QotW: What Japanese car is the best investment?

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It’s car auction season, and collectors with more money than sense are flocking to Arizona to pay the highest possible prices for the cars of their dreams. Our buddy Jeff Koch is covering the auctions for Hemmings and reports that an FJ40 Land Cruiser just sold for $56,000 at the Gooding auction. We don’t necessarily condone the practice of buying and flipping or stowing your car away from the world like a prized Van Gogh, but if you were

What Japanese car is the best investment?

As a result of it being the last of its kind, its status as a pioneer of drifting, and a star of its own anime series, we think the Toyota AE86 will be hugely desirable sometime in the near future. The fact that so many were destroyed in failed attempts at said drifting make them only rarer, and its fan base is world wide. Will we see them trading for ridiculous sums at Barrett-Jackson 2030? Only time will tell.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining or inspiring comment by next Monday will receive a random toy. Click through to see the winner from last week’s question, “What’s the most significant “new” nostalgic car from 1988?

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Our winner this week goes to Benjamin F. for his nomination of the bizarrely styled Subaru XT. It’s not to the most correct answer, but it’s the most spirited one, and one that made us lawl.

The most significant “new” nostalgic from 1988 is the Subaru XT6. A spaceship shaped like a cheese wedge, it is an automotive time capsule that best captures the spirit of 1988. The CRX, RX-7, and S-13 are timeless, but the XT6 is forever stuck in an era when people danced on giant keyboards and video games were fun.

Omedetou! Your prize from the JNC gashapon is a Hot Wheels Super Speeders mystery pack Mazda RX-7!

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26 Responses to QotW: What Japanese car is the best investment?

  1. Tj said:

    My suggestion for the best investment JNC is probably a little biased (because I own one) and quite optimistic (also because I own one ) but I do believe that if you were to buy one now and hold onto it in the hopes of it gaining value you’d be hard pressed to go past a 70′s Mitsubishi.
    Here in Australia Lancers and Galants, while extremely rare, can be picked up for a few hundred bucks or a few thousand for a really good one but nowhere near the prices commanded by early Datsuns, Mazdas or Toyotas.

    It is, in my opinion, an inevitability that anything early Japanese will gain value and one off theoonly marques left that hasn’t started to gain value is Mitsubishi. They have rally cred ferchristsakes!

  2. dankan said:

    Classic car values are products of rarity and demand. Hence the less than 40 Ferrari GTOs in the world are going for over $20 million apiece. The other factor is if the car is a street car, or a race car. Race cars are worth less as you can’t drive them as much (see the value of Ferrari race cars contemporary to the GTO).

    It is for these reasons that, happily, AE86s and Miatas are never going to be good investment decisions. They made boatloads of them (literally), and so they will never be rare enough to really go up in value.

    The cars need to be cool enough to be desirable and rare enough that people have to work to get their hands on one. I think if you want a true future classic with investment potential, a 22B Imprezza would have to top the list. There aren’t many other modern Japanese cars rare enough to really see values explode like old GT-Rs and the 2000GT (still the blue-chip Japanese classic). Unmolested first generation Lexus SC/Toyota Soarer models may also have investment potential as people realize how great a GT these cars are when not ruined.

    • Patrick said:

      This is inaccurate. In general, the opposite is true: vintage race cars almost always bring higher prices at auction than street models due to their unique provenance. Ferrari 250GTOs are a perfect example: individual examples with major race history (Le Mans class wins, etc) will ALWAYS fetch higher prices than cars with no racing lineage, murky histories, etc. The database at barchetta.cc will bear this out, for those interested in further research.

      For that reason, you could expect vintage Japanese racers to follow suit. For example, if one were ever to come to market I’d bet you could expect an ex-Jim Richards R32 Skyline with Bathhurst history to bring substantially more cash than a contemporary street model. So, that’s my guess: anything with a significant racing heritage will be the one to own.

      • dankan said:

        The GTOs are streetable, and can be driven more. Yes, the more historic cars will sell for more, but they still remain cars you can drive on the road. Unless (non-street worthy) race cars have very high provenance, they don’t see to go beyond $5 million or so (that’s the rough value of a Porsche 917 or a Ferrari 512S).

        The R32 you mention would be down to the volume of production for R32 GT-R (several thousand). They aren’t rare enough.

  3. Ryan said:

    I think the 240z will follow the E-type in years to come, the 50th anniversary of the Z-car is 6/7 years away. It’s a timeless design, practical, affordable, simple to work on. I think it put Datsun on the worldwide map and captivated the U.S. market.

    For example in Australia, in 1970 you could buy a 240z for $4,567. You got a pretty tight 5spd gearbox with a nice ratio diff (3.9 compared the the U.S. market 3.3), loads of space, reliability… And all the good bits like Independant Rear Suspension, hydro clutch line, finned alloy rear drums, and a sweet sounding straight-six OHC engine with an alloy head.

