December 31, 2003
by Jim Kerr
If you enjoy restoring old cars or building custom cars, summer is the time for cruising. Winter is time for working on your project or seeking out another one. There are many collector car auctions or speciality dealers where you may find your dream car. Some buyers search out private sales, thinking they may be getting a better deal. Regardless of where you buy, determining the vehicle’s value before you buy is a critical part of any sale.
Ask most collector car owners what their car is worth, and you will get a wide range of answers; anywhere from reasonable to ridiculous. “Priceless to me” is one of the better answers I have heard and it perhaps better reflects the true value more accurately than any other answer. A vehicle is only worth what someone will pay for it. To determine the true market value, an accurate appraisal by an independent automotive appraiser may be the best solution.
The true market value depends upon many factors. Body type, condition of the vehicle and the popularity of the vehicle when new are major factors to be considered when placing a value on it. Body type refers to whether the vehicle is a convertible, two-door or four-door model. Generally sportier models have a higher value and convertibles always seem to command a minimum of $2000 over a two-door even in the lower price ranges.
Condition of the vehicle plays a large roll in determining its value. Standards have been adopted by many antique dealers and value guides to rank the vehicle condition from a one through a six. A one rating refers to a vehicle that is in excellent condition with all parts restored to original quality and the vehicle is not driven. Only show cars fall into this category. Drive it and the vehicle automatically falls to a number two rating.
Many special interest vehicles fall into the three or four category. These are in “very good” or “good” condition. They may be older restorations showing some wear or good amateur restorations. No work is needed to make the vehicle and its options operational.
Vehicles classed as number five condition are complete ones which require full restorations but do not have to be running. Those rated number six condition are suitable only for parts. A complete description of these classifications and the listed U.S. value of thousands of special interest vehicles is published monthly in a magazine called the Old Car Price Guide. The values are determined by the actual selling prices of vehicles at classic car auctions, reported private sales and input from automotive experts.
When an appraiser rates the condition of a vehicle, the underside is checked as closely as the outside. To rate as number one condition, the brake, steering and suspension systems must all be rebuilt to original standard and the finish of the underside of the body and all attached parts must be the same colour and texture as original. The electrical system must be fully operational and the powertrain must operate without noises or leaks. The vehicle body, paint and glass must be in new condition. Any items that appear worn, do not function or are not original will lower the vehicle’s value.
One local vehicle appraiser says the hardest part about setting the value of a vehicle is “telling the customer the four-door sedan he spent $10,000 restoring is only worth $3,000″. The car might have a high sentimental value and personal reasons could justify spending large sums of money on it, but this doesn’t increase the appraisal or market value of the vehicle.
Modified cars such as hotrods and race cars are valued mainly by the components installed and the overall function and appearance. Popularity when new directly reflects on the vehicle’s popularity and value now, and some of the more popular hot rods are selling for higher prices than the same car in restored condition.
A vehicle did not have to sell in high numbers to be popular. A good example is the early Corvette. Only a few thousand were sold yet the cars were and still are very popular. Many auto enthusiasts dreamed of buying one when new but sales were limited by the practicality of the car having only two seats.
If you are one of thousands who are considering spending money on a special interest vehicle, determine the value of the finished vehicle first. It costs very little more to redo a more desirable model and the finished value will be much higher. However, great satisfaction can result from restoring a vehicle if it has special meaning for you. Just don’t expect to get your money out of it when you sell it if the model isn’t popular. Fortunately, it is these varying interests that make the car hobby so interesting for all of us.