As with any type of collectible, start by choosing something you like.
Whether it’s for investment or sheer enjoyment, owning one or more vintage cars can be a far more engaging pursuit that, say, collecting paintings, figurines, or wristwatches that simply sit on a shelf, hang on a wall, or are stashed away in a safe deposit box. Sure, you can amass a portfolio of safe and sane stocks and bonds with your excess income, but you can’t take those overblown Tesla shares out for a quick spin on a perfect summer afternoon behind the wheel of an important part of automotive history.
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Fortunately for those looking to get a little skin in the game, prices of collectible cars at auction largely remain stable and have dipped in some segments the last few years. That follows a major run-up in values earlier in the decade sparked to some degree by Baby Boomers snapping up the vintage 1960’s and ‘70’s muscle cars they prized as youths.
Sources say prices have become especially soft on some of the market’s costliest examples, including such iconic rides as the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, Jaguar E-Types, Ferrari 275s, and Ferrari Daytonas. Conversely, interest is accelerating with regard to modern collectible cars from the 1980’s and ‘90’s. With the exception of the usual top-dollar suspects from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche, models from that era remain affordable, with the sub-$40,000 market said to be the most active segment these days. In particular, vintage pickup trucks and SUVs are emerging as bona fide collectibles, especially among younger buyers, with many prime examples going for well under $10,000.
Here’s six quick tips to adding a vintage vehicle to your portfolio for fun and/or profit:
1. Buy What You Like
The number one rule here is the same as it is with any other type of collectible, namely choose a particular vehicle more for its personal and emotional appeal than strictly as a venue for profit. Pursue a model in your price range that you’ll enjoy driving and owning, whether it’s a 1950’s Chevy pickup truck, a low-slung Triumph Spitfire sports car from the 1960’s, or a 1980’s Ford Bronco SUV. The logic here is that even if the car never takes off financially, you’ll still have gotten your money’s worth in terms of its emotional value.
2. Do Your Homework
As is the prudent course of action when shopping for a daily driver, don’t fall in love with the first comely model that catches your eye. Some cars that have great visual appeal may not necessarily be worth their asking price. Search the Internet, especially auction results from top houses like Mecum, Barrett-Jackson, and Auctions America, online vintage car valuation guides, and private listings to help estimate what a given make and model is worth. Contact local enthusiast car clubs to help find owners selling specific makes and models on your radar. Always buy a collectible auto from a reputable source, and avoid buying or putting a deposit on one sight unseen, especially via a listing on eBay, Craigslist, or other outlet where car-selling fraud can be easily perpetrated. If you do choose to buy a vehicle out of state from a trusted seller and have it transported to your garage, it’s best to arrange for a neutral third party (say, a lawyer or banker) to hold the funds and signed title until the sale is finalized to protect both parties to the transaction.
3. Buy The Best Car You Can Afford
Collectible car experts suggest avoiding models that need an excess of work or are otherwise punctuated by more question marks than exclamation points. Having a vintage vehicle restored or even repainted can be an excessively costly venture, and don’t even think of doing the work yourself unless you’re especially adept at repairing and refreshing old cars. As is the case with buying any used vehicle, give any model under consideration a good test drive, and be sure to have an expert mechanic check it out to ensure you’re getting exactly what you’re paying for. At that, make sure the technician you choose is well versed in the peculiarities of the particular genre of vehicle in which you’re interested and knows how it should be maintained and repaired; a 1970’s British roadster is largely different mechanically than, say, a 1970’s American muscle car.
4. Pay Attention To A Vehicle’s History
Make sure any classic car you’re considering is well documented, with proven provenance (its history, to borrow a term from Antiques Roadshow) being a major asset. Look for a direct paper trail that starts with the automaker and ends with the current owner, and ideally includes the original window sticker, sales contract, the owner’s manual and other paperwork that came with the car, along with copies of titles and bills of sale.
Keep an eye out more for originality than popularity – the fewer numbers of a particular model built or the rarity of a certain option combination included with a given vehicle, the greater its worth to collectors. Research the manufacturer’s production figures for a specific vehicle you’re considering, with limited numbers being the most potentially profitable down the road. Unless it’s otherwise trashed, having as much original equipment as possible – seats, badges, radio, etc., is best. Likewise, the fewer original miles registered on the odometer (especially if it’s verified by the aforementioned paper trail), the better.
5. Have The Car Properly Insured
Most mainstream auto insurance companies will cover collectible cars, as will specialty carriers like Hagerty. However, don’t expect your current auto insurance policy to cover a vintage car’s full market value. You’ll need specialty collectible car coverage that stipulates a guaranteed value or agreed-upon value policy that establishes the vehicle’s worth up front. A standard policy will only cover a vehicle’s “book value,” which could mean little more than salvage status for an older car.
Collectible car insurance is surprisingly affordable, but it comes with myriad restrictions, the most significant of which is that the vehicle can’t be used for an owner’s daily commute. Such policies typically require there be at least one “regular use” vehicle in the insured’s household. Also, insured classic rides can’t be parked on the street or left sitting in a driveway under a tarp, but rather kept in a garage when not in use. What’s more, many companies restrict the number of miles a classic car can be driven in a given year, though that’s usually sufficient for modest weekend excursions. Some policies will boost a car’s insured value by a set percentage annually to help offset appreciation, or will cover the subsequent increase in value for a model that’s undergoing restoration.
6. Enjoy The Ride
Finally, no matter how much you paid for it, don’t treat your new old car like a museum piece. Even when a vintage model is stored properly, it will tend to deteriorate over time if it’s not driven. You’ll need to “exercise” a classic vehicle now and again to keep it in shape. Experts say the best thing you can do for a coveted collectible is to take it out of mothballs and put it through its paces on the open road when conditions allow. There’s simply no other investment that affords that degree of gratification.