Journal: Which Modern Cars Will Become Truly Great Classics?

Which Modern Cars Will Become Truly Great Classics?

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
March 22, 2016
88 comments

As a Hot Wheels-toting youngster, the term “classic” simply meant any old vehicle with appeal. It could be a pre-war Packard, a ’60s muscle car, a rusty truck, or an aging Italian exotic. If it was cool and old, I referred to it as a “classic”—and I loved them all. As I developed from an automobile infatuated kid into a car collecting, wrench turning, beer-drinking, automotive super nerd, my parameters on what defines a classic has changed drastically.

I feel it used to be easier to identify. In the early 2000s, it seemed more universal: there was a generalized idea that anything pre-1980 fit the bill. Take a seat, folks: it’s 2016, as in thirty-six years since 1980. There are now highly sought after collectible cars from the ’80s and ’90s that we should be considering classics—feel old yet?

Here’s where I stand: any vehicle with a smidgen of historical or mechanical significance…and even modest collectability should be considered a classic.

Another measure I like to use is whether the vehicle at hand is now old enough to essentially need a complete restoration. A cheap NA1 NSX—if you can find one—likely needs a complete suspension overhaul, all new rubber seals and gaskets, a tune up at a minimum, and likely some new upholstery and freshened paint.

If you’re on edge whether or not a vehicle is considered a “classic,” referring to the NHTSA’s grey market import exemption seems to be another reasonable standard. According to NHTSA.gov, U.S. Customs will permit any, “… motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old can be lawfully imported into the U.S. without regard to whether it complies with all applicable FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards).” The Federal Government grants FMVSS exemption for all  grey market vehicles at least 25 years old and the Environmental Protection Agency waives federal mandated emission requirements for all vehicles 21 years or older—just check NHTSA form HS-7, Box 1.

Now, some more modern vehicles have been knighted classic by the enthusiast kingdom. The BMW E30 M3, Toyota W10 MR2, and Toyota ‘AE86’ are a few recently-anointed classics that come to mind.

The original Honda NSX and CRX, Foxbody Ford Mustang, MK IV Toyota Supra, Mazda FD RX7 and NA Miata along with many, many others seem to be on a teetering acceptance as classics, and I don’t think that’s right.

Perhaps it’s because we’re all still unconsciously remembering ’80s and early ’90s cars as just “older cars,” not permitted into the classic circle—and I just can’t seem to understand why. I’m biased having grown up in the era, but some of my all-time favorite automobiles were produced in the 1990s, and I think it’s about time we collectively starting referring to select models as the classics they are—perhaps based on the criteria mentioned above.

Of course, this is just my opinion on the matter, but we want to hear what you readers think. Is there a particular year “cut-off” for what defines a classic car, or is it a rolling number like the federal classic car import exemption? Do we need another term to separate vehicles post–pick-a-year? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Image Sources: Yoav Gilad, Aaron McKenzie, Lauri Ahtiainen, pistonheads.comautoevolution.compaintref.com

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delageAdnaan ChaudharyLen CarrTrackdustDavid Barrett Recent comment authors
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delage
delage

The Citroën C6 for many reasons. Hydropneumatic suspension, presidential history, superior design. Marks the end of a great Citroën history of long-distance travelling cars: Traction Avant, DS, CX, C6.

Adnaan Chaudhary
Adnaan Chaudhary

Lovely article. It’s our soemension in to what is a classic.

Len Carr
Len Carr

My Smart Roadster

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Trackdust
Trackdust

Alfa Romeo 156.

David Barrett
David Barrett

The 25 year cut off seems to be increasingly accepted as a the cut off for classic status. That takes us back to ‘93, plenty of great cars up to that point that could and should be considered classics. If taste has turned so much so that a BL Allegro can now be given classic status, then there’s hope for everything.

Peter J Smith
Peter J Smith

Ford’s Fox Body Mustangs, and, Mercury Capris are, most definitely, NOT classics!

Manuel Lopez Franco
Manuel Lopez Franco

Volvo 480 ES. A very nice car. Like mine.

