By on February 11, 2012

Originally published in Speed:Sport:Life April, 2010 — JB

Imagine that you’re an alien. Not an undocumented immigrant, mind you, but a genuine, green-tentacle-and-glass-helmet monstrosity of a visitor from beyond the stars. While your fellow aliens examine the defense systems of Earth (not so hot) and the intelligence of the population (somewhat simian), you attempt to reconcile all the written history you can find with the evidence before your massive, bloodshot, singular eye. You are particularly interested in the history and psychology behind the local transportation devices, known as “cars”, “whips”, “hogs”, or “causes for divorce”.

Most of what you’ve learned is pretty common-sense stuff, even for an alien. There’s a problem, however, and you have, after some months of study, come to call it “The Grand National Problem”. You’ve used your indistinguishable-from-magic science to read everything in the vast record-keeping halls of General Motors. You know from the documentation that the vast majority of Buick Regals produced during the Eighties were chrome-laden, velour-lined “Custom” and “Limited” models. It’s as plain as the order codes on all the old Selectric-typed order forms.

Or is it? All those Customs and Limiteds GM supposedly rolled off the lines at, um, Flint? They’re gone. All your spaceship’s sensors can detect on the roads, all the ones you see at the half-ass local old-car shows, are examples of a rather minor production variant: the “Grand National”. In some years, Grand Nationals accounted for under ten percent of Regal production, but in the twenty-first century virtually every roadworthy example of the baroque Buick sports the blown-six logo and the “Darth Vader” paintjob. The regular Regals have been out of circulation so long, your orbital telescopes cannot even pick them out in junkyards. Something’s gone wrong, either with the data or the observations. Was there a G-body genocide? What happened?

Let’s rap about resale for a moment. The popular press is constantly admonishing us to choose Toyotas and Hondas because their residual value is so spectacular. I recently read a particularly odious piece on MSN which offered a “smart cost alternative” to outstanding, popular cars like the Focus and Malibu — no prizes for guessing that these “alternatives” were mostly beige buckets with a tendency to accelerate unexpectedly. In each case, IntelliChoice resale values were the deciding factor in the CamCord/whatever’s favor. Although the five-year residual tide is slowly turning in the favor of cars like the Consumer Reports-approved Ford Fusion, it’s still true that default-choice Japanese-brand cars are still pulling the most money when it’s time to trade in.

Except, of course, when they aren’t. If you want to buy and hold a car for a long time, the data doesn’t support choosing a Camry. A 2005 Camry may be worth a solid buck, and a 1995 Camry may still pry a few grand out of someone’s pocket, but in the long run Japanese cars are worthless, unless they are styled by a German count and closely imitative of a Jaguar E-Type. The vast majority of Japanese cars go straight to the junkyard the moment it would cost real money to fix them. Don’t believe me? Search eBay for that titan of Toyota excellence, the 1990 Lexus LS400. There aren’t any for sale, because there aren’t any on the road.

The car the LS400 was meant to kill, however, can easily be found on eBay. There are plenty of 1990 S-Classes available; ten as of this writing. There’s even a 1990 7-Series Bimmer on the ‘bay, proving that there really is an ass for every seat. I doubt that a 1990 560SEL is any cheaper to run than the equivalent Lexus, so the disparity must be due to something else.

The clue lies in the imaginary alien’s Grand National Problem. The plain-Jane Regals outsold the Grand National, but nobody saves a regular Regal. A normally-aspirated, light-blue Regal has no value beyond providing pleasant transportation. It’s the equivalent of a horse in the nineteenth century, and when it gives real trouble it’s put out of its misery with the same unsentimental dispatch a farmer would use when packing a trusty but lame old horse into the glue van.

A Grand National, on the other hand… that car has emotional value. Nobody dreams of owning a 1983 Regal Custom (well, I do) but plenty of people would like to show up at the midnight drags in a smooth Buick GN. Some of those people weren’t even alive when the car was available in showrooms, but they’re all interested. I wrote about “soul” a while ago and concluded that the soul resides in the owner, not the automobile. Soul is another way to say interest, perhaps. If a vehicle is interesting, it is likely to survive that day of cold cost reckoning and receive the irrational repair it requires. Its uninteresting competitor, meanwhile, will be unceremoniously cut down.

The buyer who preserves these cars is not the same person as the new-car buyer, which is why the LS400 was so popular as in showroom-stock trim and so readily consigned to oblivion two decades later. The hardcore old-car buyer is a traditionalist. He will almost always ignore age in favor of condition, miles on the odometer for real wear, equipment for rarity. He likes cars that produce interest.

The Grand National is a very interesting car, so time and time again owners have preserved GNs while regular Regals went to the junkyards. The net result is that, more than twenty-two years after the last rear-wheel-drive Regal rolled off the line at Pontiac, Michigan, (that’s right, it wasn’t Flint) the relatively uncommon Grand National has become the most common Regal out there. Hell, it might be the most common G-body GM coupe out there. I wouldn’t bet against it.

Can we find the Grand National effect elsewhere? You bet we can. The 1982 Camaro Sport Coupe, a clean little car with a vented nose, complete lack of ground effects, and an utterly gutless Iron Duke four-cylinder engine, outsold the Camaro Z28 by a reasonable margin. Try to find one now. I’ll wait. While you’re at it, see how many Volkswagen GTIs you will find from the early Eighties before you find a base Golf. We can play this game all night. Supra v. Cressida. Fox Mustang v. first-gen Escort. Porsche 911SC v… well, anything from the late Seventies. Vintage Nine Elevens are so durable, and are preserved with such ardor by their fans, that in some cities I see more of them than I see all other cars from that era.

Even on the occasion that one finds a now-rare everyday car from long ago on sale, the market pricing doesn’t match that of the “interesting” cars. When those time-capsule Regal Customs come out of some dead fellow’s garage, they are almost valueless. The Grand National package wasn’t a cheap option in 1987, but it would have been money well spent for anyone who wanted to resell their Buick today.

With all of this in mind, we could come up with some rules to maximize our long-term resale value. Some people really do want to keep their cars twenty or thirty years, and those people would benefit from knowing how to maximize the eBay spiff they’ll get when it’s time to sell. No doubt MSNBC or Edmunds would do a “Top Ten” list, but I’d prefer to boil it down to a single sentence:

Buy a mechanically durable sporting car from a well-respected manufacturer, in the highest-performance variant you can afford.

