What’s Next? The New Wave of Collector Cars

If only we could see the future. We could duck when something bad was headed our way, properly time investments, and get out when the getting was still good. We’d also know the next big-ticket items in the classic car world.

Fortunately, though, we have 20/20 hindsight—or at least a rearview mirror that’s clear enough. Looking into the past can tell us what’s going to be hot in the future. An underlying tenet of car collecting? When buyers reach their peak earning years, they want what they couldn’t get during their more formative years.

While the 1960s’ greatest hits are still in high demand today, later decades are the likely source of many of tomorrow’s big-time collectibles.

What to expect? Youngtimers—a European term for the hit cars of the ’80s—as well as several makes and models previously overlooked by the blue-chip collectors. Air-cooled Porsches, the Ford GT, and just about anything with a Ferrari badge have already been identified by the masses, but here are some others to watch.

BMW M-cars

If you act quickly, you might be able to score a 15- or 30-year-old BMW sporting those iconic M stripes. The recipe here was a common one: more power, bigger brakes and better handling.

The E30-chassis M3, sold stateside from 1988 through 1991 as a homologation special for the brand’s touring car effort, is the one leading the charge. The big box flares: standard. Ditto the high-winding engine, businesslike interior and giant rear wing. Look closely and you’ll notice that even the rear window was redrawn for better aero. All of these tricks were intended to improve the performance of the race cars, and as expected, they enjoyed tremendous success.

The follow-up models, specifically the E36- and E46-chassis M3, also reaped plenty of glory on and off the track. Looking for more comfort? The earlier M5 sedans and original M6 coupe have quickly become hot property. As a result of all this buzz, a lot of standard-issue BMWs from the ’80s, like the non-M, E30-chassis 3 Series, have also been gaining interest.

Auction Highlight

1990 BMW M3

From RM Sotheby’s

This is the M-car that defines the youngtimer genre.

Early Mazda Miatas

The original Mazda Miata is important for two big reasons. Reason one: Upon its release for the 1990 model year, it ushered in the modern roadster. If not for the Miata, would we have the Porsche Boxster, BMW Z3 and Honda S2000? Likely not.

Reason two: An early Miata is a simple, fun, rewarding car to drive. And if you’re looking for a bonus reason, the Miata’s competition record is rather strong, with wins and championships across venues ranging from autocross to road racing and even rallycross.

Auction Highlight

1991 Miata Special Edition

Via Bring A Trailer

Not quite 10,000 miles from new and very original.

9 Miatas to Watch

Special-edition as well as limited-production Miatas have been offered by Mazda nearly every year–usually in a unique color and trim combination. Some of our favorites from the early years:

1991 Special Edition 
British Racing Green w/tan leather

1992 model in Sunburst Yellow 
Yellow exterior

1993 Limited Edition 
Black w/red leather

1994 M Edition 
Montego Blue Mica w/tan leather

1995 M Edition 
Merlot Mica w/tan leather

1996 M Edition 
Starlight Blue Mica w/tan leather

1997 M Edition 
Marina Green Mica w/tan leather

1997 STO Edition 
Twilight Blue Mica w/tan leather

1994–’97 Miata R 
Upgraded suspension w/minimal options

Toyota 2000GT

While off its million-dollar highs of a few years ago, the Toyota 2000GT still leads the way as one of the most important and collectible cars from Japan.

The story starts with Yamaha: The factory designed the engine and then started shopping around for someone who could build the rest of the car. Nissan turned it down. Toyota, not internationally known for producing high-performance cars at the time, said yes.

This twin-cam inline-six was good for 150 horsepower. Toyota placed it inside a body that looked like it was penned by Europe’s best. They didn’t sell too many cars, though, as only 351 copies were built during the 1967-’70 model run–even an appearance alongside 007 in 1967’s “You Only Live Twice” didn’t help much. Another case of star power failing to move units: After losing the Ford contract, Carroll Shelby campaigned the 2000GT in SCCA C Production competition but failed to win the national title.