    You could pay more, and for $5,300 get an XY GTHO Phase III falcon… But you get 4spd, live axle and a big lump of boat anchor (somehow, this is now worth in the region of $300,000, which is down from close to $1,000,000 in 2008… Aussies are idiots).

    Anyway with every second JDM fanboy these days picking up a rusty one and letting it degrade without proper know-how, or even care (because seeing the road beneath your feet is cool right?), they’re getting rarer and rarer. And that’s where the true investment lies; finding a neglected early model Z with all it’s proper bits, buying yourself a little MIG, tearing it apart, and (eventually) seeing it transform into something beautiful. You’ll struggle to put a dollar value on the investment of your hard work. Put in money, get out more money. Put in work, get out more joy.

    And with the return of the humble 240z, the fabled Japanese market variants are sure to come into the international spotlight. From the Fairlady ZG, to the super rare Z432 (with a motor essentially straight from the Porsche 906 slaying Prince R380 JGP-car), and finally the holiest of holy; the homologation special Z432-R. The 432-R is the ultimate ‘classic’ investment car. Homologation special, 30 odd ever made, super stylish and even more so elusive. Almost any part you can think of is different to the base level 240z. Even if you have the coin to spare, good luck to you finding a genuine one, let alone an owner willing to part with it.

    And perhaps the most important thing of all for anyone reading, they are currently a super affordable investment. While the 2000gt might be the blue-chip car, the buy-in price is higher than the average house, and the value will only rise ever so slowly. On the contrary, a fairly original, series 1 240z with matching engine block and minimal rust is quite cheap for a classic. And if your budget can’t stretch that far to begin with, restoration projects are quite cheap to start if you’re keen to get your hands dirty.

    The returns won’t just be monetary. For the next few years while they’re still quite affordable (relative to ’70 mustangs etc), you can be comfortable hopping in, turning the key and going for a boot down the road without worrying about your miles-per-year insurance policy, or bugs and dust microscopically scratching the precious paintwork of your $500,000 toyota. The smile it will put on your face will be worth those long hours lying on the cold concrete floor being covered in weld spatter as you slowly tack the fresh virgin floorpan into forty years of neglect…

  4. dickie said:

    man, that’s a broad question if i ever heard one.

    like any and all investments, i think that the “best” way to insure that they pay out at their maximum is to follow the trends or, more colloquially, the “bandwagon” that you hear everyone talking about. usually it has a negative connotation, and valuation has a great deal to do with that. walk up to a group of ae86 owners and mutter something about the price of an unmolested corolla GTS and you will inevitably hear about “the good old days” when you could pick up a clean running hachi from a little old lady who was the first owner for under a grand.

    so now old Japanese cars are one of the foremost bandwagons. while it’s never been unusual to see Datsun 510s and Z cars or classic rotary-powered Mazdas fetching high dollar even in rough condition, i’ve noticed over the past few years that this appreciation has spread to include cars that would normally be outside the scope of your typical collector or enthusiast. now that beater te51 that your neighbor has been sitting on since the 80′s when it stopped running is getting looks from the same kids that cruised by your integra in the 90′s and your 240sx 10 years ago.

    that being the case, rusty Japanese steel values have risen steadily out of the range of what you’d consider a wise investment opportunity. you want to buy low and sell high, and that requires some speculation on your part; what’s the next big thing? i’d say follow the JNC rule of 25. that is, when a car is at least twenty-five years old, it technically qualifies as a “classic.” in a lot of places, that’s also the cutoff for emissions testing and the ability to insure and register the car as an antique or collector’s vehicle. that’s definitely incentive for potential buyers.

    now that you have your population identified, you can single out what will bring you the highest return on your investment in 5, 10, or maybe another 25 years. smart buyers will be looking at something with a lot of general appeal that simultaneously caters to as many niches as possible. the obvious choice from my perspective is the Mazda Miata. the early 1.6 cars can still be found and bought on a tightwad budget. still two years away from the magic number 25, you’ll have plenty of time to make even the shabbiest example presentable. there’s a huge aftermarket, plenty of junkyard support and a wide fanbase spanning several generations and demographics. a ’90 with matching hard top, properly cleaned up and cred for almost ensures an easy payout down the road.

    in fact, the hardest part of owning one will be resisting the urge to put thousands of miles on it, so you’d be smart to get yourself a pair.

  5. indy510 said:

    a USDM JNC being a good investment??? .. bwahaha!! LOL .. . maybe if you had one of the following:

    1 )time machine set to 1968
    2)cyrogenically sealed garage in Nevada where rain never falls
    3)Every original metal die used to stamp out JNC sheetmetal in the 70′s… just for rust repair sections while storing said car until it’s worth what it cost to store/maintain/buy it

  6. Arend said:

    If I payed top dollar for a JNC, I atleast want something to cruze around with on the weekends.
    …I’ll order a 60′s/ early 70′s Toyota Crown please!

