Table of Contents
Cult classics, milestone models and some forgotten imports are among the cars eligible for discounted ‘historic’ registration in Victoria and South Australia now they have turned 25 years old.
A new year means a bunch of cars are now celebrating 25 years since arriving in Australian showrooms.
In 1998, 788,301 new cars, utes and light commercial vehicles were sold in Australia (a record at the time), with the Holden Commodore accounting for 13 per cent of the market on 103,174 sales.
Ford’s Falcon sedan, wagon and ute variants made it an Australian-made one-two at the top of the sales charts with 76,391 examples sold, although the year was disrupted by the debut of the polarising ‘AU’-generation in September (more on that below).
The AU Falcon was not the only new car to launch in 1998 – European sports cars, Japanese off-roaders and even a rebadged US import made it to local showrooms before the year’s end.
To celebrate the cars which went on sale in 1998, we’ve compiled a list of 25 cars memorable cars which launched 25 years ago, becoming eligible for historic or club registration in Victoria and South Australia.
Unfortunately for enthusiasts in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory, the following cars won’t be able to apply for discounted registration until they turn 30 in 2028.
Its model code may have been the periodic element for gold, but the AU Falcon had to settle for silver after it was beaten by the Holden Commodore in the sales charts from its September 1998 debut until it was replaced by the ‘BA’ in October 2002.
Replacing the conservative ‘EL’, the AU Falcon was made with Ford’s global ‘New Edge’ design influence, resulting in triangular headlights and tail lights, rounded body panels and a quirky interior.
The Falcon Forte served as the model’s base variant, priced from $29,990 plus on-road costs with power coming from a 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine, mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
For buyers wanting a V8, Ford charged $46,490 plus on-road costs for the XR8, equipped with a 5.0-litre petrol engine and the same transmission choices as the straight-six grades.
Holden Special Vehicles had been selling the VS-generation Holden Commodore ute under its Maloo performance name since 1995, but the updated Series III in 1998 was to be the final iteration with an iconic engine.
In May 1998, the Maloo 185i was launched, based on the Commodore VS Series III and powered by Holden’s own 5.0-litre V8 engine – the last HSV model to do so before it adopted the General Motors ‘LS’ V8 engine.
HSV charged customers $45,739 plus on-road costs for the five-speed manual Maloo, while those equipped with the four-speed auto were priced from $46,752.
HSV may be synonymous with V8 engines, but the XU6 was introduced in 1998 to give potential buyers a cheaper alternative to its existing models.
Based on the Holden VT Commodore, the XU6’s 180kW and 380Nm came from a supercharged 3.8-litre V6 engine – about 15kW and 93Nm less than the V8-powered Clubsport – which was mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.
The HSV XU6 was priced from $49,800 plus on-road costs – $4700 less than the five-speed manual Clubsport – but the ‘10th Anniversary’ edition started from $54,500, just $1000 cheaper than HSV’s cheapest automatic V8.
Subaru Impreza WRX STI 22B
The Subaru Impreza WRX STI 22B is widely regarded as the Japanese marque’s most sought-after model, with just 425 examples produced with inspiration from the wide-body World Rally Car produced by Prodrive.
Just four were sold new in Australia by Subaru – the car-maker kept one for itself – but owners had to wait months to legally drive their cars on the road, with the company’s local arm having to get special permission from its head office to spend the money complying the vehicles to meet local standards.
The Impreza WRX STI 22B is powered by a turbocharged 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine, powering all four wheels through a five-speed manual transmission.
When it was new, the ’22B’ was priced from $132,000 plus on-road costs, but its cult classic status has led to some eye-watering auction prices, such as this example which went unsold at auction in July 2022 despite bidding passing $201,500.
The E46-generation BMW 3 Series entered production in December 1997, but the first examples didn’t arrive in Australian showrooms until August 1998 with five sedan variants on offer.
BMW’s 318i nameplate continued to open the 3 Series range, with the 1.9-litre four-cylinder petrol model priced from $54,370 plus on-road costs in five-speed manual trim, while the four-speed automatic started at $56,170.
A trio of six-cylinder models were also made available – the 2.5-litre 323i with both manual ($68,720) and automatic ($71,320) transmissions, plus the auto-only 2.8-litre 328i ($86,800).
Mazda’s first-generation ‘NA’ MX-5 set the world alight when it debuted in 1989, and the Japanese brand refined the model with the debut of the ‘NB’ in 1998.
Arriving in Australian dealers from March 1998, the NB didn’t carry across the NA’s distinctive pop-up headlights or its 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, instead retaining only the 1.8-litre previously available as an option.
Priced from $39,800 plus on-road costs, the cheapest MX-5s featured a folding convertible roof and a five-speed manual transmission, while examples with the four-speed automatic incurred a $2110 premium, starting from $41,910.
A removable hardtop was also offered as a $3195 option, providing extra protection from the elements.
