The beauty of owning a classic car is that if you buy it right, your car will only go up in value as you own it. Certain cars are safe bets to be good investments, as long as you know what particular specifications will inflate a car’s value over time. Other cars are doomed to depreciate into the abyss. Here are 5 underappreciated classic cars that, if well-bought, could prove to be a fabulous long-term investment.
Every automotive enthusiast dreams of uncovering cars that have been lost in time, lying dormant under a thick coat of dust. Collectors may actively search their whole lives and never make such discoveries. But every once in awhile, someone opens a garage, barn or warehouse and finds treasure. This video by the Auto Archeologist shows one of these discoveries. The building was filled with an impressive collection of muscle cars, everything from Superbirds to Chargers and more. Now brought back into the limelight, these hidden gems are sure to be restored to their former glory.
This truck had been trapped in a garage in a suburb of western Chicago for about five years after a downed tree cut off access to the garage. We dragged away the tree, rolled the truck out of the garage, and gave it a once over. The truck looked great, original wood and decals were perfectly intact and the frame did not show any significant corrosion. We purchased the truck from the family of the gentleman who had owned it since the early 1980s, who were happy to free up some now-accessible garage space.
We rolled the truck onto a trailer and brought it over to the shop. We cleaned the ignition points and put some fresh gas in ‘er, and she fired right up.
We were so drawn to this truck because of the interesting history of the “Lil’ Red Express”…..in 1978 this was THE FASTEST AMERICAN PRODUCTION VEHICLE FROM 0-100 MPH as tested by Car and Driver. An amazing feat for a vehicle, let alone a pickup truck, with aerodynamics not much better than that of a refrigerator. Because of a loophole in emissions regulations, the 1978 Dodge Lil’ Red Express Trucks did not have catalytic converters. What they did have was a special High Performance 360 C.I. 4-barrel small block (EH1), which was a modified version of the 360 police engine (E58) producing 225 horsepower @ 3800 RPM. The package also included Hemi style mufflers with a crossover pipe breathing through two chrome stacks located behind the cab, a special 727 transmission, and 3.55:1 rear gearing.
We sold the truck to an enthusiast who loves the truck dearly and is in the process of restoring it to its original condition.
We got a call a while back from a gentleman who was attempting to close out his wife’s uncle’s estate, who had recently passed away. He and his wife were trying to get the estate ready for sale when the realtor called and said they needed to get the garage cleaned. The couple then went over to the garage and opened it up, ready to start clearing out old scrap wood and garbage; much to their surprise, the garage was not full of trash but rather two Cadillac Coupe Devilles tucked side by side. The two cars still had the original window stickers on the car! One car had 4,800 miles, the other had 14,000. Both were completely original, well documented, and ran like new with nothing more than a quick tune-up. We were ecstatic to help awaken these beautiful Caddys from their slumber and get them back on the road. We cleaned up the cars and both sold in a matter of days, the new owners thrilled to have such an original, low mileage example.
We bought this XKE from a guy in Michigan who had acquired it with the purchase of an old warehouse. The car was buried underneath broken ceiling tiles and a hefty glaze of pigeon droppings. We were told that the poor Jag had been taken on a storage lien after it sat in annual storage for over thirty years. Luckily the windows and doors were closed when the car was originally parked, so the interior was surprisingly well-preserved. We dragged the car out of the tight nook it had been confined to only to realize that the rear end and transmission had been dropped and stored next to the car. We bolted some caster wheels on the car and rolled it up onto a flatbed. Back at CCC we took inventory of all the scattered parts and got the rear end, transmission, and brakes back on the car. Four carburetor rebuild kits later, we had the Jag purring just as it had the day it was parked. Shortly after the completion of a long and thorough restoration, the car was sold the car to an XKE enthusiast in Sweden.
We purchased this Merc from the original owner, a World War II veteran whose fascination with Mercedes began when he fell in love with the 540K of the 1930s while serving overseas. Years later, back on home soil, he purchased this ‘58 220S Convertible and drove it for a number of years before falling ill. The owner was in the early phases of a restoration of the car when he became ill and could no longer work on the car himself. Knowing that his health was an issue, he decided to let the car go. The family of the owner contacted us and asked if we would like to come take a look. The car was nearby, in Chicago’s Sauganash neighborhood, so we jumped in the flatbed and headed over there. When we arrived, we found the dusty, albeit nicely preserved and largely complete 220S that you see in the photos. The 220S is a handsome car, and we were happy to bring this one back into the limelight.