  7. Could be a serious bias.. but I think first generation Celicas and Corollas will end up being a prime investment for the next 15 years. S30s are too plentiful.. even low mile early cars are out there and can be obtained now. AE86s will all be used up and beat to death but even clean ones will still just be seen as a Corolla. Early Celicas and Corollas (and I’ll throw in 510s and definitely the first generation Colt/GTO) however are harder to come by already and a LOT harder to come by without rust. The cool thing is that the price paid for them now can be VERY low compared to the price you’ll get in 15-30 years when the rest have returned to the earth. I don’t think we’re talking hundreds of thousands but I think you could at least make 10 times your investment.. maybe in as little as 15 years.

    I also think early, solid and unmolested pickups and sport utes will hold value as well. Everyone always loves to see a stock vintage truck in cherry shape because.. well.. they all got used like trucks otherwise. In 15 years well have a lot of 50-60 year old guys at these auctions saying “my dad had one of those when he started our painting business 50 years ago!” and they, as the current owner of the now very successful painting business… will buy that truck.

  8. Thomas said:

    Just a pricing update for the FJ40s this last weekend:
    Gooding: 1979 FJ40 $61,600 Cond 1-
    RM Auctions: 1978 FJ40 $77,000 Cond 1-
    Russo and Steele: 1967 FJ40 $53,900 Cond 1-

    That 67 was a great buy, IMHO – I have not seen a nicer one, and the restoration was well documented on 1h8mud.com

  9. TORPARTS said:

    I am biased. AE86 will never fetch those prices because we do not have the demand and if their is demand, its quite small. In order to get to those prices, there must be a broad enough demand and the demographics to afford and support those prices.

    I wish I was wrong.

    http://www.torparts.com

  10. Thomas said:

    So may ways to skin this onion, but I’d say the race winners are unquestionably the most valuable, such as the Nissan R-380, Mazda’s LeMans winning 737B, followed by the Shelby Toyota 2000GTs.

    If we next consider the cross section of the following three lists:

    - Japanese cars that the Japanese covet
    - Japanese cars that the Americans covet
    - Japanese cars that the Europeans covet

    you may be down to the Toyota 2000GT as the only car which will appear on all 3 lists.

  11. Nakazoto said:

    With the advent of the internet, the entire classic car game has changed. More and more people are becoming aware of cars that were never available in the US and the domestic history of those cars is slowly being translated and made available.

    As time marches on, things like the Toyota Sports 800, the Hino Contessa 1300 and the S54B Prince Skyline are all going to just continue to rise in price. These were all made in limited numbers and as more and more people discover them and their history, they’ll become hugely desirable.

    Where I’d really put my money though is on an Isuzu Bellett GT Type R. An excellent GT car with a racing pedigree and a miniscule number produced make it truly a car that is going to sky rocket in value. The price of entry isn’t cheap at around 20,000 USD, but in the future, I see these going for near 60,000 USD. Now that’s an investment.

  12. Joe Cepeda said:

    I can see a well restored Mazda R100 fetch up to $40K in just a few years from now. It seems like they are going up in price by a few thousand every year!

  13. Benjamin said:

    Thank you JNC! A Mazda RX-7, seven times more desirable than a Subaru RX.

  14. Limesub said:

    Shame the photo is of an XT (released in 1985) not an XT6! In line with Benjamin F’s thinking it ‘screams’ 1985 not 1988…

    For a very short period in High School I lusted after one of these (with AWD and a turbo of course!).

  15. Nico said:

    that fully restored XT needs to come to me in Canada, ill give it the real set up it needs Subaru of America !!

    done proper just like my 1986 Subaru LEONE STi TURBO, one day i will find a rust free one to build another monster !

  16. cesariojpn said:

    This is a toughie.

    There are a number of factors on how a car will gain value. You can’t expect to find a common factor, a set trend, or whatever and go with it. That is a risk each individual person needs to take for themselves.

  17. AndyB said:

    I don’t actually have a real suggestion for this weeks QotW, but rather an interesting comment. You mentioned a FJ40 going for $56k. As I read this I realized I got that beat. (Along with Thomas’ weekend pricing update.) While watching the Barrett-Jackson auctions on tv sunday, an extremely prestine ’81 FJ40 rolled onto the block. Around $40k+ I turned to my step-dad (who owns a very straight ’72 that is just rotting away next to his pole-barn.. Don’t you hate that?!) and said: “Ill bet that goes for about $80k..” His answer was just a look of disbelief. (Either in the accuracy of my prediction, or in the fact that said vehicle could sell for such a lofty price.) Next thing you know that immaculate piece of 4×4 domination rolls down the ramp and towards the exit, SOLD for exactly $80,000!! I honestly couldn’t believe I was that dead-on, and that these impressive machines are fetching such impressive sums at the auction house!

