The Generation X Top 40/40/40: The 1990s

40 Collector Cars, Built In the Past 40 Years, That Cost Under $40,000


Editor’s Note
: As Gen X-er Jeff Sabatini confronts his fifth decade on the planet, he’s having something of a minor midlife crisis. What better panacea for age-related angst than compiling a list of the top 40 cars for Generation X collectors from the past 40 years? Here's the second installment of this four-part series, in which Sabatini tackles 10 cars from the 1990s.

Moving back in time from the first 10 cars on the list, the cars of the 1990s represent some of the best models to emerge from a decade in which the auto industry finally figured out how to make good, fun products again. These cars are now old enough to have developed reputations, and most of them have been picked for their popularity among enthusiasts. Perhaps the best thing about the cars from the ’90s is that few have begun to appreciate in value, and it’s still possible to find nice, well-cared-for examples that are owned by normal people rather than collectors.

1. 1989-1994 Ferrari 348tb
Open your Hagerty Price Guide to Ferrari and start at the end, scroll back until you hit a car that’s under $40,000 and you find the 348tb. Is it the sexiest Ferrari out there? Nope. Is it the fastest? At a tick under 6 seconds from 0-60 mph, no again. We’ll go one further and say that the 348tb is mostly unloved by Ferrari enthusiasts. Its 3.4-liter V-8 makes just 296 horsepower — less than a new V-6 Camaro. But the Italian Stallion at full tilt will sound like Pavarotti to the Chevy’s Kid Rock, and when you pull up to a stop light, the 348tb is still a two-seater with a prancing horse badge on its hood. That’s why this one is a no-brainer, the exception that proves the rule. Hagerty Price Guide has the 348tb listed at prices ranging from $34,900- $39,000 for a #1 condition car.

2. 1990-1997 Mazda Miata
What a Miata might lack in personality, it pays back in reliable fun. Its manual transmission is so precise and satisfying to shift that you won’t mind the constant rowing of gears needed to keep the high-strung little four-cylinder (1.6 liters from 1990-1993, and 1.8 liters from 1994-1997) near the peak of its powerband. With perfect balance and great steering feel, it’s no wonder it’s the best-selling sports car of all time. Better yet, there is no greater sports car value on the planet than a used first-generation Miata. They are plentiful, inexpensive, extremely durable, and silly fun to drive, even for the inexperienced. Every sports car enthusiast should own one at least once. Hagerty Price Guide has the first-generation Miata listed from $8,000-$9,200 for a #1 condition car.

3. 1990-1995 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1/1992-1995 Dodge Viper RT/10
This one is like a Meyers-Briggs test: Do you prefer to solve problems through careful analysis or are you more the git ’er dun type? While the ZR-1 was the most sophisticated Corvette to come to market at the time, the Viper was its polar opposite, crude but similarly effective. While Lotus was giving the C4 Corvette a thorough massaging that included an overhead-cam V-8, good for an unheard-of-at-the-time 375 horsepower, Dodge was desperately cobbling together a halo car in the fashion of the original AC Cobra. The Viper made do with a pushrod V-10 derived from a truck engine, but one that made an astounding 400 horsepower. Both cars are capable of running 0-60 in about four and a half seconds, so the only thing that really separates them is the temperament of their owners. Hagerty Price Guide lists the ZR-1 between $30,900-$37,300 for a #1 condition car, while the Viper is listed between $39,100-$40,400.

4. 1991 GMC Syclone/1992-1993 GMC Typhoon
When Car and Driver pitted a Syclone against a Ferrari 348 in an epic drag race back in September 1991, the GMC pickup dusted the six-figure sports car by four-tenths, running through the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 99 mph. With all-wheel-drive and a turbocharged 4.3-liter V-6 running 14 psi of boost through a liquid intercooler, this 280-horsepower, limited-production sport truck is the quintessential ’90s cult car. And with a hauling capacity of just 500 pounds, calling it a car is fair. The Syclone was based on GMC’s Sonoma compact truck, while the Typhoon that replaced it was all Jimmy. Either way, these General Motors anomalies were a good decade ahead of their time and make excellent toys today. Hagerty Price Guide has the Syclone listed at $19,600 for a #1 condition car, with the Typhoon at $21,700.

5. 1991 Acura NSX
How good is the NSX? Honda so completely nailed it with the first Japanese supercar that it remained in production, virtually unchanged, for 15 years. The all-aluminum Acura NSX was an amazing feat of engineering for a company known mainly for its engine manufacture. With a high-revving 3-liter, 270-hp V-6 in mid-engine configuration and a sub-3,000-pound weight, the NSX was quick (0-60 mph in 5 seconds flat) and well balanced. And like every Honda, it was reliable, the first supercar you could expect to drive for 100,000 miles. Even better, NSX prices have remained staggeringly high, as it’s only recently that the earliest examples have dropped under our $40,000 price threshold. The Hagerty Price Guide lists the original NSX at $37,300 for a #1 condition car.