Auction Highlight

1967 Toyota 2000GT

From RM Sotheby’s

One of the 62 cars built for the U.S. market.

Datsun 240Z

Until the 240Z’s appearance for the 1970 model year, the European brands owned the sports car market. By the end of the decade, after giants like Triumph, MG and Austin-Healey were shuttered or heading that way, the Z-car continued to dominate the market.

The 240Z offered the entire package. It was quick, attractive, reliable, and the top didn’t leak. Then there was the stellar competition record thanks to legends like Peter Brock, John Morton, Paul Newman, Bob Sharp and Elliott Forbes-Robinson.

Auction Highlight

1970 Datsun 240Z

Via Bring A Trailer

Rotisserie-restored in 1997 and only driven 1500 miles since.

Fox-Body Ford Mustang

The Fox-body Mustang helped pony cars hoof it out of the ’70s malaise era bearing a simple message: Performance was back. V8 engines, carbureted at first but eventually injected, were once again the norm. Production numbers, aftermarket support and horsepower figures were all up, up, up.

Then the aftermarket jumped in, with firms like Saleen and ASC offering their own limited-edition, turnkey specials. The factory responded with even more performance–witness the turbocharged 1984-’86 Mustang SVO and the track-ready 1993 Cobra R.

Looking for something that’s slightly different? Hunt down a car sporting the SSP police package. Performance was on par with the standard V8-powered Mustangs, but these now tend to carry a little more cool factor.

Auction Highlight

1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R

Via Bring A Trailer

One of the few factory-built, Fox-body racers.

Nissan Skyline GT-R

The Nissan Skyline GT-R is the quintessential Japanese touring car–and it has the motorsports chops to prove it. First, a quick history lesson.

The Skyline appeared in 1957 as an upmarket sedan and wagon. The styling had an obvious American influence, with its tailfins and abundance of chrome. The manufacturer was Prince, a brand since lost to time.

When Prince folded into Nissan in 1966, the Skyline followed along. Three years later, for 1969, the model got its teeth: The Skyline GT-R added a 160-horsepower, twin-cam engine to the package. Dominance followed, with the Skyline GT-R finishing first in 52 Japanese touring car races over the next three years. The GT-R had cemented its place in Japanese motorsports lore.

This Hakosuka Skyline–so named due to its boxy shape–was replaced by a sleeker model for 1972. A GT-R variant was also offered, but the day’s fuel crisis cut short much of its racing heroics.

Auction Highlight

1971 Nissan Skyline 2000GT-R

Via Bring A Trailer

One of only 1115 or so Hakosuka Skyline GT-R cars produced.

Nissan Skyline GT-R Redux

The gas crisis may have stopped the Skyline GT-R, but it couldn’t kill it. While the Skyline model line carried on through the ’70s and ’80s, the GT-R badge finally returned for 1989. Again, the engine was impressive for its time: a force-fed, twin-cam inline-six that was conservatively rated at about 280 ponies. It was backed by all-wheel drive.

Like its predecessor, this one was also a monster on track, winning every single 1990-’93 Japanese Touring Car Championship contest. And when teams took this GT-R to Australia, it dominated there as well. These Skylines were never officially imported stateside, but thanks to the 25-year waiver they’re now legal here.

Auction Highlight

1989 Nissan Skyline GT-R

From RM Sotheby’s

Single-owner and less than 14,000 kilometers from new.

Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

Despite just two years of availability to American customers, the Volkswagen Rabbit GTI defined the ’80s hot hatch scene.

Auction Highlight

1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

Via Bring A Trailer

Very clean and original–two rare qualities for an early GTI.

Japanese Supercars

Some of the fiercest supercars of the ’90s came from Japan, like the Toyota Supra Turbo, Mazda RX-7, Acura NSX and Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo. These cars offered tremendous performance, defined the genre, and responded well to upgrades. An entire tuner market exploded to support them. Reliability tended to range from average to stellar, and while today’s supercars often feature just two pedals–go and stop–most of these were sold with traditional manual gearboxes.