    So perhaps I will make a suggestion after all. I’d put my money into acquiring and restoring a classic Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser. (Perhaps my step-dads..?) ;)

  18. Erik said:

    I definitely agree on the Ae86 aka Toyota Corolla Gt-s(1985-87).
    It’s the last real rwd compact sports car that was affordable to the masses and its perfect as a daily drivable car.
    I’m never selling my coupe!

  19. Diego said:

    Well it is quite hard to describe what a good investment is! One can argue that it is a car that has given them great enjoyment, they been able up keep it for a fair amount of money, and one that will be passed down to their kids just how they had it… Or it can be a garage queen, that was bought and never really enjoyed besides the occasional drive around the block. But it fetched more money than what it first was bought for. I personally believe for it to truly be a good investment, it should be a little of both. A car you can enjoy and still keep its value will be a winner in my books.

    Now for personal experience, i can say that any first generation Toyota, Datsun, Mazda will be a great car to keep and expect a good return 10+ years. But it must be a well restored, or simply a low mileage un-painted car. Couple years ago we got a 74 Rx3 with low miles and was never touched, still had the roll of toilet paper in the trunk. Not even 6 months later it was sold 2x more than what it was acquired for. Was also told a story by current owner that he had a very rich man give him an offer for 100k and he refused it. Only reason this Rx3 was fetching so much, it was a car that had never seen before (by current country) or been touched by any gear heads at said country.

    Now I have a few great examples in our garage that can be said, are a great investment opportunity.
    1972 Datsun 1200 with 18,000 miles and original paint/interior.
    1974 Mazda Rx3 Sedan with 22,000 miles and original paint/interior
    1974 Mazda REPU with 50,000 miles and original paint/interior
    1972 Toyota Sprinter with 80,000 miles and original paint/interior

    Fortunately these cars have a cult following, so the chances of finding buyers in the future is very high. And a buyer that is willing to pay top dollar for a pristine condition car will come around one day and buy it.

  20. boyee said:

    The best investment for a Japanese car is the Lexus LFA. The engineering feats are incredible and pay homage to how far Japanese automotive technology has been developed over the past century. Also the direct line that Toyota has to racing definitely influences the super sports car’s heritage such as F1, JGTC, and so on. No doubt, nobody can deny its racecar-like characteristics and astonishingly good looks and sounds.

  21. Darryl said:

    I’m in full agreement with the statement about the internet opening up the world to the enthusiast. Years ago, you saw only what you saw in person, or in the pages of monthly auto mags. I know personally I’ve spent thousands just getting parts to me, that I’d have never had a hope of even being aware of. Same goes for the cars.

    As for which car will be the best investment? Tough call. If this question was asked 3 months ago, would the FJ have been mentioned? Probably not, on this particular forum. Rarity and availability are ALWAY going to be the driver of high price. When I was in high school, R100,Rx2,3, and 4′s (2 doors) were the cars you could get for free! “You want that thing?” (as it sits on the side of the house, with a dead engine) “Let me get the title-take that piece of crap out of here!” were statements I heard on several occasions- I bought my first car (73 Rx2, original owner-perfect condition) for $600. At the time, there was no way I’d’ve believed what they can go for now, but since they’ve almost all disappeared, we’re back to the ‘rarity and availability/people who grew up with them’ model.

    I’d say its reasonable to believe any popular JNC that is a nice runner/driver will certainly hold its value, and that the more special or rare versions will command even higher prices. I have a tough time believing the ‘cheesier’ 80′s car would ever get there, but part of me thinks it will still happen, based on the cycles of the past. Better go grab that 2 owner Lime-green 72 240Z, 4 spd, black interior, factory AC, with the rusted rear door/rocker section, for $3500 that I looked at yesterday. Needs a fuel pump, and a dry place to sleep….. Seems like a good investment…..

  22. Drive-By said:

    In part i’d have to agree with TJ although say not just 70′s Mitsubishi and not all JNC Mitsu’s either. As a brand Mitsubishi has been in decline for some time thanks mainly to Daimler-Chryslers insistance in selling off percentages of the company and mithdrawing from motorsport. Now more recently with the loss of Ralli//art in the showroom line up and the failure of the MiEV to take off. It’s looking a grim future for Mitsubishi Motors.
    Like any painter, when MMC is deceased, their greatest works; Evo VI Tommi Makinen, Lancer 2000ex Turbo, Starion NB & 2litre WB maybe even the humble MK1 Pajero/Shogun could easily see the glow of infatuation in buyers eyes.