A lot of ’90s sports cars are shooting up in value at the moment, as the kids who had them as posters on their bedroom walls are now old enough to be able to start buying them. It’s not just that factor of course: there’s also the fact that the era produced some of the best-looking sports cars ever made, and many stand out as being ahead of their time in technology or performance. It was an undoubtedly great decade for sports cars, although there were of course plenty of duds too.
Buyers looking to score their own slice of ’90s nostalgia might find themselves confused as to where to begin. But fear not, as this list compiles some of the best cars from that decade that look very attractive on the used market right now. There’s the Lotus Espirit, but there’s also forgotten gems from Japanese manufacturers, cheap yet iconic German cars, and even an early version of a modern American icon. No matter what the budget, there’s a ’90s sports car on the used market at the moment that’s a perfect fit for every buyer.
Porsche 911 (996)
The cheapest of all the 911 generations to buy, the 996 drew a lot of criticism for being the first water-cooled Porsche, ending a line of iconic air-cooled versions. It also redrew the car’s exterior design more radically than any previous generation, in turn setting the standard for the 911s of today.
Just $30k should be plenty to get a base-spec 996 in decent condition, and higher-spec models aren’t that much more. Twenty or so years ago, early 911s were seen as so cheap and disposable that Jeremy Clarkson famously doused one in acid for a joke. Today they’re worth a fortune, and it’s hard to see why the 996 won’t eventually shoot up in value too.
The first iteration of a British icon, the Lotus Elise originally debuted in 1996. It was a much-needed revitalization for a brand that had been unceremoniously dumped by its previous parent company GM at the end of 1993, just seven years after acquiring it.
The Elise was light, fast, and handled brilliantly. It was so good in fact that it spawned offshoots like the Exige and 340R, and it was only axed in early 2021. Early model S1s are still cheap on the used market, but given that this car is such a big part of modern Lotus’ history, it’s unlikely to stay that way. Grab one while you can.
The RX-7 might be more famous as one of the most iconic tuner’s cars ever, but that’s been its Achilles Heel from a collector’s point of view. The stock RX-7 was still a very capable car, and it’s getting very tricky to find one in original, unmodified form.
When they do come up for sale in stock form, they sell for well over their original retail price, even if they’re in imperfect condition. That value is only going to keep rising over time, making the RX-7 a smart investment for used buyers looking to turn a big profit in a few years.
The phrase, “they don’t make them like they used to”, can be used in many contexts, but few are quite as literally true as with the TVR Tuscan. There’s been a new TVR in the works for years now, but production delays and funding troubles mean that, for now, the only way to experience this maddest of British sports cars is to buy one used.
The Tuscan is one of the brand’s later models, and only just qualifies as a ’90s car, as deliveries began in 1999. Cars from the ’99 model year make 360 hp and weigh just 2,425 lbs, and yes, driving one is just as unhinged an experience as one would expect. There are no safety features like ABS or airbags either, just a big old-school V8 strapped into a fiberglass body.
The Dodge Viper is nothing short of a modern American icon, but the original version of the car was a bit unusual, to say the least. Doug DeMuro has reviewed the first-gen model and broken the car down in detail, noting its lack of an exterior door handle, or even properly fitted windows.
It’s certainly a crazy vehicle, and something that simply wouldn’t be allowed to be made today, as modern safety restrictions are too tight. There’s plenty of examples available on the used market, but despite their lack of rarity a Viper still turns heads everywhere it goes.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
One option for buyers with a lot of cash to splash is the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, as it’s a brute of a machine that mixes old-school muscle car handling with traditional British luxury. It made 550 hp from the factory and would reportedly accelerate from 0-60 in a little over 4 seconds.
Buying one of these British classics will likely cost at least $200,000, with the most pristine versions costing double that. But, for that cash, buyers get a car that’s incredibly rare, incredibly fast, and also incredibly likely to keep rising in value over time.
Much like the Mazda RX-7, many 300ZXs have now been irreversibly modified, and so lost their collectible value. Stock examples are getting rarer, and Bring a Trailer‘s sales graph shows the value of the car has nearly doubled since 2016.
Not only is a 300ZX a smart investment, but it’s also a great car to drive as well, and it sports several engineering quirks that make it ahead of its time. It had four-wheel steering, variable cam timing, and twin turbos in an era where naturally aspirated cars were still the norm. Not to mention, it was one of the first production cars to be designed using CAD software, a tool that’s now an industry standard.
BMW M3 E36
The words “cheap” and “M3” together in a sentence might seem like a red flag to the many buyers that have been caught out by buying abused M cars with prices too good to be true. And yes, there will be plenty of cheap E36s out there that will have been ruined by their previous owners’ reckless driving.
But, it doesn’t take a huge amount of extra cash to start buying more pristine examples though, and that’s where the best value lies. The E36 had a hard act to follow with its predecessor the E30, but despite that, it was still quick, handled well, and looked good too. It’s the cheapest way to own a well-looked after M3, and it’s sure to only go up in value.
The NSX seems to be cursed, as the original ’90s car was underrated for many years and has only in recent times begun to get the appreciation it deserves. The current second-gen car seems to suffer from the same problem, and poor sales mean that it’s being axed later this year.
Part of the original NSX’s problem was that it wasn’t as quick on paper as its rivals, but it more than made up for it in the corners. It handles excellently, and it boasted the same unbeatable build quality that Honda’s other products from the era had. Today it’s still relatively affordable to buy used, as it has yet to explode in price like many of its peers already have done.
One of the most famous cars from the ‘wedge’ era of design, the Lotus Espirit first entered production way back in 1976. By the ’90s it was a relative veteran of the sports car world, but it still held its own in terms of driving fun and performance.
It’s an iconic shape and one that was only made more famous by its appearance in the James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Today it’s possible to buy one for under $30,000, even less if the car is in questionable condition. It might not be the fastest or the most cutting-edge of all the ’90s sports cars, but there are few used models on the market that cut quite such a distinctive silhouette as the Espirit does.
Every major Italian manufacturer has put out a sales flop at some point during their history, and it’s not always their build quality that’s to blame.
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