A New Crop of Collectible Cars

Collectors tend to idolize the cars of their youth that were once unattainable. It wasn’t long ago that buyers went crazy for 1960s and 1970s muscle cars, and their prices skyrocketed to absurd levels. Now a younger generation is looking at autos from the 1980s and 1990s through a nostalgic lens. 

Cars from those two decades also garner attention because they represent the end of an era, after which automakers began to add more luxury and safety features while arguably also producing vehicles with less character. Most importantly, enthusiast-spec manual transmissions were still readily available before the turn of the century. 

One indicator of this era’s cars becoming more collectible is the popularity of the Radwood show. This is the 1980s and 1990s take on the Goodwood Revival, which celebrates 1950s and 1960s British automobiles and culture. The Radwood event started in 2017 in San Francisco before touring to other locations across the U.S. and even the U.K. The show claims to be “a celebration of ’80s and ’90s automotive lifestyle,” and has received lots of attention from the automotive press. Attendees salute the culture of the era with a sense of humor by dressing in period garb. The show embraces everything from the halo cars that were once poster queens to the daily drivers that your mom and dad may have owned.

Autos around the Bend

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Autos around the Bend

BJT’s resident car expert visited the 2019 New York International Auto Show to see what manufacturers have on offer now and in the near future.

Like many autos that eventually become collectible, a lot of these have gone through a period of being simply old cars that have lost their shine. That means a fair number of them have been abused, worn out, or crashed, so the pool of fine examples has shrunk over the last 30 to 40 years. Here’s a sample of cars that may be only at the beginning of their value curve.

Saab 900 Turbo
Saab 900 Turbo

Saab 900 Turbo: Saab’s unconventional and underappreciated 900 Turbo offers performance, luxury, safety, and utility in a package that still fascinates with its characterful approach to design and engineering. The automaker produced it from 1979 through 1993 (1994 for the convertible), and in 1985 its 143-hp turbocharged eight-valve 2.0 liter inline-four received an upgrade to 16 valves and 160 hp. Later SPG trims rose to 185 hp. A five-speed manual transmission was standard, with automatic optional. Most cars of this era were lighter than their modern descendants, so the car is quicker than you’d expect. It handles well too, thanks to a dual wishbone front suspension. Mainly available as a three-door coupe or two-door convertible in the U.S., it sells in excellent shape for $10,000 to $20,000 in BringaTrailer.com auctions, and these were sub-$10,000 cars only a few years ago.

Acura Integra Type-R
Acura Integra Type-R

Acura Integra Type-R: Honda offered its hottest hatch to the U.S. market between 1997 and 2001, importing only 3,823 during that period. The company introduced the Type-R as a homologation special to meet FIA production requirements for racing. Weighing 93 pounds less than a standard Integra GS-R, it features a special 1.8-liter DOHC VTEC inline-four that produces 195 hp with an 8400-rpm redline, sending power through a five-speed manual transmission with a limited slip differential. Those figures mean that the engine produces 108 hp per liter, a record at the time for a naturally aspirated car sold in the U.S. Hagerty Insurance’s price guide says that a 1997 Type-R in excellent condition is worth $49,900. Its value has jumped more than $15,000 in the last two years.

Porsche 928
Porsche 928

Porsche 928: In 1977, Porsche debuted the 928 as a successor to its aging but iconic air-cooled 911 sports car. The company designed this all-new model as a grand tourer with high levels of refinement and the latest technology. Equipped with a front-mounted water-cooled V8 engine, it produced up to 345 hp in GTS trim, and the avant-garde sheet metal wrapped around it looked like something out of Star Trek. Buyers could choose between a five-speed manual transmission or automatic, although the latter is far more common. In the last two years, the value in excellent condition of both versions from 1978 (the first model year in the U.S.) and the end-of-the-run 1995 GTS has risen about $20,000; and they are now worth around $45,000 and $101,000, respectively, according to Hagerty. The 928 didn’t replace the 911, but it remains an important piece of automotive history as Porsche’s first V8 production model.

BMW 8 Series
BMW 8 Series

BMW 8 Series: The elegant styling of the 8 Series exemplifies the pinnacle of BMW’s 1990s design language with its slippery 0.29 drag coefficient, low-profile nose with pop-up headlights, and B-pillarless hardtop roof. Debuted in 1989 as a halo model, the grand tourer was the first road car to offer a V12 engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission, although an automatic was available. The 5.6-liter iteration of that engine produced 375 hp in the top-of-the-range CSi trim, but a 282-hp V8 was also available. The 8 Series was one of the first cars to feature fly-by-wire throttle control, traction control, and stability control in one package. BMWs of this era have found a strong following, because the company’s design language completely changed soon after, in a manner generally accepted as being for the worse. The cars were sold from 1990 through 1997 in the U.S., but BMW brought only 7,232 of them to America. The value of a 1995 850Csi in excellent condition has more than doubled from $50,000 to $109,000 in the past two years, according to Hagerty.

Nissan Skyline GT-R
Nissan Skyline GT-R

Nissan Skyline GT-R: This model has long been out of reach in the U.S. market, but you can legally import the R32-generation GT-R, which was built from 1989 to 1994. (In fact, you can import any car that has reached its 25thbirthday, even if it wasn’t certified to the U.S.’s safety or emissions standards.) Known as “Godzilla,” a 2.6-liter twin turbocharged inline-six sends 276 hp to all four wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. Many cars have been modified in their lives, so finding a clean, original example can be challenging. Hagerty says that one in excellent condition is worth about $55,000 now, up about $10,000 from two years ago. If you’re interested in owning one of these cars, work with a specialty importer that has experience with the process, and keep in mind that they’re right-hand-drive only. On the horizon is the next-generation R33 model, which should be available for import in 2020.

Mercedes-Benz 500 E
Mercedes-Benz 500 E

Mercedes-Benz 500 E: If you miss the days of autobahn missiles with Teutonic box-like styling, take a look at Mercedes-Benz’s 500 E. Developed in collaboration with Stuttgart neighbor Porsche, the car was hand-built in its factory. This hot rod was subtly equipped with flared fenders, a front air dam, and sideskirts but not much else to clue onlookers into how special this car is. A 5.0-liter V8 is under the hood, producing 322 hp, and is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Brakes and suspension also saw upgrades for long stints at triple-digit speeds. Mercedes-Benz imported only 1,528 into the U.S. between 1991 and 1994, and Hagerty values an excellent-condition end-of-the-run 1995 Limited example at $60,200, up from about $37,000 only a couple of years ago.

If you’re considering purchase of any classic car, your best bet is to buy something that speaks to you, and avoid getting wrapped up in speculation. You can spend a lot of money or a little and still have fun, but there's no guarantee of a return on your investment. However, if you do your research and buy well, you may end up with an appreciating asset that you can enjoy a lot more than an index fund, and not just because you can drive it: one of the best benefits of owning a classic car is interacting with the community that shares the hobby.

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