Conferring classic status

by Andy Bryenton

Long ago — well, not so long, but definitely in an era when there were still such things as milk tokens and walkmans — I got some advice about buying a first car. “Forget the big, loud, Chrysler Valiant Regal which the bloke up the road was selling for five hundred bucks. And don’t put in a bid for your mate’s big brother’s crusty old Falcon panel van. Gas guzzlers the lot of them, and little Japanese cars are the way of the future.”

The old man had just bought a Toyota, and he was impressed. But I was unimpressed when, years later, I idly clicked through Trade Me to see the exact same Valiant regal 770 listed for over ten thousand dollars as a rust-eaten shell. 

That old panel van? Seems that was a classic too — it’s just that we hadn’t seen it coming. Come to think of it, that old Corolla which had Dad so impressed is now a collectible too. So the big question is — how can you pick them? How can you spend small change now on a machine that’s likely to become an icon in the future?

It seems the first ingredient is rarity. Special editions and discontinued badges, strange design quirks — especially those which were seen as weird and odd in their day — these are the signs of a possible future classic. An example — with the Ford Falcon badge now sadly extinct, a 2011 All Blacks special edition Falcon is likely to be a rarity in years to come. But for real quirky appeal, try to snap up the tiny, massively powerful — actually designed by our nation’s rugby team and Mountune — All Blacks Ford Fiesta. Another signifier is prestige combined with time. About twenty five years is the lowest ebb of depreciation on a car, so right now there are some golden era Japanese classics going cheap. We are in a unique position to import from the land of the rising sun, thanks to our auto laws and proximity.

You might be thinking — ‘Wait? Japanese classics? All real classic cars are either European or American!’ But you’d be corrected by the massive owners groups who obsess over brands like Toyota and Honda. 

The Toyota classics group even get out for a track day meet once a year, with the likes of MR2s, Celica Gt4s, Supras, Crowns, Centuries and AE86s on display. These guys know their stuff just as well as the hot rod crowd, and that last model — the AE86 — once cost peanuts but now fetches prices in the mid to late 10,000s. 

The reality is, a classic is that car you pined for as a kid. It might be that one you owned for a brief time before rust and practicality combined to steal it away. It might be a legend you’ve seen on the screen, or a neighbour’s ride from down the road. 

Those old Valiants and Holdens are classics because of what they meant to people. So buy what you love. Resale value doesn’t matter when you want to keep a car forever.