The collector car hobby is strong right now, and no shop is turning out cooler rides than Miami's Classic Motors.
The 1984 FJ 43 Land Cruiser in Venetian Blue.
Nelson Calle has loved cars since he was a boy growing up in Colombia, and long sought a way to turn this obsession into a business. W ith Classic Motors, his Miami shop, he has found a path. After restoring a few vintage Toyota Land Cruisers with his brother Juan for personal use, the Calles decided to go professional, repairing and selling the upright and rugged, all-wheel-drive, Jeep-like vehicles, which were produced from 1960 to 1984.
“In 2012, we realized that these cars were still very much in fashion, and there was a lot of enthusiasm around them,” Calle says. “So we decided that we wanted to do a ver y nice restoration and send it to an auction.”
That first car took longer than expected, but it sold well, for $60,000. “That process was like getting an MBA in restoration,” Calle says. “We made all the mistakes that we needed to make, and more, and still we made a little bit of money .”
The brothers began readying more vehicles for sale. They initially planned to be “purists,” retaining the cars’ spartan and utilitarian ethos. But as their business expanded, they found that their customers desired more creature comforts, so that they could drive the trucks regularly and year round.
Since many of their buyers are in Florida and Texas, the first priority was adding air conditioning. From there, the option list proliferated: upgraded power brakes for shorter and easier stops, a more capable and comfortable suspension for a less jarring ride, a modern Toyota engine and transmission for enhanced power and fuel economy, additional insulation to lower noise levels, bright LED headlights, and even heated front and rear seats for those in cooler climates.
A basic, short-wheelbase, soft-top FJ40 Land Cruiser from Classic Motors now costs around $85,000. But most customers desire a larger, longer-wheelbase hardtop model for greater versatility, and then add liberally from the options list. This raises the average price to around $140,000. Their most expensive sale topped $200,000.
This may still be a good investment. According to the vintage vehicle valuation experts at Hagerty, top-tier FJ40s broke the six-figure barrier in 2015, and seem destined to rise. “Land Cruiser FJ40 values have increased 180 percent over the last 11 years,” says Hagerty communications manager Jonathan Klinger. “For now, they have leveled out a bit. But for the long term, they will continue to go up.”
Classic Motors has completed around 40 Land Cruisers, and feels confident in the market’s growth. “These are cars that were made in a very similar way for many, many years. So they’re recognizable not only for the hobbyist, but for somebody that had one, or even had contact with one at some point,” Calle says. “They are a global icon.”