How the Overlooked Cars of the 80s, 90s, & Early 2000s Became a Cult Thing

The automotive industry has been in a bit of a tizzy for the last two years. After the pandemic hit, new car production slowed down due to the semiconductor chip shortage. In a ripple effect of fewer new cars, the price of used cars went up. But between all of that, the market for the overlooked vehicles from the 80s and 90s gained a cult following. Why are people fighting over 30-year-old Nissan 240s, Mazda RX-7s, and Toyota Land Cruisers with 300,000 miles? Well, why not?

Expensive cars at auction are still a thing, but so are Craigslist treasures

A vintage Mazda RX-7 is the ideal car these days
A Vintage Mazda RX-7 is the perfect car to find on Craigslist | Dünzl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

In an article by Inside Hook, the rise of a new breed of automotive collectors is discussed. The old way of doing things includes having a ton of money and heading to a formal auction with other people. Whoever could pay more took home the expensive classic vehicle. But that went out the window for some people.

Inside Hook says there is also a lot of adoration for vehicles from the “Malaise era.” These vehicles from the 70s and 80s were full of “lackluster performance, bloated styling, and questionable engineering.” The later cars would be dubbed “Radwood” cars.

Forums, Craigslist, and the FaceBook marketplace have made it easier for vehicles to change hands. But people don’t want $500,000 pristine Ford Mustangs. The people want Mazda RX-7s, Nissan 240s, Geo Trackers, E30 BMW M3s, and Acura Integras. A Nissan 300ZX will do, a Chevy Blazer, or an old Lexus IS300 will get people fighting over them.

“To paraphrase artist Caroline Caldwell, in the increasingly polarized world of classic cars, learning to love yourself is a radical and rebellious act.”

Benjamin Hunting | Inside Hook

It isn’t about loving what everyone else says is cool but perhaps just doing whatever you think is cool. A 1992 BMW that sat in someone’s garage for 20 years in Florida? Sounds cool enough.

It doesn’t need to be expensive to be cool anymore

car
1990 Nissan 300ZX is a popular car | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

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But there isn’t much rhyme or reason to which vehicles people are scrambling after. Vehicles like the Acura NSX and Buick Grand National are equally wanted. A DeLorean DMC-12 and the aforementioned Mazda RX-7 FD are hot ticket items.

As time goes on, the demand for 25-year old imports like the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R are in high demand. A 1999 R34 just set a record when it sold for $320,187 earlier this year. An 84-Mile 1993 Toyota Pickup sold for $45,000 on eBay last month. It doesn’t matter that these cars are old and might have miles on the odometer; people want to drive one.

Websites like Bring a Trailer and Cars & Bids have also made it easier than ever to find your dream 1993 pickup truck or whatever it may be. Someone else’s trash Nissan 350z with front-end damage is someone else’s treasure. Nostalgia is a big seller these days.

The thrill of the chase…or something like that

If you go to a local car show these days, you’ll find a wide variety of vehicles. There’s the ever-present red Ferrari and yellow Lamborghini. People will marvel at those as usual and move on. There will probably also be old trucks, shiny Chevy Corvettes, old Nissan 240s, imported JDM cars, and the odd 90s era Honda. If you zoom out a little, the idea is still the same.

Who are we to determine what people want to drive? Finding parts for a Nissan 240 is probably easier than finding parts for a new Lamborghini. Plus, overnight parts from Japan are always more exciting to get in the mail. The new cult following is pretty welcoming. Just don’t drink the Kool-Aid; who knows how long it has been in that 1998 Mazda RX-7.

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