8 cars to grab before they take off (September 2018 edition)

There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to pull the trigger on a beloved car you’ve tracked down, only to wait too long before the price balloons. While most movement in the collector car market is slow and steady, there are some cars that experience a faster price jump, and it’s very difficult to predict what cars will make moves and when.

We do have some resources at our disposal, however: insurance quote activity and the frequency a vehicle is being added to our insurance policies. Both of these figures are strong indicators of demand in the marketplace. We’ve identified eight cars that are showing these healthy signs of interest, but prices haven’t begun to climb in response.

1973–77 Pontiac Grand Prix

1976 Pontiac Grand Prix
1976 Pontiac Grand Prix Mecum

Median condition #3 (Good) value: $4200

The third-generation Grand Prix has the kind of face only a mother could love, and by 1973 the SJ performance variant was gone. But Pontiac people are an active bunch (even now when the brand is no more) and buyer interest in the Grand Prix is way up. With such a low value currently, prices don’t really have anywhere to go but up, and Mecum sold two low-mile examples this year for surprisingly high prices, signaling a trend. One sold for $19,250 at Mecum Houston in April, and a 1200-mile 1977 car sold in Kissimmee for a whopping $23,100.

1977–79 Ford Thunderbird

1978 Ford Thunderbird
1978 Ford Thunderbird Mecum

Median condition #3 (Good) value: $4650

With 130 horsepower on tap to push around more than two tons of weight, in this case the T in T-Bird might as well stand for Titan. Ford sold nearly a million of them over three years, so they’re not exactly rare, but then again, both base cars and the upscale Diamond Jubilee Edition Thunderbirds offer Malaise Era chic at prices that can’t realistically get much lower. With modest but noticeable growth in buyer interest as well as a larger number being added to insurance policies, the last of the ’70s T-Birds are getting some attention.

1996–2004 Mercedes-Benz SLK

1996 Mercedes-Benz SLK 230
1996 Mercedes-Benz SLK 230 Mercedes-Benz

Median #3 (Good) condition value: $8200

As a sports car, the original SLK just isn’t as driver-focused or nimble as the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3, but it’s an attractive car with a roof that opens and a hardtop for when it rains. The Benz badge doesn’t hurt, either. It was a $40,000 car in the not-too distant past, so at current values the SLK seems like a sweet deal. Yes, service parts will always be expensive, but the car itself may not be quite so cheap in the near future. There has been a huge jump in buyer interest as well as a big increase in the number added to insurance policies. Values still have yet to rise accordingly, but the demand is definitely there. These once-pricey convertibles are tempting alternatives to the more spartan Miata and boy-racer Honda S2000.

1978–87 GMC Caballero

1984 GMC Caballero
1984 GMC Caballero Mecum

Median condition #3 (Good) value: $8700

Like a Chevy El Camino but with a different badge and a heck of a lot more rare, the Caballero has seen a massive spike in demand that corresponds with wider trends favoring trucks and SUVs. Given that the GMC version is hard to come by, it has a certain cachet for collectors over the equivalent El Camino, which is tracking fairly flat with the current market.

1995–99 BMW M3       

1995 BMW M3 lineup
1995 BMW M3 BMW

Median #3 (Good) condition value: $14,700

Prices for the original 1985–92 E30-generation BMW M3 have long since gone wild and are no longer affordable, and prices for the later 2000–06 E46-generation M3s have been climbing steadily for the last couple of years, even making our 2018 Bull Market List. But there’s a sweet spot there for the somewhat unloved middle child in the M3 family—the 1992–99 E36 M3. While it won’t win any beauty contests, the E36 has 46-percent more horsepower than the old E30 and when it came out was one of the most widely praised performance cars in the automotive press. For some time it was dismissed for its paltry 240 horsepower in U.S.-spec, compared to Europe’s 286-hp model.

Attention is finally turning back to the E36, and it seems to be making that transition from used car to collectible. The special M3 Lightweight model can already be considered collectible with a few huge recent auction results under its belt, and a standard low-mile 1999 Coupe sold for a very strong $35,200 at Barrett-Jackson earlier in the year. Buyer interest is way up and more are being added to insurance policies, but prices are still well under the E30 that came before it and the E46 that came after it, so there’s quite a bit of room for growth.

1978–79 Dodge Lil’ Red Express

1979 Dodge Lil' Red Express
1979 Dodge Lil' Red Express Mecum

Median #3 (Good) condition value: $17,150

Demand for the Lil’ Red Express is rising after trailing the rest of the market for some time. This gain is largely driven by the growth in the number being added to insurance policies and a rise in their insured values. It makes sense given the amount of market activity among vintage trucks as a whole, although Lil’ Red Express prices haven’t moved as much as other special pickups. We have seen a handful of them at auction, but they were less than stellar examples—we’re still waiting for a breakout sale that’ll move the price needle.

1983–90 Land Rover Defender

1987 Land Rover Defender
1987 Land Rover Defender Mecum

Median #3 (Good) condition value: $25,500

Later North American Spec (NAS) Defenders from the ’90s can touch 100 grand, so while the earlier Defenders still aren’t cheap, they’re quite a bit more reasonable. That doesn’t seem to be lost on buyers, who have been showing increased interest in ’80s Defenders after being priced out from the later ones. Interest for classic off-roaders has been on the rise overall, and Land Rover Defender is one of the more respected names in that segment, so things look good for these in the longer term.

1999–2002 BMW M Coupe

1999 BMW M Coupe
1999 BMW M Coupe BMW

Median #3 (Good) condition value: $27,500

The original “clown shoe” BMW M Coupe is an exception to that old rule of “when the top goes down, the price goes up.” It’s based on the M3-powered, Z3-based M Roadster, but the M Coupe is much rarer and BMW fans really dig its funky, thick-hipped styling, extra rigidity, and practicality so much that prices for the M Coupe are noticeably higher than the M Roadster. Because it is such a rare car (fewer than 3000 built for North America) and has a special place in the hearts of the BMW faithful, its future is bright in terms of collectability—prices for super-clean ones with the 320-hp, 3.2-liter S54 engine are long gone. We haven’t yet seen an M Coupe at any high-profile collector car auctions, though, so expect to see demand rise even higher as this car makes it onto more people’s radar.

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