Buying and Selling Older Cars
Tips on getting your best deal
Buying a "normal" used production car isn't all that hard. When evaluating it, the checklist is pretty simple and straightforward. Check for overspray that would indicate a repainted repair job. Sight down the sides to make sure nothing has been bent. Listen to the engine for knocks or bearing whine. Do it all right and you can drive away in a car that will serve you well on the daily grind to work. For collectible older cars, however, ascertaining mechanical condition is just the first step in determining whether to purchase or not.
The value of collector cars, whether exotic or muscle, is determined by numerous factors. High on the list is popularity. Even though Corvair Monzas are rare, attractive and an advanced design for their time, they don't have a huge following and sell for peanuts.
To some collectors originality is everything. Although there is some market for customized cars, most collectors value originality very highly. A Corvette that has been repainted in a non-original color will sell for less than an original. A Dodge Challenger with a modern Mopar mill won't bring as much as one with the type of engine it came with. In fact, the highest prices are reserved for "match number" cars, ones with the very engines they were delivered with. That's why a real Hemicuda is worth a fortune, while a Barracuda with a Hemi installed by its owner is worth the same as a used Hemi engine and an engine-less Barracuda.
Veteran collectors also know which original colors were the most popular, and may pay more for cars painted in rare colors than the more common ones. The same goes for options. Very rare options (such as cars delivered without a radio, called "radio delete" models) are prized by some, while others just don't get it. At one time Corvettes were offered with buzzers that would sound whenever the 55 mph national speed limit was exceeded. Needless to say, these were as popular as cupholders in Formula 1 cars. Yet today—you guessed it—having the buzzer is a "big deal" to some Corvette collectors.
Generally, the sportier the model, the more it's worth. A 6-cylinder Camaro will never match the value of a same-year Z-28 in identical condition. The hottest engine packages, like big-block Sting Rays, are the best investments. Ferrari two-seaters always exceed the value of four-seat touring models of the same year, even though they all cost the same when they were new.
Spotting a Fake
Since the difference between a killer collectible and a cute-but-cheap "daily driver" may lie in just a few minor differences, it's not surprising that many base-model cars have been modified to look like a more valuable version. Properly represented, this isn't a problem and may even provide a way for enthusiasts to own a car that looks and drives like their dream car for a fraction of the money.
Hundreds of standard-model 1965 to 1966 Mustangs have been modified to look like very valuable Shelby American GT-350s. These clones may look and drive as well (or better) than an original, but they still sell for a fraction of the money. However, some have been fraudulently misrepresented as an original and sold for way above their true value. Knowing how to tell a fake involves getting to know everything about the specific car you are buying. If you don't know enough to tell, pay an expert to examine the car to make sure it's authentic.
Imitations are not limited to musclecars. Fake Ferraris are very common, with street models modified and rebodied to look like rare race models. The money involved can run into seven figures, so the "payback" on some of these deals can be lethal. For a quick overview of how to buy an older car, here's a rundown of the various avenues, along with pros and cons of each approach:
CLASSIFIED ADS: In newspapers, magazines or online, this is the traditional way to buy cars.
PRO: Less risk. You can see and drive the car before you buy. There is usually time to have the car inspected by an expert or your mechanic. You can drive the car to make sure you fit in it and that it is as advertised.
CON: Time consuming. You will need to take time off to go see the car. You can usually only see one car at a time.
SWAP MEETS: Automotive flea markets are held across the country. Swap meets are best for finding common models.
PRO: Convenient. You can check out a number of cars first hand and haggle for the best deal.
CON: Time consuming. You can spend all day walking the bigger meets and not find a car like you are looking for.
LIVE AUCTIONS: Attending a collector car auction can be fun, but be sure you know what you are buying.
PRO: Convenient. There is usually a good assortment of cars at the bigger auctions. If you get outbid on one, you may find another that suits you just as well.
CON: Higher risk. You have limited opportunities to check out the cars before they hit the block. You are more apt to buy a car that needs cosmetic or mechanical work. You have less time to follow up the history, or provenance, of rare models. Plus, you run the risk of getting caught up in the excitement and paying too much.
ONLINE AUCTIONS: This is newest way to buy from the comfort of your home.
PRO: Easy to search. You can find dozens of collector cars at the online auctions, allowing you to pick from a wider assortment than you would find at a live auction or in your local newspaper.
CON: Risk and pickup. You are bidding on cars you have not seen in person. Disappointment (and outright fraud) is frequent. Plus, the car may be in another part of the country and you will need to find a way to get it home.
Of course, if you are selling a car, much of the above will work in reverse for you. Be aware that if you misrepresent the provenance or condition of a car you are offering, you can be held liable for fraud (and no car is worth going to jail for). The secret to success in buying or selling is knowledge. If you have the knowledge to tell real from replica, or solid from shaky, you can drive the cars of your dreams AND make money doing it!
Live auctions can be swanky affairs. This Le Mans-winning Ferrari was bid to over two million dollars.
This old Alfa was tired but original, and sold quickly at a swap meet.
Non-original modifications (like the wheel flares and customized headlights) hurt the value of this Corvette.
All-original is better. These clean Corvettes were for sale at a swap meet.
This customized pickup is nice if you want a hot rod. It should sell for more than a rough example, but less than a perfectly restored truck.
Rambler Marlins never caught on, and even nice ones like this sell pretty cheap. This is good news if you like Marlins!
This Mustang notchback is clean and sharp. It will sell for more than a custom, but less than the sportier fastback with the hot 289 engine.
This '56 Chevy is pretty, but has non-original clearcoat paint.
Musclecars are big news. Make sure they are original and not just a standard model treated to a stripe kit.
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