Land these 8 cars before the market gets wise

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1974 Datsun 260Z coupe Mecum

Although many drivers have stored away their beloved classics and collector cars for hibernation by now, the desire for new automotive experiences never sleeps. If you’ve been angling for a new ride for a while, winter car shopping can be a bold strategy to score a sweet deal outside the prime of the driving seasons. It doesn’t hurt, either, to have a few tips about what cars you might be able to buy before prices take off. 

We don’t have a crystal ball, but our vault of data (including insurance quote data, the frequency with which certain vehicles are added to policies, auction activity, private sales data, and more) tells us that the following cars show strong indications of future appreciation. Anything can happen in the future, of course, and the cars that follow certainly aren’t the next blue-chip investments to be stashed away. As far as avoiding losing your shirt down the line, though, take a hard look at these eight cars before the needle moves.

1961–68 International Harvester Pickup

1964 International Harvester Pickup
Barrett-Jackson

As with the 1969–75 IH pickups we discussed back in the fall, people tend to overlook International Harvester in favor of Detroit’s Big Three. These hardworking, durable, and inherently simple machines embody enduring appeal and timeless charm. They come in a variety of body configurations and with the choice of a 141-hp six-cylinder with a single-barrel carburetor or a 155-hp, two-barrel-carb V-8. For 1964, though, there was a C-900 half-ton truck with the Scout’s 93-hp four-cylinder and single-barrel carb. If you want a vintage truck that sounds out and starts a conversation, an IH pickup is your ticket.

Interest in International Harvester is growing amidst the rising interest in vintage SUVs and trucks. The number of insurance quotes we’ve received is up 22 percent compared to last year, and the lion’s share of those quotes come from younger buyers. Despite that, owners are for the moment undervaluing these trucks—quoted values are up just 5 percent over the last three years, while real-world prices are up 9 percent over the last two years. Right now, #2-condition (Excellent) examples are at a median value of $17,600, compared to $9900 for #3-condition (Good) trucks.

1962–69 Austin-Healey Sprite

1967 Austin-Healey Sprite
Mecum

No, it’s not the Bugeye Sprite, a car so happy-looking that it melts the world’s cynicism and jadedness away by its mere presence. Still, square-body Sprites are more than capable of bringing a smile to your face—especially when you realize they cost about half as much as Bugeyes, despite being more practical and more powerful. At a #2-condition (Excellent) median value of $11,000 and a #3 (Good) value of $7100, they’re not worth much more than the equivalent MG Midget either, despite that the MG was technically the nicer one (with more trim) back in the day. “They’re the same car built at the same place, but a Healey badge carries a lot more cachet than an MG one,” says auction editor Andrew Newton.

The Sprite’s appeal might be gaining traction, too. Boomers have long been aware of the car’s affordable fun, but a surprising number of quotes (22 percent) come from millennials, which is more than you’d expect from a defunct brand. Overall, the number of quotes is up 24 percent over the last year, and quoted values are up 10 percent over the last three years. They’re not getting any cheaper; but bear in mind that even if owners are willing to price Sprites a bit higher and buyers are willing to shoulder that load, we don’t expect prices to dramatically increase. 

1974 Datsun 260Z

1974 Datsun 260Z coupe
Mecum

Although the Datsun 260Z’s prices are, for the moment, tracking evenly with the overall market, we think it’s due for a bump. Owners are getting the sense their cars are worth more, as indicated by high insurance quote activity (up 23 percent over the last year) and quoted values that are up 14 percent over the last three years. Plus, it’s always a good sign of future collectibility when 46 percent of quotes come from millennials.

What’s behind this jump in interest for the one-year-only 260Z? Well, a #3-condition (Good) two-seater is worth $11,000 and a #2 (Excellent) one is worth $25,600, compared to $18,200 and $38,300, respectively, for a 1971–73 240Z. That’s a big premium for the 240, which is an extremely similar car. The 260Z was a bridge between the original Z car and the fuel-injected 280Z, with a slightly less-powerful engine.

“The 240 is definitely more desirable and always will be, but it isn’t twice the car, despite what the values suggest,” says Newton. “It only makes sense that people who can’t quite stretch the budget to a 240Z will try for the next-closest thing.”

1974 also marked the first year of the 2+2 body style, which are about 50-percent cheaper than the standard 260Z coupe. 

1974–82 Fiat X1/9

1979 Fiat X1/9
Mecum

Wedge cars were all the rage in the early 1970s, and Fiat joined the field of angular entries with its targa-topped X1/9 in 1974. The Gandini-penned sports car was a real featherweight, coming in at under 2000 pounds and making twisty roads a real pleasure to tackle. The mid-mounted, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine makes a conservative 67 hp—a figure that deserves to be doubled, most owners would contest. Still, these cars bring agile, interesting, and affordable open-top fun with an Italian flavor.

While prices ballooned earlier this year, specifically for #1-condition (Concours) cars, other X1/9s have been steady for a good while. Prices range from $5900 in #3 (Good) condition to $8900 in #2 (Excellent) condition for the 1974–78 models, compared to the later models where you can expect to pay about $6300 for #3s and $9300 for #2s. A handful of huge #1-condition sales on Bring a Trailer and other live auctions earlier this year are likely to drive up prices, and we have been seeing a significant increase in the number of our insurance policies adding the X1/9, while quoted value is up 37 percent.