Auction Highlight

1994 Toyota Supra Turbo

From RM Sotheby’s

Less than 11,200 miles from new; extremely original.

Volvo 1800

Interest in vintage Volvos is increasing, with 1800 models leading the charge. Advantages? Timeless looks, a robust Volvo drivetrain and some star appeal: Roger Moore famously used one to get around in “The Saint,” Irv Gordon set a world record by driving his more than 3 million miles, and The Who once posed with Roger Daltrey’s personal P1800.

Auction Highlight

1967 Volvo P1800S

From Gooding & Company

One owner for 47 years and just 10,085 miles.

Porsche 928

For years the Porsche 928 operated in the 911’s shadow–until lately. Interest in these V8-powered GTs is heating up, and as usual, the rare, special-edition models claim the bigger bucks.

Auction Highlight

1995 Porsche 928 GTS

From RM Sotheby’s

Just one of 77 Porsche 928 GTS models built for North America in 1995.

Porsche 924, 944 and 968

These water-pumpers are also starting to peek out from the 911’s shadow. They’re ’80s icons worthy of the silver screen, yet unlike the 928, they enjoy real, factory-supported competition records.

Auction Highlight

1986 Porsche 944 Turbo

From RM Sotheby’s

Low-mileage and pretty much the right color and engine.

Porsche Boxster S

The Boxster reintroduced a lower-cost model into the Porsche lineup–but the reduced price didn’t mean it was undesirable. By 1998, the Boxster’s second year of production, it was already outselling the much-vaunted 911. The one to get? We’d hold out for the Boxster S: more power, more brakes, and more of everything that makes a Porsche so special.

Auction Highlight

2003 Porsche Boxster S

From Mecum

Equipped with the six-speed manual box and showing 41,000 miles.

’70s Japanese Sedans

A lot of today’s enthusiasts grew up with these cars–either sitting in their back seats or watching them take on the Alfa and BMW sedans of the day. Standouts: BMW 510, Mazda RX-3 and Toyota Corolla.

Auction Highlight

1971 Datsun 510

Via Bring A Trailer

Clean but not stock, sporting a 2.3-liter engine backed by a five-speed.

Ford Bronco

Never mind that the Bronco nameplate is poised to return to Ford showrooms. Interest in these old-school SUVs has been increasing regardless–just look at the auction results and Hagerty values. The big surprise: Modified ones are pulling in the big bucks.

Auction Highlight

1966 Ford Bronco Custom

From Barrett-Jackson

Powered by a 302-cubic-inch Ford Racing engine.

Buick Regal Grand National GNX

The traditional muscle car made a brief appearance in the ’80s, sporting a turbocharged V6 and a Buick badge. The Regal Grand National first appeared for 1982 to celebrate the brand’s NASCAR manufacturers title. These first cars received mostly cosmetic upgrades, but they were a sign of things to come.

The Grand National returned for 1984 with turbo V6 power. Suddenly Buick had a Camaro-fighter on its hands. The Grand National gained an intercooler for 1986, with the all-conquering, blacked-out GNX capping off the run in 1987.

The GNX gained dual exhaust, a larger turbocharger, and a retuned ECU. Buick conservatively rated these engines at 276 horsepower. But wait, there’s more: Subcontractor ASC added a torque arm rear suspension, fender flares and 16-inch aluminum wheels wrapped with Goodyear tires. Another new visual cue: front fender vents. Car and Driver recorded a 4.7-second sprint to 60, making the car quicker than anything else available that year save the Porsche 911 Turbo–and only 547 were built.

Auction Highlight

1987 Buick Regal Grand National GNX

From Barrett-Jackson

This is the very car used for much of the GNX promotion and press work.

