There’s just something special about a classic car that can’t be denied. If you’ve ever read a motor magazine or been to a car show, you’ve probably seen some beautiful vintage vehicles and wondered what it would be like to have one in your driveway. Other days, perhaps passing by a junkyard, you’ve seen classic cars that have been neglected and left to rot, and lamented their loss.
Having seen the good and the bad, though, isn’t the whole story. Classic car ownership can be a fun and rewarding hobby. But should you buy one?
What is a “Classic Car”?
Ask five different people what a “classic car” is, and you’ll likely get five different answers. The Classic Car Club of America’s definition is somewhat restrictive: “a fine or distinctive automobile, American or foreign built, produced between 1925 and 1948.” Other classic car clubs and car shows have looser rules, including unique, rare, special and pedigreed cars of any vintage or type.
Classic cars come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the very first automobiles to 1930s roadsters and pickup trucks, and 1950s and 60s sports cars. Well-known classic cars include original Ford Model T, the late-’30s Mercedes-Benz 540K, mid-‘60s Shelby Cobra and late-‘60s Chevrolet Camaro Z28. Age, of course, is not the only determining factor. Others also can be considered classic cars, such as the Lamborghini Reventon (limited to 20 cars), the beautiful Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, the rare ’05-‘06 Ford GT and Nicolas Cage’s Lamborghini Muira SVJ, confiscated from the Shah of Iran.
Really, what makes a classic car is how it makes you feel. If you have fond memories of the mid-‘90s Ford Crown Victoria or any vintage Subaru BRAT, then, by all means, consider it a classic. On the road, it’ll stand out as particularly unique, and you might be able to enter it in some classic car shows. Purists, though, might poo-poo your favorite ride. At the same time, many people get into classic cars because of their investment value. Classic cars tend to appreciate over time, so buying, restoring and maintaining a classic car might pay off down the line.
Why Buy a Classic Car?
Unless you’ve got loads of cash lying around, you probably aren’t thinking about buying a classic car as an investment. Most buyers are simply passionate about their cars, no matter what it is and who defines it. If you can make money on the investment, that’s just icing on the cake, but owning and driving a classic car is an unrivaled experience that should be the basis for anyone considering a piece of automotive history.
Really, there are two reasons to buy a classic car — passion or investment — but that doesn’t mean you can’t have both in your garage.
- Passionate buyers should buy what they like, something that excites them and something they look forward to driving, maintaining and repairing. Any classic car is going to require a lot of your attention, and if you don’t love it, the more likely it will turn into scrap in a matter of years.
- Investment buyers will want to pay close attention to prices and auction trends, but don’t look for a quick return on investment. It can take years, even decades, to reap the financial rewards of correctly selecting, restoring and maintaining a classic car, if at all.
If possible, do both. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, a couple of well-known car collectors, have hundreds of cars to their name, but they only buy what they love. That way, they’re more likely to take care of them and possibly see some return on their passion. Jay Leno, for example, bought a 1994 McLaren F1 race car in 1999. About a decade later, a similar vehicle sold at auction for more than $4 million, more than five times what Leno paid.
Should You Buy a Classic Car?
Now, one important question remains: “Should you buy a classic car?” Before jumping right in and buying something on eBay or Craigslist or from guy down the street, take the time to determine whether you have the time and money and dedication to buy, insure, maintain, restore, store and drive it. Here are some important things to consider before you take the plunge.
Before plunking down cash or signing a loan, shop around. Cage’s Muira SVJ cost him about $200,000 over the going price for that car, despite its pedigree. Depending on the vintage, you might check Hagerty Insurance, National Automobile Dealers Association, Hemmings Motor News or auction houses for typical values.
Before falling in love with a classic car, take into account its real condition. It might be pristine or need restoration, but a competent mechanic can help you determine what else the car might need. Look for a specialist in classic cars and consider any inspection expense good insurance against buying a money pit.
Insure it Properly
Classic car insurance companies know how to properly insure classic cars. Because classic cars are usually meticulously cared for and driven carefully, they’re usually less expensive to insure, but it depends on what value is assigned to the vehicle. An appraiser will help you evaluate your classic car, after which you’ll pay premiums on the “guaranteed” or “agreed” value. In the event of catastrophic loss, you’ll receive that amount.
Classic cars can’t be left out like a modern car, at least not if you want it to look great every day. Do you have the space to store your car when it’s not in use? Sun, rain, heat, cold, salt, dirt and bugs are all destructive, even more so on classic cars. Also, parts and services may be rare and pricey. Do you have the time and money to keep your classic car looking and running great?
Classic cars can be a true joy to see and drive, but one shouldn’t jump into classic car ownership without properly preparing for the experience.