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Ken
Ken

Alpina C2 2.5 Coupe. #17 of 74 produced. Restored. Rare and so much fun to drive. A raw driving experience that is so involving compared to my supercharged E46 M3 and modern Porka

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Fernando Díaz González
Fernando Díaz González

It’s really such a beauty.

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Jimmy
Jimmy

Lotus Elise M100 S2, the last series limited…like mine😜

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Christopher Contreras

2002-2006 MINI Cooper S r52/53

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Christopher Contreras

MINI Cooper s R53

Dan Graff
Dan Graff

Porsche 944 in any version. Still affordable, timeless design and fun to drive.

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Mike Miessler
Mike Miessler

Mk1 and Mk2 Golf GTi’s. Those will definitely be classics.

trev
trev

I think 90’s and 2000’s jap sport cars will become more and more collectible over the next few years and prices already are spiking accross the board. They i think were the perfect balance between driveability performance and driver input/fun. Yes these days are ridiculously quick but they have lost the driver involvement bar for the porches and a few select cars. Definitely a golden eras and as people of the generation that enjoyed them or played them on Grab turisom and etc they will drive the prices higher as they can afford it more Here is what i think… Read more »

Hugo SANNER
Hugo SANNER

Fun to read about this now. I’ve just sold my daily MGB and bought a TVR S2, build in 1990.
Nobody in my classic car enthusiast family does even consider the new car. For them, it is too modern…
I think 80’s and 90’s cars still have a bit of road to go before becoming real classics….

SteveLittlefield
SteveLittlefield

A sad final thought on this article….many of the future classics mentioned in the article and comments section will not last into the future the way so many of the cars from the ’50s & ’60s have done. They are simply too complex, which makes restoration difficult and expensive for the average owner. For example, last year I bought an ’87 325is that was very solid and rust free, but tired. The original owner had never abused it, but had neglected it. I have 150 hours in the car and over $20K and I’m not done. Except for re-upholstery of… Read more »

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SteveLittlefield
SteveLittlefield

Great Article! Looking at many of the comments, it seems that there are a lot of readers who have favorite cars from the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s. While most cars from the 1980s & ’90s are more complex than earlier cars, they tend to be far more dependable. One criteria that must be considered for future classics is ease of maintenance, repair and restoration. If it’s hard to repair or rebuild, it probably wouldn’t make a future classic, unless it’s Porsche or Ferrari. Most German stuff made after 1990 is hard to tear apart. My old 993 was a… Read more »

Christian Joseph
Christian Joseph

I’d have to give my vote to the gen 1 and gen 2 Vipers…especially the GTS model. They can be had for reasonable money right now but that won’t last long. Vipers of all generations will be taking off soon now that production has ceased. Get one while they are still affordable.

Brian
Brian

Mini GP1 & GP2, S2000, GT86, Altezza, E46 M3, Z4M, Z3M & EK9, EG6, DC5,

Brian
Brian

Mini GP1 & GP1, S2000, GT86, Altezza, E46 M3, Z4M, Z3M,

Sezgin
Sezgin

i think 996’s will be one of the classic too do you agree?

skidog49
skidog49

Agree with Pedro Serro on the Saab 9000. Designed by Georgetto Guigiaro and also used by Alfa and Lancia these are not mainstream Saabs at all. The Saab 9000 set still-to-be unbroken records at Talladega (a multi-day test called “The Long Run) and are probably the sleepers of all Saabs made. The Aero models in the mid-90s were faster from 70 to 100 that a Ferrari Testarossa, with just mere 225 BHP. The stock engine has internals that can handle up to 400 BHP without modification and with regular maintenance can easily run 250K miles or more. Plus, they are… Read more »

Taavi
Taavi

I would pick from the same platform Lancia Thema 8.32 not meny made and all the cismos. 🙂

Pedro Serro
Pedro Serro

The saab 9000 t 16 deserves his place on car history, due to his 1987 FIA land speed records.
Since that records (21) were broken by the saab thirty years ago in talladega, Alabama, no car has made 100 000 km at such high average speed (215 km/h) !
If this isn’t a good reason to consider it a classic…..

