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I’m Surprised Early Japanese Cars Aren’t More Valuable

I’ve recently discovered that brilliantly preserved, absolutely perfect Japanese cars from the late 1970s and the 1980s — the decades the Japanese were just gaining major traction in the North American market — can be had for incredibly cheap prices. I mean incredibly cheap. This surprises me, because a lot of these cars are really important to the U.S. car market — and they’re forebears of vehicles that have become some of the most popular cars on the market. But they’re really, really cheap.

Take, as an example, old Honda Accord models. An absolutely mint 1981 model, from the very first generation of the Accord, sold for just $5,000 on Bring a Trailer a couple of months ago. A perfectly preserved example of the very first generation of a car that became tremendously popular … selling for just five grand! I can’t believe how inexpensive this is! The price basically feels like it could be just about any used, older Honda — not an important car in the history of cars in North America, which it really is.

Let’s consider the Toyota Camry. On Autotrader right now there is a very nice 1985 Toyota Camry, which hails from the very first generation of that vehicle — which also became tremendously important to the car industry. It has just 110,000 miles, it’s been preserved well, and the asking price is a mere $3,995. Four grand! For the original Camry!

And it’s not like there are dozens of these things. Early Japanese cars (“early” being the era when the Japanese cars started getting more popular in North America), especially in nice condition, are getting harder and harder to find — and they’re rarely coming up for sale. Typically, this makes items collectible — but it doesn’t seem to, in this case. These older Japanese cars just haven’t reached any level of collectibility, and it seems nobody is really preserving them.

I suppose this shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering that Asian cars have never quite been as desirable for collectors as their European and American counterparts — but I’m a little shocked at just how cheap these vehicles are, considering their status as some of the original North American offerings from the Japanese automakers.

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  1. I’d say give it some time.  Ten years ago you could pick up a decent late-70’s Monte Carlo for under $1000.  Who would want a downsized luxo-barge with a wheezing V-6, right?  Now those same cars are going for a few thousand dollars.  I think the 80’s Japanese cars have become rare enough, but nobody is missing them yet, so their values haven’t started to go up.

  2. No surprise here at all.  These things are like garbage can liners…designed to do one job with a minimum of fuss, then be thrown away.   They have as much soul as a Kenmore washing machine.

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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