Simple as that, and you can go back and look in the past for endless examples. Corvettes fetch far more than Caprice Classics, and 944 Turbos are worth twice as much as naturally-aspirated models. (A 944 Turbo S? Even more so.) One sixteen-valve 190E sells for enough to buy five eight-valvers. Pity the poor fool who didn’t pay the relatively minor premium to upgrade his Mustang LX to five-liter power, and smile at the fellow who spent his forty-two grand on a 1995 Lexus GS300 (a $3,000 no-sale on eBay nowadays) instead of a Porsche 968 (fetching an easy twenty grand with a six-speed manual and a clean bill of health.)

Our imaginary aliens, were they to study humanity long enough, might be cheered by the Grand National effect. It suggests that people will still put money and effort down to obtain cars that are worth loving, despite the best efforts of the environmental lobby, the public schools, the coastal elites, and the United States Government to reduce automobile ownership to the status of an embarrassing, expensive inconvenience. I know it cheers me to think of it. The Grand National effect also suggests that the smartest money isn’t always the most “sensible”. That’s good to know as well.

I feel duty-bound, however, to point out something else that our alien friends might notice. There aren’t a lot of recent cars being rolled into garages to sleep their way towards a well-loved future. The Camry SE is no Grand National, but more tragically, the Nineties Regal GS was even less of one. Nor does the upcoming Regal GS strike me as a likely survivor. What’s worth saving? The sad, swollen, slab-sided sport-utility-vehicles that clog the American arteries won’t ever find a home in anyone’s heart. The niche brands that inspired men and women to hold on to them couldn’t hold on themsleves. The high-end cars that aren’t disposable crap also aren’t fixable in a home garage. And, not to coin a phrase, in this business lately, the best seem to lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Still, at this past week’s New York Auto Show I saw a car that just might qualify for Grand-National-style preservation. It’s likely to be durable, it’s fixable, it’s ugly but lovable, it’s fast and it looks exciting. It’s also an example of a manufacturer listening to its public and fixing problems instead of ignoring them. The pricing’s ridiculously optimistic but in this era of fifty-grand six-cylinder Japanese sedans perhaps the concept of value doesn’t carry much credence anyway. It’s a keeper, and it is called the 2011 Subaru Impreza STi.

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89 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: The Grand National Problem....”

  • avatar

    Buick is not the only example of this phenomenon. Try and find an Opel for sale that’s not a GT, there simply aren’t any despite the fact that the Manta, 1900 and probably the Kadette all outsold the GT. Though when it comes to always-loved cars an even better example is the ’55-’57 Thunderbird, a car that was loved out of the box and never reached the used car state. Now 60+ years later the “baby bird” is a common sight at car shows despite it’s low production numbers while the vastly more popular Birds of later days have disappeared.

    • 0 avatar

      Try finding a Vega that isn’t a Cosworth. So many Cosworth Vegas survived of the roughly none of them that were built that they still aren’t worth anything. Try finding a first or second generation Taurus that isn’t an SHO too. They’re all dead, but the non-SHO’s are recycled while some people hold onto the broken down SHO’s hoping for appreciation.

      Too bad this story was built around the early Lexus LS400s being gone. I still see them every day in San Diego, whether it be in the barrio or the gated communities of Mount Soledad. They’re still pretty common in Charlottesville, Virginia too, the last place I traveled. There are far more of them on the road than there are E32s, W126s, maybe even W124s. People may hold onto broken Mercedes and try to sell them on, but I see twenty year old Lexus LS400s being driven during rush hour by commuters. No Mercedes over 8 years old in that crowd.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. Good story, good points. But off base about the LS400. When there a only a few left, and people realize the engines won’t break, the interiors will still look sumptuous, and the cars will be easily serviceable by anyone familiar with Japanese cars, they may begin to go up. Right now, there are just still too many of them being driven as daily drivers. If they don’t appreciate, it’ll only be because they are so damn indestructible that remaining ones will all have been driven 200,000+ miles. BTW there are several 1990 LSs available on Autotrader.

        A better Japanese comparison to the GN might be the 1992 SC400, a car that sold in more limited numbers. A good low mileage one will run about $9000, not bad depreciation on a 20 year old car!

        People love to decry the passionless, soulless Japanese cars. And for the first 150,000 miles, that’s something that suits most people just fine. But don’t doubt that there are a few gems out there. Check out 93 and 94 Supras if you don’t believe me.

      • 0 avatar

        A handful of non-cosworth Vegas are available on ebay right now. Even a wagon, if you’re interested.

      • 0 avatar

        Only the low mileage wagon is anything like original of the non-Cosworths. Of the other four, 3 are V8 transplants and one has no engine. So there are two surviving Cosworths on ebay against one original standard Vega, even though there were 3,500 Cosworths built against 2 million Vegas with the standard engine.

      • 0 avatar

        But keep checking weekly, for say 6 months. See how many unique standard Vegas you count compared to the number of unique Cosworths. There are more plain Vegas still in existence for the simple reason that there were more to begin with.

        Jack has a point about value – the performance models will usually have more value. But he’s wrong about the numbers of cars existing.

        And the 3 v8 transplants are regular Vegas. The V8 swaps were not likely done in the ’70s, but rather later, to plain Vegas that still existed. The no engine car isn’t unusual, given the troubles Vegas had with engines.

        Another point to consider is that ebay exaggerates the GN problem. If you have a GN (or other collectible car) you sell it on ebay to maximize exposure- and bidding. If you live in OH you want to reach potential buyers in CA. On the other hand, if you are selling your now dead grandmother’s Regal v-6, it’s only value is as a low mileage used car. You’re more likely to sell it in the local market, sans ebay.

      • 0 avatar
        PJ McCombs

        +1 on the LS400. When I lived in CA’s Bay Area, they were everywhere, especially in Oakland and San Jose. Still, a great read.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        Agree on the LS400s. I’m biased because I drive one but I often see them on the roads around here and almost never see German sedans of the same vintage. I also agree with the point that they are still in fairly wide use as daily drivers (as mine is) and suggest maybe you don’t see them for sale because people hang onto them, unlike German money pits of the same vintage.

