Why You Should Consider A “Second Tier” Classic Car

Everybody wants to be #1. Or – as Tears For Fears said – everybody wants to rule the world.

However, there’s a lot to be said for being #2, or even #3 … or just sitting in the middle of the pack, for that matter,

The same applies to buying classic cars, particularly modern classics.

At Garage Dreams, our focus and passion is on helping you buy and maintain classic cars, particularly modern classics (and even more particularly, Japanese modern classic cars – the sort of “JDM heroes” that you had on Gran Turismo as a kid. Learn more here about what JDM means for additional insight).

Consider that ‘modern Japanese classic’ genre of cars for a minute if you will.

Prices on all the top tier Japanese classics have gone through the roof.

When I was at high school back in the mid 2000s, a Toyota Supra MK4 was a legitimately attainable proposition. Cars like the Mitsubishi EVO and WRX STI were the same.

They weren’t necessarily cheap (and the insurance company would certainly make sure to extract some cash from you) but these cars were something that normal people could aspire to.

However, fast-forward to 2022 and prices have just gone through the roof.

When I was first getting interested in cars, $20,000 NZD would have got you a very decent RX-7. In fact, I remember going to look at a freshly imported one with a friend of mine for around that figure. These days you’d be lucky to walk away spending any less than 3-4x that figure (even more if you want a limited edition or low mileage model).

Even though I earn a heck of a lot more than I did when I was stacking fruit and veggies at the local supermarket at the time, these hero cars feel further away from my grasp than ever before!

However, that doesn’t mean that all classics are out of my reach – or yours, for that matter.

Today I want to extol the virtues of buying a “second tier” classic. The term is just something I’ve made up, and doesn’t have an exact meaning, but by second tier I mean any classic car (I’m looking through the lens of modern Japanese classics here as that’s my passion) that floats a bit under the radar. The kind of car that “car people” might know about, but it isn’t necessarily the most desirable in its class.

You’ll know a second tier classic when you see one – and for several reasons I think this is where the good buying is these days:

Less Expensive To Buy

If you want to buy a Nissan Skyline GT-R, or Toyota Supra MK4 or FD RX-7, then you had better have deep pockets (or be willing to buy a total dog and fix it up – and even then just buying a chassis and not much else is pricey these days).

However, if you “lower your expectations” and look to the second tier of modern classics you can save a huge amount of money on the initial purchase price.

Take something like the Toyota Altezza RS200 – a brilliant car in its own right, and probably 90% as good as any of the “JDM hero” cars that people pay through the nose for – you can buy a good one for a fraction of the price of a Toyota Supra.

Just because classic car prices have gone to the stratosphere, it doesn’t mean you have to be locked out of ownership and enjoyment.

The rising tide may have lifted all boats – even second tier cars are more expensive than they once were, and you are starting to see more and more sellers being a bit absurd in terms of what they think their vehicles are worth – but there is still good buying out there.

A cursory scan of TradeMe (the most popular site for buying and selling cars in my part of the world) yields a list of interesting cars that I could purchase for reasonable money – vehicles like Toyota Crowns, Nissan Fugas, Peugeot 208 GTIs, Alfa Romeo 156s and so on. Not necessarily the world’s most desirable modern classics, but great cars in their own right and well worth considering.

More Choice

Broaden your classic car horizons a bit, and there are just so many great cars to choose from.

Even though I spend a fair bit of time writing about cars, I’m constantly reminded of “new” classics and modern classics that I had completely forgotten even existed.

Just the other day I saw a Toyota Corolla FX-GT driving down the road. When I was back at high school, if you had one of these you were a certified KING (especially if you had the Super Strut Suspension option – learn more about the pros and cons of Toyota’s Super Strut system on our article about the Toyota Levin BZ-G/BZ-R, which is another great example of a second tier classic).

Start by looking through our buyer’s guide archives (we do have buyer’s guides for top tier cars too, but also a growing list of second tier ones) as well as our ‘Forgotten Heroes’ series, which is where we are specifically doing write ups on some great classic/modern classic cars that time has forgotten – at least compared to the “tier one” cars.

You’ll Be More Likely To Drive & Enjoy It

If you spend six figures on a classic, then you might not be particularly inclined to drive it much. Do you really want to risk stone chips, dents and scratches, and putting on mileage that might decrease the value?

I want to clarify that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying a car to store it up and wait for it to appreciate in value BUT I honestly do prefer seeing cars driven and used like the manufacturer intended.

Also mad respect to anyone who does have a top tier classic and uses it on a regular basis (like the guy in my neighbourhood who has a genuine NSX-R and drives it seemingly every day of the week)

With second tier classics that aren’t so expensive, you can still care for your car, but the lower initial purchase price and potential for future investment return means that driving – and enjoying – your car becomes more of a feasible pursuit. You might be more inclined to use your new purchase as a daily driver, or at least a regular driver.

Unless you are a car investor, I’d argue it’s always better to drive your car than leave it sitting in the garage.

Recap – Why Second Tier Classic Cars Are Better Buying

There can be no doubt that the most desirable classic/modern classic cars have gone skyward in terms of price in recent years.

Cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R – particular the R34 GT-R – are now at the point where you need to be packing a seriously fat wallet in order to be able to afford one. And don’t forget that in some countries like the United States, you’ll potentially have to wait to legally drive your R34 GT-R as Nissan Skylines are illegal until 25 years old (apart from a few exceptions).

If you’ve got the money to be able to spend on one of these top tier cars, then that’s great. Good on you.

However, for those of us of more restricted financial means who still want to be able to buy something a bit special and enjoy said car for what it is, then there is a world of superior buying and choice in the “second tier” – cars that were good in their day, still good to this day, but have never quite achieved the same cachet and status as some of their rivals.

Sure, if you’ve always wanted a MK4 Supra RZ in factory fresh condition, then perhaps only that will scratch the itch.

But if all you want is an interesting car of a certain type (e.g. you want a 1990s Japanese performance car) then you suddenly broaden your horizons and provide yourself with substantially more choice.

Don’t limit yourself to a certain few cars. Jump on Auto Trader, or Craigslist, or Bring a Trailer, or TradeMe or wherever you browse for cars in your local area and set a budget limit and car type you want (e.g. $20,000 max, Japanese coupe made from 1990-2000). In fact, using those search criteria I turned up the following at the time of writing – a 1992 Subaru SVX with a professionally-completed/certified manual transmission swap. Ok, it’s not original … but tell me that this isn’t better buying than dropping six figures on a JDM “hero” car:

A 1992, manual-swapped (from a WRX STI) Subaru SVX/Alcyone for less than $20,000 NZD – this “second tier” classic, although not original owing to the gearbox swap, is the sort of car you could buy and enjoy on a regular basis for reasonable money.

What do you think about finding value in a market where value is increasingly challenging to find?

Are there any cars you think represent good buying at the moment?

Leave a comment below – it would be great to hear from you!


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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