Investing In Classic Cars

Article by Mark Trotta

Classic car values vary widely by such factors as year, condition, mileage, and others. Subtle differences may have a big impact on price. Investing in classic cars takes more than money. Before you lay out any cash, arm yourself with knowledge.

1970 Chevelle SS

Before looking at today's collector car market, it's interesting to look back on it's history. Just 30 years ago, only car lovers were buying and selling old cars. Today, classic cars are being bought and sold by a wide range of collectors and enthusiasts.

It's important to familiarize yourself with the classic car market so you know what you're getting into. A novice collector may believe that year, make, and model is most important when determining value of a classic car. In reality, it is the condition of the car that is most important.

Rare, Desirable, Or Both

Several factors play into desirability, including year, model, engine, and color combination. High-grade collector cars are typically rare, limited production models. Original components and historical documents also increase an old cars value. Options such as air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, power windows, etc., are nice to have if you're planning on driving the car. They also add value.

Research Your Choices

Almost every car made has dozens of websites devoted to them, with the more popular ones having hundreds. While time consuming and confusing, doing some homework on the Web will help you gain information about the particular year and model car that you're interested in.

Read and Study Classic Car Price Guides

Price guides generally convey reliable information on car conditions and their corresponding values. They also list what different components should be valued at. Modified engines, custom interiors or paint often decrease the value of a classic car. Automotive valuation sites, such as NADA Guides and Kelley Blue Book, are good places to see real data on pricing for classic cars for sale. As the price guide will reflect, every condition is valued differently.

investing in American muscle cars

Buyer Beware

The maxim "paint and chrome sells cars" has been around a long time and still holds true. But what's underneath that fresh bodywork and paint? There's plenty of advertised "fully restored" cars out there that still have the original brakes and suspension!

Classic Car Auctions

Have you been spending hours watching car auctions on TV? Once familiar ground for anyone wishing to purchase cattle or old furniture, auctions are now a huge marketplace for collectible cars. They are places of serious business masquerading as a social function.

investing in classic cars

For the seller, auctions offer the possibility of getting much more than a private dealer would offer. On the flip side, those final auction sales always include a healthy cut for the house. Some auction houses may take 10% from the seller and 10% from the buyer.

Classic car auctions are not the place to start old car shopping. However, they can be used as a barometer for what other collectors have paid for similar cars in similar condition. The best deal for the savvy buyer will always be avoiding the middleman and buying directly from the seller.

Read: Best Oil For Classic Cars

VIN Number and Body Tag Codes

Body tag codes tell you a lot of details about the car. Is the color original? Is the engine original? The seller may not really know, or may be misinformed. If the seller can prove it, matching-numbers cars will always cost more and always be worth more. These cars don't drive any better or faster than a non-numbers-matching car, but certainly make it more valuable.

Documented Mileage

Generally speaking, the less a car has been driven, the higher the value. Low-mileage classic cars are harder to find, but will most likely be in better condition than high-mileage ones. Proof of accurate mileage is a key selling point. Documentation can include repair bills or old registration receipts with mileage figures on them.

Pricing A Classic Car

When you buy a new car, it starts to depreciate the moment you drive it off the lot. But you're buying a new car to be a utility vehicle, to be driven daily and haul goods. A classic car is the opposite. You seldom drive it and (sooner or later) it increases in value.

How important is it to focus on price when buying a classic car? The old adage says that the initial price for a car, house, or any other investment is where the profit is made. But that's not necessarily true when investing in classic cars. When you're buying something that you expect to appreciate, the price is of secondary importance.

investing in classic cars

To gauge what a fair market value for a particular year, make, and model would be, check several sources and average them together. These can include auction results, ebay SOLD results (some "Buy It Now" prices are ridiculous), and local craigslist listings. Assess the car's originality before pricing.

Maintenance Costs

Classic vehicles don't need to be expensive to maintain, but you just don't know what will go wrong with a 50 year-old vehicle. It would be wise to factor in annual maintenance costs.

classic Ford Mustang

Read: Classic Car Tires

Will You Be Driving Your Classic Car?

How many miles a year do you plan to drive the classic car that you bought for an investment? Using it as your everyday vehicle is a bad idea. A rule of thumb is the more valuable it is, the less you'll be driving it.

Classic Car Insurance

Shop around, there's quite a few companies that specialize in vintage and classic vehicles. You will find that, compared to your everyday driver, classic car insurance is inexpensive. Get a few quotes, but don't shop for the best price - it's not the place to save money. Having the right insurance protects your classic car investment.

investing in classic cars

Most collector car insurance companies allow between 500 to 2,000 miles a year of pleasure driving. The most agreed-upon definition of "pleasure driving" is anything except driving to work and racing. Errands like getting groceries and such is usually acceptable. Don't abuse your insurance policy - it hurts other collectors who abide by the rules.

Muscle Car Collectibles

The original American muscle cars, such as the AMC Machine, Buick Gran Sport, Chevy Chevelle, Dodge Charger, Ford Torino, Olds 4-4-2, Plymouth GTX and Pontiac GTO, are highly-sought after by classic car investors. Surviving muscle car models are rare, with certain models commanding prices rivaling vintage European sports cars.

Read: Muscle Car History

The Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, and Dodge Challenger, originally called pony cars, and now grouped in the muscle car category, are also very desirable.


If ever there was a car that was a solid investment, it would be a vintage Corvette with documentation. Produced by Chevrolet for over 60 years, and with seven generations to choose from, there's a Corvette out there for every collector's taste and budget.

Read: Corvette History

Corvette history

Restored vs Unrestored

An unrestored car in the same condition as a restored car is always worth more. However, unrestored cars in good condition are very rare. The days of finding an unmolested SS396 Chevelle in a barn are probably gone. So quality of restoration will most likely be the single most important factor in evaluating value.

Best Classic Cars To Invest In

Properly maintained and restored, classic cars make fair to good investments that appreciate over time, but there is no guarantee. This is why you should follow your heart and invest in a classic car that you are passionate about. Even if the market crumbles, you still have a great old car.

Selling A Classic Car

Unlike stamps, vintage wines, or rare coins, a classic car is not considered a "collectible" investments. When sold, classic cars are taxed as long or short term capital gains.

history of the Tucker automobile

In 2010, a '48 Tucker sold for 1.1 million. In 2012, another Tucker sold for 2.9 million.

Read: Tucker History