Picture a classic car in your head: likely it’s an American icon like a late ‘60s Mustang or even earlier like a ‘50s Fairlane. Maybe your taste is a bit more exotic and you’re imagining a classic Ferrari or even a British sports car like an MG or Triumph.
Times are changing, however, and so is the definition of what a classic car is. Increasingly the vehicles that come to mind for a younger generation of auto buffs are early, race-bred Japanese classics, like the Toyota 2000GT, Datsun 240z or Mazda RX3.
Don’t laugh at the suggestion. According to classic Japanese car enthusiast Ryan Rudd, prices for Japanese classic cars are steadily rising.
“I believe the Japanese classics will reach the prestige and price of the American and European cars, in fact, in many places, they already have. For instance, a 1970 Nissan Skyline GTR can go for well over $100,000 in Japan.” Rudd said. “In the U.S., the following of classic Japanese cars is growing at a very high rate as well.”
Rudd works at one of a popular Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) restoration shops in Utah. JDM Legends was “born out of passion for JDM cars” and is a go-to place for restored (and modified) classic Japanese cars.
For a long time Japanese cars have been thought of as too common and too cheap to become serious collector material. It seems those ideas are changing.
“As the younger crowd takes its place in the car world, they are going to have the desire to own the cars they loved in their childhood years,” Rudd said, “It is easy to see the different generations, and which cars they loved.”
Traditional outlets for classic cars seem to be oblivious to the changing attitudes. A representative from Barett-Jackson even told us that they “haven’t seen much in the way of Japanese classics at their auctions.”
Rudd, however, does see the trend. “It seems as if the generation that is now starting to have some extra spending money for a classic car, really appreciate the racing heritage of many of these classic Japanese cars, as well as the designs which were coming out of Japan in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.”
A recent example of a Japanese classic reaching the prestige of its American and European counterparts is a 1967 Toyota 2000GT, that was sold for $375,000.
The 2000GT is valuable thanks to its racing heritage. Back in the ‘60s the 2000GT set FIA records for speed and endurance in a 72-hours test. Additionally, a pair of 2000GTs competed against the likes of Porsche 911s and Lotus Elans in races sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America.
The success of the cars was not without a strong American connection, however, with the team being run by none other than the legendary Carroll Shelby. Thanks to his expertise, the pair finished the series in second and third place, even though they had less power than their rivals.
Rudd believes that cars like the 2000GT will reach the highest value when it comes to Japanese collectors. He specifically pointed out the Nissan Skyline, Toyota Celica, Datsun 240z, Datsun 510, Honda S600/800 and Mazda RX3. “These seem to be the cars which have the largest followings, and we have seen the price of them begin to climb over the following years,” he said.
Rudd has a specific formula for guessing which cars will be most popular: “I think what really determines which classic Japanese cars will have a high value in the future is, racing heritage, the very low production numbers in comparison to many of the classic American cars, and simply the general styling of the cars.” He explained.
There are other opinions about what makes a desirable classic Japanese car.
“JDM cars can be interesting for rarity, but a very clean or well restored USA-spec car can have a more nostalgic and emotional connection to the Japanese cars we remember from when they were new,” said Randy Nonnenberg from Bringatrailer.com, a site that aims to connect vintage car enthusiasts with the vehicle of their dreams.
“Up and coming classics like period Japanese racing cars and rare models that were not offered in the USA are getting the attention of collectors,” he says.
Nonnenberg sees many cars posted at his site, but mentions “The Japanese vehicles on bringatrailer.com bring just as much response from our readers as the European and American cars.”
He explained that there’s a changing trend in terms of vintage car enthusiasts, which helps with Japanese collector cars. “The vast majority of our readers have hands on experience with Japanese cars, which isn’t always the case with exotics and more expensive Euro models. The connection to the marques of Japan is often based on real seat-time instead of just posters on your wall as a kid,” Said Nonnenberg.
When asked which cars are likely to reach the prestige of European and American classics, Nonnenberg’s list was exactly the same as Rudd’s.
Generally, all the cars they mentioned have similar design cues, many of which are still vaguely present in cars today. In fact, Toyota looked to the design of the 2000GT as inspiration for its latest car, the Scion FR-S/Toyota GT 86. With companies like Toyota looking back to their roots to draw inspiration for more modern machines, these older machines are certain to soon achieve both full fledged classic car status, and value.