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How Do You Define a "Future Classic" Car?

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author photo by Sam Keller May 2018

Automotive trends are hard to forecast. Of the many new vehicles on our roads today, it's impossible to predict which relatively common models will become iconic and gain a devoted fan base that's determined to keep them on the road for years to come. Cars today have evolved significantly from what we drove 25 years ago. The way we use vehicles, constant model design updates and the advanced technologies that quickly become outdated like a last-generation iPhone deviate today's vehicles drastically from the cars of the past. So what's going to be come a classic in 25 years?

I've observed two types of common vehicles gaining future classic status. The first are durable and reputable, and the latter are more niche, experience-oriented cars.

In the past, model generations lasted much longer. More attention was paid to initial vehicle designs, and body styles tended to last a bit longer than today, in which I believe designers ask themselves: "Hey, does this car have enough swoopy curves AND hard creases?" Despite the seemingly obvious answer, more and more are added every year. Take the Volvo 200 Series, which debuted in 1974. It was manufactured in three body styles (coupe, sedan and wagon), and it went largely unchanged for its 19-year manufacturing run. The 200 model line was eventually retired, as half of its production overlapped with the more upscale and also iconic 700 series. With their rock-solid reputation for reliability and safety, used Volvo 240 models can command prices well over a newer, but also aging Volvo model. The same goes for the Mercedes-Benz "W123" 300 Series: These immensely practical and durable Benzes are still on the road in great numbers, and I see at least one of them every day. I imagine that the reliability mixed with nostalgia and an "if it ain't broke don't fix (or replace) it" attitude is largely responsible for the cult status of these cars.

In a recent conversation with Doug, he alerted me to a 2000 Honda Civic Si on Bring-a-Trailer with 10,000 miles on the odometer that fetched $22,750 at auction. My first thought: That's a lot of money for a seldom-driven 17-year-old "sporty" economy car. In 2000, the Civic Si had a sticker price of $17,545, which is just under $26,000 when adjusted for inflation. While this isn't too absurd of a price, that dough can surely get you something newer and quicker. The kicker is that this 2000 Honda Civic Si, if properly cared for and driven sparingly, will maintain its value better than its 2018 equivalent. I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before cars like this start being restored to factory specs. While the Civic Si has gained future classic status, there are other Japanese cars from this era that may begin to appreciate in value -- or already have. Other enthusiast cars like Subaru's WRX STi and Honda's S2000 are maintaining their value quite well, and will likely be privy to the same trend.

I get the sense that today's cars are more disposable. In this new age of post-ownership, many of us use ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft for short trips to Home Depot or the supermarket, or a Zipcar for a weekend destination. In addition to shared ownership, the number of new car leases are at an all time high, indicating that many of us trade in our vehicles for the latest cars -- and, in part, automakers are constantly updating models to maintain brand loyalty and to stay on top of trends. Because of this rapid refreshing of models and platforms, I see long term desirability on a downturn, with the exception of special halo models like Mercedes AMG models or BMW's M cars. We've already seen prices of the recently discontinued BMW 1M sell at a higher price than the brand new M2, clearly cementing the 1M's status as a future classic.

What cars from today do you believe will become a future classic?

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How Do You Define a "Future Classic" Car? - Autotrader