Classic Car Values: It's Worth What Someone Pays For it
When you're laying out your hard-earned cash for a new car, you can be fairly confident that you're either getting a decent deal or you're being screwed over. Invoice price -- and even things like holdback -- are readily available on the internet. The price for vintage cars, though? There's really no such thing as a single source for hard and fast value, especially when two rich guys get fighting over one car at an auction. It's a combination of numbers, and even then, there's no guarantee they're correct. Here's a primer on how we come up with a best guess when we're shopping for our own vintage cars. eBay
In the early days, eBay caused a lot of acceleration in the price of vintage cars. But consumers became more familiar with it, and more familiar with deadbeat bidders and recalcitrant sellers. It started to become a valuable tool for evaluating an average price for a vintage car, truck or motorcycle.
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You can start getting a rough idea by just looking at what people are asking in the auction listing. But if you have an eBay account with a username and login, you can do an Advanced Search, that allows you to see completed results. Getting as specific as possible, you can even get a fair range of completed auction prices for cars in your region.
Live Auction Results
Auction results from a Camaro that sold at Barrett-Jackson at 8:00 pm EST on a Saturday night in Scottsdale, Arizona have absolutely nothing to do with what a Camaro sells for in Duluth, Minnesota on a Tuesday afternoon in February. But if you look at auction results in aggregate, they can start to provide some kind of a picture about what a car is really worth.
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This requires some manual labor on your part, though. Most of the more respectable auction houses post results after the auction. Some have a search tool that allows you to search for specific year, make and model. Over time, these results can start to paint a picture of what a car might be worth.
Keep in mind, though, that even the auction estimates provided by "experts" in the classic car field are usually wildly off the mark.
For generations, valuation tools have been worth no more than the paper they're printed on. They used to be generated based on auction results and dealer sales, and printed maybe four times a year. By the time they got to your hands, they were out of date and either wildly inflated or vastly behind the curve of a surge in interest.
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Some valuation tools are getting better, though. We really like the tools offered by Hagerty Classic Car Insurance, for example. Hagerty is in the business of insuring vintage cars. For the most part, they'll agree to a value to which you want to insure your car, but their underwriters aren't stupid. To a large extent, they know what cars are worth, and the value at which they're taking too high a risk. Recently, Hagerty has taken to giving this data away in the form of easy-to-read valuation reports at its website.
Some of the best vintage car deals we've seen come from internet forums with an enthusiastic audience. There's a forum for every kind of car imaginable– from Abarths to Z/28s. Generally, all of them have some kind of a classified section. Some of those classifieds are open to members only, meaning you'll have to register to see them.
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Some forums offer commenting on classifieds and some do not. Those that do are a rich source of information on reasonable pricing. Even those that don't still have active forum members that can help you determine whether or not a car is priced where it should be, if you're willing to ask privately.
None of this helps when you're looking at one specific car, especially when you take condition into account. Condition is insanely subjective. One guy's "all original" is another guy's "refurbished," and a #2 car is totally in the eyes of the beholder.
If there's one thing to think about when trying to evaluate a classic car, it's this: Does it bring you that much value in happiness? A $4,000 car can make you absolutely miserable, a $230,000 car can give you chills every time you slip behind the wheel, and the exact opposite can be just as true. Buying cars based on speculative value is a fool's errand.