Sale of the Week

The sales that are making a mess of the classic car market

by Conner Golden
29 July 2022 4 min read
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Last week, bidders on Bring a Trailer had an extraordinarily rare crack at a 17,000-mile 1994 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec N1, a car that in no uncertain terms is considered one of the most desirable Japanese cars ever made, full stop. Internal discussions amongst both the Insider and valuation teams had this as a no-sale at anything under the $250,000 mark, with estimates reaching beyond $300,000. Bidding stalled out at $141,000. A sign of a cooling market, perhaps?

Nope. Five days later, a far, far more commonplace 22,000-mile 1994 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo sold easily for $140,000.

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As if that weren’t nonsensical enough, note that a week prior to that, a 29,000-mile naturally aspirated 1994 Nissan 300ZX in similar condition to the TT changed hands for $21,525. That’s a $60,000 premium paid per turbocharger, or about twice the gap we’d expect to see based on Hagerty Price Guide values. At the same time, the bell rung at $110,000 for a 5,000-mile 1993 Mazda RX-7. On the same day as the TT closed, an automatic, targa-topped 1997 Toyota Supra Turbo closed at $235,000.

If you’re looking for us to present charts and data that rationalize why these sort of sales are happening, no dice. We’re as confused as you. Instead, chalk up these sales as further evidence that the market for 1990s Japanese performance cars is no longer rational.

Let’s start with that 300ZX. $140,000 paid for a 300ZX Twin Turbo of any condition is overbought by our book, blitzing past our valuation for an example in Hagerty Price Guide Condition #1 (Concours) by $65,700. From a spreadsheet standard, it’s certainly not worth almost $120,000 more than the Condition #2 (Excellent) non-turbo 1994 300ZX that sold just two days prior. A carbon-copy of this 300ZX TT with just 1,000 more miles sold for a much more reasonable $57,435 back in May. Yes, the market is moving fast right now, but it’s not moving that fast.

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The same goes for the Supra. The selling price is some eighty grand more than our price guide’s value for a 1997 Supra Turbo in excellent (#2) condition. Oh, and that valuation is for a manual transmission car—autos typically go for twenty five percent less. We’ll save you the effort of whipping out your calculator and tell you the car sold for double what we’d expect. This car’s rare combination of Royal Sapphire Pearl over Ivory leather does presumably boost this a bit, but not by a factor of 2x. A week prior to this sale, a one-owner white, automatic 1998 Supra Turbo targa with less miles attracted $147,500—still a big price but one that at least correlates to the market.

These outlier sales are wild—and it’s starting to make things tricky. While there have been meteoric spikes in areas of the Japanese collector car space—the N1’s 100-percent quarterly boost is a topical place to start—both the Supra and the 300ZX Twin Turbo are established, mature Japanese staples. We shouldn’t be seeing this kind of growth, and we’re not—we don’t think, at least.

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Let’s step back to the no-sale Skyline. As far as we can tell, this is the first R32 N1 already imported to the U.S. offered at public auction, the precious few previous public sales on-record occurring mostly either in Japan or Australia. Only 64 V-Spec I N1s were ever made, each a bona fide homologation special aimed at re-populating the starting grid of the namesake “N1” racing series. It’s lighter, quicker, and impressively honed when compared with the standard production R32 GT-R; as example of its asceticism, each N1 wore a feathery, ultra-thin coat of white paint that scraped an incredible 66 pounds from the final tally.

Short of a 400R, the tiny cluster of N1s produced across the R32, R33, and R34 generations sit at the zenith of the GT-R market, and in-turn near the very apogee of the Japanese collector market as a whole. Our data shows values of standard 1989–994 R32s are boiling over with an 18-percent rise for our most recent quarterly update to the Hagerty Price Guide. The N1 has increased by a stunning 100-percent. We have first-hand reports of clean ones claiming well over $300,000 off-market, and one N1 is currently fielding offers that approach its $600,000 asking price. As long as a reserve was (smartly) in place, we reckoned Bring a Trailer’s N1 was never going to sell for anything below $200,000 in the current market.

But then, what is the current market? When things are moving so fast, that can be hard to pin down. Consider that the “low-ball” $141,000 high bid would have been perfectly reasonable back in January, when our Price Guide pegged a concours-condition car at $197,000 and an excellent example at $119,000. Turn the clock back to September 2021, and the same money might have been considered generous.

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Of course, unexplainable sales and no-sales have always been part of the auctions game. All it takes for a ridiculously high number are two highly-motivated bidders. The turbo 300ZX buyer, “Nirvana,” admits they weren’t going to let this one go after losing the prior concours-grade 300ZX sold back in May. “This was one of my childhood dream cars,” they wrote. “This completes my Japanese collection. Red NSX, red RX-7, red 280ZX, and red 300ZX. I’m not big on Supras…” The RX-7 and Supra had some distinguishing features that might excite a deep-pocketed bidder: rare paint and interior combo for the Toyota and ultra-low miles for the Mazda. The GT-R, for its part, simply could have caught the market at the wrong moment. With such tiny production figures and such a high valuation, the amount of interested collectors moneyed enough to play in this space is sparse.

