You should buy an original, classic 4Runner before its value skyrockets
The market for the classic SUV (especially ATSUVs – or Alternative-Top SUVs) is exploding right now. Each popular model that can be daily driven or restored is appreciating wildly without an end in sight. If only there was a way you could predict which model would be next to trend upwards… Now you can. The original 4Runner, sold in North America from 1984-1989, is on the verge of being a future classic. I am personally a sucker for all forms of ATSUVs, but I think the first generation, classic 4Runner is the next original Bronco. They can still be found relatively affordably on Craigslist, but in the next five years they’ll move out of ‘impulse purchase’ pricing, and into ‘I wish I’d bought this five years ago’ pricing. If you want to be ahead of the curve, you should get one right now, and I’m going to tell you why.
In business school, you learn that competitive advantages are gained through three key attributes: scarcity, inimitability (difficult to imitate), and lack of available substitutes. The same framework can be applied to valuing cars, when you consider budget and time to purchase. We’re going to talk about these traits in reverse order.
Lack of Available Substitutes
ATSUVs like the 4Runner are unusual beasts. The low likelihood that they have any sort of capability off-road makes the good ones all the more unusual. In fact, everything that I would consider a substitute has already appreciated past the point of attainability for the average person. Rusty, curbed examples of the Land Cruiser FJ40, the first-gen Bronco, and soft-top Defenders can easily fetch between $7,000-$10,000 on the private market, which is absolutely insane. So as these cars continue to appreciate in every conceivable condition, potential buyers who are getting priced out of the cars that they’re interested in must consider other available substitutes. What can someone purchase if they only have $2-6k to spend and they want Land Cruiser-esque attributes? It depends on what their needs are. Does it need to be capable off-road? How much of a top-down experience do you want? Do you want something with the size and handling capability of a boat, or not? More and more people who wanted one of the ‘core four’ in ATSUVs are getting priced out of the market and are going to start looking at the next appropriate option: the first generation 4Runner.
This speaks more towards the segment of the market in general, rather than towards a specific car. The increased (read: insane) demand for the classic SUV of other calibers will lead to an eventual appreciation of any related good. The Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60 is a perfect example of this. Clean FJ60s are starting to spike in value because they’re considered to be a closely related good to the FJ40. However, they don’t quite fit the ‘available substitute’ model, because they don’t have any open roof capability. They’re also considerably larger and heavier, but still largely an analog experience and very capable off-road, so they a related good, if only tangentially. So to recap: you (and many other enthusiasts) want an FJ40. But you can’t afford an FJ40, you can’t afford an FJ60, and you can’t afford a Bronco. So you still want a classic SUV. But you want off-road chops, so you can’t get an Amigo. And you want reliability, so every Jeep ever is out. You need to afford it, so it probably can’t an International Scout. So what are you left with? The first generation, classic 4Runner.
One issue that hasn’t been touched on that has affected the value of ATSUVs in general is the resto-mod effect, with Jonathan Ward and the Icon crew leading the charge. As Icon and other (knock-off) companies continue to gain traction, clean examples of cars are getting snapped up by people in a different tax bracket looking to do a full restoration. This leaves fewer original models, and sends their price trending upwards as well, regardless of condition.
Classic SUV of Choice
If you want the wind in your hair in a classic SUV, the options are becoming increasingly limited. The first generation 4Runner is one of your last choices for an affordable ATSUV with analog appeal and genuine off-road capability. Happy hunting!