Collectors often purchase classic cars for enjoyment. But the right collector vehicle should also be treated as an investment. Whether you’re looking at buying the car you fantasized about as a young adult or simply the fastest car on the market, the classic car market can be complex and often intimidating to first-time buyers. You may have questions like:
In a recent conversation with Steve Linden, a 25-year classic car appraiser, Jessie Spigel, Chubb specialist who advises clients on how to protect their classic car collections, asks some beginner collector’s most pressing questions.
Senior Risk Consultant, Fine Art & Collections Specialist
Experienced classic car appraiser
As a baseline, I look at the condition of the vehicle and the options, as well as VIN Tags, cowl tags, and data plates that were affixed to the vehicle by the manufacturer. I confirm that the owner has proper documentation.
That depends on the variety and type of collector car. For a 1960s or 70s performance car, having original parts or using OEM parts during a restoration—from the engine or transmission, down to the carburetors, alternators, and other minor components—original documentation such as a Window Sticker, Build Sheet, or Bill of Sale, as well as factory documentation like a Porsche Certificate of Authenticity or PHS (Pontiac Historic Services) documents for a Pontiac can all add value.
In addition, judging sheets by a recognized sanctioning body, a robust collection of service and/or restoration documents, and a known ownership history, particularly if the vehicle had one, or very few owners, are also important. For other types of collector cars, such as 40s and 50s American production cars, condition is the primary determinant of value, as originality is often impossible to authenticate.
Things like sub-standard cosmetic or mechanical condition can lower the value of a collector vehicle. If originality is directly related to value, missing, altered, or reproduced documents, tags, or stamps can decrease the value of the vehicle, as can the absence of documents to transfer ownership.
Ideally, the vehicle would be driven with care and stored properly when not in use. It should be serviced by a marque specialist or someone acknowledged as an expert in the maintenance and repair of collector cars. A marques specialist is a must for some, such as Ferrari, where potential buyers won’t even consider a car if it was not maintained by Ferrari.
The collector car market has been healthy 10 years or more, with many collector cars’ values outperforming other alternative asset classes. Historically, vehicles that are perceived to be unique in terms of condition, ownership history, or documentation, tend to do well at auctions. If a comparable car cannot be sourced locally, the basic laws of supply and demand apply, and this often results in record sale prices.
Values of vehicles in virtually every segment of the collector car market have risen significantly over the past two years. Anecdotally speaking, every classic car dealer with whom I speak is telling me that they “now have to pay for cars, what they were selling them for two years ago.”
Millennial buyers are having a significant impact on the collector car market. They are reaching the age at which they have the disposable income to spend on collector cars.
An old adage says, “If you want to know what the next generation of car collectors will be buying, think of what cars were on posters on their walls when they were kids.” This has proven to be true to a large degree, as Millennials are often interested in “supercars,” and “hypercars” of the 1980s through the early 2000s.
A new segment that also appeals to younger buyers is known as Japanese Domestic Markets (JDMs), or cars that were never exported to the United States when they were new, in the 1990s. They are now old enough that they can be legally imported in the United States. The subset that appeals to these younger buyers include some very high-performance cars , like those featured in the Fast and Furious franchise.
Auction websites that sell collector vehicles have been around for a long time. eBay is a good example of this. However, as the values of collector vehicles have increased, so has the demand for more diligence around the online auction process. Traditional auction houses such as Gooding & Company have expanded into online sales, while several other sites specialize in online only.
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