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No individual sale makes or breaks a car’s value—that’s why we’re all about data around here. And if the winning bidders are happy with their new-to-them rides, then we’re happy for them. Yet such outliers call attention to the messiness of the market for Japanese sports cars. After 18 months of wild appreciation, it seems some bidders no longer know (or care) how much is too much.

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Comments

  • Bruce Healey says:

    The classic car auction websites have brought an interesting couple of factors to the market: wide access to individuals with disposable income and secondly, access to a wide spectrum of people competing for “their” car. This leads to the anomalies as money chases desire – it’s the purest form of economic capitalism but it produces illogical results in a market that loves to define values and trends. Personal choice is intrinsically illogical.

  • David HX says:

    What would my 1996 300ZX TT Commemorative ed. s/n 259/300 bring ?

    Cobalt Green / Beige Leather w/ – Factory stock and IMO a 9.5 / 10 Interior and 9.8 exterior.

    All records, ALL keys, “0ne Stroke Design” framed rice paper lithograph, window sticker, letter from Nissan Pres., and maint. records. Essentially, everything that ‘could have’ come with the car – is here

    23,880 original two owner miles – I bought w/ 6750 –

    … and yes, it is insured by Hagerty.

  • Steve Clinton says:

    Some people have more money than brains.

    • Don Homuth says:

      Sometimes is not about Brains — the rational side of the finances. In my case, it’s about Memories and Emotions and wanting to revisit something from my own past that’s important. I’ve had people tell me I was stupid for my restoration on such a car. Not one Like the former one — that same exact car. I intended to bring it All the way back regardless. From my frame of reference, the rational side of me took a back seat to something I just simply wanted, at my age, to do. I had the money and did it right. Those who tell me that I was stupid for doing it don’t get to experience how sitting in it and driving it brings an almost flashback to being 24 years old returning from a war. Brains never entered into it. I am pleased. Their opinion doesn’t matter, even a little.

      • CaptainR says:

        Brains don’t matter when it comes to cars – the bottom line is if you need it, or want it, then get it.

  • AEZ says:

    Traditional thinking has been out the window for a while…and not just on car markets. These buyers are simply motivated in getting the toys that they want, as opposed to making strategic blue chip investment purchases. Good for those buyers, and I hope they enjoy their cars to the fullest…the wise investments can be made elsewhere to provide the means.

  • Michael Ingrassia says:

    Do we really know if these sales are completed. Just because we see crazy prices does not mean it sold. You can only list on BAT once so we will never know. I see it on EBay all the time where a car sells but then next week is relisted because the sale was not completed. I suspect the same thing is happening here.

    • ABikePeddler says:

      This is incorrect. Bring a Trailer does relist cars that failed to have a finalized sale. And in every single case they link to the prior failed sale as well as note that “the prior winning bidder who failed to complete the purchase has been banned from all future participation on BAT”. Bring A Trailer is very transparent and the sales shown are trustworthy in my opinion.

  • Scott says:

    This kind of irregularity has been around it just showed up in the Asian cars that are just really getting some interest at these auctions.

    Even in the muscle car market we saw great irregularities with some cars due to the auction and due to those who attend.

    The BJ auction in AZ has always realize higher prices as this auction often has been more a social gathering for high rollers who start out bidding each other. The cars they over paid for often come back in a year or two and sell for whst they really are worth.

    As for the Asian cars they are not as common in clean low mile condition as most were used up. They are difficult and very expensive to restore due to the lack of parts. This will drive the prices if you two or more bidders on a car that seldom is seen in low mile condition.

    The coming wild card is coming down the road as getting correct oils and fuel for these older cars may be more expensive and difficult due to the EPA and their ever reinterpretation of the laws.

    The reality is cars in general are not a good investment. A few are but most are not. I have always stated buy what you like and if it is worth something great if not you still have a car you love.

    These numbers on the Asian car I expect will continue to be up and down depending on the auction and who is bidding. Expect to see this even on many other cars too.

  • GSM says:

    Rational thinking and cool cars are far enough apart from the get-go then throw in a lot of money and anything can happen.

  • Jeffery Amburgey says:

    Money, charts and graphs are rational things. Emotions and the positioning of someone financially are not. It’s easy to say someone “overpaid” for something, but there is and will always be people that can, and will do and get what they want, price us secondary. I’m not one of them, but I know some who are. My 10 dollar bill is like a nickel to them, the theory of relativity applies to everything.

  • Richard Haner says:

    I lapped a 300ZX twin turbo around Sears point that belonged to a client of mine at the time when it was brand new, when he had come up to pick up his 2002Tii we had built for him, which I also brought out to the track to do some laps with…Although the ZX was a nice car, I cannot fathom paying that much money for one now….I don’t beleive they have improved with age…

  • Dave D says:

    Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, as i am far from it, but I wonder sometimes if some of these whacky sales on these auctions involve money laundering. These bids are so unusual that they make no sense in the normal transactional world.

  • Paul T. says:

    Cars or anything for that matter are only worth what someone else is willing to pay for them. After all we don’t own these cars, we take care of them for the next person.

  • Steven Yackel says:

    Give your head a shake guys. You think rich guys driving the price of classic cars into the realm where they will always be out of reach for the rest of the world is ok because they just had to have it…grow up. These people are rich fools. Not impressed.

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