Today’s Runarounds, Tomorrow’s Classics

It’s highly likely that a car bought for ten grand today could one day be a future classic car worth a fortune. So which modern cars will be future classics?

Automotive History Petrolhead Zone
3 December 2020

In today’s world many people would argue that putting your money in a bank is pointless and the property market is as volatile as a politician smoking a cigar in a gasworks. So where’s the best place to put your money so you can enjoy your retirement? Classic cars of course!

But wait. Unless your name is Jay Leno, Chris Evans or JK, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have a spare $38m for a race-bred Ferrari or a Bugatti made when Ettore was in short trousers, so what to do?

The trick, it seems, is being able to predict which cars will become classics in the future. This isn’t your bog standard second hand car search and you can chuck your usual list of what to look for when buying a second hand car out the window. For the kind of deal that will net you a future classic car you need a nose for a completely different kind of mission. Notwithstanding the offering from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin or Maserati – which almost become classics by default – there have been plenty of less obvious cars produced over the last 25 years that might not be classics now, but by 2030 are destined to have real value in the market.

But it’s hard to define what constitutes a classic. For some it’s aesthetic beauty, for others it’s rarity. Some suggest it’s cars that have a particular importance or significance to the industry and James Knight of Bonhams auction house thinks the earliest variant of a car is the purest. “I believe the evolution of a model, or theme, can sometimes detrimentally affect a car’s desirability – think E-Type or Lamborghini Countach…”

As an example, the most expensive car ever sold at auction (at time of writing) was a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta which went for a little over $38m. In the 70s however, they were changing hands regularly for $10,000. If you bought one and sold it, unlucky, but if you bought one and kept hold of it, well played. You couldn’t lend us a tenner could you?

This is the point. Evidently no-one knew that a car bought for ten grand would be worth the best part of forty million four decades later. But of course these numbers are rare. Today’s prestige marques with race creds or exceptionally limited numbers (think Bugatti Veyron, Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 or Lamborghini Reventon) will undoubtedly go for massive money in 20 or 30 years’ time, but what about the mere mortals?

Like stocks and shares or fine wine, buying cars now for returns in the future is a gamble – an expensive gamble – but if there is a little spare cash lying around, it’s worth thinking about what cars will be the meal tickets in 20 years, those classic models that will feature in the top car restoration programmes of their day!

One of the issues with modern day cars is that they are produced in huge numbers but while it’s unlikely that a 1983 Ford Escort 1.3L with 190,000 miles on the clock is going to have any residual value in a generation from now, a concourse condition Escort XR3i cabrio might. Same goes for a bog standard Renault 5, but a mint GT Turbo Raider on the other hand…

So which cars around today will be future classics? Our list starts from 1990 (except for one which started production in 1989) and they are in no particular order.

Mazda MX-5

Zagreb, Croatia - May 20, 2019: Man is driving Mazda MX-5 aka Miata fast on the road. This iconic Japanese sports roadster became very popular in the eighties because it was affordable.

Called the MX-5 in Europe, the MX-5 Miata in North America and the Roadster in Japan, whatever you call it, the MX-5 is the world’s best-selling roadster. Front-engined with rear-wheel drive, it was launched at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show and for 26 years it has sold in huge numbers all over the world.

Everything about the MX-5 is real. It’s a proper, old school, back-to-basics sports car that feels connected to the road and in years to come it will be looked upon in the same way we look at the MGB GT, the Lotus Elan and the Triumph Spitfire. It will be a Sunday driver’s car. Middle-aged men will tinker with them and thrash them around country lanes in 25 years’ time harking back to the good ol’ days of the early 90s when cars were cars, phones were for phone calls and people weren’t connected directly to the internet.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Trieste, Italy - September 3, 2013: Photo of Mitsubishi EVO 8 .The Lancer Evolution 8 sedan features a newly designed 4B11T 2.0L (1998cc) turbocharged, all-aluminium inline-4 GEMA engine.

There have been ten versions of the hardcore ‘mental Mitsubishi’ and each one has got better and better. So when it comes to future classic cars, it’s hard to argue with this iconic motor. From I through X, each has a 2.0-litre, turbocharged all-wheel drive system (the Evo X had up to 400 bhp) and while they were originally intended only for sale in Japan, the grey market demanded they go global. Owners of this classic would often bring their own unique style to their motor and these eye-popping refits are often worthy of even the best car customisation shows!

