In Defense of the Near-Classic

A reader contacted me a while back and asked quite shyly about the eligibility of his car for our Orange Blossom Tour. He explained that while he didn’t have a “real classic” sports car, he wanted to enter our event with his BMW Z3 M Roadster.

I was stunned and quickly replied, “Sir, you absolutely have a real classic sports car. In fact, you have what many will come to lust after, much as we seek out cars today like the Alfa Giulietta and Shelby Mustang.”

Part of our job here at Classic Motorsports is spotting the next great thing. Fortunately, that job is getting easier all the time. The future looked pretty bleak in the ’70s and ’80s, but now there’s a whole generation of incredible sports cars just waiting to become old enough to get the respect they are due.

And if you get in before the rest of the world finds out, you can scoop up a low-mileage creampuff for used-car money.

Along with the aforementioned M Roadster, which is super cool and highly entertaining, I’m talking about vehicles like the Porsche Boxster, Mazda Miata, Audi TT and Mercedes-Benz SLK of the ’90s.

Need proof that these deserve to be called modern classics? Just look at the facts. These cars were blazingly fast by classic sports car standards, refined, sexy as hell, and even practical, with reasonable fuel economy and effective emissions controls.

Yes, they’re much more complicated than the classic little British car, but they still have dedicated fans who aren’t afraid to work on and improve them.

A lot of pristine versions of these near-classics are showing up for sale on specialty sites like Bring a Trailer. Prices are going up, and they’re selling fast. Still, I’ve seen several nice–really nice– early, low-mileage Miatas sell just recently for less than $10,000.

Of course, the ones to get are the creampuffs. There’s no reason to buy a rat unless you like the anguish and expense that restoration brings. Having restored far more than my share of cars, I’m not suggesting that restoration is a bad thing, but there’s still an ample supply of solid cars out there. May as well buy the best one you can find.

As with any collector car, special editions, first- and final-year models, and rare color and option combinations are your best bet.

If I were a wiser man, I’d sell just one of my old cars and put that money into a small fleet of future classics.

Let’s take a budget of $50,000, which is probably a reasonable amount to get for a nice, mid-level classic sports car. I would start by buying a 1991 Miata in British Racing Green with tan leather. This was the first real Miata special edition, and $12,000 should get me a perfect, unmolested example with less than 50,000 miles.

Next I’d go Porsche shopping: An iconic, silver-with-red, first-year ’97 Boxster that needs nothing would cost about $10,000. Let’s make it a first-year ’99 Boxster S for another $5000; for that money I’d get more motor, bigger brakes, and one heck of a performance car.

The final car on my list would be that M Roadster. Make mine Estoril Blue with the two-tone dark- and light-blue interior. And again, I don’t want to work on it, so I’ll spend all the money and get a loaded, low-mileage car with heated seats and all the toys for about $18,000.

So for $40,000 to $45,000 (depending on whether I spring for that Boxster S), I’ll have three of the coolest, most drivable, purest sports cars ever made. That leaves enough in my budget to pick up a 1989 BMW 325is, one of the best daily drivers ever made. I may just bank that money instead, as it’s enough to keep my new collection running well for the next decade or longer.

You know, this is starting to sound like a great story for a future issue. Maybe I’ll sell one of my cars and invest in these three near-classics. If I do, in another 10 years (once the world wakes up and realizes what the car gods gave us in the ’90s) I’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

In the meantime, I’ll be grinning ear to ear while enjoying these great cars on back roads for pennies on the dollar.

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1966stang Reader
10/3/16 11:03 a.m.

Not to mention how much more enjoyable the cars are to drive than early sports cars in some ways.

Not that I would kick a vintage Healy out of the garage, or a nice air cooled 911 for that matter.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
10/3/16 3:19 p.m.

I would say spotting the next big thing is THE mandate for a mag that appeals to a readership buying cars at or near the bottom of their depreciation cycle. The ability to do that may make spending some coin to fix up an old car worthwhile if you hang onto it for a bit. It would be nice if, once in awhile, we can recoup our investment in old iron and actually make a few bucks.

rconlon HalfDork
10/3/16 4:22 p.m.

For the road less traveled and less obvious and less expensive here is my list. 1995-2010 Honda Del Sol, Mustang gt convertible, Corvette, Toyota Mr2, Suzuki Sidekick.

Leo  Basile
Leo Basile HalfDork
10/5/16 1:52 a.m.

I use my 1986 M-B 190 2.3 16v as a daily driver...its a great car.

Rupert Dork
10/5/16 8:12 p.m.