6. 1991-1994 Alfa Romeo Spider
This one’s a bit of a cheat, as the Alfa Spider isn’t really a ’90s car. Or even an ’80s car or a ’70s car, for that matter. Alfa’s beautiful little roadster dates all the way back to 1966, and the fact that you could still buy a new one in 1994 is a testament to either the perfection of the original design or the profound stubbornness of Italians. While the fourth series of the Spider differed a bit from the original, with cosmetic “upgrades” and an electronic fuel-injection system for its 2-liter, 124-hp four cylinder, it is still the quintessential Italian sports car for the masses. Which means that by the early ’90s it had been entirely eclipsed in quality and performance by the Mazda Miata. But we’re not buying new cars here, we’re buying vintage ones and there’s something to be said for owning the original rather than the copy. Hagerty Price Guide has the series four Spider listed between $24,300- $29,900 for a #1 condition car.

7. 1993-1996 Mazda RX-7
By the mid-’90s, the Japanese sports car market had gotten out of hand. Turbocharging had sent power through the roof, and prices had gone right along. The top-of-the-line Toyota Supra, Nissan 300ZX and Mitsubishi 3000GT all offered over 300 horsepower, but were all priced well over $30,000. So was the third-generation RX-7, which took its customarily different approach. With a 255-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, 1.3-liter rotary, Mazda couldn’t afford to build a bloated pig, so instead crafted a smaller, lighter car, as pure a sports car as any Japanese manufacturer would ever dare. With a 2,850-pound curb weight, the RX-7 was fast, but its rock-hard suspension made most drivers furious. As it turned out, the sorts of dudes who had bought these cars in the 1980s moved on to trucks and SUV’s and the entire segment had all but disappeared by the end of the decade. But the RX-7 stands out as the jewel of the era, especially as a collectible. It was the least successful of its ilk, so production numbers were low, and its faults as a daily driver don’t matter much now. Hagerty Price Guide lists the third-generation RX-7 at 22,500 for a #1 condition car.

8. 1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala SS
In recent years Chevy has so completely emasculated the SS badge that it’s hard to remember what a big deal it was when that designation resurfaced on the mid-’90s Caprice. With a 5.7-liter LT1 V-8 similar to the one in the Corvette, this 280-hp engine was tuned for torque, and its 330 lb-feet were just the thing for launching the big, rear-drive sedan. A standard limited-slip differential and 255/50ZR17 tires provided plenty of grip, and the Impala SS received lots of carryovers from the Caprice police package, including its suspension. This was the last hurrah for domestic, body-on-frame performance cars, but GM made nearly 70,000 of them so they’re neither rare nor particularly valued outside of a small group of fans. Prices reflect that, with higher-mileage examples in good condition selling for as little as $5,000, while dealers with as-new cars are asking more than $20,000. While preparing this list, we saw a 14k-mile 1996 sell on eBay Motors for $16,995.

9. 1994-2001 AM General Hummer
The original Hummer was everything a car enthusiast could want in a vehicle: Wildly impractical, ridiculously expensive, and exceptionally rare. While the sorts of fun you might have in a Hummer aren’t the same as you’d get out of a Mustang, how would you better choose to engage in extreme off-roading and Interstate intimidation? Driving a real Hummer is a truly different experience than most vehicles on the road, and one well worth seeking out, if only for the ego gratification, which rivals even the most high-performance muscle cars. Before GM destroyed Hummer by taking it mainstream, it had cachet that was simply unavailable to any other automaker. Having your vehicles used to overthrow a foreign government isn’t something you can buy your way into, like NASCAR. You can expect to pay between $18,700-$39,500 for a used Hummer, according to Kelly Blue Book.

10. 1995-2000 Acura Integra Type R
There may not be another model from the ’90s that can lay claim to being more important than the Integra Type R, the sports coupe that single-handedly launched the entire import tuner craze. While the Type R isn’t the sort of car that shines on paper — with only 197 horsepower from its 1.8-liter four-cylinder and front-wheel-drive, it stood well outside the performance mainstream in the U.S. — driving one is a revelation. Honda truly built a streetable race car, stripping the Integra of its sound insulation and reinforcing the chassis, while stiffening up the suspension to make the Type R a car that would banish pejoratives like “wrong-wheel drive” from many an enthusiast’s vocabulary. Go-fast equipment like a limited slip diff, lightweight alloys, and a functional rear spoiler made the Type R the car that every Honda fanboy still reveres. Most Integra Type R’s have been driven hard and put away wet, so values tend to be low. Edmunds.com prices them between $4,086-$6,650, but we’d expect to pay much more for a pristine example.