Acura Integra Type R

Call this one the Shelby Mustang of the Gen X sport compact scene–although in this case it came through the usual dealership channels. Acura took the hottest chassis of the scene and added everything it needed to be track-ready, including a hand-ported cylinder head, reinforced unibody and bigger brakes. Fewer than 4000 examples were sent stateside during the 1997–2001 model run.

Auction Highlight

1998 Acura Integra Type R

Via Bring A Trailer

Low mileage after spending more than a decade in storage.

Mazda RX-7

If the Datsun Z-car introduced the American masses to Japanese sports cars, then the Mazda RX-7 grabbed that torch in 1978 and help carry it forward. The sheet metal was contemporary for the time yet still turns heads today. Power came from Mazda’s rotary engine, and as with the Z, the race wins quickly flowed in. The first-generation RX-7 ran through 1985, with the end-of-the-run GSL-SE model representing the high-water mark: more power, more brakes and more stick.

Auction Highlight

1985 Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE

Via Bring A Trailer

Very original with 33,000 miles on the odometer.

Kei Cars

Kei cars–the word kei meaning light–have been common in Japan since postwar times. Smaller cars take up less space and demand lower operating costs thanks in part to various incentives. Since 1990, kei cars have been limited to 660cc engines producing no more than 63 horsepower.

While this class usually features sedans and tiny trucks, a few standout sportsters have been offered–and thanks to the 25-year cutoff rule, those can now be legally imported in the U.S. The popular two-seat icons from the ’90s: the drop-top Honda Beat and Suzuki Cappuccino, along with the gullwing Autozam AZ-1.

Auction Highlight

1992 Autozam AZ-1

Via Bring A Trailer

Formerly owned by Keith Martin of Sports Car Market.

GT3 Race Cars

Today’s pro racing scene, whether at home or abroad, almost universally requires homologated race cars. For production-based racers, we’re talking machines built by the factory or one of its authorized agents–often to the GT3 class regs. Those Porsches, Audis, Ferraris and Lamborghinis seen at Daytona and Le Mans these days? They’re the spiritual successors of the Ferrari 250 GTO, Porsche 911 Carrera RS and Shelby GT350R.

Auction Highlight

2012 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup

From Mecum

No stated professional racing provenance, but still a factory-built 911 race car.

Dodge Viper

For those who missed out on a Cobra, the next closest thing might be a Dodge Viper, whose backstory involved Carroll Shelby as well. The Viper is also a brute of a weapon that scored wins nearly everywhere, from club races to Le Mans.

Production ran from 1992 through 2017, more or less, but for the true throwback experience check out the first cars: no air bags, no roll-up windows, no hardtop. Also attracting collector interest are the second-generation cars offered from 1996–2002, with the then-new GTS coupe quickly gaining a lot of fans.

Auction Highlight

1996 Dodge Viper GTS Pace Car Edition

From Mecum

Just 41 miles on the clock.

Mercedes-Benz Sedans and Wagons

It doesn’t matter if these youngtimer Benzes are fast or slow. We can all agree that even a poky Benz is a fine way to motor.

In the fast category we have the 1990–’95 Benz 500 E–the high-performance, V8-powered sedan built in conjunction with Porsche–as well as the 190E 2.3-16v, the ’80s-era homologation special. Then add just about anything that was sold sporting an AMG badge, up through the latest E-Class machines.

Which Benzes are getting the next generation hot and bothered without being very fast? W123-chassis sedans from the ’70s and ’80s.

Auction Highlight

1983 Mercedes-Benz 300TD Turbo

Via Bring A Trailer

Bonus points for being a turbo diesel wagon.

Porsche-Diesel Tractors

What was the hottest thing at last summer’s Porsche Rennsport Reunion? The tractor race. Which probably raises a question: Porsche made tractors? Yes, it did.

Professor Dr. Ferdinand Porsche started designing his tractor back in 1936. Production started under license in 1956, with some 125,000 units built through 1963. The model line included tractors of all sizes.

According to the Porsche-Diesel North American Registry, about a thousand units were sold stateside–mostly smaller units, it explains, since the larger ones faced competition from our domestic manufacturers.

