Data Driven

Supras of Arabia: The export boom that preceded the rise in MK IV Supra values

by Adam Wilcox
18 January 2021 4 min read
Heads turned when this 1994 Toyota Supra sold for $173,600 at Amelia Island in 2019, but the cars had already been popular on the Arabian Peninsula for years before. Photo by Tim Scott/Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

The 1993–1998 Toyota Supra Mk IV has in recent years made the transition from used car to collector car. Since it made Hagerty’s 2018 Bull Market List, the value for an excellent condition Supra Turbo increased 40 percent, and the number Hagerty provides insurance for rose 150 percent. Two prominent sales for more than $170k in 2019—one at RM Amelia Island (pictured) and another a Barrett-Jackson Northeast—cemented the Supra Turbo’s status as a six-figure car.

But one region of the world was ahead of the rest of us. In the mid-2010s, when Supras were still relatively inexpensive in the American market, the Arabian Peninsula was importing US-spec Supras at an astonishing rate—three out of every four Supras that left our country disembarked at one of their ports.

The Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the Red Sea to the west, the Indian Ocean to the south, and the Persian Gulf to the east, is home to nearly a dozen countries including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. When we talk about car collecting in the region though, we typically focus on a few geographically small, oil-producing kingdoms, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain.

These countries, thanks in part to riches from oil exports and cheap gasoline at home, have a vibrant car culture. Collectors in this region are famous for their super-car obsession, but as we’ve explained previously in Insider, they’re actually interested in a broad range of classics. Moreover, the collectors themselves extend beyond fabulously wealthy sheiks and can include the growing number of people who have relocated to the region for business (in the UAE, for instance, foreign expats outnumber native-born citizens by a margin of more than 8 to 1). The UAE in particular is also a very young country, with a median age of only 30 years old.

Last but not least, the region has a strong preference for Toyotas. The automaker has sold cars on the Peninsula since the 1950s and dominates today, controlling 30 percent of the market in the UAE and 40 percent in Bahrain. Enthusiasts’ preferences in any given market tend to track with brand loyalty. Practically speaking, Toyota’s large and established presence here means it’s easy to access Toyota parts and service. Yet the automaker never sold the Mk IV Supra in the UAE. So, collectors there have been buying ours.

In the last decade, the Arabian Peninsula imported Supras at four times their expected rate, accounting for a whopping 75 percent of all Mk IV Supras exported from the U.S. market, along with 68 percent of Mk III Supra exports. Europe, the second most popular destination for American Supras and generally a bigger export market than the Arabian Peninsula (albeit only slightly), accounted for only 18 percent of Mk IV Supras exported from the United States. The UAE alone snapped up nearly one hundred Supras from 2010 to 2020. During that same period, Germany, whose population is more than eight times larger, imported 17.

Our data only tracks cars exported from the United States, meaning we can’t see additional Supras being imported to the Peninsula from other countries. That said, the countries in this region are left-hand-drive markets, like America. Right-hand-drive Supras from Japan can legally be imported to the UAE, but are restricted to race tracks and car shows. That, along with the fact that Supras were relatively plentiful and cheap in the United States, likely makes it the primary target for enthusiasts on the Arabian Peninsula.

As anyone who has ever seen The Fast and the Furious knows, one of the main attributes of the Mk IV Supra is that its inline-six makes a fine platform for high-horsepower builds. The Arabian Peninsula, no surprise, is home to some legendary examples. “EKanoo Racing, in Bahrain, has some record-setting tuner cars and some of the coolest Supras in the world,” notes U.S.-based Supra owner and expert Matthew Stevens.

The interest in tuning helps explain why a relatively high percentage of the Supras exported to the Arabian Peninsula are normally aspirated—nearly half compared to less than a quarter elsewhere. (For hot rodding purposes, the normally aspirated 2JZ-GE engine, which has the same cast-iron block as the turbo 2JZ-GTE, makes an economical starting point.)

Tuning also helps explain why we see a sudden falloff in Supra imports in 2017. In June of that year, a law regulating what had been a wide-open car modification industry went into effect in the UAE. It required owners submit modification plans for government approval.

Many people in the UAE automotive industry thought the new regulations would promote higher-quality modifications and potentially give a boost to tuning shops that do things the right way. Maybe it has, but after the legislation went into effect, Supra imports slowed to a crawl. The nearly $10,000 fine or possible jail sentence for anyone who violated the modification law likely scared off many would-be Supra tuners.

Another popular car for modifications, the Foxbody Mustang, also saw a drop in imports around this time.

UAE and Bahrain led the world in Foxbody imports until 2017.

So, the Arabian hunger for Supras has waned, but collectors in the United States may still be feeling some after effects. The surge in Supra exports to the Peninsula directly precedes the spike in Supra values that we’ve witnessed in recent years. Obviously, there were plenty of factors pushing up the prices of these cars, including Toyota’s introduction of the Mk V Supra and, more generally, the increasing clout of younger collectors. But strong demand for them on the other side of the world likely didn’t hurt.

Indeed, the desert romance with the MK IV Supra reminds us that the classic car market is a global one. As regions outside North America and Europe continue to grow in economic influence, they’re likely to become even more prominent as destinations for classic cars, and could impact prices close to home.

Data Disclaimer:
At this time, our maritime import and export data is limited to 2010 through 2020, where the United States is involved as either the starting or final shipping destination. That means that any vehicles shipped to or from another country via ground transportation or air freight does not appear in our data. Also, we are not able to see maritime shipments where the United States is not involved. For example, we will not know how many Supras are shipped directly from Japan to the United Kingdom.

Comments

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    Not to put a damper on the $100k+ Supra story people seem to dwell on, those cars are barely driven cars that sat for most of their life. 7k, 12k miles in roughly 25 years. The vast majority are nowhere near that $100k mark just yet. I had a friend with a highly modded, perfect black ’94 Supra Turbo with the 6-speed manual that made 1200-1300hp at the wheels. For all that money spent on modding that amazing car, he ended up selling that car at a loss (Car + cost of modifications) for $75k. He was the person you would have wanted to spec out your car. No stupid upgrades, everything made sense and worked. Honestly he had more fun with the car when it was in the 700-800hp range but he was never done looking for the next thing and he worked too much so he ended up selling the car. Cars like my pretty close to stock ’97 Supra Turbo with just over 100.3k miles are probably worth less than his (maybe $60k if I’m lucky). If somebody from wherever wants to give me $100k+ I would probably entertain the thought, but I currently have no plans to sell.

  • Vincent Mantia says:

    I wonder if the Lexus SC class will ever gain in the market??

  • Larry taylor says:

    I have a 1995 supra right hand drive.no idea what’s it’s worth.it has 115000 kms or about 71000 miles.no turbo org paint never winter driven.i have had it since the fall of 2014 and I only out 13000 km or about 8000 miles since I got it.

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