Sean DjManila Peria

I would suggest an S2000, amazing driving dynamics mixed with a screamer of an engine.

Prices have not gone down either

Brad Powick
Brad Powick

Because I once owned one of these (and still would if someone hadn’t of crashed into it while it was in a car park!) and have a soft spot for them, I’d like to think that the Toyota Celica ST 185 will one day join the ranks of future classics.

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Howard James
Howard James

Eunos Cosmo 20b? Only 3 rotor car ever commercially produced and the first to come standard with GPS

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jkbar
jkbar

I’m looking for a nice stock Chrysler Crossfire SRT6. They are in reach of the average guy so if I can find one Ill be happy. These will be a major collectable.

Benjamin Habarow

How about the later model pre-GM Saabs? There’s a heap of good examples going very cheap at the moment. I recently picked up a one-owner 2000-model convertible with less than 100,000km on the clock for $1600 due to a replacement radiator and some suspension components being impossible to find. After $800 and three months waiting in a mechanic, it’s a hell of a beautiful thing

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Todd Cox
Todd Cox

I agree. Lots of history and unique innovation in these cars coupled with attractive styling very unlike anything else on the road.

Craig Palmer

Depending on where you are, as some cars are not available in all markets, but something with rarity, quirkiness, or a limited run usually is a good bet, but it can take a while for any collectable status to manifest. I own a renault Avantime, a rather quirky 2 door coupe based on a van, the espace which has a following and many clubs dedicated to it throughout Europe. Like most oddities, it is not everyones taste, but with less the 8000 ever made and less on the road all the time, it is already starting to see increasing values… Read more »

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Lauchlan Thackwell-James
Lauchlan Thackwell-James

The Celica lift back RA25 from 1977 could well be one. Any 1980’s Alfa Sud Ti or Alfa GTV for that matter. Provided you can find one rust free. Bertone X1-9 could come in as a classic . Cosworth 190 Benz ! Any standard OEM RX 7 . The list will truly grow

flooglemop
flooglemop

“Rising in price” may have more to do with scarcity or low-production numbers than actual value as a “classic”. I mean, if NA Miatas were not produced in such high volume, they would be selling today for a lot more than they are. The reason they’re the so inexpensive and the best bang-for-the-buck fun out there is because there are so many of them, they’re really a dime a dozen. So their low price is really due to large production numbers and not to a lack of interest or desirability. As for what arbitrary years I subjectively assign the status… Read more »

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

I see prices starting to rise dramatically. Most have been trashed as disposable cars or neglected out of shame when they were ‘hairdresser’ cars. Now that the world is a little smarter and the Miata has proved itself collectors are noticing that clean examples are getting very hard to find, and when they are found they carry a steep premium. There is absolutely no doubt the NA miata is a classic. Still a prolific one but we are on the verge of a massive shift in numbers. The smart collector will buy now and preserve, unlike me who has been… Read more »

Sebastiaan Vandendael
Sebastiaan Vandendael

Wiesmann MF3 – already styled like a retro car combined with the engines and reliability of BMW.
Those 6 cyl. engines made for the e36 M3 & E46 M3 are a peach to drive!

Too bad the States will have to wait until they start blowing their 25 candles.

Nathan Mulready
Nathan Mulready

I think you could add an unmolested 1991 and earlier Mitsubishi Galant VR4 to the list. The 4G63T single turbo 4WD, the low numbers produced for rally
homologation and the solid Japanese build make it worth a look. The RS model and AMG variant add a bit of difference aswell. http://bringatrailer.com/2014/06/25/spotless-non-usa-1988-mitsubishi-galant-vr-4-rs/

Per Eldh
Per Eldh

Generally, massproduced japanese cars don’t get to be future classics, as they are often merely products for a target market.

Scott Lewis
Scott Lewis

I would think any car that isn’t a one off or a homologation special is made for a “target market”. While your average Corolla is nothing special, it’s no more or less worthy of “classic” status than a Chevy Malibu or a VW Jetta. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think any car gets “classic” status unless there’s something significant about it. Just surviving a certain number of years might give you “antique” status but it doesn’t signify that anything’s special about the car.)