“Today, the number of Porsche-Diesel tractors in North America has increased drastically due to the fact that collecting and restoring Porsche-Diesel tractors is becoming a unique and affordable hobby,” the club’s site continues.

Auction Highlight

1958 Porsche-Diesel Junior 108K

From Gooding & Company

Restored and one of the desirable, short-wheelbase models.

Group B Rally Cars

Group B rally cars defined the sport through the middle part of the ’80s with their factory silhouettes and fire-breathing drivelines, restrictions be damned. The cars were fast, exciting and dangerous–perhaps too dangerous, as more than a few left the course at speed, leading to the deaths of both entrants and spectators. After bursting onto the scene in 1982, Group B went silent in 1986.

The rules required these machines to be based on production cars and built to a homologated standard, meaning street versions had to exist–albeit in very limited numbers. The standard usually involved force-fed engines, all-wheel-drive and massively widened tracks. Some of the standouts included the Ford RS200, Audi quattro, Lancia Delta S4, Lancia 037, Renault R5 Turbo and MG Metro 6R4.

Auction Highlight

1985 Ford RS200 Evolution

From RM Sotheby's

Not just a homologation car, but one of 24 higher-output Evolution models built.

Dodge Challenger

Dodge has been offering some radical, strip-ready Challenger variants, but there’s been one slight difference: These have been street-legal models, up to and including the brand’s 840-horsepower Challenger SRT Demon.

It’s not always about max power, though, as the just-released Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320 makes do with “just” 485 horsepower. The catch: This street-legal performer is built to NHRA Stock and Super Stock regs, with its maker claiming an 11.70-second time down the strip. Standard equipment includes a transmission brake, street-legal drag radials, line lock and seating for just the driver. Retail price today is about $45,000.

Auction Highlight

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT

Via Bring A Trailer

Just 528 miles.

COPO Camaros and Cobra Jet Mustangs

COPO Camaros and Cobra Jet Mustangs didn’t die as the ’60s came to a close. They returned to the fray a decade or so ago as very limited, very fast, factory-built and NHRA-legal drag racers.

How limited? Chevrolet plans to build only 69 COPO Camaros for this year–its usual number since revising the concept for 2012. Ford has built 350 Cobra Jet Mustangs between 2008 and 2018–a few dozen every other year or so.

How fast? Depends on the engine. The 2018 Cobra Jet came with a supercharged 5.2-liter V8; earlier versions could be forced fed or naturally aspirated, and a 2.3-liter four was an option as well. The COPO Camaros have also been offered with a variety of engines. On the current menu: two naturally aspirated V8s and a supercharged variant. No matter the powerplant, these are generally 8- or 9-second cars out of the box.

Auction Highlight

2014 Chevrolet COPO Camaro

From Mecum

This one came with all three available engines and had never been run.

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View comments on the CMS forums
MAK New Reader
9/21/19 7:17 a.m.

Cool, you blew right by Datsun roadsters.

GLK New Reader
9/21/19 7:59 a.m.

July 1981 issue Road & Track cover story, Porsche 924 Turbo, Datsun 280ZX Turbo, Alfa-Romeo GTV6. The car they liked the best? The car that garnered the most points? The Alfa. Full disclosure, I own one. It's a great car that hits all the car-guy hot buttons, enticed Jeremy Clarkson to own one (twice) and consistently gets thumbs up from passersby. Auction prices for nice examples have risen lately to north of $20K. The GTV6 has a body designed by a famous Italian design house, an engine created by a guy that worked for Enzo Ferrari, has successful racing provenance in both road and rally and to top it off was in a James Bond movie. Yet, almost unbelievably it is sniffed at and ignored (forgotten)? by so-called experts. I have never seen a car, let alone an Italian car, with such a pedigree get treated so ingloriously. What is up with that?

Coupefan Reader
9/26/19 9:08 a.m.

A complete absence of Italian cars. Not a very definitive or telling list.  

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