      • 0 avatar

        …..Try finding a first or second generation Taurus that isn’t an SHO too. They’re all dead….

        Uh, no they are not all dead. One resides in my driveway for the train station and material pickup at the Home Depot. And I see second gen Taurus/Sables all the time. When you own a given car, you tend to notice them. First gen’s are relatively rare, just as first gen Camrys are…Age catches up with daily drivers, no matter who makes them.

      • 0 avatar
        Ian Anderson

        Agreed on the LS400, even here on the fringes of the rust belt there’s still plenty of first generations driving around. Second generation Taurii are disappearing even in the junkyards here, the remaining ones on the road are pure beaters/commuters or owned by seniors who couldn’t afford a Town Car.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Kluttz

        Agreed. Lots of first gen LS400s in North Carolina, too.

      • 0 avatar


        I’ve been keeping my eyes open, and I’ve yet to spot a first, second or third generation Taurus on the road. There are lots of fourth generation cars on the road though, easily more than there are fifth and sixth generation Tauruses. Were it not for the presence of the fourth generation cars, I’d think it came down to few people buying them here in the first place. Much of our used car market is ex-rentals though, so that probably isn’t the case.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t see any first gen LS400’s around the Dallas area. 2nd gen, yes. Are you sure you guys aren’t seeing the same thing? only shows 1 LS400 first gen for sale right now.

  • avatar

    Hey! my mom had a blue 86 buick regal. What a great car for what it needed to be for her. It was even reliable! Damn those velour trimmed seats were nice.

    But your right, everybody wants the GN or GNX. She would be happy with her N/A model back. In all her years of driving she points out that model to be her all time favorite car.

    It really was a great car….

  • avatar

    You nailed it, and it’s easy to see the cars that will carry this trend on. 20 years from now all of the surviving first-gen Cadillac CTSs will be Vs (and they’ll all be black, even though GM built the first-gen V in three other colors). Dodge Magnum SRT-8s were rarer than hen’s teeth when new, but they’ll all be around in a quarter century — in fact, you might see more of them in 25 years than you do today, because they’ll be out at shows and stuff. (And don’t even bother looking for a V6 Charger or 300, because they’ll be long, long gone.) There will be a few V6 Mustangs around, but they’ll all be convertibles. What else?

  • avatar

    Great read Jack. Thanks!

  • avatar

    Well said. What you’re talking about is cars with character. You could almost make a list of cars which would qualify; it would be fun to do. The Pontiac G8 has it; The Pontiac Grand Prix doesn’t. The modern era Pontiac GTO would have it had they not made the fatal mistake of calling it a “GTO”. Anything with SVT in the name except for perhaps the SVT Contour.

  • avatar

    I still remember seeing the GN’s in showrooms when new. Awfully pretty, but unobtainium in my late teen years. Today the Turbo-T’s and T types are interesting options if you need the turbo G body in other colors.
    When I sold my 07 MSRT8 in summer of 2010 I too wondered what the future, with regards to collectability, holds for the ~3400 total produced over the 3 years production. As for the ’11 STI appreciating? Maybe. But I think the 07-09 Speed3 will have a better shot. But ONLY those years.

    • 0 avatar

      You had me until that last part. The quality issues and cheap production of the first gen MS3 make it a joke. A cheap fast car is still a cheap car at heart. That car had nothing going for it besides its engine, and cross your fingers and hope that part of it didn’t smoke at idle or grenade with even minor mods.

      I had a 2009, and it was a joyous day in my life when I got rid of it last year. The car only has one horn from the factory. Spongy factory motor mounts… purge valve lasted barely more than a year… the suspension was completely shot at 40k miles and the thing rode like a skateboard. And I won’t even start on the cheap plastic interior and resulting rattles- that would be its own book.

      The first MS3 has the same chance of becoming a classic as the Cobalt SS or Nitro SRT.

      If there’s any Mazda (besides the ubiquitous Miata) that will stand the test of time, it is the 2009-2011 RX8. Those engines weren’t failure prone, and it was one of the all time great drivers cars.

      • 0 avatar

        I think we probably agree more than we disagree.

        I too had an ’09 so I think we both know the issues of the 1st gen MS3 well. I bought mine new, and did some mods (Cobb AP, Forge BPV, DP back exhaust, and SRI with turbo inlet). I adored the power, both pre and post mods, and it handled rather nice out of the box. But in the end, I traded a 6 month old MS3 on a 2 year old Magnum SRT8.
        Why? Most of the issues you mentioned plus:
        -Wagon love.
        -1st CEL @1500 miles. More followed, but dealer could never solve the issue.
        -Forum reports of even non-modified motors that had connecting rods seeking new exits through the block. Yes, I knew of this pre-mods, but I think I became more aware of flirtin-with-disaster as I added more.
        -“Crunchy” sounding suspension @<1k miles
        -And finally, being struck from behind by a waitress in an old school Jeep GC with a push bar. This happened when it was less than a month old, and repairs cost ~$3.5k. Even when it looked new after the repairs, I knew it was "tainted". I wanted to view this nearly new car as a virgin with a naughty side, but after the accident I saw her as…um, experienced. But I digress.

        The reason I still believe the 1st gen will garner some attention in the future is because of how awfully damn good it looks compared to its successor. Perhaps not the same disparity of say 1973 Mustang vs. 1974 Mustang, but the 2nd gen is to me a horrible stylistic follow-up. Mainly, that face they put on it.
        Also, the GN that is the article focus (as well as a slew of other mega-dollar collectables) was/were not necessarily known as paragons of quality. Rather, as others have said, they were styled right and had a stonkin motor attached. To me that =1st gen MS3.

        Thank you for sharing your experience with your '09, as I've recently caught myself thinking of finding another low mile, non-modded one and keeping it stock for use as a DD. That would break my rule of never buying a used turbo car.

      • 0 avatar

        MS3 will never be collectible, lack of AWD and a big spoiler. There needs to be some sort of special quality, I don’t think the MS3 had it. I had the Neon SRT-4 and that was pretty radical but not quite there.

