Global Director of Client Services for Hagerty, Nigel Matthews, brings his classic car expertise to Eyes on Auto

Cashing in on Collector Car Futures from Japan

By Nigel Matthews

Looking into my automotive crystal ball, I see a number of reasonably priced Japanese cars with the potential to go up in value, not down.

And while you wait for their price to rise, these collector cars of the future should give you endless driving pleasure – that is, until you sell!

That’s how I started my collector car column back in 2013. I think it’s time to re-evaluate my choices and now I wish I’d taken more notice of myself. Ahem.

Now to be fair, I’ve not always been right so there’s a caution. In 1973, I recall talking to a man who had just returned to the UK from Australia. He told me about a car called a Honda Civic, which would make a Mini look ridiculous in comparison. My immediate reaction was that I had seen the Toyota Corollas that were just beginning to arrive in England and felt that the Mini did not have anything to worry about. Japanese cars were cheap and would not catch on.

(How wrong was I?)

If you still have one of the first generation Honda Civics, the majority were finished in
a metallic gold, blue or green and I suggest you look after it. These cars appeal to the demographic that grew up with them and they are already collectible cars.

As you will see in this update, early Japanese cars have become much sought after so let’s look at some of the most popular. If you can find a survivor or rust-free stunner, you might just want to consider counting out the cash. In this update, I’ll quote the prices from 2013 and the current range of prices for vehicles in good condition. Naturally, there are some that will sell for less and others far more than this range. Nevertheless, this gives you an idea of their increasing value.
1973-1979 Honda Civic
1973-1979 Honda Civic:
The Honda Civic was introduced during the OPEC oil crisis, first as a two-door and then a three-door hatchback. The transversely mounted (similar to the Mini) 1169 cc engine driving the front-wheels was very peppy and spacious. The Civic was similar to other “Made in Japan” items and considered a throwaway automobile, and that is exactly what happened to most of them. Rust helped speed up the process also. If you can find a pristine, rust-free example, wrap it in cotton wool, it won’t command over $1 million as some Toyota 200GTs have recently but it will increase in value as time goes by.

Selling in 2013: $4,000 - $9,000.
Selling now for: $22,000 - $25,000
1990-1999 Mazda Miata
1990-1999 Mazda Miata:
Introduced in May of 1989, the Miata is considered the Japanese Lotus Elan. Unlike the thoroughbred and somewhat finicky Lotus engine, the Miata’s four-cylinder, twin-cam, four-valves-per cylinder engine is very reliable. In an eight-year production run, 430,000 first-generation Miatas were built. This rock-solid, rear-wheel-drive sports car does not rattle or shake like most convertibles. The soft top can be raised and lowered effortlessly with just one hand. The Japanese engineers tried out more than 100 different exhaust systems until they achieved the sound they desired to make it sound like a British sports car.

Selling in 2013: $5,500 - $9,000.
Selling now for: $18,000 - $20,000
1990-1999 Toyota MR2
1990-1999 Toyota MR2:
The second generation MR2 was larger and weighed (160 to 180 kg) more than its square predecessor. The body styling was now much more streamlined; if you use your imagination, it has a resemblance to both the Ferrari 348 and the Ferrari F355. Because of this, the new MR2 was labeled by some as “The poor man’s Ferrari”. If you purchase the turbocharged version (mid-to-high 30s), you might feel like you are driving a Ferrari!

Selling in 2013: $5,250 - $7,000
Selling now for: $21,000 - $38,250
1993-1995 Mazda RX-7:
1993-1995 Mazda RX-7:
The twin sequential turbocharged RX-7 is a model that has generally been overlooked by many. The
1.3-litre Wankel engine screams and behaves like a motorcycle with its 8,000 rpm red-line. With 255hp it is a sports car without compromise, unfortunately also not many buyers! Mazda had priced this model out of the market. If you can find a mechanic familiar with rotary engines and want to have some fun, this is the model to consider, definitely one-step up from the Miata.

Selling in 2013: $10,500-$18,000
Selling now for: $33,500 - $36,250

And let’s go out with a big dollar bang!
1971-1973 Datsun 240Z
1971-1973 Datsun 240Z:
An early Datsun 240Z or event a 260Z from a dry climate such as California or Arizona, one that you can still see and count the spot welds on the quarter panel rear wheel arches is a car to snap up. These Ferrari 275 GTB lookalikes have a magnificent overhead-cam, straight six-cylinder engine
and independent rear suspension. Consequently, they are fast and handle very well. Parts are also still readily available.

Take a deep breath. The prices below are not typos!

Selling in 2013: $7,250 - $21,000
Selling now for: $124,000 - $310,000

Nigel Matthews is the Global Director of Client Services for Hagerty, the world’s leading specialist provider of classic car and boat insurance.