Growing up in the 80’s & 90’s, I remember highly sought after vehicles were definitely that of the 60’s & 70’s era. Whether you were talking about American muscle or European sports cars, those two decades sucked up all the oxygen in the car enthusiast circles and for good reason. 1.) They had some time to live up to the hype that was initially created for them to sell units, proving that they weren’t just greatly marketed pieces but rather machines that moved the culture forward. Essentially, the “streets” had approved of them. And, 2.) By the 80’s & 90’s those kids that grew up idolizing those cars in the 60’s & 70’s were well into adulthood and financially at a place where they could drop a small fortune on their high school dream car.
Where does this put me? Well born in 1980, technically making me a Gen Xer by the most technical of technicalities, I grew up loving the cars that the enthusiast zeitgeist loved. My passion for cars officially came about at age 11 while discovering a LowRider Magazine at the super market. That had me fawning over 60’s & 70’s era muscle. In the 80’s I had only 2 passions; He-Man & Knight Rider. I was all about that era of TranAms/Camaros/Fire Birds. I remember seeing my first Grand National and thinking “that looks like a different take on Michael Knight’s car”.
The 90’s were my coming of age period. On one hand, I could recite almost all specs of any Chevy Impala from 1962 to 1968. On the other, I would’ve almost jumped into traffic if it meant getting a closer look at 94-96 Chevy Impala’s. I remember seeing every cool college student driving around in Geo Trackers or Isuzu Sidekicks. And most importantly, I remember the explosion of the Import Car scene.
I think if you were to look at it pound for pound, there’s an argument to be made that the import car scene grew just as fast and as big as the muscle car scene did in the 60’s.
It didn’t matter your ethnicity, cultural background, or even musical taste. If you were around 16-21yrs old in the late 90s early 2000s, you felt the import scene....or at least heard the unique exhaust notes. Unlike the muscle scene before it, the import scene started BECAUSE of its aftermarket scene. Putting the obvious halo cars aside, the scene was mostly built on the backs of Civics & Intergras. Cars that weren’t exactly designed to be extremely fast but were extremely accessible and usually hand-me-downs from parents. And when you offer some cool, colorful, and loud aftermarket options that give me a little more kick than what I started with and a lot more visual presence than I could’ve asked for, and let’s me imagine I’m kin to the more expensive halo cars of the JDM brands, I’m all yours. And yes yes I know you’re probably screaming at me “what about the Si’s & Type-R’s?”. Those were mostly responses to the already formed scene. Wise on behalf of Honda, but far from what started the scene.
Then there was the video game factor. Between Gran Turismo, Need For Speed and other games alike, there was a heavy presence of JDM cars of the 90’s represented in racing video games with a heavy emphasis on modding.
The entire sub-genre of this car culture was equal parts the cars as well as the modding that was possible for the cars. So why are we seeing this surge in legendary Japanese cars from the 90’s being sold/auctioned off in “all original” form to obtain maximum value? I believe the answer comes down to 2 factors:
1.) we’re in a bit of a transition period in the car collecting world. Though we’re seeing an increase of the 40yr old showing up at collectors auctions, the younger guys of the generation before us are still around and showing up at the collectors auctions with more money to burn (be it online or at your nearest Barrett Jackson Mecum). These guys are somewhere in their 50’s. They weren’t quite young enough to have really lived the JDM explosion but they remember it. They’ve also been in this collector car game for a good minute and know when to jump on trends. With that, they also come with their set of rules and their set of rules simply state “it must be all original exactly how it came from the manufacturer”.
2.) we went too far at the time.
At the height of the JDM scene (2001) we were all like kids in candy stores...literally. I remember just wanting to hangout at my local Nopi Auto Parts store to gaze at the clear taillights and shiny all things. We largely wanted to throw whatever our wallets would let us onto our cars. A lot of the times with no rhyme or reason. Shiny, neon, bright, loud = I want it. There was definitely taste, finesse & practicality happening with some builds but by far the loudest voice in the room was excess. And because of that, you can argue that we didn’t have our generations’ Chip Foose. The guy who was taking classics and modding them with extreme taste and thus making them MORE valuable. Chip is a legend in the world of muscle. He defies the status quo of “keep it all original to retain maximum value”.