        There is a flip side to the Grand National story. Buick also cranked out a number of normal, chrome laden (or black depending on options) Turbo Regals in base and limited trim. Those are worth saving and so many of them are still around.

        Since there was a huge swell of GN production for ’87, the non-GN turbo Regals are actually quite a bit more rare. But yet the more “common” GN is and always will be worth more on the market. The black paint and other appearance of the GN were part of the package that makes it valuable, not just the awesome motor.

      • 0 avatar

        Seeing as I’m interested in trading up to a 2010+ MS3 at some point in the next year or two, I wondered if you first-gen owners might be able to answer a few questions:

        1) Setting aside the styling, on which YMMV (I personally enjoy it and it’s one of the reasons why I’m attracted to the Mazda3 over more conservatively-styled cars); as far as you know, do you feel that the main concerns with the first-gen have been addressed in the second-gen, or would it be a better idea to wait for a third go-around (which may put off my purchase until a few years from now).

        2) I’m mechanically inclined, but realistically do not have the time to spend on the car. Is this a car that will break the bank (despite its low purchase price relative to its competitors), even if I maintain well, don’t mod, and don’t race?

        3) gmrn, I’m curious about your “never a used turbo” rule. Can you elaborate on your reasoning? Would an extended warranty and an expectation that you won’t own the car outside of it give you enough peace of mind to make the purchase?

        Thanks for taking the time!

  • avatar

    So, I should get the SHO instead of the SEL AWD? Gotcha.

  • avatar

    …Can we find the Grand National effect elsewhere? You bet we can…

    Pontiac G8 GXP will definitely fall into this category. Not that there is anything wrong with the GT but no one will weep when the last V6 version goes to the crusher to have its shredded remains shipped to China.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not so sure. I think the V6 is still more desirable than nearly any average Camcord, thanks to its handling and rarity combined with its largely-common parts base. Given the G8’s rarity compared to most generic full-size family cars, I suspect many V6 models will end up as GT or GXP clones, similar to the number of four-banger Fox-body Mustangs that were eventually stuffed full of small-block Ford, albeit without the Fox’s ubiquity. Actually, perhaps the Regal is an even better comparison…

  • avatar

    Great article, you really gave me something to think about when shopping for my next car.

  • avatar

    I suspect that a lot of the “Grand Nationals” you see around started their lives as Regal Customs, Limiteds or even T-types. As far as which is the most commonly seen G-body out there today (and I am talking about on the streets) it is the Monte Carlo by a large margin. I don’t think I’ve seen a running Regal or Grand Prix on the road for a while, but several Monte Carlos and Cutlass Supremes (even though those are not as frequent as the Monte Carlo.)

    A good comparison with the GN premise is that of the Shelby Mustangs both past and present and the “M” versions of BMW autos…

    On the other hand, the Hurst/Olds Cutlass cousin of the GN, which is more rare than the GN is seldomly seen…

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect that a lot of the “Grand Nationals” you see around started their lives as Regal Customs, Limiteds or even T-types.


      I suspect there are more ’72 Hemi Cuda’s circulating at the car shows today than were actually built in 1972. I know there are more total Hemi’s in late ’60’s iron than were ever on the road in the ’60’s. And don’t even get started on the Shelby Mustangs.

      Also, the law of economy comes into play as new entries into the restoration market are seeing the truly desirable cars already out of reach. They are now rebuilding 4-doors, six cylinder variants (instead of v-8’s), and lower badge models. 99% of the restoration market for the higher end models is still useful and the initial buy-in is much less.

      • 0 avatar

        “I suspect there are more ’72 Hemi Cuda’s circulating at the car shows today than were actually built in 1972.”

        Most definitely, since there was no Hemi anything in 1972. But you would be right even in case of, say, 1971s…

      • 0 avatar

        BobAsh, you beat me to it!

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        At the height of the market for muscle cars, a local shop was buying 6 cylinder Camaros and swapping in small block V8s. They claimed that a base Camaro was more valuable with no engine than with a non-V8 engine. Too bad that there are few light weight RWD cars available to accept a V8.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a club with a registry for the Grand Nationals. For the 1987 GNXs, the one everybody really cares about, all the models were known at one point, even the sad one that went to Cash for Clunkers. They were a little more active before the down turn, but they also tried to eliminate theft/fraud of true GNs. There’s a cult around those things more than numbers-matching Shelbys.

    • 0 avatar

      I doubt it. The problem has always been the “special parts” to make a true GN have been hard to obtain. For example Buick has been out of that “turbo bulge” hood for years now and I don’t believe the aftermarket has picked it up except for a fiberglass version, though I have been out of that scene for some time.

      The G-body hasn’t quite been brought up to “can build one from a catalog” parts status yet.

      The GN-TType listserv was one of the earliest on the ‘net, there are whole books written for identifying all the features of these cars, there are registries etc. I think technology has made it much harder.

      I have been out of that scene for a long time, but I am pretty sure if you gave me a GN I could tell you if it is real, I remember way too many details…

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the same here. The majority of G-bodies are Monte Carlos, usually SS models (though I have seen a few LSes) and the occasional Cutlass Supreme, though usually the Cutlass Supremes are more of the “muscle” variety with Super Stocks and beefy raised white letter tires.

  • avatar

    Wow. Where do I start?

    Resale value is only relevant to lease companies and people who actually trade or sell in the first 3-5 years (or less). Projected out to 10 or 20 years, you will have already paid a good portion of the purchase price in repairs or maintenance, thus diminishing any resale proceeds. No one can really tell what’s going to be a “collector’s item”. Look at the bozos still coveting their “last convertible” ’76 Eldorados.

    High performance cars use high-performance parts (like tires) that are more expensive to replace. They also frequently require premium gas. It’s also more expensive to keep them insured. All of these eat into any compensation at sale time. Funny to think that a ’84 Corolla in running condition is worth more than a ’84 BMW E30. The Maverick is a useable transportation device that won’t require a $4K engine control computer or catalytic to make it through emissions.

    The main reason the GN is more valuable now than a bean-can Regal is that they were relatively rare back in the day. The higher the take-rate, the more that rarity declines. So, the more people take the advice in this post, the less wisdom it will contain.

