MORE AT POPULAR MECHANICS
Predicting the future of the collectible car market is a tricky game. Some cars regularly make everyone's list of future classics, but those are no-brainers. Obscenely expensive supercars, beautifully designed luxury coupes, and beloved sports cars are easy picks—no one will be shocked when the Scion FR-S and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG are sought after decades from now. Figuring out which ho-hum family cars, sales failures, and throwaway compacts will be loved makes for fun conversation. Nobody who bought a Ford Fairlane in 1966 thought it would one day be highly prized. The same goes for the Impala, Microbus, Datsun 510, and many other offbeat collector cars. With this in mind we've sifted through the past 20 years of mainstream production cars in an attempt to pinpoint the potentially valuable vehicles that might be affordable today—or in your garage right now. What are the factors we're using to make our picks? Novelty, rarity, historical significance, and, most important, the potential for nostalgia.
Duesenbergs, El Caminos, and the Model T are emblems of their era. The Hummer H2 also falls squarely into that category. Little more than a butched-up Chevy Tahoe, the H2 was loved and hated in equal measure. The military-themed knockoff was a hit with individuals with a type A personality and a need for some conspicuous consumption. A huge tax loophole at the time made it a corporate write-off for everyone from hip-hop stars to construction bosses. When the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008 and green motoring became popular, the 8-mpg Hummer was vilified, becoming a poster child for everything wrong with GM and the decade. Just as suicide-door Continentals and fin-tail Cadillacs embodied the 1960s, nothing says 2000s like a bright red Hummer H2.
There is something about a Cadillac, especially the big two-door personal luxury cars. The Eldorado lived a nice long life before it was put out to pasture in 2002, and the final version was a beauty: a 300-hp Northstar V-8, crisp, tuxedo-like styling, and a high-tech but handsome interior that just didn't click with consumers more interested in SUVs. Its timeless styling and low production numbers will likely make it a classic.
How would a car that regularly tops lists of the ugliest vehicles ever built end up on a list of collectibles? Because of the Edsel—the previous most-hated entry is now a highly collectible classic. Call it a bizarre nostalgia for the ugly duckling. Combine aesthetic infamy with the likelihood that most examples will end up recycled into tin cans and you've got the makings of a collectible.
Second-Generation Toyota Prius
Love it or loathe it, the second-generation Prius was the car that made the hybrid market. Sales of Toyota's egg-shaped nerdmobile spiked as gas prices soared, making the Prius an automotive icon. The second generation isn't a driver's car, but it sure as heck gets good mileage. For the better part of the next decade and beyond, it set the benchmark other automakers aim for.
Will we ever tire of radical station wagons? No. The Magnum was a gamble for Chrysler when first introduced. It had huge passenger and cargo space, engine options galore, a cool look, and an innovative hatch that made loading incredibly easy. Unfortunately, buyers at the time didn't appreciate this brilliant product and it died shortly after its only refresh. The high-powered SRT-8 versions will be especially prized.
Take conventional styling wisdom out to the shed and beat it with a carpenter's square: that's the Scion xB, a Japanese import that mocked the jellybeanification of mainstream cars. Its right angles afforded maximum interior space and gave it critical antistyle street cred. Toyota aimed it at the youth market, but middle-agers and seniors bought it for its price, space, and fuel efficiency. Geeky and counterculture enough to be collected.
There's a distinct possibility Isuzu will be out of business as of this printing, and the SUV that's easily its most outrageous offering—the VehiCross—will be somewhat collectible. Probably the purest concept car to hit series production since the Viper or Prowler, and, in spite of brilliant styling, sales were in the toilet. Regardless, you can't see a VehiCross and not do a double take.
When Jaguar realized it had become a car company for old men in floppy hats, it reengineered its flagship car and styled it for old men in floppy hats but made it out of aluminum. If it had been released in a vacuum it would have been successful, but it wasn't, and it wasn't. Still, the lightweight XJ was a great car, and the refreshed XJR version was even better. Jaguar values tend to rebound over a very, very long time frame.
When introduced in 1995, the Plymouth Neon recast the small-car segment as an acceptable form of transportation rather than a necessity of working-class budgets. We're limiting this pick to the extremely rare launch livery version: white with five-bubble hubcaps and a roof rack made famous in the "Hi" commercials. Rust claimed many, and with the numbers that were made, these cars are rare to the point of comedy. In a nationwide search we turned up zero examples for sale.
Two seats and an Atkinson cycle four-cylinder, an absolute obsession with weight and aerodynamic performance--that's the first Insight. The dedication to fuel economy created a car that could exist for only a moment in history. The Insight basically invented all of the ideas we take for granted in hybrids. Is it sexy or practical? No. But it's a no-holds-barred, super-duper hybrid with a nothing-sacred approach to engineering. As the paterfamilias of the breed, it seems like an obvious choice for collectibility.