Home » Our Parents Won’t Like The New Breed Of Hot American Classic Cars

Our Parents Won’t Like The New Breed Of Hot American Classic Cars

Gavel Gazing American Classic Topshot
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Ah, classic American cars. All tail fins, V8s, and chrome, right? Wrong. While the golden age of the ’50s and ’60s still plays an outsized role in the American classic car market, new generations and new open-mindedness are propelling cars that previously weren’t seen as classics to new heights. Oh yes, it’s time to go post-’73. Way, way post-1973.

Welcome back to Gavel Gazing, where we take a look at cars that have recently sold on internet car auction sites and share what’s piqued our interest. First, a disclosure for anyone speculating: None of these cars are the next big thing, because anyone certain about the next big thing is either pumping hype or just guessing. These cars are the new big things, unexpected movers in an unexpected market.

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1998 Jeep Cherokee Limited: $27,750

Xj Cherokee 1

I blame David Tracy. Alright, not entirely, but spreading the gospel that the Jeep XJ Cherokee is God’s gift to mankind may have played a role in the unyielding rise in values over the past few years. Case in point? This 1998 model with 109,000 miles on the clock just hammered for new Hyundai Tucson money: $27,500. My jaw is on the floor.

Xj Cherokee 2

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This Cherokee isn’t perfect. It has its fair share of paint imperfections, It’s been fitted with aftermarket headlights and clear side markers, it spent most of its life in Maryland, and yet it still went for big money. Don’t get me wrong, its still a rather nice example, but collector appreciation of the Cherokee has been positively meteoric.

Xj Cherokee 3

Back at the start of 2017, the most expensive Jeep Cherokee sold on Bring A Trailer went for $12,500. Now? This thing hammered for $27,750, and it didn’t even come close to setting a record. Bring A Trailer is known for flukes, but this particular XJ Cherokee isn’t one of them. What’s more, values aren’t exactly contracting, in spite of what we’ve seen in much of the traditional enthusiast car market. The floor for these things is still trending upward, so who knows where it could land?

1992 Cadillac Brougham: $10,500

Cadillac Brougham 1

And now for something completely different: Cadillac’s penultimate attempt at a truly old-school flagship. Resplendent in faux wood and sheer acreage of sheetmetal, this barge wasn’t about speed, handling or precision, but instead a way to cruise across America in the highest comfort possible. Sure, the 5.7-liter V8 may only make as much horsepower as a new Mazda 3, but the air-con in these things is ice-cold, and the seats just let you sink right down. It’s a classic mentality, just engineered in the ’80s.

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Cadillac Brougham 2

Like the Jeep Cherokee, these Cadillacs used to be cheap, but suffered from attrition at the hands of teenagers imagining the possibilities of a bench front seat, proper skint people who just needed something durable, and the executions of wills. I, for one, am glad to have grown up on the tail end of land yacht affordability, as experiencing a full-size body-on-frame American sedan is something everyone deserves.

Cadillac Brougham 3

While certainly in decent shape, this isn’t an exceptional Brougham, with dings, paint imperfections, and all the hallmarks of a car that’s seen regular life. There’s a little bit of rust, a little bit of wear, and plenty of indication that this car was loved, but not exactly preserved in amber. Still, it fetched $10,500 on Bring A Trailer, a solid result level with what we saw in both 2021 and 2022. Five figures might just be the new normal for a nice Cadillac Brougham, especially with another generation of enthusiasts seeing these as classic cars.

1985 Dodge 600 ES Turbo Convertible: $4,800

Dodge 600 Es

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Here’s a sentence I never expected to say: Overall Chrysler K-Car values on Bring A Trailer are still on the way up. More than just a punchline in a Barenaked Ladies song, the K-Car redeemed Chrysler, despite however crappy the actual cars were. Arguably, the K-Car also changed North American cars forever, with widespread platform sharing, heavy adoption of front-wheel-drive, and spawning a little thing called the minivan.

Dodge 600 Es 2 classic

Sure, the Dodge 600 ES Turbo Convertible isn’t the most desirable K-Car, but it’s still a turbocharged four-seat convertible, which means it’s basically a Bentley Continental GTC. Indeed, just look at all the luxury you get in this thing. I’m talking electronic digital instruments, loads of metallic interior accents, white seat covers, and the convenience of an automatic transmission. That doesn’t sound like much, mostly because it isn’t, but with a top that goes down and classic boxy looks, there’s an off-brand John Hughes appeal to this thing.