    The advice to buy a Corvette over an Impala is pretty funny. Some people need back seats and trunks. Corvettes aren’t exactly snow cars, either.

    I think the best advice is to get the car that best fulfills your needs and that you can best enjoy driving in exchange for whatever you can afford to spend. Cars are just an expense, after all. And in almost every case, they will depreciate to nothing.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup. If a large number of car buyers bought the “interesting cars” they wouldn’t be so interesting anymore. There is an old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

  • avatar

    “Buy a mechanically durable sporting car from a well-respected manufacturer, in the highest-performance variant you can afford.”

    True, to a point. But I would fine tune that.

    Aside from exotics, I think that you can cover virtually everything with two categories (a) the specialty-badged Germans and (b) American muscle car and high horsepower coupes.

    In today’s market, that means M-badged BMW’s, AMG Mercs, top of the line Corvettes and Camaros, and some of the specialty Mustangs for starters. It probably excludes the CTS-V and SRT-8 types, as they have two too many doors.

    I wonder whether some trucks may prove to be collectible over the long run. It’s not a sure thing, but I can see the possibility of there eventually being a collector’s market for the Ford SVT Raptor, for example.

    The Japanese don’t seem to have the sort of brand heritage to gain much of this sort of attention, and Honda and Toyota haven’t done enough to create halos that could inspire it. Aside from the GT-R, top of the line Evos and Imprezas, and possibly the Z, nothing else that is being sold new today strikes me as offering much potential.

    • 0 avatar

      What you are referring to is simply rarity. The Germans and Americans have chosen to make a few ultra high end showcase models that have the potential to go up due to their few numbers produced. I’m not even sure the GT-R qualifies as rare enough in that regard. Each example that doesn’t get wrecked may always enjoy the benefit of escaping the jaws of the crusher, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into investment value. A BMW M3 was $35,000 in 1988. That examples today run around $25000 (in today’s dollars) suggests that even this most exclusive desired car has been no investment value. And that would have required rigorous maintenance and upkeep ($$), not to mention, very little actual driving of the car for 25 years. It just doesn’t make sense. And the Japanese seem to know this. So they build cars to be driven. For a long time. So anyone willing to pay the premium for one of these limited Mustangs or AMGs, pay for the extra upkeep, and not drive it, knock yourself out. Your car may be worth more than a more plebeian example in 20 years, but at what cost?

      There is the periodic exception, even for the conservative Japanese. Cars that did not break the bank when new, but were fine examples of their day that may garner rabid followers in their futures. Like the above mentioned Supras. And perhaps the original SCs. I can’t imagine a Z today having that kind of staying power though.

      • 0 avatar

        “What you are referring to is simply rarity.”

        No, there’s more to it than that. There are a lot of low volume cars that will never be collectible.

        It’s more about playing to the strengths of brand heritage. Mercedes and BMW have heritage with sports sedans, so their higher end versions of those can be collectible. Cadillac does not, so the likelihood of a CTS-V being collectible is lower, even though a new one isn’t common, or cheap, or even undesirable.

        Likewise, US brand heritage of the last few decades comes most strongly from muscle cars. So whereas a high-end Shelby Mustang will almost surely be collectible, a relatively uncommon SVO turbo Mustang won’t be — we don’t associate American muscle car heritage with turbos.

        It’s essentially playing to stereotypes. That’s make me wonder whether some trucks could prove to be of value, even though there isn’t that much in the way of a longstanding truck brand heritage as there was with muscle cars.

      • 0 avatar

        There is already collector interest in trucks, but there are so many variables that it’s hard to say what trucks of today might be collectible.

        Lincoln Mark LT is a good bet, just for the rarity.

      • 0 avatar


        “Mercedes and BMW have heritage with sports sedans, so their higher end versions of those can be collectible. Cadillac does not…”

        I disagree.

      • 0 avatar

        “There is already collector interest in trucks, but there are so many variables that it’s hard to say what trucks of today might be collectible.

        Lincoln Mark LT is a good bet, just for the rarity.”

        I doubt the Mark LT has any future. It is, by definition, and F150 with a few parts added. Literally. And I’ve seen more than a few F150s with Mark LT badges and grilles applied (but the F150 tailgate/tail lights). Also, I don’t think the LT is THAT rare. It wasn’t a sales success, either, just sort of in that neither world. There are lots of worthless cars floating in there, some of which I’ve owned (’95 Infiniti G20, ’96 Mitsubishi Galant, ’02 Diamante).

        Now, if anyone wants to trouble themselves to buy and store a Blackwood for a few decades… They only made a handful and some parts were bespoke (carpeted bed, power toneau, Navigator front styling and interior). A Blackwood fake would be vastly harder to pull off than the Mark LT.

    • 0 avatar

      (I’m not sure this will end up in the right place.)

      I see your point about rarity not being enough, just not sure I agree. It will be very interesting to see how well a CTS-V is regarded in 20 years, compared to an M or AMG. But the folks above talking about collectible Vegas make me question this idea of rarity. To me it’s still a Vega, no matter who they partnered with- Cosworth, Shelby, Hurst, whoever. But it is rare. And I don’t mean rare because it did not sell. There’s not going to be any value in holding onto your classic Isuzu Vehicross. (well maybe, who knows with that oddity.) I mean rare as in limited build numbers for a purpose. A RAV4 EV can get you $60,000. It’s a RAV4! No one loves Toyotas that much. I haven’t seen one for sale in a while, so I wonder if they would still command such a premium now that electric cars are more ubiquitous. Again, rarity. The RAV may be few in number, but electric vehicles are everywhere now.

      The link I see with heritage is that Ford, BMW, et al know that they have a rabid base, so they choose to make limited editions to appeal to the collectors. They know they’ll sell every one. The collector value is manufactured in. They’ll build just a few examples. The few sold will not get driven and will be meticulously maintained. 25 years later, you have a classic. Pretty calculated I would say. The rare Japanese collectible (now or future) will have come about its value much more naturally. 2000GTs, 240Zs, Supras, NSXs, SCs. These cars were just better than they should have been.