For years the ‘halo’ Evo has gone head-to-head with the Subaru Impreza STI but the Evo grooved its own niche – the replica of a true rally classic – thanks to Tommi Makinen’s WRC domination. It validated its race credentials by being unbelievably quick with physics-defying grip and to its fans it could even be seen as one of the world’s best looking cars (though that’s pretty debatable). Coupled with the fact that the Evo looks utterly bonkers but is as comfortable pootling around the shops or doing the school run as it is tearing up the Welsh countryside, it has been described as the ‘near perfect recipe’ for those looking for affordable yet seriously high performance motoring.  The boxy looks may date as the years pass but the Evo is a serious car for serious drivers and will still be bolting around tracks in 20 years’ time.

Bitchin’ Rides: Dave has his hands full trying to build a 1959 Buick Invicta - which pushes the shop to the max - and even to a foundry straight out of medieval times.

BMW M3 (E36)

Mordovo (Tambov), Russia - April,07 2013: a photo of blue BMW M3 (E36) at gas station in Russia. The BMW M3 is a high-performance version of the BMW 3-Series, developed by BMW's in-house motorsport division, BMW M.

The E36 was the first M3 with a straight-six engine and coupled with their famous 3.0-litre, 282 bhp engine, it was a brave departure from the highly sought-after, race bred E30. It was launched in February 1992 and although M3 purists initially questioned BMWs ‘softening’ by making it a car more for the family than the weekend track enthusiast, the decision was taken to satisfy early 90s consumer demand.

The E36 M3 was available in all forms – two-door coupe, four-door saloon and convertible – and they made a number of special or limited edition variants including a lightweight homologation model called the M3 GT as well as the GT2, M3-R and M3-GTR. These versions are already attractive to serious petrolheads but the standard model was viewed as the first modern BMW, and that’s why we think it will be a future classic.

Toyota Prius

Arlington WA. - USA / 06/18/2020: Toyota Prius All Wheel Drive Vehicle in Park

The Toyota Prius isn’t the prettiest car in the world, nor is it ever going to be even close to the list of fastest street-legal cars in the world. It’s not the best-equipped or even respected in many circles for that matter but it is one of the most historically significant cars ever to have been launched into a market which for a century was the exclusive territory of the petrolhead.

There are lots of reasons why the Prius shouldn’t be regarded as a future classic car but one overriding reason why it should – it was the world’s first mass-produced petrol-electric hybrid – and it actually worked. Boasting 61.4mpg, it changed the game. Today it’s hugely popular and firmly established as the domain of minicab drivers and guilty celebs.  For all its faults – and there are many – it paved the way for a future that’s less and less reliant on guzzling gas and by definition a future classic that will be taught about in physics lessons of the future.

Audi TT

Hong Kong, China Oct 24, 2017 : Audi TT RS Coupe 2017 Test Drive Day Oct 24 2017 in Hong Kong.

The aluminium, the stainless steel and the Bauhaus-inspired design instantly launched the Audi TT into the ‘design classic’ mix along with, dare we say, the 911 and the Beetle. It was a head-turner when it was released into an unsuspecting market in 1998 and it remains a head-turner today. There’s even a shout for its inclusion as one of the worlds most iconic cars, a status that clearly makes it a prime contender for any list of future classic cars.

The first iteration was offered with a 1.8-litre 20v turbo as well as VWs 3.2-litre VR6 engine and the second generation model was added to with a 2.0 and 2.5-litre turbo as well as a 2.0-litre diesel engine. In the early 90s, Automobile magazine said “no other car in the world has an interior like the TT”. Like a lot of musicians and artists, the TT wasn’t much appreciated at the time. It was said by many that it wasn’t a proper sports car and its VW Golf foundation was too pedestrian, but this is a car that will be appreciated for its aesthetics, like the Volvo P1800, the VW Karmann-Ghia or the Maserati Sebring.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Warsaw, Poland, May 2, 2015: Blue Ford Escort RS during the session in the forest

The Escort RS Cosworth, a homologated Group A WRC rally car, picked up where the Sierra RS Cosworth left off. It was an insanely quick hatchback with a 2.0-lite turbocharged engine with 227 bhp and all-wheel drive as standard, although some tuners got it up over 1,000 bhp. Just like the Lotus Esprit from Pretty Woman, it cornered like it was on rails.

