Is $24,000 for a 19-year-old Honda Civic Si crazy?
Waltz into any Honda dealer with $25,000 in your checking account and you’ll be able to ink a deal for a new Civic Si. Now consider that twice this year, an auction on popular classifieds site Bring a Trailer yielded close to that same sum for a Civic Si that is nearly two decades old. These aren’t examples of rare, Japanese-market Type R models fresh from customs, they’re just extremely clean, unmodified, low-mileage examples–of which very few still exist.
Two blips on the radar is far from a trend. But what is happening here? Not that long ago these cars were worth a fraction a brand new version’s MSRP. Is this a sign of things to come, or temporary insanity?
“The enthusiasm for Honda in particular draws a lot of energy from the NSX,” says Bring a Trailer CEO Randy Nonnenberg. “But in general, people tend to like the sporting variants of mainstream cars they knew from their youth. Even more so, they want the unicorn example—a five-speed Si version of the CRX, or an Integra in an iconic color. It’s all about finding the exact car everyone wanted back then, and just how they remember it.”
The phenomenon isn’t unique to Honda. Recent sales on Bring a Trailer of other Japanese cars from this era have gone for prices that seem crazy. Take for example, a 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R with 81,000 miles that sold for $12,250, or a 1998 Toyota 4Runner with 30,000 miles that sold for $24,500. For that unicorn, time-capsule-type example, people aren’t necessarily price-sensitive, says Nonnenberg. “Another one like it might not come up for a few years,” he advises. “The people who want these vehicles are either people who had one and used it up, or people for whom it’s always been aspirational.”
The Civic, however, is the car that undeniably best represents what most people refer to as the “tuner” age of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Like the ’55 Chevy, ’65 Mustang, or ’69 Camaro before it, Honda’s humble runabout became the go-to car for a generation of drivers and tinkerers. It was cheap, easy to work on, had wide aftermarket support, and could be cheaply made into something quick and legitimately fun to drive.
“The Civic was affordable, built in huge numbers, and was totally mainstream,” says Scott Oldham, former Editor of the defunct Sport Compact Car magazine. “Of all the cars that got enthusiasts excited in this era, none had better penetration. Undoubtedly fueled by the surprise smash hit The Fast and the Furious, it was the heart and soul of the tuner movement for a generation of young car fans.” And as Oldham also notes, the Civic earned that position by being durable, fun to drive, lightweight, and relatively sophisticated in engineering with its rev-happy engines and double wishbone front suspension.
So why are Japanese cars having a moment right now, even for more mainstream offerings than the seriously performance-oriented cars like the Supra, RX-7, and NSX? It has a lot to do with the fact that Japanese cars were hugely popular at the cusp of the 21st century. If a young enthusiast couldn’t afford a 240SX, an MR2, or a Supra, a bit of tinkering on Mom’s old Honda (along with a cheap cat-back exhaust) would have to do.
Two decades later, those kids are now adults in a position to spend money on nostalgia, and they’re willing to pay significant sums for a bit of unmolested nostalgia from Japan’s golden age in the U.S. So, is it worth almost the cost of a new Civic Si for a 19-year-old time capsule with 12,000 miles? Well, if the car right off the dealer lot doesn’t trigger those same emotions, who’s to say?