Dodge 600 Es 3 classic

While this Dodge 600 ES Turbo Convertible certainly isn’t the most expensive K-Car to hammer on Bring A Trailer, it definitely isn’t the cheapest despite certainly not being the nicest that’s hammered on Bring A Trailer. Considering it was only seven years ago that a LeBaron GTS set a then-high bar on Bring A Trailer at $1,950, this has certainly been an ascent to watch.

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1996 Ford Explorer: $6,600

Explorer 1 classic

Hey, here’s something else with a controversial past that’s no longer a scrap value car: The second-generation Ford Explorer. Fewer than 25 years ago, the Explorer was embroiled in a bitter legal battle between Ford and Firestone, with lives lost and liability on the line. Now, though? These things are nostalgic, a little trip to a time of post-Cold War optimism.

Explorer 2 classic

This Explorer has a lot going against it. It’s being sold as a total mileage unknown vehicle due to an odometer discrepancy, it’s not an especially special spec, and it was torn apart by technical school students in Arizona for years on end. Sure, it might technically be a low-mileage vehicle, but in this case, it’s not the mileage, but the stories it can tell from its life.

Explorer 3 classic

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Still, this thing sold for $6,600, definitely not the cheapest Explorer to ever hammer on Bring A Trailer, but at the bottom of the current market. Just a few months ago, a pristine two-door Sport model hammered for $19,250, and Explorer values have been on a steady rise on Bring A Trailer.

Objective: Survive

So what have we learned here, other than that nostalgia is cyclic? Well, condition and attrition both affect car prices. There are very few blue chip cars in the grand scheme of things, so the bulk of the classic car market is all about timing. None of us are Michael Burry, so forget about any short-term gains, or even being able to drive a car for free by having appreciation cover maintenance and insurance costs. However, if you buy anything near the bottom of its depreciation curve, keep it nice, and keep it long enough for it to become a classic, you could see a return. It still likely won’t be enough to cover running costs, let alone inflation, but when you’ve fallen out of love or exhausted what you can do, it helps when moving onto the next thing.

(Photo credits: Bring A Trailer)

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Dan Bee
Dan Bee
8 months ago

I am wondering if any pre-2008ish cars, trucks, and SUVs will come back in vogue simply due to their stellar outward visibility (thin pillars, low hoods, low beltlines, big windows, etc.). Yeah, better rollover crush standards, but it’s clear the regs don’t give a damn about the tradeoff between rollovers and outward visibility.

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
8 months ago

That’s literally 10x what I paid for my 1996 Cherokee in 2016 (which has been my DD ever since). It’s *really* tempting me to see what I can get for the old girl, or put it away in a shed out on my brother’s farm before I end up totaling it somehow.

Isis
Isis
8 months ago

I wonder how far my 05 CTS-V needs to swell to before I’d part with it. Less than 60k miles on it and I barely drive it a few hundred a year lately.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
8 months ago

I probably pay more attention to the RADwood-era market than most, and nothing here is surprising to me. Just last weekend I hosted an ’80s/’90s car show that included 3 DeLoreans, a 930 Safari build and a MkIII Supra.

And yet an inordinate, nearly show-stealing amount of attention was paid to two more mundane entries: a Suzuki X-90 and you guessed it, a wood-grain-festooned 1983 LeBaron convertible with a Mitsu 2.6L and bare black steelies.

Every time I host one of these I’m struck by the amount of delight on people’s faces when they see these cars that were once considered throwaways. Whether they were ubiquitous back then but are now mostly gone like the K-Car, or uncommon (then and now) because they interested almost no one like the X-90. People flip out when they show up, it’s amazing.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
8 months ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

I hated K-cars in the 1980s.

I hated K-cars in the 1990s.

I hated K-cars in the 2000s.

I hated K-cars in the 2010s.

I hate K-cars now.

I will always hate K-cars. I can acknowledge their impact and influence while still wishing I could put every surviving one in a giant pile, then shoot ten thousand RPGs at the pile.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
8 months ago

K-Cars are an improvement over Chevettes though…

Beer-light Guidance
Beer-light Guidance
8 months ago

My first brand-new car was a 1998 Explorer and I absolutely loved it. I could see overpaying for a nice one which is really what is at the heart of any “classic” car.

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