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Japanese classics are the hottest bet in car collecting right now

New York

WHEN a classic red 1994 Toyota Supra sold online for US$121,000 last month, it shocked not only the usual car-related Instagram junkies but also close followers of the tiny Japanese sports car. The going rate for one in good condition tends to hover around US$59,000.

Credit the high price to its low mileage and the fact that it was so well-preserved, it might as well have been vacuum-packed back in '94.

The record for the most expensive Supra sold at auction is US$199,800 - the sum paid for the orange Supra that appeared in The Fast and the Furious.

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But this was the highest price ever paid for one in an online auction. Most of them dimly approach the US$100,000 mark.

The sale came a few weeks before the first-production 2020 Toyota Supra took US$2.1 million at a Barrett-Jackson charity auction during the famous annual sales in Scottsdale, Arizona. That's twice as much as the first-production Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 fetched at the same event.

And it's just the beginning of what experts predict will be a spate of modern collectible Japanese-branded cars gaining value in the near future, with some already climbing.

Rarities like the Toyota 2000GT and the Mazda Cosmo have long commanded six- and seven-figure prices at auctions worldwide.

But lately, more mundane cars from Asia have also started to gain value, according to the 2019 Hagerty Bull Market List, an annual report that identifies trends and value potential for collectible and classic cars.

The biggest push has come from millennials who have finally made enough money to afford their own era's hero cars.

Their attraction is the thrill of actually owning the car they had in a poster on the wall or raced in early video games.

For Japanese vehicles in the Hagerty price guide, the value of a car in "fine" condition with minimal wear has increased an average of 18.1 per cent in the past three years and 38.8 per cent in the past five years. (The market in general rose 13.1 per cent over the past three years and 23.6 per cent over the past five.)

Another from Toyota Motor Corp, the 1988 MR2, bolsters the trend. Beloved in its day for a lightweight body and quick-shift five-speed gearbox, the car retains original fans who are nostalgic for its plucky demeanor.

Millennials make up 45 per cent of the quotes requested for the MR2, an unusual portion. "These are people just getting into the hobby, so there's room to grow," the report said.

Throw the Toyota Supra Turbo into this group, too.

 Examples in good condition from model years 1994 to 1998 increased more than 6 per cent in value from 2017 to 2018.

The rise beat gains from such iconic models as a 2000s-era Porsche 911 Turbo and 2010 Ford Raptor.

Then there's the Subaru Impreza WRX STI. The first legal version of the WRX turbo came to the US in 2002, buoyed by its notoriety in video games like Gran Turismo.

They were rough-and-ready cars at the time, packed with a rally-race-perfected all-wheel-drive punch and used in northern climates to dominate snow and mud.

That means few today have survived in perfect condition.

If you do find one like new, it'll be worth the price. Average values for one in good condition hover near US$33,700 (just above the US$32,000 sticker price bought new) and are expected to continue climbing.

It's a similar story with the Acura NSX, though that has a slightly more elite pedigree. 

Known as Japan's sophisticated sports car, the NSX had an aluminium 3.0-litre V-6 engine when it came out in 1991; it's got 270 horsepower and regularly beat Ferraris and Porsches in trackside comparisons. Plus, since it was made by parent company Honda Motor Co, it was incredibly reliable.

Pininfarina SpA, Ayrton Senna, and Bobby Rahal, the former race-car driver and team owner, were involved in its development.

Jack Nicholson, Michael Jordan, and Bill Gates famously owned them.

Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, known for lavishing gifts on his friends, once name-checked it in a 1993 e-mail, offering to "buy an Acura NSX and anything else you want - a house in Woodside, a Gulf Stream jet, a Hope diamond …"

Today, examples can sell for almost US$100,000 if they're in concours condition, but the average value for a 1991 model in good condition is closer to US$43,000.

In recent months, Bring a Trailer has seen them go for anywhere from US$36,000 to US$75,000.

That's a veritable steal compared with those smaller, underpowered Supras selling for as much as twice that these days.

Either way, if market indicators and those popular online sales hold true, each one is a good bet. BLOOMBERG