10 steps to buying the right collector car
Don't buy a car that comes with "excuses'' Look at enough classic cars and you'll run into cars that have stories attached to them. For example, consider a 1966 Chevelle Super Sport that doesn't quite have all the trim pieces that an SS model should have. The owner says something like, "This was an early production car and those items weren't added until later in the year.''
Or an owner claims that the car has original paint, but the color isn't a factory shade: "They only built two or three like this.'' Unless you can find independent documentation for such claims, run from cars like these.
Buy an unmodified car What this means is that your first collector car should look and be equipped as it was when it came from the factory. "People should buy smart, which means get something as original as possible, with the lowest possible miles, says RM's Lobzun.
There is a trend in recent years toward what are called "restomods'' -- cars that look as they did when new, but underneath they have modern engines and chassis modifications. While these may drive better than all-original cars, they don't have the same intrinsic value. When it comes time to sell, a restomod may not bring top dollar, and it may be harder to find a buyer who appreciates the specific modifications.
Don't buy a perfect car This may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but consider this: A perfect car is only perfect as long as you don't drive it. And the point of owning a collector car should be to drive it, because that's where the experience delivers joy. "Some beginners buy an immaculate car and after they get it home they're paralyzed,'' says Barrett-Jackson's McGrane. "If they drive it, they hear every stone chip. It's not an enjoyable thing.''
Buy a car that looks good, and is restored to a good driver quality -- meaning there may be a few cosmetic flaws here and there.
Don't try to restore a "basket case" vehicle One of the great myths about collector cars is the idea that there are really valuable old cars rotting in barns, and a surefire way to make a bundle is to restore it yourself or pay someone to restore it and then sell it. Usually only the person at the shop that does the work can make money on "basket case" restorations. The landscape is littered with cars that have $70,000 in restoration bills but are only worth $35,000. It pays to buy what someone else has already restored, unless you feel you have the time and skills to do it yourself. And for those people Lobzun has two words: Get real. "Most people overestimate their mechanical abilities,'' he adds.
Avoid auction fever Classic-car auctions are great places to find really good cars, and they can be a learning experience. They also can be a place where you get in over your head, caught up in a competition to win the car on the block. To avoid this, research the type of car you want before going, determine the range of values and what you can afford to spend. Then stick to those guidelines, no matter how intense the bidding gets. There's always another car you'll want crossing the block somewhere.
Enjoy your car a nameBuying the car of your dreams is just the start of the collector-car experience. Don't lock your new toy in the garage and polish it. Join a car club, take it to weekend car shows, develop new friendships. Not only will the experience make you a more educated buyer, it will expand your horizons. It's a little-talked-about benefit of owning that terrific car.
Terry Jackson is an automotive expert, journalist and author. He is the former editor-in-chief of AMI Auto World Magazine and has written for dozens of publications, including Automobile, Road & Track and AutoWeek. He has penned six automotive books and evaluates more than 100 new cars each year.