Are collectable cars from the 1980s making a comeback?

Collectable cars from the 1980s are starting to overtake models from earlier decades.

Collectable cars classics
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The wheels started to slide off their axles in the collectable cars market last year. Prices edged lower in what had been up until then a zooming market. “The value of the HAGI Top index [which tracks collectable car prices] was up 22% in 2022, so a retreat of 6% isn’t all that bad,” 

Dietrich Hatlapa, founder of Historic Automobile Group International (HAGI), tells Knight Frank’s The Wealth Report 2024. “It’s a very small market so it only takes a minor change in portfolio allocations to have an effect, and there has also probably been a degree of profit taking,” he says. 

That we saw a correction in classic car prices really isn’t all that surprising when looked at in the rearview mirror. By last summer, the cost of living had “started to bite, and that affected sellers who started to offload their least-precious cars, often expecting them to return at least what the vehicle had cost them”, says John Mayhead of specialist car insurance and research firm Hagerty

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“Meanwhile, buyers were becoming more careful with their money, especially as they were no longer able to borrow at the ultra-low rates they had been accustomed to for so long.” Prices deflated across the board. Almost a third of car models tracked on the UK Hagerty Price Guide rose in value in 2023 (compared with 86% in 2022 and 48% in 2021), with prices for more prosaic cars from recent decades holding up. Two-litre and under engines “on average gained value” in contrast to three-litre and higher engines. 

Hatlapa names BMW and Lamborghini as high-end marques that “bucked the trend in 2023” (rising 9% and 18% respectively), as they “appeal to a younger breed of collector”. It is certainly true some collectors were still willing to pay high prices. A 1962 Ferrari 330 LM / 250 GTO sold for $51.7m with RM Sotheby’s last November. Then again, the very top of the market operates “by its own rules”, as Joe D’Allegro notes on CNBC. Customers have to be invited to buy some of Ferrari’s newest special editions, and those cars tend to only increase in value. 

Those buyers with the deepest pockets tend to be of the older “Boomer” generation, and that age group is gradually “leaving the market”, as Hagerty’s Mayhead puts it. The succeeding “Gen X” (born between 1965 and 1980) has been picking up the slack as they reach “peak earning capacity”, but “the real growth [in the market] has been in younger drivers”, he says. 

What’s more, different generations tend to be interested in different cars. “What people like when they’re younger becomes collectable when they’re older,” Daniel Strohl, former editor of collectable-car publication Hemmings Daily, tells CNBC. “We saw that with the muscle cars Boomers collected, and we’re seeing it now with the 1980s trucks and Japanese imports that are popular with younger collectors.” Mayhead agrees: “For those guys, a whole new world of 1980s-and-newer classics are the ones they aspire to.”

Are collectable cars still a valuable investment? 

Hagerty named the 1985-1991 Ford Escort RS Turbo in its latest annual “Bull Market List” of the eight collectable cars “primed for growth” in 2024. The RS Turbo captures “the zeitgeist of 1980s Britain” and one example, admittedly once owned by Princess Diana, fetched £722,500 with Silverstone Auctions in 2022. Otherwise, a model in top “Concours” condition is worth £35,800. The 1999-2010 Honda S2000 is another car to make the list, and it ticks the Japan box. A Concours condition model could be worth £22,000. 

Finally, environmentalism is a topic that tends to be close to the hearts of younger buyers and for collectable cars that means going electric – even going so far as to replace petrol and diesel engines in older classic cars with electric motors. “Such conversions are starting to catch on in the high-end car collector scene,” says Alejandro de la Garza in Time magazine. But if your wallet doesn’t stretch so far, there’s a Japanese option closer to home that’s already electric and, despite its youth, fast becoming a classic – the humble Honda e. 

The e  was a “very expensive city car”, costing around £37,000 when it was introduced in 2020, says Leon Poultney on TechRadar. “Its puny 137- mile range is now laughable compared to much more affordable rival machines,” but there is an affection for it. A low-mileage second-hand model can be snapped up for £16,500 online. Better yet, Honda’s recent announcement that it will stop making the model could see prices rising again, says Poultney. In other words, the little Honda e could “potentially [become] one of the first genuinely collectable electric vehicles”.

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Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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