Embracing the Youngtimers into the classic car world | Column

When I started collecting/accumulating cars about 40 years ago, things were simple–and slow. If you wanted a car, you looked at the local paper unless you were after something special, in which case you flipped through the back of a magazine. You called, you waited; you asked for photos, you waited. Perhaps a deal could eventually be made. Eventually. 

The objects of most collectors’ desires, then as now, clustered around the cars from those people’s formative years. So back in the ’70s and ’80s, it was mostly all about American cars, since people who grew up in the ’50s dreamed of Bel Air convertibles, early Corvettes and perhaps some of the big classics like Duesenbergs, Caddys and Packards. Those buyers were in their peak earning years and quickly drove up the prices for those cars. 

At the same time, stuff like Ferraris, Hemi ’Cudas, E-Types and anything from Shelby were pretty much cheap as chips. But as those who grew up in the ’60s came into the market and wanted that Ferrari, ’Cuda or whatever, prices quickly followed suit. Same economics, different decade. 

Those of us who came of age in the ’70s, though, aren’t blessed with great memories of cars. Although there were a few exceptions, by and large the vehicles of the ’70s kind of sucked. I turned 17 in 1977, arguably the worst year ever for cool cars. I had no interest in a Mustang II or a 180-horsepower Trans-Am with a screaming chicken on it. Instead I looked back a decade and started playing with cars from the ’60s. I have spent my years mostly continuing to focus on midcentury stuff. 

I wasn’t the only one who got stuck there. I’ve spent years attending the import Carlisle show, for example, where I see rows of vendors offering parts for the ’60s greatest hits, yet little if anything for ’70s and ’80s BMWs, early Hondas, Datsuns or even rotary-powered Mazdas. It started to look like the cars of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s were just going to be ignored forever. 

Now, however, we’re finally seeing major interest. Thanks to events like Radwood and Concours d’Lemons as well as auction sites like Bring a Trailer, these more recent classics are positively raging right now. 

We’re also seeing something I have long learned from this market: Buying at the height of the market, when everyone’s after the same car because they’re also longing for one, is a quick way to pay too much. Cars like Supras, M3s and Ferrari 308s are now worth more than some blue chips from the ’50s and ’60s. These cars have been ignored for decades, so I’m happy to see them accepted–and, to be honest, surprised by how quickly the interest has built. 

I get it, though. Starting with the Rabbit GTI in 1983, performance was back–and cars kept getting better, faster and more refined. Fuel injection and emissions systems gave us power without the harsh penalties. Efficiency, ergonomics and HVAC systems made huge strides. Safety became a big concern. By the end of the ’80s, cars had become positively modern. 

I’m not going to park our ’57 Triumph TR3, ’67 Shelby, or any of the other early machines here in the fleet, but I am happy to embrace these newer cars–Youngtimers, as the Europeans car them.

[Youngtimers: The new wave of collector cars]

These aren’t unchartered waters for us. We were already in the magazine business in 1984 with our sister title, Grassroots Motorsports. The first press car that I drove was a Golf GTI–not the Rabbit, but still worthy and quite refined. We tested those first Supras, M3s and four-wheel-steer Hondas. Heck, we still have our own photography on all of these cars. 

Our staff members have owned several of them, too–and many of them still do today. You want talk about the Mustang SVO, Porsche 944, Honda CRX Si, or just about every iteration of the E30 3 Series? We can do that. My son’s 1985 Toyota MR2 sits in our office lobby, while our editor owns an ’80s Porsche 911 Carrera

We recently added one more icon from this generation to the collection. By the time you read this, we will have road-tripped to Montana to pick up our next project car, a 1984 Rabbit GTI. It still wears its original paint and sports perhaps the ultimate option, a Callaway turbo kit. Look for that project to online at here, and watch for it in the pages of the magazine. Let’s see if the ’80s hold up on a revisit; I’m guessing the answer is yes, and the time is now.

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View comments on the CMS forums
dean1484 MegaDork
12/9/21 7:29 a.m.

Tim do you remember "The Want-Add". That was the go to for cars. Kind of the paper version of Craigs list before the internet here in NE. 

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