Nice cars! My 560 Mercedes and my '02 Miata LS are both classics in my point of view. And in fact, they are rated the same on my "stated value" specialty insurance plan. Other "classic" rides, IMHO, have to include the early year Honda CRX Si models. My '85 CRX Si was an absolute terror on the autocross courses. And also very useful as a trip car!

I remember on one trip in the CRX coming home from Memphis Tn. I was sleeping and woke up as my head had bounced at least twice. I looked at the speedo and it showed 95mph. I asked my wife, who was driving, why we were traveling at 95mph on a US interstate? Her reply? Because that SOB in front won't get out of my way!!!

If one can sleep peacefully in a car which is 144" long overall traveling at over 100mph, that must be a true Classic!

wspohn HalfDork
10/8/16 3:21 p.m.
If I do, in another 10 years (once the world wakes up and realizes what the car gods gave us in the ’90s) I’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

I'm sure you appreciate more than most that it takes a heck of a lot more than the passage of time to effect an increase in value of a classic car!

I'd say forget it in terms of the Miata ever increasing in value, and if you want to see any appreciation from the other two, better opt for a Cayman instead of the Boxster (preferably a Cayman GT4, except the price of entry is pretty high, so maybe settle for an S) and the BMW had better be the Z3 coupe, aka Clown Shoe.

bmwpc New Reader
10/11/16 3:39 p.m.

Tim, I agree with your comments regarding future classics that are available for still reasonable prices. Specifically the 2001 through 2002 BMW M roadster. I have been fortunate enough to own two of these , Number 909 and 897. 909 was exactly like your car Estotil blue, blue and black interior, Blue top. My 897 is Imola red with black interior. I bought both of these with in the past five years and they both had less than 13,000 miles on them when I bought them one had just over 14,000 miles on it when I sold 2 1/2 years later. The other, the Imola red one I still have it it has 14,000 miles on it and it will be going on the Smoky Mountain tour with you next spring. The simple logic is like with all cars buy the best that you can afford. 15 your Old cars with under 25,000 mile cars will appreciate much more than those with more than 25,000 miles for the collector. I maintain a database of every 2001 M roadster made and I can tell you that of the just over 900 that were made there are less than 25 that have under 15,000 miles on them and that number of course will not get larger but smaller. The other fact is most of those cars have been in the hands of their current owners for a very long time which means they are likely going to stay there. So when the chance comes up you must buy them because the chance may not come your way again. As I looked for my second 2001M roadster I found this out the hard way losing two very low mileage cars by a matter of hours. And that was on the first day they were offered for sale. However I think your pricing may be off if you're hoping to find a low mileage car. By this summer I think you will be hard-pressed to find any S54 (2001-02)M roadster with between 20 and 30000 miles for less than $30,000. And exceptionally clean car, like mine, will go for about 35,000 . If you want one to drive yet maintain most of its value the real buyd are the early roadsters especially the 2000 model and the 1998 as there were many more made. The downside is most of those cars have 50 60,000 miles on them already. The upside is they can be bought for under $12,000. The problem with buying the 2001 or 2002 model is that there are fewer of them and they seldom come up for sale. So if you're in the market for one and it comes up for sale you better decide quick. The other great collector car that is already appreciating unfortunately Is the Z8 roadster 18 months ago you could buy a very clean sub 10,000 mile car for under 100,000 today those cars are 200,000 and showing no sign of weakening . I missed the boat on that but things happen. I think of all the lessons I've learned the first is if you're buying to hold, buy the best car that you can afford. If you're buying to drive look for a well cared for car that will have many more miles but like many M roadsters have maybe had only one or two owners. I would be very careful of any car that's less than 15 years old and has had 4 pr 5 owners. To me that indicates possible unresolved problems or problems that have been diagnosed but not repaired. Anyway buy your classic car and enjoy it. Some enjoyment comes fudriving, some enjoyment comes by polishing them some enjoyment comes by racing them. the bottom line is just enjoy it. I personally doubt that any of the Miatas will ever be of any substantial value. There were just too many of them made and not enough differences between them to differentiate between them. While they may be great for the autocrosser they're probably not that great for a collector. I think the Cayman and Boxster have the same problem except for some of their limited edition models. While the Z3 and M roadster are obviously very similar I believe the differences between them Are substantial enough to create a big difference in value. However that said, having also owned a regular Z3 brand-new, I found it to be a wonderful car that my wife and I enjoyed for over five years before selling it. I think the Z3 embodies some of the looks of the original cobra and the S 54 version encompasses a lot of the performance. So in my mind the S54 M roadster is truly the modern cobra.

1/24/19 9:32 p.m.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have 2 cars listed in your article; a 1990 Miata and a 1989 325is. Both were wonderful, but vastly different vehicles. 

