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Five car hobby predictions for 2017

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Photo by Mr. Muggles.

Thankfully, we’ve survived another trip around the sun, which means it’s time once again for our annual gaze into the crystal ball, which smells suspiciously of carb cleaner (reminding us to use a fresh shop rag to wipe it down next year). For the year that was, Mr. Dickens summed it up best by saying, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

As is tradition, we’ll begin with a look back at our accuracy rate for 2016 predictions:

  • Eighties cars will continue to grow in demand – and price. We’ll score this in the “correct” column for demand, though prices certainly haven’t begun to appreciate in a significant manner, Ferrari and air-cooled Porsche models excepted. A new generation of collectors is entering the hobby, and to many of them, it’s the cars from the ’80s that bring back memories of youth. It isn’t likely that a Reagan-era Dodge Caravan will out-price a Volkswagen 21-window Samba bus any time soon, but we’ve learned to never say never.
  • Look for Japanese family cars from the 1960s-’80s to climb in value. This falls into the “neither correct nor incorrect” category. Prices are certainly up on well-preserved examples, but the same can be said for cars of the period originating in just about any country. If a car evokes memories of childhood, there’s probably a market for it, and as demand outstrips supply, prices rise. In the case of Japanese family cars from the 1960s – ’80s, this rise was neither as sudden nor as dramatic as we expected.
  • Demand for vintage hot rods will increase. Correct, with a caveat. Hot rods built to someone else’s taste with radical paint, modern drivetrains and updated suspension remain a mixed bag, selling for impressive numbers only when the right buyer is found. On the other hand, period-correct cars built with bangers or flatheads enhanced with vintage speed parts are becoming more sought-after, which also translates to more expensive.
  • Expect an upswing in vintage motorcycle prices. Check. Not only have prices for prewar bikes risen, the number of auctions selling vintage iron have increased as well. Perhaps motorcycles, traditionally built in smaller numbers, are seen as a safer investment than collector cars, or perhaps buyers are simply yearning for a time when bikes were little more than two wheels, an engine, and a bit of chrome.
  • The glory days of the American V-8 are winding down. Not even close to correct on this, although it’s hard to say what the future has in store. In 2016, at least, the V-8 was safe, and having spent time in both the new Shelby GT350 Mustang and the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, better than it’s ever been. Armed with a big enough account balance, one can walk into a domestic car dealership and buy a V-8-powered pony car that puts down 707 horsepower, or one that revs to 8,200 RPM and still meets emissions numbers. If that’s not proof that this is a great time to be alive, we don’t know what is.

Housekeeping out of the way, let’s move on to our predictions for 2017:

We’ve reached peak “barn find.”

Jaguar XK120

A barn find Jaguar XK120 at Bonham’s 2014 Pebble Beach auction. Photo by author.

Yes, a car is only original once, but on the other hand, driving a classic car should not come with a risk of tetanus or hantavirus. In the past three years, “barn finds” have grown from an eccentric offshoot of the auction business to an expected norm, with prices rising to mind-boggling levels. As functional cars, such vehicles often need extensive work to make them road-worthy, making an already expensive purchase even more of a financial risk. As art, few will appreciate thick dust (enhanced with authentic, period-correct bat guano), mouse-eaten upholstery and dry-rotted rubber. We say 2017 is the year that buyers begin to realize that a well-restored car may actually be more desirable than one showing decades of neglect.


We’ve also reached peak “garage television.”

Each year, it seems, brings with it another scripted “reality television” show about a long-suffering shop owner, tormented by inept employees and overbearing customers, forced to perform a ground-up restoration on a one-of-one Hemi Superbird with the factory incense burner and the Coyote Fur interior, with less than a week remaining before SEMA, MCACN, the Pillsbury Bake-Off, or some such event. In case you didn’t already know this, there is no “reality” in “reality television,” and the appeal of such shows has worn as thin as the chrome finish from a rattle can. Maybe this is little more than wishful thinking on our part, but we’d really like to believe the days when every channel with a leaning-male demographic shows endless reruns of this drivel are coming to an end.


If you’ve ever wanted a transaxle Porsche, now’s the time to buy it.

Porsche 944

Porsche 944. Photo courtesy Porsche AG.

A rising tide raises all boats, and skyrocketing values for air-cooled Porsche 911s have driven up prices of 912s and, to a lesser degree, 914s. Though prices seem to have stabilized somewhat in the past year, the days of the affordable 911 seem to be behind us. Fortunately for driving enthusiasts yearning to own a car with the Porsche crest, the Stuttgart automaker’s transaxle models (924, 944, 928 and 968) remain relative bargains, though we don’t expect this to last forever. Buy one in the next year or so, or be prepared to kick yourself five years down the line.


Ditto for a first-generation Miata.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

A first-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata. Photo courtesy Mazda North America.

Used first-generation (NA, in Mazda-speak) Mazda Miatas, built from 1989-’97, used to be plentiful and cheap, as few enthusiasts understood exactly how good these cars were, even in stock form. As more people came to understand this (and as the SCCA’s Spec Miata series exploded in popularity), the pool of available first-gen cars began to grow ever smaller. Today, it seems, there are just two kinds of NA Miatas left: the inexpensive ones, often heavily modified or suffering from terminal rocker-panel rust, and the collector examples, remarkably well-preserved and priced accordingly. Fortunately for those seeking an affordable sports car, the second-generation (NB) Miatas remain somewhat more abundant (and affordable), while the third-gen cars (the roomiest and most powerful normally aspirated examples) are now dipping into the realm of the affordable. If you’ve got your heart set on an NA, be aware that prices won’t be coming down in the future – buy the best example you can afford, as soon as you find it.


The success of The Race of Gentlemen will spawn similar vintage events.

TROG East 2016

TROG East, 2016. Photo by author.

In case you’ve missed our coverage of the 2014, 2015 or 2016 events, The Race of Gentlemen pits (mostly) prewar hot rods and tank-shift bikes against one another in two days of friendly beach-racing competition. At its heart, it’s a big party, and an excuse for like-minded individuals to get together and discuss builds, racing and tuning secrets. Though a typhoon clouded this year’s inaugural TROG West, the East Coast event has grown noticeably in size and scope, and coverage has been seemingly everywhere. Success spawns imitation, and we’d be surprised if we didn’t see other vintage hot rod events begin to pop up in various locations (including those without beaches) in the coming years. Think of it as one more reason to tackle that Model A speedster project you’ve been putting off.