      I’m not going to pretend to understand a collector. But I think it’s a little foolhardy to purchase an M3 instead of a CTS-V if you think it’s because it will be worth $5-10,000 more in 25 years. And I don’t think anyone buying an GT-R or even an LF-A is doing so as an investment either. I think they just want the best damn Japanese cars ever made, since they probably already have the best from every other car manufacturing nation. The LF-A, at 500 made, may be the only recent example of the Japanese following the built in collectibility playbook. We’ll see.

      • 0 avatar

        “But the folks above talking about collectible Vegas make me question this idea of rarity.”

        I don’t follow the collectibles market very closely, but I don’t think that there is much of a collectibles market for any sort of Vega. I wouldn’t buy one under the assumption that it would be easy to unload at a high price.

        I would separate a few owners who are shooting for the moon with their asking prices with there being a genuine dependable market for such things. You hear about the occasional dumb transaction, such as the person who paid thousands for a well-used Chevy Sprint in order to save on gas, but those are rare.

        Overall, most cars are just not very collectible, and probably never will be. I would agree with Mr. Baruth that a 1990 LS400 is not at all collectible. But a 560SEL of that era isn’t, either.

        A quick glance at the used car ads online suggests to me that cars of those types are being flogged at used car lots at less than 10% of their original MSRP. Neither of them have retained much of their value in percentage terms, and the Mercedes of that time had far more dollar value to lose.

      • 0 avatar
        Brian P

        Vegas (and Pintos) are somewhat of value not because of their originality, but rather because you can stuff a V8 in the engine bay and make a drag car out of it. Lightweight, RWD, engine bay is (just) big enough, standardized off-the-shelf powertrain bits will either go straight in or everyone knows how to make them fit.

    • 0 avatar

      “A relatively uncommon SVO turbo Mustangs won’t be (collectible).”

      SVOs are holding at least the same percentage of original MSRP as Grand Nationals but neither will ever catch up to Shelby Mustangs mostly because of emission regs.

      “We don’t associate American muscle car heritage with turbos”

      It’s their turbos and limited production that makes them desirable, a novelty and a kick to drive. It’s their attainable prices that allows you to take them out and beat on them once in a while.

      Future car prices are hard to predict completely. In ’86, Shelby Mustangs prices hadn’t taken off but were about to. I didn’t have the cash at the time but relatively low mileage original were around $10K.

  • avatar

    The GN effect isn’t always present. The collector car market is actually hundreds of different markets.

    I just found a half dozen ’80s era Regals on ebay.

    Plenty of Pontiac tempests can still be found – though too many will be wearing GTO badges. No surprise because they had the same styling, and big V8s were available. All the fun of the GTO w/o quite the same bragging rights – but close enough and for less $. I’ll grant that a higher % of GTOs were saved, and that they command higher prices, but it’s not like Tempests don’t exist.

    There are more Mavericks in plain jane form than Maverick Grabbers, though the Grabber will have much higher value. It’s hard to believe anyone kept a Maverick all these years, but they did.

    There are guys who like Falcons, and the “sprint”models with v8s usually bring a premium compared to 6cyl sedans. But there are plenty of plain jane falcons around.

    Regular trim Corvairs far outnumber the Monzas, though I’ll grant Monzas fetch more $.

    Model As are by far one of the most popular of the truly “antique” cars – precisely because there is nothing rare about them and therefore parts are widely available. It’s about the only car from the late 20s/early 30s that you could actually use as a daily driver if you wanted to.

    It may be true that most of the GNs that were produced survived, but when you’ve spent way too much on a Regal just to release your inner teenager, what can you do but stick it in the garage?

    I’m know I’ll regret this question (because I’m taking your writing waaaayyyy to seriously) but what do public schools have to do with disseminating the idea that cars are an expensive embarrassment?

    • 0 avatar

      “I’m know I’ll regret this question (because I’m taking your writing waaaayyyy to seriously) but what do public schools have to do with disseminating the idea that cars are an expensive embarrassment?”

      I’m waiting for the day my son comes home from school one day, tells me how they learned all about global warming in science class, and how it’s all my fault. I figured that’s the public school connection he was getting at.

  • avatar

    4 doors, premium gas, I know, but the 1999-2004 Regal GS should be a used car classic. Good looking, trouble free, lotsa content, not expensive, fast, 30mpg hwy….

  • avatar

    I actually owned a dark blue 1982 Camaro Sport Coupe with the Iron Duke four banger. You forgot to mention some of its special features, such as the exploding clutch and the side mirror glass that would fall out like clockwork every 10,000 miles. This car truly sucked in every way possible.

    After one such exploding clutch episode circa 60k miles I arrived at the dealer only to be greeted by a service writer who literally laughed at me for owning one of these cars. He laughed even harder when I asked him if GM would do anything about the clutch since it was such a well-known regular occurrence.

    I wasn’t fool enough to buy the car new but my mother was. I bought it from her in 1985 when my 1976 Mercury Capri needed more rear-end work than the car was worth and couldn’t make it to college with me. I thought it was a deal I couldn’t pass up but I should have. That Camaro was the first and LAST GM car I have ever owned. I never forgot my experience with the Chevy service writer and it’s kept me out of any GM dealership for 25 years. I drove Ford’s and Mercury’s for years until I got fed up with their reliability and dealership service. I left the Americans for BMW and Toyota and will never look back.

  • avatar

    All I can say about these cars and their siblings is this: They represent the last holdouts of the GM we baby boomers loved and grew up with. Aside from the fixed/opera glass, the loooong doors kinda atoned for the ventilation when you didn’t want A/C.

    Next, please…

    EDIT: With all the “fakes”, I dare someone to try to kit-bash a Monte Carlo areo-SS and pass THAT off as genuine!

  • avatar

    Two things you should have considered but didn’t.

    1. Cars aren’t people. Who cares if they are “loved” in old age? Once thy are “unloved”, they get crushed and become new cars.

    2. Show us the money. Take the “new car” price difference in a 1986 Grand National and a Regal, then convert that to 2012 dollars. How does that compare to the price difference today? I’ll bet you’d pay far more for the new GN than the 2012 used prices delta.

  • avatar

    You clearly live in another part of the country from me. I see 4-5 A/G-bodies per *day*. You need to look for the raised suspensions and 26″ wheels.

