For decades the collector car world was fairly predictable. The cars—and the car owners—didn’t change much from year to year. The vehicles that drew the most interest and highest values were primarily cars built prior to 1970.
A distinct change has come over the collector market recently as a younger generation is getting into the hobby and seeking the cars of their own youth. Commonly referred to as “youngtimers,” these cars are typically 20-30 years old versus the 50–60 year old muscle and sports cars of the gray-haired vintage set.
One of the factors driving this surge is the 25-year exemption rule. Essentially, any car 25 years or older can be imported to the US for personal use, even if that vehicle was never sold here originally. American car shows are undergoing a distinct makeover.
There is even an entire car show circuit focused on the cars from the eighties and nineties called RADwood. Despite being only a few years old, RADwood has gained so much traction it’s now featured at some of the country’s most prestigious venues. Even the Greenwich Concours, one of the stuffiest of the old guard events, has welcomed RADwood into its fold, injecting new energy into this normally prim and proper event.
The first thing you notice at RADwood—after the cars of course—is the makeup of the attendees. Younger, more racial diversity and considerably more gender diversity are clear indicators this is not your father’s car show. Where the older folks tended to be very narrow in their definition of a collector car, these new enthusiasts are welcoming to every type of vehicle and any person who wants in on the fun. Some local people have been joining this new wave of collecting.
Less chrome, more fun
Ridgefield Firefighter Jackson Bonner grew up in town and joined the Volunteer Fire Department while still attending Ridgefield High School. After a year of college, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time career firefighter, achieving his goal in 2014 and becoming the youngest member of the Ridgefield Fire Department. While Bonner owned stereotypical firefighter vehicles (a Jeep Wrangler and RAM pickup), this year he decided he wanted something smaller. When Bonner’s brother-in-law and fellow firefighter Steve Kindschi sent him a photo of a puppy-dog cute Honda Acty mini-truck, he was hooked and began a search to find one. He didn’t have to look far as Auto Technic, a used car dealer in New Milford, was importing mini-trucks and had one for sale.
The Honda Acty is one of the most popular models of Japan’s KEI trucks. Japanese KEI regulations specify a maximum vehicle size, engine capacity, and power output. Bonner’s Acty, like most KEI cars and trucks imported to the US, has a 660cc engine with output limited to 63 horsepower. 63 ponies may sound a bit anemic, but with the Acty’s weight of less than 1,500 pounds, the performance is more than adequate. The Acty proved so good that Bonner has been using it as his daily driver, commuting to the firehouse, and for his part-time landscaping business. The fold-down bed sides make it perfect for easy loading while the tidy turning radius and narrow track make it ideal for navigating tight spots.
Twenty-one-year-old Jay B. of Redding grew up in a family of serious car enthusiasts. While his dad has a diverse collection of vehicles, Jay has fully embraced the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) side of the car world. He recently purchased a 1990 Nissan 240SX as a base to build his dream car. From the widebody exterior to the modded 350 hp engine under the hood, Jay’s Nissan is living its best life. Next up are a set of red Recaro racing seats to pop the interior and give him added support for track days.
Jay’s father Pete recently added a rare RWB Porsche to his fleet. Japan-based RWB takes older Porsches and adds comically wide body kits, lowered suspensions, and fat tire and wheel packages. The resulting creations make most old school Porschephiles clutch their pearls, yet younger enthusists are drawn in like flies. If you come upon this beast in traffic, you’ll know it. The barking aftermarket exhaust, huge rear wing and giant RWB branding on the back might aggravate the vintage guys, but even non-car people can’t help but take notice.
Ridgefielder Mark Amler has a penchant for Japanese sports cars. His 1991 Toyota MR2 perfectly encompasses the swoopy hidden headlight styling that RADwood enthusiasts love. Amler’s example is far from stock though. The sharp blue exterior features larger Enkei wheels while power has been significantly upgraded with a Toyota Caldina engine swap. Most people would be happy with 300+ horsepower, but Amler is already planning to swap out for a more powerful engine producing over 600 hp. Considering the MR2 weighs only 2800 pounds, this is going to be one quick Toyota.
Redding’s Ryan Offenhartz has been importing European and Japanese vehicles for two decades. As the sales manager for Ai Design in Tuckahoe, NY, Offenhartz is often tasked with sourcing hard to find collector cars for the firms’ clients. While importing unique cars is an attractive idea, Offenhartz explained the hurdles to be conquered. First off, knowing the integrity of the seller is vitally important. There are countless stories of buyers wiring money only to never have a car delivered or at minimum, receiving a vehicle that was misrepresented. Another issue is potential language barriers for non-English speaking countries. Having a competent translator is essential to get all the documentation in English and to also fully know what you are buying. Lastly: transportation. As Offenhartz says, port to port is the easiest part. Getting the vehicle from the seller to the ship, however, requires coordination and trust.
For serious car enthusiasts, Anthony Serra has a dream job. As owner of @1600Veloce, a high-end virtual auto dealer based in North Salem, NY specializing in enthusiast cars, Serra is constantly buying and selling vehicles that most people only fantasize over. High six-figure Ferraris and Lamborghinis roll through the shop and constant online auctions, yet Anthony prefers vintage Fiats and Alfas. One of his current favorites is his 1976 Fiat 131 Group 2 rally car. The Fiat 131 was an affordable Italian family car, but this one was heavily modified when new and actively raced into the nineties. Serra is still sorting the car but hopes to race it himself in the near future.
Turns out, the car enthusiast tent is big enough for all ages. •