The collector-car market is white-hot, especially when it comes to 1960s American cars, with some high-end Chevrolet Corvettes, Plymouth ’Cudas and Chevy Camaros selling for prices one would typically associate with a single-family home, not something that would merely fit inside its garage.
In Scottsdale, Ariz., in January, a series of vintage car auctions sold more than $200 million in collector vehicles, including more than $111 million alone at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction. Prices smashed records with former race driver and car builder Carroll Shelby’s personal 1966 Cobra fetching $5.5 million.
While intimidating — and downright scary — to the average buyer, Bob Varsha, who anchored Speed TV’s 40 hours of live Barrett-Jackson TV coverage is quick to reassure car lovers of the bottom line.
“You don’t have to spend $1 million to get a really cool car.”
There are still bargains aplenty to be had out there.
There are numerous cars in the sub-$50,000 price range that can deliver a tremendous amount of bang for the buck and a lot of pleasure for their owners, but don’t require a second mortgage.
For that kind of money, a buyer isn’t going to get a restored 1970 Plymouth Hemicuda or a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette with a 427 cubic-inch V8. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun with a very presentable set of wheels.
The first task in searching for an older car, says Barrett-Jackson Chief Executive Officer Craig Jackson, is to set your personal priorities before you begin shopping.
“What are your goals and objectives? What do you want to use the car for? Do you want a Sunday driver for the weekend, a car that you drive daily, something that will appreciate in value . . . or do you want creature comforts like a restomod (an old car with modern amenities)?”
If you assess what you want ahead of time, it’s easier to make the right choice and avoid a costly mistake.
The bottom line, though, is whatever you choose, buy it for love, not in the hopes of a financial windfall.
“The worst thing you can do is buy a car and hope it’ll go up in three months, six months and then something changes,” said John Bemiss, consignment director for the Scottsdale-based auction house Russo and Steele.
“At least if you’ve got something out there that you really dig, it doesn’t really matter. Every time you open the garage door, you’ll be happy to see it.”
There are no sure bets, but if you’re in the market for a fun classic with some upside financial potential and aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few suggestions:
Craig Jackson likes Mustangs, which were popular and plentiful in the 1960s and still are today. “I always try to say for first-time collectors, get something like a Mustang . . . They’re simple and if they break, parts are very, very readily available and not that expensive. Just about anybody can work on them.” With a wide range of body styles and engine choices, there’s quite literally something for everyone in any price range.
Made from 1968-‘70, the two-seat AMX was a niche muscle car, one perfect for owners willing to think outside the box. The AMX became a four-seater in 1971. “There are still some great AMXs that are available between $25,000 and $50,000,” said Dave Kinney, author of the quarterly collector car price guide Cars That Matter and a professional appraiser of vintage cars. “American Motors cars are going to do better than the market, because they haven’t seen the upswing in the market that the others have. They are kind of the forgotten stepchildren.”
Available with a V8 for the first time in 1963, the sporty version of the mom-and-pop Falcon, the Sprint was light, nimble and quick, a popular rally racer back in the day. “The Falcon has a great club race history, especially in Europe,” said Kinney. “Not everybody remembers that the Mustang was just a Falcon with a special body.”
Made from 1986-‘89 as coupes (GTB) and targa tops (GTS), the 328 evolved from the 308 model immortalized by Tom Selleck in the old Magnum, P.I. TV show. “Ferrari 328s have gone up 20, 25 percent in the last year and I still think there’s some room left,” said Russo & Steele’s Bemiss. “The only thing that holds those cars back are the maintenance costs. When you buy one of those cars, you want to be sure to get maintenance records so you know it’s been maintained properly.” The editors of the influential collector car magazine Sports Car Market call the 328 “one of the finest Ferraris you can buy for under $50,000.” Jackson, however, is more cautionary because of Ferrari’s extreme complexity and maintenance costs. “Parts will eat you up,” he said. That’s also a factor with many rare exotics and imports that might otherwise seem like a bargain.
Historically, the muscle cars — generally regarded as (but not strictly limited to) high-performance two-door American models built between 1964 and ’72 — that have fetched the most money are original, documented examples of those with the largest displacement, highest-horsepower engines offered in the late 1960s and very early ’70s Boss 429 Ford Mustangs, just about any Chrysler model with a 426-cubic-inch “Hemi” V8, Ram Air IV Pontiac GTOs and the like. But buyers willing to opt for smaller engines in the same bodies can be rewarded with an excellent driving experience for much less. “Small block Camaros (302-350 cubic-inch) are a lot of fun, said Bemiss. “They’re not going to go down in value any. They’re just a lot of fun to drive.” And if you want to save money, buy a small-block car with a replacement engine, which might knock 25 percent off the price. “I’m a big fan of finding cars that you know have replacement (engine) blocks,” said Kinney. “If you just want a car to drive and have fun with, why not get one with a replacement block from the same era?”