    I believe the correct term is “donk”

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I live in Ohio, where pre-2000 Lexus automobiles are almost non-existent and every Regal is a Grand National.

      To some degree, the Midwest and East Coast suffer more from the “Grand National Problem” because rust and storage kill cars. There are plenty of 528es running around Cali but when you see a Funfer of that generation here it’s an M5 or a 535is.

      • 0 avatar

        I know that of the only two I’ve seen recently in rural New Hampshire – one fairly well-kept, one a bit of a basket case – the latter was definitely a 528e. I’m less certain of this car’s powerplant; being the nicer local example, I was glad to find it under cover through winter as its owner commutes in a battered E34.

  • avatar

    EXACTLY! I came thisclose to getting the Challenger SE. I mean, most people wouldn’t know it from the HEMI, it looks exactly the same on the interior and 300 HP and 31 MPG highway is fantastic, right? Sooooo glad I went with the R/T, now and when I sell it in 8-10 years.

  • avatar

    quote: The vast majority of Japanese cars go straight to the junkyard the moment it would cost real money to fix them. Don’t believe me? Search eBay for that titan of Toyota excellence, the 1990 Lexus LS400. There aren’t any for sale, because there aren’t any on the road.

    Jack, I love your articles… but it seems that used car market expertize isnt one of your strong points.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I think my readers and I are guilty of the same error, seen from two different angles.

      I assume that because I don’t see a car east of the Mississippi it doesn’t exist; my California readers don’t understand why nobody in Pennsylvania is rocking one of those fabulous ’93 Accords :)

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah the LSs are all over Autotrader, not to mention CA roads.

        Bigger question is whether you believe they will ever appreciate. This was a pinnacle in Japanese car manufacturing. There are rabid fans of Japanese cars out there. The SCs of that era are holding at a rather good price. When they do start heading to the Crusher, and if the ones remaining are meticulously maintained low mileage cars, I can see them going up quickly. There always seemed to me a little shame trying to roll in a 15 year old Big Benz or Bimmer. No one is fooled. You’re no baller in a car that costs less than a used Corolla (and costs as much as that Corolla to maintain every year). But when it achieves a cult-like or collector status, things change. Maybe in 10 more years it’ll be considered the height of coolness to pull up in a “vintage” Lexus LS or even more likely SC.

      • 0 avatar

        Good call Jack…I, here in NY, have seen a few. They all rot behind the rear wheels, but the fatal rot is hidden in door posts and such.

        Having said that, the engines don’t die. Honda, unfortunately got back on the “planned obsolescence” track.

        I’m always amazed when I leave the NYC area. The cars get old and crappy fast. All those low end cars you don’t see much of near NYC are in full force….euro imports almost totally disappear, and pickup trucks go from 5% of the mix (maybe) to 50%

    • 0 avatar

      Most are sold on craigslist for $800, even with a bad timing belt orand a ton of miles.

      My local scrapyard has hardly any Japanese cars.

  • avatar
    George B

    Jack, one factor in the preservation of Grand National type cars is the presence of high-volume lesser models to keep the cost of parts down. A Mustang GT doesn’t cost a fortune to maintain or restore in part because many base model cars were also sold.

    Regarding regional differences, I see 2nd generation Acura Legend Coupes and Lexus LS-400s that have been repainted and customized instead of crushed. A neighbor chose to paint his LS-400 lime green. The sun fades paint and plastic parts crack, but major rust damage is fairly rare in the Dallas area.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    So I should save that Impala SS and not the “regular” Impala? ;) No problem, resale is dropping pretty good on those.

  • avatar

    I think it is a logical fallacy to believe that the type of cars that have held their value today will be the same types that hold their value in ten or twenty years. I feel that the fact that early SUVs have little value today throws little light on what will show great value in ten or twenty years from now. Particularly SUVs.

    We crave muscle cars from the 60s and 70s because they have no new counterparts. There is little similarity between a GN and an Imprezza. In a decade or two, what will be unique? In a market that is ever more driven by government minders and sky-high gasoline prices, what will be worth the added cost?

    Who knows, except I am not about to get rid of my 79 Bronco. In 20 years, it might just become the most desired personal vehicle on the road.

  • avatar

    I like the concept of soul being the decision to repair something after it`s strictly rational to throw it away. Still, I don`t think your Japanese comments are very fair. I suspect that most Japanese cars are actually driven into the ground, all used up. While the European makes can exist in a shoddy limbo for many years: sure, it only has X amount of kilometers on it and lots of life left, but then something expensive breaks and it sits in a garage for a year until sold off or repaired; somebody decides to try and get the remaining useful life. In Japanese cars, the useful life is easy to get at; in European cars, rather harder.

    It would explain why old Jags are still with us, anyway. My theory is that even old Mercs and BMWs can be used up as actual drivers much more quickly then a constantly breaking V12 Jag.

    This also sorta explains why old expensive fast cars are much easier to find then old low cost fast cars. The turbo sprints and Omni GLHs were all driven into the ground or smashed up, while old horrible 80s corvettes are still legion.

    • 0 avatar

      WooHoo…my Land Cruiser must have soul since I have spent the last 6 weeks rebuilding the motor rather than sending it to the scrap heap. And you are all wrong about the LS400 being the pinnacle of Japanese quality. The Hi-Lux and the Land Cruiser (through the 80 series) take that honor. Id rather drive an old school LS though than a new crapbox.

  • avatar

    All of that said, I WILL own three cars before I die. 1) Buick GN. 2) Acura RSX. and 3) neo-Dodge Challenger. :)

    • 0 avatar

      I really hope you mean NSX, not RSX. Otherwise you must have not driven an integra type-R in anger. The only thing the RSC brought to the table was side bolsters in the seats.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    As neat as a Grand Nationalis, it is a malaise era GM. No thank you , sir. I am daily driving a pair ’88 528e s. They arent very quick between lights. They require a certain amount of maintenance, fiddling, to keep running. Best commuter car ever made for a DIYer. A comfortable long distance cruiser. And they can be fun in the twisties.