Nobody will ever accuse a Miata of being a 1/4 mile car, unless of course that 1/4 mile has lots of twisting turns. But if you are lucky enough to live near the Texas Hill Country like me, you will never wear a frown while driving that thing. It is exactly what a sports car should be. And although it may be more mechanically complicated than the old British or Italian sports cars of the 60’s and 70’s, that doesn’t really matter. Because, a Miata will never leave you stranded. 

BMW reached its high water mark in the 80’s with their E30 and the 325is was the pinnacle of the Ultimate Diving Machine. Some may argue that the E30 M3 was the top dog of the era, but the straight 6 in the 325is was the finest motor ever produced, in my opinion. 

Again, the 325is was never intended to be a drag racer, but you could comfortably drive it back and forth to work each day, take it to the grocery store and stuff a month’s worth of groceries in the capacious trunk, or gather the family and head for the hills. 

In retrospect, two of the saddest days of my life were the days I delivered the Miata and the 325is to their new owners. 

1/24/19 10:49 p.m.

I just sold my Dad's 1972 Celica on Bring A Trailer.  There had been a 1971 in comparable shape but low miles and all original that sold a few weeks before my listing went live (But after I had started the process, no inspiration there) for $17,000.  My Dad's, which he bought new in 1972, repaired and updated as needed but never really restored per se, and drove for 247,000 miles sold for just under $14,000.  The $3,000 difference was extraordinarily well spent in miles of driving, miles of memories, and enjoyment of personalizing the car to his taste - a bit low, front and rear sway bars, later 20R motor and five speed instead of the original 18RC and four speed.  You can drive your classic and it still appreciates, as long as it is appreciated!  The Celica was the first car I have sold on BaT, and I was very happy that I could pass along the car's history and stories, and best yet, the car went to a fantastic home I think largely because of that history and those stories.  Great cars are meant to be driven and enjoyed, buying a car because you think it is a good investment and is best never seeing the light of day is a shame in my mind.  One of the biggest reasons I sold the Celica was that I was not driving it anymore and had become so nervous about it being hurt while on my watch that I felt it deserved a better home.  The folks who bought it flew out to Denver New Year's Eve and drove the car home to Illinois, enjoying it all the way.  They sent pictures...

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
1/24/19 11:02 p.m.

I always thought the VTEC Delsol was a super cool, unloved car like the 914 Porsche. 

20-30 years ago people told me the Triumphs and Mustangs I was playing with, would never be valuable. Boxsters and Miatas are coming next

DavidATL New Reader
1/25/19 4:49 a.m.

Great article as usual. :-) I am a current subscriber and it's like I get the best of all the past issues too! 


I drove my NB2 Miata on the Coker Tire Tour in '17 ending up at the Mitty. I don't think it was the newest car there, but one of them for sure. Had a great time and enjoyed watching and hearing all the fantastic cars in particular a well modded Corvair. Never crossed my mind to ask if my car was classic enough as I assumed it was the love of cars and the drive that brought us together. If they reject you, it's not a group you want to be part of anyway. 


One day Miatas may be valuable. Today, there seems to be a bimodal distribution of NA and NB models. Most are >100k mile (way more) that are pretty modded and trashed. There are a few that were put away years ago hoping for that high future resale. Sort of like Fieros, especially 88's. Neither as a strong following in well heeled circles like BMW or Porsche do so there's not much money that will chase them. Then again, there's a post above about a quarter million mile '72 Celica for $14k. Wouldn't have predicted that either! 


Safe (and fun) driving my friends, 



frenchyd UltraDork
1/25/19 8:22 a.m.

In reply to DavidATL :

I remember in 1975 at my first Vintage sports car race my MGTD was barely acceptable my best friends MGTF was just too new! 

Now a 70’s Jaguar XJS V12  is acceptable in many events.   

NermalSnert Reader
1/25/19 8:59 a.m.

This got me looking... I'd take'm all. No shoes in the bunch though.

(the links are running together after I post)

Mr. New Reader
1/25/19 10:00 a.m.

"In defense of the near classic" sums up a number of recent past cars that I find classic because of looks or the driving experience or whatever but that are exceedingly affordable.  I would say one of those has to be Jaguar's first generation XK8/XKR X100 series. Both in convertible and the much rarer coupe forms, they are simply gorgeous, classic looking offerings that are available for well under $10,000.00, pristine examples at maybe $15000.00.  While the 4.0L cars had some issues that have to be dealt with (plastic secondary tensioners replacements), most of the cars still on the road have already had it done.  Several weeks ago, I inspected one for a jaguarforum member who lives on the east coast, and it needed a little love as the paint was scratched in several places, but it ran fine, the convertible top worked as intended, and the car was a whopping $4000 here in Los Angeles!  I also think the X150 (second generation XK/XKR), especially in 5.0L supercharged guise is a terrificly fine automobile, quicker and more nimble than its German brethren of the era, certainly more beautiful, and available now in the low to mid $20K range for nice examples.  While the X150 might not have the outright sexiness of the X100, it's a much more modern, drivable, better handling, better ride, better everything than it's older sibling, and that 5.0L supercharged engine will shock you the first time you step on the happy pedal.

