Back when I was a kid, my first introduction to used Japanese car buying as on Gran Turismo on the Playstation.
If you recall, you start the game with a meagre allocation of credits – certainly not enough to buy anything new.
So you take a trip to the used car dealerships, and there are all manner of weird and wonderful JDM and Japanese cars available.
An MA70 Toyota Supra Turbo for less than 10,000 credits? … yes please.
Of course this is just fake video game money, but the game did a good job of communicating the fact that these cars were fairly affordable.
Fast-forward to the mid/late 2000s, and I had just got my driver’s licence and was getting into cars.
At this point in time (at least here in New Zealand) the country was awash with affordable used Japanese performance and/or interesting cars.
I remember looking at a mint condition CRX Del Sol SiR – with the desirable manual lift-out roof for reduced weight – for about $3500 NZD. That same car would be five figures these days.
I recall inspecting a lovely Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 for $5000, which would be 4-5x the price now. I didn’t buy it because the insurance would have been crippling.
However, my biggest faux pas was turning down an immaculate DC2 Integra Type R – offered to me for around $8000 NZD – that would easily be worth $40-50k now. It was in superb order.
But terrible automotive investment strategies aside, why are 1990s/2000s JDM cars so expensive now?
In this article, I’ll cover a few of the reasons why this particular type of car has become so pricey.
Table of Contents
Diminishing Supply + Increasing Demand = Higher Prices
I was never great at economics at high school. However, I remember enough to know the basics of the supply and demand curve.
Even a year 2000 car is more than 20 years old now. Time and mileage take their toll on the fleet of available cars.
Take a car such as the Mitsubishi 3000GT – at the time how many people thought that a car like this would become a valuable classic one day? Many people just purchased and enjoyed, then on-sold or traded to other owners, and over increasing time and mileage some of the available fleet fell into disrepair, or got written off, or even purchased by savvy buyers as a “lock and leave” investment.
Of all the 3000GTs, or MK4 Supras, or R34 GT-Rs ever built, how many are still alive and kicking?
As supply decreases, even if demand remains the same, price increases.
However, you are also seeing an increase in demand which is compounding the upwards effect on price.
There is one particular reason for increased demand (which I’ll get to shortly) but other factors include the fact that a whole generation of people my kind of age, who grew up on a diet of JDM hero cars thanks to the likes of Gran Turismo and the Fast & Furious franchise, are now old enough to be able to buy them. Adding to this is the fact that many of these cars were a bit under-appreciated in their day, but now people realise just how great they still are.
Speculation Mania – The Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
I’m not the world’s foremost financial expert. However, it’s clear that in recent years (particularly post-Covid owing to pumped in liquidity and slashed interest rates) we have been living in a “bubble” period.
The stock market, the property market, cryptocurrency, and even more niche investment categories such as music ownership rights have all seen massive growth in value.
More and more people have piled in increasing amounts of “easy” money, chasing greater returns.
The car market has been no exception, particularly classic cars. In fact, even prices for regular, run-of-the-mill cars have been skyrocketing (although there appear to be some signs that upwards car price momentum is running out)
Classic cars, such as JDM modern classics, have become a vehicle for speculation … pun very much intended.
Investors have purchased cars at ever-increasing prices (arguably far greater than the actual intrinsic value) on the back of a belief that someone else will always come along and pay more.
Why balk at paying $50,000 for an old Mitsubishi Evo – a superb car, albeit completely outclassed by modern AWD performance cars like the Golf R available for less money – if you are confident that you can sell it next year for $60,000?
The rising speculative tide has lifted all boats, and Japanese classic cars in this case as well.
Old Enough To Import Into The United States
If you’ve read our article on why the Nissan Skyline is illegal in the United States, then you’ll know that America has rather restrictive vehicle import laws. You can learn more here in my article on why JDM cars are illegal in America, if you’d like a more comprehensive explanation.
Ostensibly to promote superior safety standards and emissions restrictions (but really more to protect the domestic car industry) at a basic level the United States requires cars to be 25 years old before they can easily be imported.
What this means is that a number of desirable cars, such as the R32 and even early run R33 Nissan Skyline GT-R, Toyota Celica GT-Four and other modern JDM classics are now able to be relatively easily imported into the United States.
Suddenly there is a whole new, massive, well-heeled market that has a burgeoning passion for all things JDM and ‘golden era’ Japanese motoring, and that market can bid up the price of these cars.
I mentioned earlier when discussing diminishing supply that increasing demand is also a factor, and increased demand from the American market is perhaps one of the biggest drivers here.
Conclusion – Why Are 90s/00s JDM Cars So Expensive … And Will Prices Ever Come Down?
Does this mean that JDM/Japanese classic cars will be expensive forever?
The greatest mistake ever made in investing is assuming that past performance is a predictor of future results.
I believe it is unlikely that the JDM “hero” cars of the 1990s and 2000s (even the second tier ones) will ever become as cheap as they once were, simply because there always will be a certain level of demand, and because supply is dwindling, and because prices have risen so far.
However, it does seem clear that there has been a trend of people “investing” in JDM and Japanese classic cars not because they really represent great value, but because there is a belief that someone will always come along and pay more for it down the line.
With economic storm clouds gathering – particularly higher interest rates – this may change, and more rapidly than people anticipate. I am already seeing signs of the wider classic car market slowing down, including declining prices and slower time to sell for JDM modern classics. If interest rates continue to rise, and speculative mania decreases, then prices may well drop further as people are forced to sell.
Why do YOU think Japanese car prices have got so high? And do you think they will ever come down? Feel free to leave a comment below – it would be great to hear from you.