  • avatar

    If you love the car, that’s the one to hoard regardless of future potential value. Vintage Corvettes see weak bids at auction while Hemi Cudas are absolutely thru the roof. Lots more Hemi Cudas met the crusher over the years because they weren’t loved nearly as much as Corvettes although their ‘Hemis’ probably were spared. In the end, if you’re into Chrysler 300s, don’t listen to what anyone tells you, just do it.

  • avatar

    The upcoming Fiat 500 Abarth will be a keeper, no doubt.

  • avatar

    I’m beginning to wonder if my xB1 is an “interesting” car.

    It has drawn attention wherever I go, and trade-in and resale values for them remain high. Car salesmen always want me to trade it.

    The thing is definitely not a performance car, but it is the original ‘box’ later mimicked by the xB2, Cube, and Soul, perhaps a bit like the original Mini or Fiat 500.

    • 0 avatar

      Technically the 2nd gen xB isn’t mimicking, it is. The Cube was a direct competitor in the old country and the Soul is a direct knockoff.

      But to answer, yes. In 20+ years when people go to think of our awesome little toasters there will be tons of souls. SCORES OF THEM even but few xBs by comparison. The two xB generations are going to hard judge for collect-ability simply because changing needs and appearances may bring a continued flow of square-ish boxes to our shores or may dry them up. I will say this though, people will keep them because of their easily modified bodies and design.

  • avatar

    Great article, Jack. But references to the Camry’s low depreciation are made in the context of a daily workhorse that serves its owner… not the other way around.

    Show me an ’83 Grand National with market value, and I’ll show you a trailer queen – or at least a fairweather princess – that was neither useful as transportation nor particularly lucrative as an investment.

    There’s a word for people who try to rationalize expensive performance cars as investments: Poor.

  • avatar

    The same guys who think that their car is an “investment” usually have a wife that thinks her Beanie Baby collection is worth a fortune.

    If that does not work out there is always the priceless collector dinner plates on display next to the limited edition Franklin Mint chess set.

  • avatar

    I’ve run into that with restoring my 77 Chevelle sedan. Tons of 2 doors on the market, but very very few of the more space efficent 4 doors.

    You’d think I had a real rarity with the 4 door, nope, just a dumb luck survivor status. It’s not ever going to be worth more than the two door, and it will never be worth more than the 64-72 cars.

  • avatar

    BASIC RULE: No one ever throws a Corvette away….
    SECONDARY RULE : No one ever throws a convertible away….

    PROOF : The $5000 corvette and the many convertibles that are dangerous from floor pan rot, but are somehow still on the road.

    This is just another example. BTW, the GN back in the 80’s was a question…”Why does the rest of GM suck so badly ?”

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    Twenty years from now nobody is going to be uncomfortable around electronic components and most people will probably find it frustrating if the car can’t tell you what is wrong with it.

    “Disposable crap” will be a non-issue because it can simply be recreated locally (probably even at home). 3D laser scanners already exist for not too much money. Even cheaper is computer software (Rhino can do it) that can produce a 3D model from a few photographs of an object. Low-to-moderate quality plastic components can already be produced at home for a reasonable cost. Powdered-metal machines produce excellent quality parts and are cheap enough that an enterprising soul could finance one and provide custom fabrication for your local county.

    The US Patent office puts everything online now. Want to know about the weirdo EGR valve in your new EcoBoost? Search for Patent Number 8,099,957 and get an explanation for why it has to be different, how it is supposed to work, how to build it, etc

    In twenty years the patent will be expired – feel free to have one custom built for a few bucks.

    There’s no reason to be afraid of modern complexity and electronics. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Cars with soul will survive. The rest get junked.

  • avatar

    i would say the abundant availability of e46 318i sedans would make a great source of hosts for LS1/T56 installs!

    rip out all that redundant german electrics for some good old fashion american dinosaurs!

  • avatar

    I had a friend in 1986 who bought a new Grand National, only to have it stolen a few months later.

    The police found it – stripped – laying on the pavement with no wheels. It was then dragged up onto a flatbed wrecker, which nearly destroyed the car, particularly the underside. He had it rebuilt at the dealer, very expensively as I recall.

  • avatar

    Everybody has this problem, note the plea on the front page of the Ex-Military Land Rover Association

    “Dirt Common?

    The standard Series II and III GS (General Service) used by the military is of as much interest to the EMLRA as the many variations of tactical and specialised vehicles. History has repeated itself where a rare vehicle is preserved whilst the more common vehicles are, or may be, neglected to the point of becoming a rarity themselves in standard condition.”

  • avatar

    My sister still has a 1987 Buick Reagal T Type that they bought new. The same running gear as the GN but in silver.

  • avatar

    I think there are a few Japanese cars that WILL be quite expensive in the years to come. An immaculate 1988-1991 CRX Si will probably be one of them. As will a low mileage, clean titled 1999-2000 Civic Si. A clean Mazda 323 GTX? Perhaps a Toyota Celica All-Trac?

    Japanese cars haven’t been around in the US long enough to be part of a pop culture level of a generation. Now, people in their late 20’s and early 30’s are looking back and the “musclecars” of our teen years were Japanese cars. Most of us didn’t have much interest in domestic or Euro cars at the time. I have no emotional connection with muscle cars, but a clean EBP ’99 Civic Si? It’ll make my chest swell and flood me with memories of watching the tach race past 8,000 rpms as the car blazes down the highway on a Saturday night.

  • avatar

    “Buy a mechanically durable sporting car from a well-respected manufacturer, in the highest-performance variant you can afford.”

    So how do you explain the big prices that aircooled VW buses and diesel Rabbit pickup trucks command now? These are easily the LEAST sporting vehicles on earth and barely able to outrun tricycles.

    BTW it is also not true at all that all the non turbo Buick Regals are unloved and disposeable. This car is a mainstay in the lowrider community.

  • avatar

    I guess Im 2 years late to the party.

    But the article didn’t convince me.

    A “search for how many cars on the market” and finding very few Japanese cars doesn’t mean Japanese cars are worthless. It could also mean the demand is so high that they get snapped off the market the moment they appear.

    The only cars that linger on the market are cars that nobody wants.

    Want proof?

    Search for how many japanese cars you can find on the market?


    I think you’ll need registration data showing there are more carAs in circulation vs carBs in circulation to prove your point … not how many cars are on the market or how many cars come to antique auto shows …

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