Will your car just become another scrapyard eyesore or is it destined for greatness?
The classic car world has been on an upward trajectory in recent years, values have skyrocketed even for models that had previously been ignored by collectors. If you happen to own one of these cars then good for you, but did it happen by luck or by design? And can we reliable predict which models will next be the flavor of the day? These questions essentially boil down to one thing, and that is what exactly defines a desirable classic car?
The definition of a classic car is as varied as the makes and models that this over-used term is applied to. The UK refers to cars built before 1914 as veteran, while those built between the two world wars (1918 to 1939) are vintage. The term 'classic' is often used to refer to just about anything else built after 1945. In the US cars that are extremely old (100 years or so) fall under the antique class and 'classic' is used for the rest. Clearly then, the term is open to interpretation.
Each State too has a slightly different idea of what a historic or classic car should be; the average age seems to sit between 20 to 25 years. If you plan on importing a car from overseas, it will have to be at least 25 for it to be legally licensed for our roads. So, for the sake of some sort of resolution, a classic car can be defined as, wait for it:an older car. But every car gets old so what makes some like this 1957 Chevy Bel Air become a desirable collectors' item while others are doomed to be abandoned in a field slowly sinking into the ground?
This one is a bit easier to answer. The first sign that you may be driving a future investment is if your car is a limited-edition model or had a particularly short production run. We aren't referring to that Accord with the unique paint job but rather to distinct models within a range that may have a more powerful engine or perhaps other desirable options not found elsewhere. Your vanilla 2.3-liter EcoBoost Mustang is not this car, the recently announced Bullitt edition is more like it. As long as they keep the production numbers down that is.
History And Pedigree Are Key Is your car the fastest thing around, does it feature in a popular movie or TV series or was it the first to be offered with a particular luxury or technological feature? These things matter in the world of classics. Maybe not just yet but in years to come when today's kids who used to have posters of your exact model on their bedroom wall grow up, then nostalgia will kick in and you will have yourself a desirable classic. Older classics can see significantly boosted values if they have a successful racing history or have been owned by someone famous in the past.
This is unlikely to be of much help to those looking to buy something newer that will eventually appreciate in value over time, but there are things you can do to newer cars too that will help your chances. Keeping mileages low and making sure that your car is in perfect condition with a spotless service record are two and will make it all the more desirable as it gets on in years. How long that takes depends on a lot of factors but one sure sign is when the value of your old car stops dropping and starts heading the other way.
If you paid $10,000 for that second-gen Buick Regal a few years back and now there are people leaving notes on your windscreen offering you $15,000 to take it off your hands, you have arrived. Please note that this is just an example and your poverty-spec Regal will never be worth more than the amount of gas that's sitting in its tank. The Grand National however, well that may be a different story.
History repeats itself so let's take a look at some older American cars that have turned into valuable classics and see which of their modern counterparts are likely to follow suit. The first-generation Mustang arrived in 1965. Timed perfectly, it created the pony car class and for a generation of Americans was the epitome of fun and affordable performance. Appearances in movies like Goldfinger further fueled the legend, sadly subsequent models moved further and further away from this core formula and failed to recapture the originals magic. This just made these first cars even more desirable over the years.
The latest sixth-generation Mustang is undoubtedly the best effort from Ford in decades, it ticks a lot of boxes to make it one of the most rounded and desirable sports cars on the market. Will any of the current models follow in the original's footsteps? It is too early to tell but keep an eye out for cars like the aforementioned Bullitt and any special editions of the top Shelby GT350. These have the best chance at future stardom.
The first-generation Corvettes from the '50s and the second-gen C2 Stingray coupes are bona fide classics today. Big power outputs, space-age looks and segment-leading technology all played their part. Subsequent models have also risen to desirable classic car status and more recently the 1992 ZR-1 is a desirable modern classic. There are a number of limited editions and one-offs in the Corvette back catalog and this is what you need to look for in the latest generation models too.
If you just bought a brand-new Corvette Stingray it is unlikely that you will be selling it on for a profit anytime soon. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, the 6.2-liter V8 is a peach and you will have a lot of fun in it but it is the pricier, rarer and more desirable Z06 and ZR1 that gearheads will be hankering for 20 years from now. Certain foreign exotics like Ferraris and Porsches seem to go up in value just from the mere fact of getting old. Be careful though as the Mondial (of Scent of a Woman fame) took forever to start rising in value and it will be the first one to drop if the market turns.
Porsche too is not immune from the odd runt in the litter. Boxsters are numerous and cheap in the classifieds, buying one today will be lots of fun but unless it is a rare Spyder you will struggle to get your money back.
But I want a surefire future classic you say. The 911 is perhaps the closest thing to a guaranteed appreciating classic in the Porsche range, the odd one out is the first water-cooled model, the late '90s 996. A fiercely traditional fan base meant that this new car with its fried egg headlights and new-fangled water-cooled motor was not instantly accepted into the fold. Sentiments are changing though and buying one now (preferably a facelifted post-2001 model) should be a rock-solid investment.
That said, few cars turn into a desirable collector's item overnight and you will need patience to see a return on your investment, choose right and you will be rewarded. The good news is, unlike a painting or shares in Microsoft, you will be able to enjoy your investment while you wait for the dividends. Even if you get it horribly wrong and only the sentimentality value increases, you will have done well. Try that with Bitcoin.