5 cool cars under $50K you missed at Monterey 2019

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1991 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R Bonhams

Amidst all the pomp, circumstance, and high-dollar sales flying around the Monterey peninsula during Car Week, it’s easy to lose track of some of the more affordable offerings. Don’t let the more run-of-the-mill transaction prices fool you, though—there are plenty of interesting and illuminating sales that take place during Car Week. We zeroed in on 5 cars that sold for under $50k and represent a lot of bang for the buyers’ buck. On top of that, each sale teaches us something about the market in general.

1980 Toyota SR5 Pickup – Sold for $19,250

1980 Toyota SR5 pickup
1980 Toyota SR5 pickup Mecum

Mecum (Lot T149)

Average value in #3 condition (Good): $4500

These old Toyota pickups have a stellar reputation for being stone-cold reliable and more or less indestructible, if properly maintained. Early examples of these small trucks are starting to really emerge in the market, with a handful of breakout sales over the last 18 months. Generally speaking, off-road modifications—as long as they’re done tastefully—don’t hurt prices. 

Mecum’s 1980 SR5 presented in very good condition, and the desirable 4×4 configuration helps a lot. The paint is original, the upholstery is new, and the mileage is “believed to be” 78,000 miles. We’ve seen cleaner, more original, and lower-mile examples sell for much more—in one case $55,000—but it’s clear the rising tide around Toyota pickups is not a fluke.

1969 Buick Riviera – Sold for $19,800

1969 Buick Riviera
1969 Buick Riviera Mecum

Mecum (Lot T16)

Value in #3 condition (Good): $14,900

When Buick was flying high in 1969, the Riviera was cruising easy. It was the best sales year for the model until 1984, and, combined with its healthy 360-hp, 430-cubic-inch V-8, the car’s sleek styling was a big part of that success. This car from Mecum was just about fully outfitted with all of the bells and whistles offered in ’69. That year, buyers could opt for air conditioning, power windows, power disc brakes up front, walnut dash trim, carpeted lower door panels, and more. With all of that kit, this is a whole lot of car for the money. A clean, usable classic like this for under $20,000 is proof that relatively affordable options are still out there. 

1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16v – Sold for $27,500

1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E
1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E Russo and Steele

Russo and Steele (Lot 8011)

Value in #3 condition (Good): $16,300

The E30-generation BMW 3 Series is no longer a well-kept secret, and prices are on the rise. Nevertheless, there is another boxy German out there that can scratch the same itch. Developed for DTM homologation, the Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 is a reliable and rewarding compact sport sedan, and it is now highly desirable—in part, owing to its Cosworth-developed four-cylinder engine. 

Russo and Steele’s 190E looked classy in its silver metallic paint, and purposeful on 17-inch Evo II wheels. The odometer showed just north of 79,000 miles. At $27,500, this car sold for almost exactly our average value in #2 (Excellent) condition. We’ve tracked rising prices since January of 2018, and our data shows that a big contingent of those interested in this car are younger buyers—a reliable sign for a bright future of collectibility. Expect to be seeing these cars pop up at more and more auctions in the near future.

1991 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R – Sold for $42,560

1991 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R
1991 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R Bonhams

Bonhams (Lot 210)

Value in #3 condition (Good): $32,800

Perhaps no car better exemplifies the rampant craving for Japanese classics, particularly Japanese Domestic Market examples never sold in the U.S., than Godzilla. Nissan’s Skyline GT-R was a technical powerhouse, from its twin-cam straight-six to its electronically controlled all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering; but it was the refined manner in which these elements came together that GT-R fans adored. Successful in racing, as well, the R32-generation would spawn additional R33, R35, and R35 generations that have kept the GT-R legacy alive. This car’s place among the pantheon of world-beating sports cars from Japan in the early 1990s is both undisputed and highly respected.

As we point out in our definitive R32 Skyline GT-R buyer’s guide, these cars are not rare, which means condition is king. Still, with just 11,588 miles on the clock and outstanding original condition, Bonhams’ offering at Monterey faltered—it sold at a previous auction recently for $60,000. (In Excellent, or #2, condition, these cars change hands for an average of $48,200.)

On its own, this dip isn’t an indicator that the R32 Skyline market is due for a correction, but we’ll be watching other sales closely to see if this example proves part of a larger trend. Stay tuned.

1991 Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1 – Sold for $44,800

1991 Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1
1991 Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1 Bonhams

Bonhams (Lot 15)

Value in #3 condition (Good): N/A

If weird is your favorite flavor, then sink your teeth into the Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1. One of Zagato’s more, ahem, adventurous designs—bestowed upon Nissan subsidiary Autech—the AZ1 is all angles, flares, and kooky design cues. There are functional mirrors housed inside the fenders, for crying out loud. It’s hard to believe Nissan sold a different car on this same platform in the U.S.—the much more palatable Infiniti M30. Under the hood is a turbo 3.0-liter V-6, but come on, who cares about the engine when there are NACA ducts inside the friggin’ wheels!

This AZ1 sold for just under its pre-sale low estimate of $45,000. Only 104 of these cars were made, and it’s just about the cheapest way you can get into a Zagato-bodied car. With the increased interest and growth prospect for so-called “Youngtimer” cars, even oddballs like this can find new homes.

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