In 2017, Barrett-Jackson auctioned a custom 1971 Chevrolet Blazer for $220,000. Last year it sold a 1969 Blazer for $132,000 and a 1972 Blazer for $72,600.
And it’s not uncommon to see other classic SUVs like the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Ford Bronco and Toyota Land Cruiser commanding similar money. These are figures typically seen for pedigreed classics and muscle cars, not SUVs. What’s driving this trend?
“It’s generational,” said Craig Jackson, Chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction Company. “A whole generation has grown up with SUVs.”
Like muscle cars before, these classic SUVs have risen from the value of scrap metal to legit classics. And, they may not have topped out yet.
“We’re seeing valuations for vintage 1960s through 1980s SUVs increasing,” said Brian Rabold, vice president of valuation at Hagerty, which specializes in classic car valuation and insurance. “As the rest of the collector car market is cooling, we still see SUVs increasing. ... Grade 1 Broncos and Land Cruisers are close to $100,000, but you can find Grade 3 examples in the $15,000 range. It’s very rare to find them with low miles in good condition — rarity not in production numbers, but what have survived.”
Hagerty’s data suggest a top early-’70s Blazer should reach $82,500 with excellent examples around $52,000. First-generation Broncos, which debuted in 1966, post similar values. The classic Grand Wagoneer goes for about $55,000 for a quality example, but Wagonmaster.com sells some for over $70,000. Big money goes to “resto-mods” that combine stock bodies with modern styling and powertrains.
Automakers are using this thirst for nostalgia to their advantage. Chevrolet reintroduced the 2019 Blazer as a radically styled mid-size crossover and followed up with the 2021 TrailBlazer as a compact alternative.
Ford’s introduction of the trail-ready next-generation Bronco is imminent. Toyota still builds the Land Cruiser, though as a luxury SUV. Jeep is expected to introduce a three-row Grand Wagoneer next year.
There’s clearly a lot of fondness for these brands, but also a little Hollywood sparkle.
“I see a lot of celebrities like Simon Cowell and Lady Gaga driving them,” Jackson said. “You sit up a little higher, have the ability to go off road. The Blazer is a cool vehicle for Malibu. It’s a great platform for resto-mods — easy to get parts. ... Seventy thousand dollars will get you a fairly stock one, but one really tricked out could go up to $300,000.”
Barrett-Jackson auctioned a Bronco owned by former “American Idol” judge Cowell. Cowell’s resto-mod 1977 Bronco scored $86,900. Barrett-Jackson also sold a resto-mod 1972 Blazer with metallic green paint and a cream leather interior that was built by Dave Kindig, star of Motor Trend TV’s “Bitchin’ Rides,” for $120,000.
“If you look at what was popular when someone was 14, that’s what they collect later,” Rabold said. “Vintage SUVs embody usability, visibility and affordability. There is a culture factor; we see them pop up all over the place in clothing ads, music videos, etc. Younger Gen-X and older millennials have direct connections to SUVs.”
While the Blazer and Bronco are relatively new to aspirational pricing, the Jeep Grand Wagoneer has always attracted wealthy patrons. Perhaps that’s because of its history as one of the first luxury SUVs.
“The Wagoneer was built from 1963-1991 with the same body style throughout,” said Chip Miller, the owner of Wagonmaster.com. “Kaiser Willys owned Jeep when the family station wagon was taking off in the late ’50s. KW ordered conceptual drawings from the Brooks Stevens company for a station wagon that could compete with those being made by Ford and Chevrolet. They came up with the body shape we know as the Wagoneer.”
In 1978, Jeep introduced the Wagoneer Limited with leather bucket seats and full woodgrain sides. It occupied ritzy driveways from sea to mountains. Wagonmaster keeps the dream alive by restoring them as coveted possessions of wealthy drivers.
“Today’s buyers are everywhere: New England, California, Florida and Texas,” Miller said. “Driving around Sun Valley or Aspen, you see them on almost every block. Prices for a Grand Wagoneer have more than doubled from the $30,000 range in 2010. Jeep’s plan to reintroduce a Grand Wagoneer will further strengthen its position.”
Proving the Grand Wagoneer’s resilience, Barrett-Jackson recently sold a 1989 model for $110,000. Beyond the Grand Wagoneer, which SUVs are most likely to become valuable?
“One I’ve been looking at is the first generation Toyota 4-Runner — not a lot of two-door removable top SUVs that are still affordable,” Rabold said. “I love International Scouts — a great buy. We see more appreciation for 1980s and 1990s Japanese SUVs.”
Rabold mentions two other special models.
“The Lamborghini LM002, also called the Rambo Lambo, is such a wild, wild ride — has the Lambo engine and is very burly. They cost $200,000-300,000. There’s also the Baja Bronco from 1971-1975 that commemorated Ford’s success in Baja — very rare and desirable. They are $120,000-$150,000.”
While the past of these old SUVs was mostly wrapped around gas-guzzling V-8 engines, their futures could embrace a new ethos.
“We will see resto-mods evolving and continuing to grow,” Jackson said. “We’re developing a hybrid version in our shop, and eventually a full electric one. We’ll change the drivetrain to meet demand. If I have a crystal ball, electrified Blazers and Broncos are the next trend.”