While the first iteration of 2,500 cars suffered from terrible turbo-lag, the next 4,500 benefitted from the Garrett T25 turbo. However, the element that made people stop and stare was the massive ‘whale fin’ wing bolted to the back.  Stricter emissions regulations forced the Cossie out of production in 1996, but almost without exception every RS Ford, from the RS1600 Escort in 1970 to the 2010 Focus RS500 has – or will – become a classic and the mint and concourse versions are bound to increase in value as the years go on.

Jaguar XK8

Jaguar XK8 1997

The Jaguar XK8 – and its hardcore sister, the XKR – is a classic British grand tourer engulfed with the DNA of the E-Type, the most famous Jag of them all. It was available as a 2-door coupé as well as a convertible loaded with Jag’s legendary 4.0 and 4.2-litre quad-cam V8 blocks which will cruise happily for days.

A well-known BBC motoring journalist described the interior of the XK8 as like ‘sitting inside Blenheim Palace’. With a passing resemblance to the Aston Martin DB7, the Jag was produced in relatively high volume, but if you look back at the modern and not so modern classic cars of the last 40 years, the XK8 sits comfortably amongst them all. A good 80,000 miler will cost about the same as an excellent MGB GT but it comes with the benefit of 20 years of appreciation.

Lotus Elise S1

Sliven, Bulgaria – October 18, 2015: Lotus Elise - drag race challenge at Sliven, Bulgaria. The car is participating in the Sliven Drag Racing 2015.

The idea behind the Lotus Elise S1 – the car that put the Norfolk firm back into the automotive mix – was to create a car with the handling properties of a motorbike.

Like the MX-5, it was a proper, back-to-basics, 1.8-litre (Rover K-Series), mid-engined, working class sports car you could chuck round corners. It could hit 60 in the low sixes and had some decent pull further up the ratio.

The Elise is incredibly light (around 740kg) and was almost literally glued together, but the big thrill was its dynamism. The original Lotus Elan is considered by purists to be one of the most dynamically-pure sports cars ever built and the Elise wanted to take over the reins.

There are a few special editions – the 111S and Sport 160 – as well as a track-only version called the Sport 190 but the original S1 in its purest form is likely to be the one that has the best residual value in years to come.

Texas Metal: Bill customises a brand new 2018 Yukon Denali by dropping it to the floor on 28x15 wheels, all while keeping the third-row seats for the client's family.


Krivoy Rog, Ukraine - April 23, 2016: Blue Volkswagen Golf hatchback standing on a the asphalt in sunlight.

Bigger, safer and by definition, heavier than the Mk I and Mk II Golf GTIs that established the car as the definitive hot hatch, the Golf GTI Mk III was the first of its family to smooth out the boxed edges and give us the Golf we know today.  Like BMW with the M3, Vee-Dub realised there was a market beyond the tyre smoke-chasing speed demons and acted accordingly.

While the Mk III 2.9-litre VR6 and the original Mk I GTI are highly collectible today, in 20 years’ time chances are there will be a very limited supply of pristine Mk III GTIs on the road.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but the ‘Golf GTI’ moniker alone says ‘sports car, family car, iconic car’ and it’s a car that doesn’t compromise. It does all three spectacularly well – a master of all trades, jack of none.

Renault Clio V6

Renault Clio 2 V6 car, sports car, year 2004, at the exhibition "Gang des Lyonnaises" in Corbas city, Rhone department, May 2019, France - front of the vehicle

The wayward son of the Clio Mk II and the 5 GT Turbo, the Phase 1 Renault Clio V6 was a lary, wide-bodied boy-racer speed machine with a ridiculously big 3.0-litre, V6 24v engine with a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds and a 146 mph top end. The Phase II (at launch the most powerful serial produced hot hatch in the world at 255 bhp) was slightly heavier but with more power, reducing the 0-60 time to 5.9 seconds with a higher top speed of 153 mph.

Similarly styled to the rally-bred Metro 6R4, the Clio V6 is seat-of-your-pants driving at its most extreme. One journalist wrote that the early ones were “notorious for trying to kill you” and even Jenson Button had one as his company car. It may never make the list of the most expensive second hand cars ever but it remains a genuine classic of 00s car culture. A well regarded track toy, it was highly impractical and hard to drive (control) but the ones that haven’t been thrashed to within an inch of their lives or stacked into walls will be highly collectible future classic cars since the French do stupidly quick hot hatches better than anyone else – genuine va va voom.

You May Also Like

Explore More