When Kurt Glaubitz bought a vintage British automobile, it wasn’t for its sweeping curves or coach-built looks. Despite its scrawny-necked snorkel (for fording rivers) and boxy lines, however, his 1992 Land Rover Defender fits right into the latest wave of cars being scooped up by a new generation of collectors.
A Gen-Xer at 54, Glaubitz is part of this trend, even if he didn’t intend to be. “I bought the car as a project I could do with my son,” he said. As a teenager, he restored a Rover sedan with his father. “My favorite memories of my dad are working beside him under the bonnet of that car.”
Despite that motivation, however, Glaubitz, who lives in Mill Valley, Calif., and works in international public relations for Chevron, is well aware of his car’s investment potential. Fully restored, Defenders can fetch prices approaching and sometimes exceeding six figures, said Glaubitz, who in January paid $18,000 for his three-owner, right-hand-drive example. Indeed, later this year, Land Rover-Jaguar plans to offer a luxury limited edition 70th Anniversary Defender for sale in Europe, with prices starting at about 150,000 pounds (slightly under $200,000).
“The Defender and its iconic design have been, and will continue to be, a staple within our portfolio,” said Nathan Hoyt, Land Rover public relations manager for the United States. “Much-loved vehicles like these have always had niches of collectability; interest in them has just become more broad in recent years.”
As younger generations build up enough disposable wealth for collecting, that interest is trending younger, both in the age of participants and the objects of their desire.
“What we’re really seeing is a progression in our hobby,” said Terry McGean, editor-in-chief of Hemmings Motor News. The inch-thick monthly magazine comes crammed with hundreds of ads for vintage vehicles. “It’s a new group of people interested in a new generation of cars,” McGean said.
Those newly desirable autos include specimens most serious collectors wouldn’t have sniffed at a few years ago — ’90s models like Glaubitz’s Defender and sporty Japanese machines such as Toyota’s Supra and Honda’s NSX.
The notion that a collectible car must be hand-built in low volumes no longer carries the weight it once did, McGean said.
“The younger generation doesn’t even think about cars being handmade anymore,” he said. A low-mileage ’94 Supra brought over $100,000 at auction early this year; when new, thousands of the cars were sold for $35,000 to $40,000.
In a section titled “The New Generation,” Hemmings recently devoted 16 pages to cars from the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s. “To some of us these seem like used cars,” the magazine said, “while to others they’re the stuff childhood dreams were made of.” The publication described the cars, which included American, European and Japanese models, as “a growing segment of the collector car world.”
Two years ago, Michael Caimano, who specializes in vintage cars for New York auctioneer Bonhams, handled the sale of a 1995 McClaren F1. He said the vehicle had gone to a Gen-X buyer for $15.6 million, reportedly a record for post-1970 collector cars sold at auction. The transaction offers a graphic demonstration of the growing clout of younger buyers, said Caimano, 32.
“Close to half our sales are to that generation,” he added, referring to the McLaren. “They’ve achieved a position in life that puts them in the prime collection-building years.” At the same time, he said, “millennials are beginning to stick their toes in the water, particularly with midlevel collectibles in the $50,000-$200,000 range.”
Arguably the deepest dive into the trends sweeping auto collecting and investing comes from Hagerty, a firm in Traverse City, Mich., that specializes in collector vehicle insurance. Using its policy data, the company examined more than 18,000 transactions from 2016 through 2018 in which cars changed hands from older to younger buyers.
If one assumed that meant baby boomers (born from 1946 through 1964) buying from an older generation, that would be mistaken. Echoing Caimano’s experience, Gen-Xers (1965-81) like Glaubitz were the largest single group of buyers, accounting for more than 23% of the transactions.
The appeal of ’80s and ’90s cars to Gen-Xers and millennials resulted in a “huge surge in values for those modern classics,” the study said. But it also noted growing interest among younger-generation buyers in more traditional collectibles.
Two-thirds of the people buying Austin-Healey 100s, a classic 1950s sports car, were found to be younger than the vehicle’s sellers. Younger buyers also accounted for a majority of 1970s-era Cadillac Eldorado sales.
“In the classic vehicle world, 2018 will be remembered as the year that younger car lovers took the wheel from older generations,” Hagerty said. Millennials (1982-2000), it predicted, “will become the hobby’s single largest group of buyers within five years.”
To McKeel Hagerty, the firm’s 51-year-old owner, the findings sounded a hopeful note against often gloomy predictions of declining generational interest in cars.
“You hear so much inferring that the younger people don’t care about cars,” Hagerty said. “Our data suggests they do care. The vehicles are different, and younger people are interested in using them in different ways, but cars still represent freedom and fun. We see a long road ahead.”
A separate Hagerty-commissioned survey of 1,000 randomly selected drivers last year appeared to buttress this view. Though open to coexistence with autonomous cars, more than 80% of respondents agreed that they “will always want the option of driving a car themselves.” A similar majority described driving as “an important part of American culture.”
Both Hagerty and McGean of Hemmings recognize the constraints imposed by geography and finances on buyers’ choices — whatever their age. The joys of piloting a vintage roadster along a winding coastal road in Northern California can rapidly deteriorate in the clogged arteries of Manhattan. And Hagerty’s own data suggests that buyers born from 1920 to 1945 still dominate the purchases of $1 million-plus cars.
“Not even moderately wealthy people can afford a Ferrari GTO,” McGean said, referring to the world’s most expensive automobile. (Two years ago, a 1963 example of the car was bought for a record $70 million by WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, a youngish boomer.) Younger collectors are pursuing more inclusive — and unconventional — avenues of enjoyment with their vehicles, McGean and Hagerty said.
“RADwood” events, for example, are self-described celebrations of 1980s and 1990s “automotive lifestyles.” Open to cars, trucks and motorcycles from those decades, they feature music from the era and owner-participants wearing period-correct dress. (Think “Miami Vice,” or perhaps an 8-ball jacket.) RADwood shows are scheduled throughout the country this year; for the first time, one of the events is to be staged during August’s famously exclusive Car Week in Carmel, Calif.
Another nontraditional event, Luftgekuhlt (“air-cooled”), saw hundreds of Porsche owners congregate in Hollywood recently. Termed “the hottest ticket in auto enthusiasm” by Autoweek magazine, the show included art displays, musical performances, and racing and street Porsches from all years and in conditions varying from world-class to beaters. Many of the cars were displayed on Universal Studios movie sets.
“It’s really more a happening than a car show,” Hagerty said.
For Glaubitz, a Defender happening means quality time with his 16-year-old, Cole. A few Sundays ago, the father and son stood in a leafy hillside driveway while the vehicle’s turbo-diesel engine hummed reassuringly.
Besides repairing a badly rusted battery compartment, swapping out a starter motor and tinkering with the car’s rally lights, the pair recently took the vehicle on a 400-mile trip to Lake Tahoe and back. Now Cole was sanding out a rusted rear hatch sill.
What, he was asked, did his pals at Tamalpais High School think of the Defender? He grinned. “My girlfriend thinks it’s really cool,” he said.