpers, and I cannot lie. You Mk 1 brothers can’t deny that when you see a super-sanitary Mk 2, you’re hooked, and you can’t stop staring. They’ve got it going almost as good as a Callaway Turbo Vette. Okay, that was a hasty attempt at using Sir Mix-a-Lot lyrics to convey that Mk 1 GTIs have probably had their day, and the smart GTI/GLI money should be looking at 1990–92 “big bumper” cars.
1989–94 Porsche 911 (964)
The poor, misunderstood 964 never really seemed to find its footing in the market—until Singer (and others) found the cars to be the ideal canvas to create backdated 911s without spending the “big” money that 3.2-liter Carrera cores were bringing. Oh, my heart bleeds for the lack of stock examples at the PCA Parade Concours of the future, but if you want a million-dollar bespoke Radwood-era Porsche, you have to start with something. And that is a 964. The haterade is in the refreshment center if you need some.
Ever see a crazy, mint Eighties Toyota or Nissan Hardbody truck in the wild today and start drooling? Yeah, me too. Or how about a Jeep Comanche Eliminator? Yep, all good choices. And if you get your friends to buy these trucks as well, you can all reenact the weirdly compelling 1987–91 SCCA RaceTruck Challenge.
As you can see, if it was cool then, it’s cool again now. The first-gen Acura NSXs, the Nissan GT-Rs, the Lamborghini Countaches, the Renault R5 Turbos, and even the Jeep XJ Cherokees and Grand Wagoneers your parents (or their doctors) used to drive are now in high demand. What’s fueling this movement is that those of us of a certain age (looking at you, gen Xers and millennials) have a real connection to Eighties and Nineties machinery and actually desire to own them, versus buying something older because the buff books tell us we should love a ’57 Chevy like Grandpa had. Sure, five-seven Chevys are cool, but if you drove an ’87 Honda CRX Si to high school, that’s the car that will transport you back in time when you get behind the wheel. Nobody said nostalgia was limited to just one generation, right?
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