Adrian_Thompson MegaDork
1/25/19 10:52 a.m.

I just find it funny that the car they show is the old beater Miata they bought for peanuts years ago.  It's the one they did the budget 'resto' on.

dculberson UltimaDork
1/25/19 2:04 p.m.
frenchyd said:

In reply to DavidATL :

I remember in 1975 at my first Vintage sports car race my MGTD was barely acceptable my best friends MGTF was just too new! 

Now a 70’s Jaguar XJS V12  is acceptable in many events.   

Well sure, an MGTF was only 20 years old in 1975! That's like showing up for a vintage race in a 1999 model (NB Miata? C5 'Vette?) nowadays.

A 70's Jaguar is a full decade older now than an MGTF would have been in 1975.

And for those saying a Miata won't ever be valuable, good luck with that prediction. The best early Miatas have already gone up a good bit in value. They might not be $200k cars within your lifetime, but they'll be $50k cars within a couple decades. They're already worth $15 - $20k. That is, the very best ones, of course. The random 150k mile example that's been neglected is still relatively worthless, but that's true of the majority of classics. Not many 150k mile 6-cylinder auto Darts are worth anything, but a low mileage hemi dart is a $150k plus car.

frenchyd UltraDork
1/25/19 10:47 p.m.

In reply to dculberson :

We absolutely agree, 20 year old cars will someday become classics. Just not right now.  

Enough people have to spend silly money on a restoration and then sell it at a big loss before they start to be accepted as true classic cars. 

I remember “restoring” Jaguar XKE’s . We’d find solid rust free examples.   Do a nice repaint( but not a nut and bolt strip to the bare chassis job) new tires,  maybe rebuild the motor and put a new clutch in.  New top, upholstery, door cards. 

Buy it for $1,000 spend $1500 on the “restoration” sell it for $3500. 

Today people are paying more than $50,000 for what we would have considered a less than parts car, spend another $100,000-150,000 on the restoration. and walk around with a swagger. 

I don’t know Miata’s or even Corvettes that well but I’m sure they are in the same ball park. 

Donatello New Reader
1/26/19 10:44 a.m.

Great article. Not everyone is interested in being a collector. I have made the concious choice to enjoy various older cars but to rotate through them rather than hold on to them. Yes, I sometimes kick myself that I let this or that car go, but I believe that I gain more from actaully using the cars before they become too valuable. For me, the experience of having taken that old camaro, 510, Integra type R, ford fiesta, etc out to the track and enjoying them at the limit was invaluable. That kind of enjoyment was possible with yesterday's prices, but I would be too nervous to take a really valuable classic to the track and attempt to drive it at ten tenths. Another advantage of a near classic is that it is a lot less work to bring them into a condition where people stop you and say: "nice car I remember when I had one of those...".

Still, I am greatful for those who see otherwise. Kudos to those who have more time, money, ambition, and talent than I do, and preserve the valuable old cars that form our automotive history!

jr02518 Reader
1/28/19 1:16 a.m.

Having been the care taker of a number of cars, I have good instincts some of the time.  But I prefer coupes over convertables, as a rule.  In 1978,  on an "outside" used car lot in Monterey our family was walking past, after having lunch, we had the chance to compare a number of cars. Back when they were just "used cars" there were two $25,000 Ferrari's on site.

I really liked the orange 330 GTC.  But my little brother liked the burgundy 250 GT California, with the cracked windshild.  Broken, on the driver side when I think it was used to hoist the schlub out of his convertable by using the upper window frame as a grab point.

But I only hope his reason for selling this, as we now know, keeper was not that he did not want to spend the money on a new bit of hard to find glass. Let it be that as a convertable it was not suitable for life with all that fog in Pebble Beach. The 330 would never leave the seats damp if the gray stuff rolled in as it's know to do.

Little brother was correct that the 250 was the car to buy.  I do learn learn by my mistakes. That's why I did what ever was required to purchase the '64 series1 Elan in 1984 for $4000.  Beacuse I could not scrape together the $35,000 for the 275 GTB.

Today I have a '95 Miata.  That's some day might be worth....



a little more than what I paid for it.  In E Street, you have to run the 15x6 rims. And the stock fenders, thank goodness.





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