Xavier Capela
Xavier Capela

Golf GTI’s since the MK5 will also be future classics, imo. The ND mx5 will also be a classic, of couse these are newer models, for older models, e36 m3, they’re still relatively cheap, Honda S2000 no doubt, they’re already rising in price, Corrado VR6. This is just my opinion of couse, I might be wrong.

Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy

Things like early Honda type r’s, Wrx sti’s and Mitsi Evo’s in original condition will be highly sought after. So many of them were modified and tampered with. All Mazda Rotary vehicles of so far have become collectable also.

Charl Fourie
Charl Fourie

Without a doubt the Clio V6 phase2

Justas Grds
Justas Grds

Honda s2000 – 100\% future classic! Value of these cars starting to raise already!

Mike Lloyd
Mike Lloyd

Mk1 Toyota MR2, AW11 Supercharged

Marvin R
Marvin R

In my opinion the Alfa Romeo 916 GTV is a modern day classic. As an owner I can tell you that this distinctively styled car is the proof that a front wheel drive car can have extremely good handling.

Tristan Kelly
Tristan Kelly

Haha! I was just about to say exactly that! I don’t think they were imported into the US though, so will be off their radar for a few more years at least. I have a lovely phase 2 in Vela blue. Had it from pretty much new and have to date put 146,000 miles on it.

Patrick Govier
Patrick Govier

Couldn’t agree more. Values are rising in the UK especially if it is a V6 or Cup.

CJ_Madson
CJ_Madson

Don Williams, who has managed the Blackhawk collection (among others) for many years, has said that the 40-60 year old group of collectors drives what is most desirable and what will be considered classic over time. “Great cars will always be great” — but always watch the shifting interests of the younger generation(s). I have my own favorites but know that the car passion stays alive and well through the eyes and desires of the next wave of drivers. And one of my more popular photos is of a Gremlin. Go figure.

Rubens Bonfim
Rubens Bonfim

How about the first Audi TT?

Cyrille Abraham
Cyrille Abraham

Nice paper. You mentionned a lot of Japanese cars so I would add some UK cars.
Lotus (Elise/Exige of the late 90’s are the first AND the last of a kind. With a lot of aftermarket developpment and competitions… But the Esprit could be a good classic too)
And Aston Martin for sure !

Jake Petersen
Jake Petersen

I think the 2.5rs Impreza should be added to the list. The other suggestions are all solid in my opinion.

André Borges
André Borges

This:

Steve Goudy
Steve Goudy

I would agree with Paul, that it will be the “younger” generation that decides future classics. I think a strong competition history will help. So the WRCs are all an obvious choice along with the Mazda RX7 and Miata. Low volume will also make cars stand out, so Veyrons, Maserati MC-12 and the modern Morgan Three Wheeler make the list. Now some in between cars, hmm…How about the 2002-04 SVT Focus. Low volume and understated compared to the hopped up Civics that were so popular at this same time. Some of the “lesser” Shelby cars, like the Dodge Shelby Charger… Read more »

Steely
Steely

It probably won’t be anything that 40 somethings like me consider a potential desirable future classic, it will be decided by the kids of today in 20 years time, and that will probably be the hot versions of the cars they drove in teens, and whatever it is youngsters aspire to but can’t afford due to price, insurance costs, tax, fuel etc. That’s if legislation hasn’t banned the internal combustion engine, or cars over a certain age etc. from our roads by then!

Rick Furnival
Rick Furnival

I have a pristine, 1997 Camaro convertible in the 30th Aniversary livery. I have toyed with selling it, but continue to wonder if one day I might regret doing so. What to do…

Fernando Souto
Fernando Souto

I think we need to look at touring and rally cars of the era as a guide. Some of these cars are so significant that they changed the rules of racing. For example, the Ford Cosworth RS500, BMW E30 M3, Nissan GTR-34, Peugeot 205 GTI, Mazda RX-7, Toyota Celica ST 185 Turbo 4WD, Lancia Delta Integrale and lastly the Honda type R Integra and NSX.