Japanese classic car market - 2018 in review

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While the market may have stagnated for some models over the years, 2018 saw demand rise across the board.

Japanese classic car market - 2018 in review
Nissan Skyline

INCREDIBLE AS it may seem, five years have flown by since last we looked at the market for Japanese specialist cars. And have things changed since then. 

Back in 2013, with the automotive market still influenced by the Global Financial Crisis, Japanese models were stuck in a rut and many desirable models were looking under-appreciated and under-priced. In fact we were concerned that on-going ambivalence towards Japanese cars was affecting their long-term desirability. Recent movement has shown those concerns to be obsolete.

Datsun 240 and 260Zs gave notice some years back of an impending price explosion. So did a few of the early Mazda rotaries but nobody predicted the pace of change that would affect things like the RX2, RX3, Z-Cars and 1970s Nissan Skylines. Values doubling and trebling in the space of three years is full-on muscle car stuff and subject to the same risk of a very hard landing. No one can say when, so be cautious.

Lower down the scale there are still plenty of fun cars at affordable prices and with some growth to come. The Datsun 180B SSS coupe, Mazda RX4, Series 4/5 RX7s and early Celicas provide distinctive looks with decent performance and won’t bury you in a $50K hole should the market suddenly turn sour. 

Japan during the past 40 years really took over from Britain as the world’s primary source of affordable sports cars. For less than $20,000 you can today own a Honda S2000 or early RX7, MR2, Honda Type R and of course the list must include the Mazda MX5.

Those who remember when these brilliant little cars first appeared struggle to believe that early MX5s can now in many places be registered and regarded as ‘vintage’ cars.

Looking to the future the most obvious change will be the 2019 introduction of a 25-year ‘rolling age’ rule for imported enthusiast vehicles. No longer will exemptions under the Special Enthusiast Vehicles Scheme (SEVS) only apply to vehicles made before 1990.

More recent models continue of course to arrive in abundance but the nature of those models is changing as well. Among the most popular of late have been V35 Nissans, all-wheel drive Toyota Caldina wagons, Mitsubishi EVOs and the myriad of people mover vans.

Japanese auction sites continue to uncover older and very desirable models that someone has been hiding away in anticipation of a massive payday. That time arrived a while back and enthusiasts in export markets (principally the USA) are paying prodigious amounts for 1970s Nissan Skylines, Toyota Sprinter and Levin coupes, numerous rotary Mazdas and the occasional Toyota Crown or Corona hardtop. Australians can now pitch in as well so if you are a lover of unusual Japanese motor vehicles, get ready for life to soon become less boring.

Understanding our value guides

Japanese Classic Car Value Guide home page

Muscle Car Value Guide home page

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