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‘My dividend is the joy of driving my classic cars’

Hayden Johnston turned a passion for Japanese boy racer cars into an investment portfolio.

29 August 2022

The classic advice about investing is to buy what you know – and Hayden Johnston is putting that advice into practice.

His specialist knowledge of the global car market and lifelong involvement in the industry means he has the insider advantage to invest in classic cars as a successful strategy.

Cars are a family passion for Hayden, whose dad Peter Johnston rallied in Group B race cars across New Zealand.

Boyhood love affair

The younger Johnston started out as a spectator, but from the age of 13 he was co-driving for his dad. His love for Japanese cars stems from that time, he explains.

“I have a specific date range for the cars I buy: 1992 to 2000 Japanese classic cars. When I was young, they were the brand-new race cars of that day, in rally, circuit and drift.

“I’ve had a lot of European cars over the years, but the Japanese cars were the ones I yearned to own.”

Johnston joined his father, who owns Genuine Vehicle Imports (GVI,) one of New Zealand’s largest importers of used Japanese cars, and he’s now the chief executive of the business.

He’s always kept a close eye on the market, and in 2014 he made his first move into investing in his favourite JDMs, as Japanese domestic market cars are known.

Skyline was a keeper

“The first car where I thought, ‘This one I’ve got to keep’ was the [Nissan] R33 GTR Skyline,” he says. “I was seeing the lift in prices, and I thought, ‘This could be a future little earner, but if I want one, I need to get in now’.

“I bought five or six other JDM classics in 2014 – I wish I’d bought more!”

He still owns the R33 GTR, which has appreciated dramatically, along with many other models, including a “very, very nice” Honda Civic Type R and a Honda Integra Type R, both of which have jumped up in value in the past two years.

“These are cars that five years ago we used to buy for $8,000 and thrash at the racetrack. Now they’re worth $40,000-plus and only get driven on Sundays!”

The trade in classic cars is bustling, says Hayden, with Kiwi scouts on the lookout for vehicles they can buy locally and ship to the US, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Canada.

Over-25s in demand

Demand for ’90s Japanese classics has shot up, because any car manufactured at least 25 years ago can be imported to the United States, which is normally tightly regulated.

Johnston watches the market closely as part of his job, ready to pick up a car for himself when the price is right.

“I’m always buying cars to sell, then hand-picking really good ones to keep.

“I’m on the hunt for a later-model version of the R34 GTR Skyline, but they’ve gone ballistic. Ten years ago, you could buy one for $50,000, and now they can go for as much as US$500,000 – even the most horrible one is knocking on $200,000.”

Johnston believes Japanese classic vehicles are still a fantastic investment opportunity. Their popularity continues to rise among younger generations, fuelled by a burgeoning ‘JDM culture’ on social media.

Fans drop by

For now, Johnston has no plans to sell his cars, but every day he gets requests. Fans often stop by to admire the vehicles.

Add their growing value to the fun of driving the cars, and this hobby is the perfect retirement fund for Johnston.

He didn’t grow up knowing about investing in the share market and admits he doesn’t really trust other people with his money.

But buying cars allows him to indulge his passion, take advantage of his insider expertise, and remain fully in charge of his investment.

“With cars, you can see them, touch them, and drive them – so you get to enjoy them while they appreciate.

“It’s not like buying Bitcoin and hoping you can do something with it. You can jump in, go for a fang, and really enjoy your investment.

“It’s true that you don’t get a dividend, but for me the dividend is not financial, it’s the enjoyment you get from driving them.”

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