Volkswagen’s popular hatchback made its Australian debut in September 1998 after sporadic appearances by the German car giant in the local car market.
The fourth-generation ‘Mk4’ Golf arrived with a $29,780 plus on-road costs price tag for the entry-level 1.6-litre four-cylinder, five-speed manual, five-door GL hatchback – four-speed automatics started from $31,980.
Stepping up to the better-equipped 1.8-litre GLX set buyers back $34,990 for the manual and $37,190 in automatic guise, while convertibles were also available from $42,390 to $53,590.
The 996-generation Porsche 911 heralded the biggest departure from the sports car’s tried-and-tested formula in years, with its rear-mounted, six-cylinder engine now cooled by water rather than air.
Porsche’s updated 911 was priced from $184,200 in its least-expensive Carrera trim, with a 3.4-litre engine sending power to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. The optional five-speed automatic gearbox was an $8000 option, bumping the base car’s price up to $192,200.
An all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 variant was also offered at a $20,800 premium, while Porsche charged an additional $15,700 for convertible body styles of all grades.
Audi’s S8 arrived in Australia two years after it had launched overseas, becoming the most expensive model from the German marque to be sold in local showrooms.
The all-wheel-drive, four-door, 4.2-litre V8-powered executive car was priced from $219,000 plus on-road costs – almost five times the cost of Ford’s most expensive Falcon.
While the five-door RAV4 made its showroom debut in 1994, Toyota’s city-focused small SUV gained a three-door convertible variant in August 1998, allowing occupants to take off its removable roof to enjoy the elements.
Prices ranged from $26,810 plus on-road costs for the RAV4 base manual grade and $30,750 for the ‘Cruiser’ variant, while the automatic added an extra $2000.
BMW Z3 M Roadster and Coupe
Based on BMW’s Z3 convertible and coupe body stules, the M Roadster and Coupe were powered by the E36-generation M3’s 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine – and they were priced accordingly.
While the flagship Z3 convertible was priced from $89,990 plus on-road costs, the BMW M Roadster and Coupe both started at $137,000 when they arrived in December 1998, about $3000 more than the M3.
Toyota LandCruiser 100 and 105 Series
Replacing the LandCruiser 80 Series, Toyota’s 100 and 105 Series off-roaders brought identical cosmetic updates but the two models were not the same under the skin.
In the off-road oriented 105 Series, Toyota retained the LandCruiser 80’s solid front axle suspension and part-time four-wheel-drive, while the 100 Series was a more comprehensive update with comfort-focused independent front suspension and permanent all-wheel-drive.
Toyota priced the LandCruiser from $47,460 plus on-road costs to $58,820, offering the choice of 4.5-litre petrol and 4.2-litre diesel six-cylinder engines, with five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions on offer.
The range-topping LandCruiser GXV was based on the 100 Series, powered by a 4.7-litre V8 petrol engine and priced from $89,900 plus on-road costs.
Available in Australia from March 1998, the Volvo C70 was the Swedish marque’s flagship coupe, complete with styling by future Jaguar and Aston Martin design boss Ian Callum.
The Volvo C70 was exclusively powered by a turbocharged 2.3-litre, five-cylinder engine which sent drive to the front wheels.
Buyers could take their pick of a five-speed manual transmission for $96,500 or the four-speed automatic for $99,000.
Land Rover’s first foray into Australia’s mid-size SUV market began in March 1998 with the first-generation Freelander, offering buyers who wanted the company’s name a less off-road centric vehicle.
The Freelander was powered by a choice of two four-cylinder engines – a 1.8-litre petrol and turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel – which were mated to five-speed manual transmissions and four-wheel-drive systems.
Two body styles were offered with a three-door convertible and fixed-roof five-door priced from $27,950 and $30,950 plus on-road costs, respectively. The most expensive Freelander was the XEdi grade, which cost buyers $36,950 before on-road costs.
A year after the Forester arrived in Australia, Subaru brought the turbocharged ‘GT’ variant to local showrooms, giving its lifted five-door SUV a hint of Impreza WRX performance.
Priced from $36,990 plus on-road costs, the five-speed manual Subaru Forester GT was $3500 more than the most expensive non-turbocharged grade, although its four-speed automatic option pushed its price up to $38,990 plus on-road costs.
While the engine’s 2.0-litre capacity remained unchanged, the Forester GT’s turbocharger increased its outputs to 125kW and 240Nm, up from the existing engine’s 92kW/184Nm figures.
Holden’s fourth-generation Astra ‘TS’ was the model’s second iteration as a rebadged Opel from Europe, arriving in September as a five-door hatchback only.
All variants were powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with the choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, driving the front wheels.
The Holden Astra was initially sold in two grades: City – priced from $20,900 plus on-road costs for manual and $22,940 for automatic – and the better-equipped CD, which ranged from $22,990 to $24,940 depending on the transmission.