1990–99 Toyota MR2

1993 Toyota MR2 turbo
Mecum

Buoyed by the swell of fun 1990s Japanese cars, the Mk II Toyota MR2 is starting to make the transition from used car to collectible. It’s not in the same tier as the FD-generation Mazda RX-7, the Nissan 300ZX Turbo, or the Toyota Supra, but this mid-engine sports car could have a solid year of appreciation ahead. Like the first-gen model, the Mk II MR2 resembles a shrunken-down contemporary Ferrari. In the U.S., Toyota offered coupe and targa variants. The base engine was a 130-hp, 2.2-liter four-cylinder; in the top-spec MR2, the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder made 200 hp.

Interest is building around the second-gen MR2, especially now that the original car is coming into vogue. Despite that, their values aren’t much different, even though the Mk II is arguably better-looking and far superior in performance. Our insurance quotes for the Mk II are up 19 percent in the last year and a whopping 166 percent in the last three years, with a 23-percent increase in quoted value. Unsurprisingly, 55 percent of those quotes come from millennials. 

Right now, the median #2-condition (Good) value is for an early, base MR2 Mk II is $12,000, which ranges to $19,000 in the same condition for a later turbo model. We’d expect those numbers to increase by this time next year.

1991–96 Chevrolet Caprice Classic

1993 Chevrolet Caprice
GM

Cheap, rear-wheel-drive American cars with V-8s are once again blasting their way into our hearts. Word is already getting around about the merits of the Buick Roadmaster, and the Caprice Classic is certainly cut from the same cloth. Like just about every car in the 1990s, this Caprice was a lot more rounded than its predecessor, despite the fact that the chassis and powertrain were pretty much carried over from the 1990 model through the 1993 model. 

In 1994, the Caprice was blessed with new engines, including the option for a tuned-down Corvette LT1 V-8, good for 260 hp from its 350 cubic inches of displacement (using iron heads, rather than the ’Vette’s aluminum heads). All across the board, the new engines were a big improvement compared to the L03 V-8’s 170 hp. Unsurprisingly, a good chunk of Caprices out there are ex-police cruisers—performance kit includes 3.08 gears, heavy-duty 9C1 suspension, brakes, limited-slip differential, and improved cooling. These beasts have a reputation for being damn-near unkillable.

Our main indicator of an imminent uptick for these cruisers is that the number of insurance policies adding Caprice Classics is up 73 percent over the last year. On top of that, it’s fair to say these cars already bottomed out in price. As of now, the median #3-condition (Good) value is $4900, while #2-condition (Excellent) values range from $7000 for an early base sedan to $12,900 for a later wagon.

2003–04 Mercury Marauder

2003 Mercury Marauder
Ford

Much as when Amazon recommends a similar product you might also like, the Mercury Marauder scratches that same itch for fans of big, V-8-powered cruisers with rear-wheel drive. Inspired by the 1994–96 Impala SS, Ford program manager Steve Babcock figured he could endow the Grand Marquis with similar grunt. Debuting at the 1998 SEMA show in Las Vegas, just as the Imapala did in 1992, the blacked-out Marauder took a sinister approach with its supercharged, DOHC 4.6-liter V-8. Roush helped bring the car to market with 302 hp and 318 lb-ft of torque and an aluminum driveshaft, doing the Panther platform proud even if it was only for two model years before Ford pulled the plug.

There have been no eventful price changes for the Marauder in the last year, but our insurance quote activity is up 37 percent over the last year and 74 percent over the last three. In the last year, quoted value is up 8 percent. Median price for a #3-condition Marauder is $15,800, versus $20,100 in #2 condition. As this category of vehicle gets on the radar for more and more buyers, cars like the Marauder will inevitably become more in demand. Plus, with only 3214 units built, this tire-shredding Mercury is a reasonably rare prospect.

2006–10 Pontiac Solstice

2007 Pontiac Solstice
GM

Along with the Saturn Sky, GM’s take on a Miata-fighting two-seat roadster was short-lived. These sports cars are still relatively new in the collector sphere, and transaction prices are all over the map, ranging from $13,000 for an early base convertible in #2 condition (Excellent), to $18,200 for a later high-performance GXP convertible, all the way up to $47,000 for a final-year 2010 GXP Coupe in the same condition.

So what’s the big deal with the GXP? Well, for one, it sports 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque from its turbocharged four-cylinder, which is a major boost compared to the base car’s naturally-aspirated 177 hp. On top of that, the GXP piles on a stiffer suspension and shorter third-gear ratio for smoother acceleration. The coupe is indeed a hot commodity, offering unique looks. The contemporary NC-generation Mazda Miata also offered a hardtop (with a power-retraction function), but the Miata does not have the Solstice coupe’s striking profile. 

Given that it’s still very much the early days for this two-seat Pontiac, the GXP and coupe models are the ones most likely to gain steam as these emerge as collectibles. Like the G8 GXP, these cars represent the last performance gasp for this now-defunct GM brand.

Insurance quotes overall for the Solstice are up 26 percent in the last year and 38 percent in the last three years. Those quotes are almost all from baby boomers, who make up 64 percent of the market—an indicator that any value changes for this car may be short-term. Millennials make up just 6 percent of our quotes for the Solstice. 

Are you planning to snag any of these cars in the coming months? Let us know in the comments below whether any of these cars will soon call your garage home.

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