17 October 2004

Going, Going, Gone-- A Ten Step Auction Guide

Going to a classic car auction can be rewarding – or a disaster. The best protection for a potential buyer is having a plan. The auction buyer should know what kind of car he wants, how big his budget is and what goals he has in mind for his hobby activities. Here are 10 tips to guide you through an auction purchase:

  1. Buy brand-name cars. You can’t go wrong with a Chevy or a Ford, but even a well-known “orphan” model like a Hudson is a better investment than a Hoppenstand. When a car is popular with many people, you’ll have more people interested in it when it comes time to sell.
  2. Rare cars can be more valuable than common models. Collectors like Duesenbergs because less than 500 were built. But some cars are rare because they were ugly or unreliable. So do your homework. Look for rare cars that have a following in their market niche.
  3. Beauty counts. Car collectors will pay a premium for a beautifully-styled automobile. Cars styled by famous designers are usually great investments. Studying the appearance and proportions of the Classics reveals why they became collectible automobiles. Many have been described as “rolling sculpture.”
  4. Ragtops rake it in. Convertibles and roadsters will generally have the greatest appeal in the collector market. As many professional auctioneers say, “When the top goes down, the price goes up!” Convertibles are sportier, fancier and rarer than most other body styles and these factors count in the collectibles marketplace.
  5. Owner’s pedigree. Who previously owned a car may play into its value. If a 50-year-old car has had only one or two owners, it’s a good sign it was cherished and taken care of rather than traded off like a commodity. If the original owner was Steve McQueen or Princess Diana, it’s a “celebrity car” and may be worth more than the same model without such status. (If you’re buying a celebrity car, make sure the ownership is well documented.)
  6. Clean machine. Buy cars that are in good condition, both cosmetically and mechanically. Originality generally has a positive effect on value, but a high-quality restoration can also add greatly to a classic car’s appeal.
  7. Love, love relationship. Buy collector cars that you love driving. In general, car values don’t zoom up overnight, but tend to hold steady over a long period of time with slow growth. So you should be able to enjoy the machine while it “ages to perfection.” By the same token, don’t wear the car out. Low mileage is a selling point when you decide to sell or trade up.
  8. Dream machines. Most collectible cars start appreciating in value when they are about 20 years old. Hobby professionals say that this is because the people who dreamed of owning these models as teenagers can afford to buy them in their mid-30s to 50s. That is when their income starts growing, their expenses fall (kids out of school, mortgage period, etc.) and they reach a stage in life when their old dreams can become realities.
  9. Group therapy. Collectors are often said to have “old car disease” and they are not alone. The hundreds of clubs that support the hobby also support the collector-car market by allowing hobbyists to “network.” A large club can turn a certain model into a valuable “cult car.” But well-established clubs also help insure against wide fluctuations in value by providing a stable marketplace.
  10. Quick classics. Generally speaking, a car that’s known for going faster than other cars will have a higher value. They may be sports cars like a Jaguar or Ferrari or muscle cars like a GTO or a Road Runner. Of course, you shouldn’t drive such cars as fast as they will go or you’ll wear them out and hurt their value.

This article is by John “Gunner” Gunnell, automotive books editor at Krause Publications, Iola, Wis., and former editor of OLD CARS WEEKLY and OLD CARS PRICE GUIDE.

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