The 1990s were a golden decade for technologically advanced, entertaining and enthralling cars from Japanese manufacturers. The likes of Nissan, Honda, Toyota and the rally specialists at Subaru and Mitsubishi were churning out winner after winner, and if truth be told we didn’t realise at the time how good we had it.
The markets have long since realised, of course, grabbing prices of the most sough-after models by the scruff of the neck and throwing them high out of reach of most young car guys and girls. But there are still a few desirable alleys down which you can invest sensible money into a car that will simply never lose any money even if you drive it like its engineers intended.
On the other hand, for other nineties legends the affordability ship has well and truly sailed. Let’s take a bittersweet march through five of each.
In his most recent blog, Dan Trent planted his flag firmly in the nineties JDM hero corner thanks to an ongoing love affair with his brother’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV. An Evo seems like a sound place to start, then.
The lovely third iteration blends an air of careful understatement with unmistakeable signs of intent. Derived from Mitsubishi’s hugely successful World Rally Championship campaigns of the decade, it comes with mighty four-wheel drive traction and a deliciously boosty 2.0-litre engine – essentially the same unit as served right up until the Evo VI. Get in there quick, with really good ones resting around the £7500 mark – but not for long.
The Supra’s fame came after the car itself was already doomed. It looked superb, drove well and its 2JZ straight-six was as tunable as engines came. It was a guaranteed classic hiding in plain sight, but few people in the West realised it until the 2000s.
Much like the automatic Honda NSX, the automatic Supra represents a huge step down in driving enjoyment. There’s no escaping it. But if you’re fine with that, the kind of person who finds joy in the ownership and aesthetics more than the actual country road blasts, then there’s nothing wrong with an auto Supra. It’s also the only kind you can still buy for sensible cash. Around £7000 will buy you a good condition non-turbo automatic, potentially with some existing modifications.
If we were to call the final generation of RX-7 the prettiest car anywhere from 1980 to 2010 I don’t think we’d create too much argument. Its lines are iconic, its reputation for unreliability terrifying and only partly deserved. The RX-7 remains something of an enigma to many; a temptress whose allure increases with its scarcity.
Amazingly, you can still buy one of the most exciting versions ever made for a realistic price. We found totally standard and lightly-modified low-mileage twin-turbo examples, albeit with automatic transmissions, for around £9000. Who knows how much they’ll be worth in 20 years?
The GTO looks huge, but it packs a lot of technology. Wildly advanced systems like four-wheel steering and electronically-adjustable dampers, it was a sophisticated brute of a car. You had to grab it by the collar and wrestle it, but if you did, it shone. It also had pop-up headlights for a time, ergo it’s cooler than a polar bear’s danglies.
What’s more, you’ll only need to part with a little over £5000 to net a very tidy example with pop-ups, two turbochargers and a manual gearbox. As far as 1990s JDM hereos go, this one offers just about unbeatable value. Don’t wait too much longer, though.
Somehow everyone always seems to forget the 300 ZX. Overshadowed by the more glamorous coupes and saloons of the era, some of which we’ve listed above, perhaps its worst enemy was Nissan’s own Skyline. An R32, 33 or 34 was so much more cult-hero desirable than the Zed, except perhaps to die-hards.
Let that misjudgement do you a favour. Surprisingly few are to be found in the UK, these days but prices are still comparatively dirt-cheap. We found clean examples with modest mileages for less than £4000. Why wouldn’t you want a slice of this kind of supercar good looks, exclusivity and driver satisfaction?
Now, then. Let’s move onto our list of nineties heroes you probably can’t afford any more, and the Subaru Impreza P1. One of the many limited edition classic Imprezas of the decade (okay, we’re cheating a bit; the P1 was a 2001 car), it failed to attract too much attention in the dust cloud created by the truly special 22B. Prices, for a long time, sank below £5000.
By the P1’s release Subaru had really nailed the classic Impreza’s look. It still looks stunning today. Their affordability meant P1s were still being used regularly, modified, crashed, worn out and scrapped. Their numbers dwindled and their desirability among collectors simultaneously rose to the point where the best ones are now priced at over £40,000. Unbelievable.
Ask anyone remotely into cars or car gaming to identify the single most iconic Gran Turismo-era car and most would point to the Skyline R34. Many people prefer the R33’s simpler lines or even the R32’s retro face, but much of the CT office can’t even look at a mint R34 without having to go home for fresh pants.
Mint R34s stopped being affordable – if they ever really were – a long time ago. If you want one you’d better get a damn fine job, because the best limited-edition examples, the ones that will really be worth a fortune in decades to come, are already nudging £65,000.
The NSX is a beguiling thing; purposeful, with heavy pedal action, a slightly claustrophobic cabin and a multi-layered V6 bark. It’s the sort of car you’d take a lifetime to get bored of. Collectors and wealthy bucket-listers have driven prices up, in the last decade.
While we’ve seen as-new near-zero-mileage phase one cars put on the market for a whisker below £100,000, a more typical price for a manual low-miler is £50,000. Still way out of reach, sadly, which means most of us will never get to know the burden of falling in love with a car whose clutch pedal feels like it’s connected to a very large pile of bricks.
For many people the Evo VI is the pinnacle of the breed. The final car to use that muscular, timeless body and the great grandson of the affordable Evo III above, it was built in several brilliant guises. The RS had a close-ratio gearbox, a limited-slip differential and tasty Enkei/Brembo/Recaro options. The GSR was the more luxurious road car. It had the Brembo stoppers as standard, but a more normal spread of gear ratios and the clever Active Yaw Control electronics.
Especially fine examples of Evo VI GSRs are now in the region of £30,000, which is enough to make you cry tears from your face’s every possible exit. Let’s not talk about the Tommi Makinen Editions, for which you can pretty much name your price. Spending as little as £10,000 is possible, but those will usually need swift attention.
The holy grail of Supra ownership is the twin-turbo manual A80. It’s the car that can deliver your Fast & Furious fantasies and make your heart skip a beat every time you push your bedroom curtains aside to look at it on the driveway. It oozes 1990s charisma and is a guaranteed investment piece.
The market for them has gone utterly crazy, though, with even non-original low-use cars set at close to £35,000. It was always a dream, but once upon a time it was an attainable one. Now, though, prices are rising faster than our ability to afford them.