In 1991, I came back from Operation Desert Storm with a pocketful of money from the several months I had spent aboard an oil tanker as a part of the USS John F Kennedy battle group in the Red Sea. Like many young men flush with cash I was determined to shoot the works as fast as possible and so before my jet lag had even abated I took my nest egg on a tour of the local low-end car lots in search of some real old-fashioned Detroit muscle. It didn’t take me long to find something I liked, a well used 1969 Camaro with small block and a four speed, and I was ready to deal but the price on the windshield, $3200, stopped me cold. It was outrageous!
My exchange with the salesman was brief and to the point. “Why is the price on this Camaro so high?” I asked, “We both know this is a $1500 car.”
The salesman smiled and wrung his hands. “That was true a few years ago,” he said, “They were $1500 cars, but they’ve gone up in value recently. It’s a collector’s item now.” He informed me.
I laughed in his face. “Really?” I asked, “People are stupid enough to pay more than twice what it is worth because you’re calling it a collectors’ item?”
“Well,” The salesman told me, “The baby boomers are looking to recapture their youth and they are willing to pay to get what they want. They aren’t making any more, you know, and in a couple more years even $3500 won’t buy this car.”
Convinced that the salesman was nuts, I took my bankroll and walked away but wherever I went, lot after lot, the story was the same. In the end, despite my fierce desire to waste the wad of cash in my pocket, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend so much money on something I knew wasn’t really worth the asking price. Of course, time has proved me wrong and today $1500 wouldn’t even buy a non-running, rolling wreck of a 1969 Camaro, never mind getting one that actually runs and drives. I just couldn’t understand what was happening and the days of cheap Detroit muscle slipped away while I was focused on other things. I had missed the boat.
Now, I think it is happening again. Last weekend, the 9th annual Japanese car show was held in Long Beach, CA and the internet is alive with photos of wonderfully preserved or restored classic Japanese machines. It looks like it was a great event and I am more than a little envious of those of you who had a chance to attend. I want to play too but I wonder if haven’t arrived at the wharf only to see this most recent ship already throwing lines and casting off. Just a few years ago classic Japanese cars were selling at rock bottom prices, the 1986 Nissan 200SX Turbo that I purchased in 2001 for just $500 and have so fondly recalled on these pages over the past few months is just one example of the great deals there were. Now, however, as those of us in Generation X go looking to recapture our youth, prices seem to be edging up. I wonder, is there still time to jump in?
Over the last few weeks, the Buffalo area Craigslist has seen a spate – if two or three random ads can be called a “spate” – of advertisements for turbocharged Dodge Conquest TSIs/Mitsubishi Starions in the sub $3000 range and I am watching them with interest. Realistically speaking, with my departure from the US more or less set for next year (even though I still don’t know where I will go), there isn’t much I can do about my desire for a classic Japanese car at the present time and so I fear this golden time, too, will pass me by. But I wonder, just how much do I need to worry?
Prices on classic Japanese cars are going to rise, that’s for sure, but I after thinking seriously about it for all of ten minutes, I don’t believe they will go entirely into the stratosphere. It has nothing to do with these cars’ desirability, hell they are glorious, but the reality is that the recent economic crash and the achingly slow recovery we have continued to endure while Washington chases its own tail means money doesn’t flow as freely for Generation X as it did for the Boomers. Many of us have endured long periods of unemployment or have lost much the equity in our houses, one of the things the prior generation relied upon to finance any number of indulgences, and we have learned to be more careful with what we have left. We’re not going to waste what we have and, in the end, I believe that we just aren’t going to spend so much money on something we know isn’t really worth the asking price. At least that’s what I think. Of course, given my track record you may want to get another opinion…
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.