Are defenders the new Monteros? If so, what is the next step?

Budget-conscious vintage car collectors, competing with Americans who have taken to vehicles as a hobby over the past couple of years, have found themselves increasingly out of the market for cars that were once considered fun and inexpensive and are now in high demand. . Undeterred, however, many shoppers are determined to find the next best thing. Enter the substitution principle.

It’s a financial term that’s been appropriated, and somewhat inaccurately applied, by entry-level classic car buyers—those with around $25,000 to spend. It’s a tongue-in-cheek answer to the question of what to buy when a coveted car has been appreciated beyond reach, an all-too-common occurrence during this time of wild hobby appreciation. The median value of a collectible car in good condition jumped 20% in January from a year earlier, and another 4% in the first three months of this year, according to Hagerty, a specialist insurer.

To their surprise, buyers find that the cheaper substitute can, in many ways, prove to be the equal of the more established collectible. And once the news gets out, as inevitably happens quickly in the world of vintage cars, spikes in demand for the second line send prices skyrocketing, starting the process of finding substitutes all over again.

The latest example of this cycle of substitutes is the first-generation Mitsubishi Montero, which became a replacement for people who didn’t buy an old Land Rover Defender.

The Defender’s appeal is wide – generally, millennial watchers wearing a Barbour jacket from ‘The Crown’ seem to want one as much as baby boomers who remember the zebra-striped Land Rovers from the TV show corny 1960s “Daktari”. Almost all flavors of the classic Defender have value in the United States, but those made for the US market in 1995 and 1997 can be worth up to $200,000.

Less plush and less powerful, 1980s Defenders built for the European market were available for less than $20,000 until recently. Not anymore. Mid-range collectors who want a quirky, fun, Serengeti-ready vintage SUV are out of luck – or are they?

Lyn Woodward, an automotive journalist, grew up dreaming of small off-road SUVs. reached a kind of equilibrium. Then, about two years ago, while driving around the Los Angeles area, she came across an attractive straight-line 1987 Mitsubishi Montero parked in a driveway.

Barely remembered by most, the first-generation Montero came in three- and five-door styles. The 91-inch and 109-inch wheelbases effectively mimicked the proportions of the classic Land Rover Defender, and the Montero gained significant fame in the 1980s, with seven consecutive victories in the brutal Dakar Rally. In fact, its off-road reputation is almost as great as that of the classic Defender. It is no coincidence that the capacities and the more than fleeting resemblance of the Montero now make it the target of collectors who can no longer afford a Defender.

Ms Woodward has put up a brave but ultimately futile resistance to the charms of the SUV she deems “as capable as it is adorable”. Shortly before the sale sign on the car faded, she bought the Montero for $2,400.

“It’s slow in the hills, but it’s an off-road mountain goat,” Ms. Woodward said, noting that the slogan in 1980s ads called the Montero “the urban gorilla,” effectively presaging the transition from SUVs. off-roaders at the grocery store. getters.

Ms Woodward, who has spent more than a few hours in classic Defenders, said the Montero was its off-road equal and that “there’s the added pleasure of reliability”. Like most classic British vehicles, older Defenders aren’t exactly known for their rock-solid reliability. The Monteros, on the other hand, wear their Japanese toughness and engineering on their comically oversized exterior mirrors.

Until recently, vintage Montero owners could steal the look and appeal of a classic Land Rover and get an arguably better vehicle, for less than 10% of the price of the cheapest Defender. Predictably, the new buzz around Monteros has dramatically increased demand.

Cory Wade, a classic car dealership in Traverse City, Michigan, is also on the hunt for a vintage Montero, and he finds prices for cars in average condition, once around $3,000-5,000. , have roughly doubled over the past two years. .

“For a truly fantastic low-mileage example, the sky’s probably the limit at this point,” Wade said, noting that the three-door Montero with a manual transmission is the version that now has the highest demand among models. collectors. “I would expect to get over $25,000 for a really good Montero.”

Mr. Wade added that Chrysler briefly marketed its own version of this SUV, calling it the Dodge Raider.

If one needs more confirmation that the ship has sailed for the Montero researchers, it’s the fact that a professional trend watcher, Brian Rabold, vice president of vehicle intelligence for Hagerty, comes to buy one.

For lovers of old cars now priced out of the Montero vintage market, Mr. Wade, the car dealer, has some advice on a potential replacement: “I really like the early Toyota RAV4s. They are square and lightweight, but still relatively sturdy. And like Defenders and Monteros, they’re available in three- and five-door body styles.

When they were built, “Toyota quality was perhaps at its peak,” he said. “There really is no upper limit to the number of miles they travel.”

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