April 30, 2021

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

What Makes a Collector Car?

You know a collector car when you see it, right? For most of us, when we think of a collector car, we think of E-Type Jags, Tri-Five Chevrolets, first-gen Mustangs, Alfa Romeo Spiders, and Mercedes-Benz Pagoda SLs. Cars with style, history and performance. Cars built in limited numbers. Traditional stuff.

But what happens when you grow beyond that magic 1972 cutoff year that so many collectors have held close for so long? The 1973-and-later era certainly ended the fun of the 1960s, but the fun has been back long enough now to make anyone clinging to that sentiment seem totally out of touch.

The world is changing right in front of us — newer collectors are getting involved and influencing what is considered collectible today. Even when it comes to seasoned car people, the power of nostalgia changes opinions on cars that seemed like nothing more than uninteresting appliances just a few short years ago.

Case-in-point via a question: Is a first-gen Mazda Miata a collector car now?

The answer, I think, is that it depends on who you ask. As with anything, ask a bunch of people and you’ll get a variety of answers. Kids who weren’t old enough to really notice them in the ’90s will say yes. Adults who actually bought and drove them — and saw them everywhere during their commutes during the “Friends” era — might still think otherwise.

Miata: has your opinion changed?

But what I think is most interesting here is that the trend of answers is shifting. If you asked that same question five years ago, your spread of answers would be a lot different than what you’ll see today. Has your opinion of the blinky Miata changed over the past few years? If it has, have you ever wondered why?

I think that evolution of opinion is key in understanding what makes a car collectible. Once you figure out why things are changing, you can start to apply the same thought process to other cars that are on the cusp of making that shift.

Fresh eyes and new views

It may be weird to think of the old car world, which for so many years has felt like a ’50s fin-shaped constant, as always in flux — but it is, and like it or not, that flux is powered by youth.

Young people bring new vision to the table. They’re seeing a world unburdened with the same stigmas that older car people have long held true — or maybe they’re just filled with different stigmas. Either way, that fresh vision can help change even long-held opinions.

I’m not sure that a 20-something cares that the Miata was as ubiquitous as a telephone pole. They see a great basic driver’s car — or just something that’s easy to modify and has a cool, older look and feel. 

OK, that’s fine. But does it really change your opinion of a Miata? Maybe not directly, but I still think it can, and for good reason. When a population starts to treasure a type of car, even a mass-produced one, the visible examples of those cars in your life begin to improve. Attrition has ended those telephone pole days, and when you do see early Miatas today, they tend to be nicer examples because their owners are now enthusiasts. Break out the rose-colored glasses… Maybe you should have bought one, too, back when they were cheap. Next best time to get one is today, right? And so it goes.

Color, stance and tasteful aftermarket modifications are hard at work here on this Accord. Does it do anything for you?

Here are the makings of a future collector car, at least as I see it:

Specialization

Today’s cars are Swiss Army knives of usability, but you’re not going to win any knife fights with the Victorinox on your keychain. The Miata was — and is — a great sports car. Look for other cars that were engineered to do one or two things really well at the cost of other conveniences. The Porsche Boxster and Ford Raptor come to mind. Look for manual transmissions, too.

Attrition

Once everywhere, now gone. Watch for special models of cars that cast a wide net among a large subset of people. First-gen Dodge Neon ACR. Acura Integra Type R. Honda Civic Si. Fiat 500 Abarth. These could become the SS Chevelles of the not-so-distant future.

Performance

Want 500, 600, or 700 hp? No problem. This can’t and won’t last forever. Consider Dodge’s Scat Pack, SRT and Hellcat line. Anything SVT at Ford. GM’s supercharged — or just V8 and manual — options.

Kitsch   

Why do Boomers like ’60s station wagons? Nostalgia and kitsch. You can apply that here, too. Woodgrain Dodge Caravan / Plymouth Voyager. AMC Eagle. Pontiac Aztek. Were they great? Not really. Do they stand out now? Absolutely.

Will these cars become coveted? Some already have, others maybe never will. But it’s worth asking your friends and the young people in your life what they think about them — both now and in the coming years. What they say might surprise you.