Most people know the Prius by its rounded second-generation body, but aficionados will go back to the first generation of the car that was to become synonymous with hybrids. This generation Prius was built from 1997 to 2003, but only sold in the U.S. from 2001 to 2003.
A segment of hybrid fans will point out that the first-generation Honda Insight predated the Prius by a year in the U.S. This model was sold from 1999 to 2006, but never attained the popularity of the Prius. Still, with its unique design and early hybrid system, expect it to appear in vintage auto shows of the future.
The third generation of Toyota's MR2 was built from 1999 to 2007, and has the distinction of being the last Toyota sports car until, well, the next one. The MR2's mid-engine rear-wheel-drive layout makes it unique in the economy sport car set, which is dominated by front-engine, front-wheel-drive cars. The first generation of the MR2 is also worth noting, but as it was from the late '80s, it's outside the scope of our picks.
The S2000 uses the same roadster layout as the Mazda Miata, but, it was only built from 2000 to 2009 in limited numbers and is a rarer car. Collectors will want to distinguish between the first model, with its 8,800 rpm 2-liter engine, and the later 2.2-liter version, with a redline of 8,000 rpm.
The first-generation xB came on the scene with the launch of the Scion brand in the U.S., and was only offered from 2004 to 2006. Its boxy design caused a polar reaction, inspiring both ridicule and love. The second generation of the xB was much more self-conscious in design, whereas the snub-nosed original xB shows an almost lack of style. The Honda Element predated the xB as a goofy-looking utilitarian vehicle, but never garnered the same amount of passion.
The third-generation Infiniti G35, built from 2003 to 2006, marked a major change for the brand, launching new styling, rear-wheel-drive, and the very successful VQ engine series. It was also a rebadged version of Japan's Nissan Skyline. In subsequent generations, Infiniti acknowledged the sport characteristics of this car more openly, upping the engine size and offering sport variants. Ultimately, this era's G35 may prove too subtle for the collector market, but it marks the start of a successful era for Infiniti.
When the 335i first came out, it used BMW's N54 engine, a 3-liter inline six-cylinder with twin turbochargers. As of the 2011 model year, BMW replaced the twin turbos with a single, twin-scroll turbo. The newer engine might be more efficient and produce the same amount of power, but the four-year run of the N54 BMW 3-series should earn it a place in history.
The G8 already has a significant fan base, and can show a number of points toward future collector status. First of all, it is a rebadged Holden Commodore, built in Australia, which gives it an exotic flair. It is also marks the end of the Pontiac brand. And in GXP form, it is a modern muscle car, boasting a 6.2-liter V-8, the LS3 engine also used in the Chevrolet Corvette.
Automotive journalists often praise the station wagon, a body layout that offers utility and sport capabilities. Dodge must have been listening when it launched the second-generation Magnum in 2004. This Magnum lasted until 2008, and brought muscle car looks and power in the utilitarian wagon form. An SRT8 version, with a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8, was offered in 2005 and 2006, and should be the cream of the crop for Magnum collectors. The first-generation Magnum, a very different car built from 1978 to 1979, is also a worthy collector car.
The first decade of the new millennium was extraordinarily tough for Chrysler, but the company did manage to produce the 300C, its most exciting offering for the era. Although showing some retro design, it embodies the spirit of the American car. Similar to its platform mate, the Dodge Magnum, the 300C could be had in SRT8 form. This version runs from 2005 to 2011. An update next year will take away some of the vehicle's design mystique.