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canadian international auto show

A 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer is part of the collection that the Oblivion Car and Culture Show will bring to the Canadian International AutoShow.Oblivion /Handout

Luke Emond considers himself a budding vehicle collector, but he isn’t interested in the classics – Porsches, Camaros or even 1970s muscle cars. His ride of choice: eighties- and nineties-era Chevy S-10 pickup trucks.

Boxy, clunky and not exceptionally powerful, especially by today’s standards, the aged S-10s won’t win any beauty contests. But they do have an almost mystical allure for Emond, 39, a salesman for a mining equipment parts company in Sudbury.

He owns two – a white-and-black 1991 truck that he bought in 2012 for $2,200, and an earlier black 1985 model that he shelled out $2,500 for last year. He also has an additional six or seven in various states of disrepair stashed away on his property for parts.

The trucks, which he has lovingly restored and upgraded with newer components, inspire wistful memories of his youth. The ’91, after all, was the first vehicle he had as a teenager.

“It’s pure nostalgia, I’ve always had a love for them,” he says, adding that he’s just one of many car aficionados with a similar retro bent. “People are looking back and seeing that they remind them of certain times. They want to relive those.”

The eighties and nineties are indeed hot right now among enthusiasts, which is why the Canadian International AutoShow – happening in Toronto in February – will feature vehicles exhibited by Oblivion, a separate Ontario-based car show now heading into its third year.

The collection includes cars made famous by pop culture – such as Back to the Future's DeLorean.Oblivion

Cars made famous in TV and movies – including KITT, the 1982 Pontiac TransAm from Knight Rider, and the 1981 DeLorean from Back to the Future – will exhibit alongside less auspicious vehicles, including a 1986 Subaru Brat, a 1987 Jeep Wagoneer, a 1990 Iroc-Z Camaro and others.

Oblivion founder Justin Sookraj, who also runs a dealership specializing in DeLoreans in Milton, Ont., says the popularity of cars is cyclical. Members of each successive generation nostalgically desire the vehicles they grew up with, often leaving older collectors bewildered.

“It often shocks previous generations, but it’s complete common sense on how time moves,” he says.

Eighties and nineties-era vehicles are quickly becoming a big part of business for Barrett-Jackson, one of the largest classic vehicle auctioneers in North America. In 2019, the Arizona-based company sold 461 vehicles from what it calls the “rad era” – 1980 to 1999 – accounting for more than 12 per cent of total sales. That’s up from 274 or 9 per cent in 2015.

That percentage will keep increasing, according to chairman and chief executive Craig Jackson, as buyers continue to get younger. The company sold almost as many cars to millennials and Gen Xers last year as it did to boomers.

“Our bidders have gotten 10 years younger and our cars have gotten 10 years younger,” he says.

Like Emond, younger buyers are seeking out the cars they grew up with. That means the smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles – often from Japanese and European manufacturers – that displaced larger American models in the eighties and nineties.

Some of those cars are going for jaw-dropping amounts at auction. In 2018, Barrett-Jackson sold a 1997 Acura Integra Type R for US$63,800, only to be surpassed by online auctioneer Bring a Trailer a year later, which fetched US$82,000 for the same vehicle.

A 1986 Subaru Brat is among the more inauspicious vehicles in the collection.Oblivion

In October, Barrett-Jackson sold a 1997 Toyota Supra Anniversary Edition for a record US$176,000. By way of comparison, the base version of the Supra was originally priced at just $10,118 when it was introduced in 1979, or about $36,000 in 2020 dollars adjusted for inflation.

The rise of rad cars is largely because of a demographic shift, industry observers say.

With boomers getting older, they aren’t buying as much and in some cases are selling or otherwise disposing of their collections. Gen Xers and millennials, meanwhile, are now into their thirties and forties, which means a growing number have disposable income and – almost as importantly – driveways and garages.

“In your twenties, you might have one car and an apartment,” says Eric Lawrence, principal automotive analyst of specialty vehicles for North American operations at Canadian Black Book and Black Book (U.S). “They’re just starting to have houses, so they have somewhere to put a spare car.”

Lawrence also says that despite the gaudy values some are fetching at auction, most cars from the era are still available for resale at reasonable prices. A Cadillac El Dorado, for example, can be had for around $5,000, while an El Camino Supersport, TransAm or Corvette can be purchased for about $7,500.

The auction winners, with their eye-popping valuations, are generally unique or nearly pristine-condition cars, he adds.

As hard as it may be for some people to believe, the vehicles currently being produced will eventually supplant eighties and nineties cars as the most sought after.

“There are going to be snobs who say today’s cars are garbage,” he says. “But it’s what people like and what means something to them.”

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