The fourth-generation Passat brought Audi styling on a Volkswagen budget, with the first examples rolling into Australian showrooms in mid-1998.
Volkswagen fitted the Passat with three petrol engines – a 1.8-litre four-cylinder with or without turbocharging and a 2.8-litre ‘VR6’ six-cylinder – with all examples sending power to the front wheels through a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.
The Volkswagen Passat was available in either sedan or wagon body styles, priced from $39,500 plus on-road costs for the cheapest 1.8-litre non-turbo four-door to $56,990 for the flagship VR6 wagon.
The SsangYong and Daewoo Korando is one of the few models to be sold under two different car brands in the same year.
Having initially arrived in Australia as a SsangYong in January 1998, Daewoo bought a majority stake in its fellow South Korean car-maker later in the year, resulting in the Korando being sold under the banner of its new owners from November 1998.
While SsangYong sold the Korando with a 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, Daewoo installed a more powerful 3.2-litre unit into the small off-roader, resulting in price increases of $4650 and $2900 respectively for the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic variants.
This change meant the manual Korando went from $34,850 to $39,500, while the automatic’s price rose from $39,600 to $42,500, all excluding on-road costs.
Alfa Romeo GTV and Spider
The iconic Italian car-maker revived two of its historic nameplates in 1998 when the GTV and Spider were launched, with both two-door models coming to Australia in June that year.
Alfa Romeo sold both the GTV two-plus-two seat coupe and the Spider two-seater convertible with its 2.0-litre ‘Twin Spark’ four-cylinder engines, although only the former was available to order with the more powerful 3.0-litre V6. All engines powered the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission.
The four-cylinder GTV started from $59,990 plus on-road costs, rising to $66,000 for the Spider while the GTV V6 served as the flagship variant with a $75,000 price tag.
Australia’s most expensive car to launch in 1998 was the Bentley Arnage, arriving with a price tag of $545,000 plus on-road costs.
Produced when Bentley and Rolls-Royce were owned by British engineering firm Vickers, the Arnage was equipped with a 4.4-litre BMW V8 engine – with a pair of turbochargers fitted by Cosworth aiding its 260kW/570Nm outputs.
The Daihatsu Sirion was the yin to the Bentley Arnage’s yang, becoming Australia’s cheapest new arrival in 1998.
Priced from $11,490, the Sirion mated a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine to a five-speed manual transmission – with the four-speed automatic as a $1600 extra – but included two airbags, a safety highlight at the time.
Holden’s rebadging adventures didn’t end with the Astra, as parent company General Motors also exported the built-in-Mexico Chevrolet Suburban to Australia early in 1998.
Made in right-hand-drive, the two-and-a-half tonne Suburban was anything but, needing either a 5.7-litre V8 petrol engine in the 1500 or a 6.5-litre turbo-diesel V8 in the 2500 to lug itself around at any reasonable speed.
Holden Suburban 1500 prices ranged from $67,990 to $78,990 plus on-road costs, while the diesel 2500 started at $75,990 and topped out at $86,990.
Subaru Liberty and Outback BE
Subaru’s third-generation Liberty and second-generation Outback made their Australian debut in October 1998, starting a five-year run in local showrooms.
Initially, only the Liberty wagon arrived in Australia (the sedan didn’t come until 1999) while the Outback was exclusively sold as a five-door throughout its production run.
Base model Libertys were powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine ($31,990 for a five-speed manual, $33,890 for the four-speed automatic) but a majority of the variants were equipped with a larger 2.5-litre engine, priced from $37,490 to $43,190 plus on-road costs.
The lifted, two-tone Outback’s base variant started at the same $37,490 price as the Liberty, but the range-topping ‘Limited’ was priced from $43,840 plus on-road costs.
Now-defunct Swedish car-maker Saab launched its ‘new’ 9-3 in 1998, although under the skin it was little more than an updated Saab 900.
Available as a liftback sedan, coupe and convertible, Saab equipped the 9-3 with a choice of two four-cylinder petrol engines – a 2.0-litre and a turbocharged 2.3-litre – as well as two transmissions, a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic.
9-3 sedans varied between $42,900 and $62,000, the coupe was priced from $44,900 to $49,000, while the convertible commanded the highest prices of $65,400 to $86,000, all excluding on-road costs.
Nissan Skyline R34… with a catch
That’s right, the R34-generation Nissan Skyline is turning 25 – but the flagship GT-R doesn’t celebrate its quarter-century birthday until next year.
The Skyline R34 was never officially sold by Nissan’s Australian dealers – only the R32 GT-R was to meet local requirements for racing – but it has since become one of the more popular imports from Japan.
In the 2000s, importers brought over almost any variants of the Skyline they could secure, from the aspirational non-turbo 2.5-litre six-cylinder GTs to the turbocharged GT-Ts.
Both Victoria and South Australia allow owners with imported cars which are more than 25 years old to apply for historic or club registration, providing cheaper fees but with limited driving conditions.