So let’s talk about the Supra. I would never say that there aren’t some JDM cars that came from the factory packaged almost perfectly. A 2000 Civic Si needs like 3 mods, maybe. Same for a 94 NSX. The Supra, however, was not one of those cars. A 94 Supra in stock form can absolutely flex its capabilities, but that’s not why it’s one of the top 2 jdm legends of all time. It earned THAT title from its almost limitless performance potential. Got a little money? You can have as much horsepower as a private jet? Got a little more money? You can have super car like handling. Got another roll of cash? You can make it look aggressive enough to cruise with your Porsche buddies and hangout at super car events. These are the factors that solidified the Supra’s place in the mantle.
The average true enthusiast from our era (35-45) sees a stock Supra and thinks to himself “I’ll need another 60k to make it my dream car”. So why don’t modded Supra’s sell for more than stock ones? The answer might be a two part answer; 1.) That we, again, went too far. I’ve been an owner in the Supra world for 3yrs and in my short time I can say that there is a heavy emphasis on “does it have 1000hp?”. The 500hp tastefully modded Supra with all the right handling mods and styling mods is NOT the loudest voice in the room. The fire breathing, machine gun sounding, two-step 1200hp Supra is what gets all the attention. And I’m not talking about the attention of Supra owners. I’m talking about our beloved “Hey is that a Supra?!” fanboys. Crack open your TikTok or Instagram discovery page on any given any time and I guarantee you, at some point in your scroll, you’ll see the proverbial nighttime meet where everyone is surrounding a Supra as it rat **bleep** tat tats its way to thousands of “likes”. That tastefully modded Supra I spoke of earlier, only the long time Supra owners see it and go “Yeah, he did it right.”
2.) We’re letting the exiting group of car collectors dictate the rules of the cars WE grew up with. Unfortunately, it is just not apples to apples. If anything, you can find more similarities between the rat rod/hot rod culture of the 1950s and the import culture of the 90s and 2000s than you would of the muscle era or even the European sports car scene with our era cars. As I said earlier, the import scene was largely founded on the ability to modify. And who knows, maybe it tapped into our childhood love of Legos. One thing is clear; the import culture would not have existed without the aftermarket modification market.
So where do we go from here? Well, we can simply just adopt the standards of our fathers and continue the all stock craze that we’re seeing. Or, we can be what our “generation X” moniker represented in the first place, and chart our own path. But that will also have to come with ignoring the desire to build the car meet exhaust shoot out machine. Ask any actual Supra owner and they’ll tell you, owning a 1200hp Supra starts to take the fun out of your driving experience. Every OG Supra owner that I have befriended always tells me the sweet spot is a good 550hp. You won’t be chasing mechanical ghosts all of the time, you’ll have an extremely great driving experience, and 550hp is still 550hp. We have to start building with vision. Though there are some absolutely gorgeous Supra builds out there, for every dime Supra there is a good 3-4 rando FrankenSupras. Cars that clearly were built without any end game plotted out. It’s almost like when you used to talk about winning the lotto when you were younger and how you would buy all of the things, except now replace lotto with an MK4 Supra and you’re still buying all of the things. Let’s build with purpose. Let’s find that lane that Chip Foose created of tastefully modded equally balanced style and functionality.
An odd part of Gen X mentality is the internal conflict of duality between seeking validation, while seeking individualism.
As it pertains to a Supra, a Silvia, another JDM, or US spec import, much less anything else, it really boils down to 2 questions.
1) do you own one?
2) do you like it?
1) obvious. If you don’t own one, try not to hate. Vehicles maybe our canvas, but they are no less our medium than the potter’s clay or painters canvas. But, the world is full of critics. Art critics are largely a group of self-felating ego-maniacs. In the car world, we call them purists. The kind of guy who calls out out for bagging a rusted out hulk that had it not been for an unrealistic passion, would have been unceremoniously striped for parts.
2) if you like it and want to keep it, enjoy. I’ve seen dirt track cars put back to nearly stock, because someone wanted to do it.
Juice your Supra to 550. Maybe more, heck if you’re not worried about resale, maybe 750 is good in your world.
I like wandering around to the 4-door 283 Impalas at good guy meets. Sure, they aren’t 4-speed 409s, or Super Duty Pontiacs, but those folks generally have better stories than the guys who out bid the other guy in a hover-round, and painted their toter-trailer combo to match.
I love it. That said, let me play Devil's Advocate:
I bet there are plenty of Gen-Xers that will not buy into your modification plans. Preserving museum quality examples (it's only original once) is not just a generational thing, it's also a historical pride thing. Oh, and I bet the original ones will be worth more than just about every modified one. Maybe not all, but an example like this will only appreciate and appeal to more people: