The Times, They Are A-Changin’: Car Values from the 80s/90s Rising

Ten years ago, few enthusiasts cared about cars from the `80s and `90s. Back in those days, places like the Import Carlisle swap meet were full of guys hawking parts for T Series MGs, Triumph TRs, maybe even early BMWs or Z cars, but there was zero interest in anything newer. Nobody cared about VW GTIs, Honda CRXs or Mazda RX-7s, and forget about the dreaded girly sports car, the Miata.

Now that’s all changed. Starting with the BMW E30 M3 and the last of the turbo Supras, interest in ’80s and ’90s sports cars and sedans has begun to skyrocket. Whether it’s BMW’s E28 M5 and lesser E30s like the 318is I am restoring, or Mazda Miatas and Porsche 928s, these 30- to 40-year-olds are going up in value as enthusiasts realize their intrinsic worth.

It has been interesting to watch this unfold, especially since these were all new cars when I started publishing magazines. Sure, it makes me feel old, but it also makes me feel validated, since I knew it had to happen sooner or later.

Why are these cars worthy of your attention? Because vehicles from this era are, by and large, extremely easy to live with. By the early to mid-1980s, almost all cars had modern, computerized engine management and fuel injection. And since economy figures made great strides in this period, too, most of these cars get anywhere from 20 mpg to nearly twice that figure. HVAC took a huge leap forward too, so these vehicles usually have great heat, defrost and air conditioning.

You’re probably starting to wonder why it’s taken so long for collectors to catch on. After all, people were snapping up cars from the ’50s before they’d even reached the 20-year mark.

I think there are many reasons, but first and foremost is the fact that nostalgia–and the urge to collect something —doesn’t really kick in until you start to miss that thing. No one really wants to collect something they see every day; you have to stop seeing it first. When is the last time you saw a really nice E30 BMW, Mazda RX-7, or A1 VW GTI parked on the street or driving around? (And bonus question: How hard did your head swivel if you did see it?)

Then there’s the reality that we all want what we lusted after as a kid. Guys in their ’80s tend to go after prewar stuff, the generation after them has fond memories of dating in MGs and Triumphs, and the guys after that remember James Bond as a near-god who drove an Aston Martin DB5. I was 23 years old in 1983 when the Porsche 944 came out. That car looked damned sexy in Guards Red with those five-spoke wheels. My friends and I lusted after the Porsche 928 Tom Cruise put into Lake Michigan in “Risky Business,” and the E30 BMW represented the pinnacle of a 1980s yuppy lifestyle.

Part of what makes a car appealing as a collectible is the type of event you can enjoy with it. Cars and Coffee gatherings are built upon a foundation of ’80s and ’90s machinery. Events like Radwood and even Concours d’ Lemons have sprung up to push these cars to the forefront.

I am fully aware that we’re not there yet in terms of cachet. Auction houses are catching on that vehicles from this era are the future, and online, Bring A Trailer is the site to buy and sell them. Road tours and concours are lagging behind: We welcome these cars on our Orange Blossom and Smoky Mountain Tours, but most organizers want to see older cars participating.

Performance enthusiasts have fewer reservations. Vintage racing is realizing that some of the best cars ever made came out of the drug-money-fueled ’80s and Porsche-dominated ’90s. HSR embraces these cars, while others like CVAR and VRG are catching on as well. The SVRA has even created a series for old Spec Miatas.

Classic car insurance juggernaut Hagerty has made it very public that many of their customers are moving to newer cars. Despite the growing demand, however, most restoration shops are still on the outside of this movement. There are outliers–like Automotive Restoration Services, which was recently bought by younger owners, and Vintage Sports & Restorations, an E30 BMW mecca in New Hampshire–but most restoration shops either don’t want to work on fuel injected cars, or don’t feel those owners will spend the kind of money it takes to keep these shops in the black.

The big fear is that more modern emerging collectibles are too complicated to work on, but that’s just not true. Having restored my fair share of them, I can tell you these cars tend to be well made, well engineered, and–unlike some older collectibles–designed to be worked on with some level of efficiency. And aside from soft pieces, just about any part is still readily available. European cars are especially well catered to by the factories themselves as well as traditional parts purveyors like Automobile Atlanta and Bavarian Autosport, while a slew of newer internet parts providers like, FCP Euro and RockAuto cover many desirable marques.

So, before you shell out money for that next Triumph, MG, Jaguar or Austin Healey, cast your gaze a decade or two forward. You just might find a truly modern, safe, fun to drive sports car that is still light and simple. I would suggest you hurry, though: The word is out and savvy collectors are snapping up low mileage, mint condition examples.

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spacecadet HalfDork
6/20/19 7:42 p.m.

The factory restoration programs, especially Mazda's are a high point of the trend for me. 

nutherjrfan UltraDork
6/20/19 11:13 p.m.

Once being a subscriber to the English magazine Practical Classics and Car Restorer I like this trend of newer classics.

I would doubt the 90s B14 SE-R/SE will ever be cool.  The B13 of course already is - as to where prices will go especially as I never see unmolested ones for sale who knows but I do often see a least one clean one running around the city.

For me 80s and 90s cars had 'fancier' interiors for want of a better descriptor that seem to me harder to repair.  Cloth door inserts on Nissans are turrible from my experience.

Although years ago didn't GRM magazine mention someone was already remanufacturing AW11 interior bits? smiley

I've said it before but the journalist for CCC Art Markus had a very poor opinion on the handling of E30s outside of the M3.  But hey people like them.

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