There has been a longstanding suspicion within the automotive community concerning factory-published power output numbers of the muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s. Read more
Songs may exhaust that first thrill, films may lose their glamour, but the value of a historical car persists through time as no other cultural iconography can, as evident in the decade defining classic cars that collectors, dealers and enthusiasts everywhere remember with a smile of pride and wonder.
From the very first mass-produced automobiles of the early 1900s to the opulent carriages of the Roaring 20s, from the sexy sportscars of the ‘50s to the revolutionary designs at the end of the millennium, vintage and classic cars have influenced more than just car history — they helped define each decade with every revolution of their tires.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, as Henry Ford proved in 1913 when he installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of perhaps the most legendary classic car, the Model T. Selling for less that $300 once the manufacturing process was perfected, the Model T was purchased by more than 15 million Americans, simultaneously employing thousands in Detroit and revolutionizing the industrial business forever.
Known as the Tin Lizzie and named the most influential car of the 20th century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in their 1999 “Car of the Century” competition, the Model T made car history possible by virtually democratizing car ownership for the everyday consumer.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” Henry Ford famously said as he surpassed customers’ wildest dreams with a historic car built for the masses to enjoy.
A railroad mechanic turned president of the Buick Motor Company, Walter Chrysler commissioned three engineers to design a new vehicle that would become the bedrock of his own automobile company — the 1924 Chrysler Six or the Model B-70. Sold head to head against many rival automobiles in the Roaring ‘20s, including Chrysler’s former employer Buick, the first vintage car from Chrysler broke many precedents with its revolutionary designs.
Featuring a new six-cylinder, high-compression engine, the Chrysler Six boasted a top speed of 70 mph, from which it earned its model name “B-70,” and included many other unique innovations, including hydraulic brakes, aluminum pistons, a replaceable oil filter, and more.
“No matter how proud I feel because it bears the name of Chrysler, I never fool myself that I did all this,” said Chrysler on the collaborative effort that went into bringing the historic car and his namesake company to life.
Despite the Great Depression, one luxury car excelled in the ‘30s: the quintessential 1930 Packard Eight. Boasting the sleek front fenders that epitomized the classic car of the era, the Packard Eight appeared in three models — the Standard Eight, Custom Eight and De Luxe Eight.
Though expensive and bearing many of the trademark features of the previous Packard Six, the Packard Eight was powered by an eight-cylinder internal combustion engine, found also beneath the hood of vintage racecars of its time, which helped propel the big, yet elegant automobile into car history.
Conceptualized by renowned automotive designer Harley Earl, the Cadillac Series 62 defined car history in the ‘40s with its unmistakable torpedo shape and roomy interior, easily seating six comfortably. Beneath its elegant bulk, a powerful L-head V8 engine gave the Series 62 up to 150 horsepower as well as a 4-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission, the first fully automatic transmission mass-produced for passenger automobiles.
As proof of its place in car history as a truly classic car, the Cadillac Series 62 was featured in several films and television shows depicting the era, including the TV show Wonder Woman and the 2011 movie Captain America.
Historic cars do more than appear in history — they shape it, as the 1955 Ford Thunderbird did as it launched a new segment of the auto industry as the first personal luxury car. Appearing on a U.S. postage stamp, as well as countless films and television shows, the two-seat T-Bird was the country’s second mass-produced sportscar after the Chevrolet Corvette, though it was not marketed as such.
With a 150 mph speedometer and a sleek design that few automobiles of its time could match, the ’55 Thunderbird quickly gained popularity across the country and even outsold the competing Corvette 23-to-one. Stylish and sporty, the personal luxury car arrived just in time for the consumer culture of the 1950s, securing the Thunderbird forever in classic car history.
As America strode boldly into the second half of the century, nothing lured drivers’ attention like the quintessential muscle cars of the 1960s, of which the 1964 Pontiac GTO was considered if not the first, then the foremost of the class.
According to auto editor Dan Jedlicka of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Pontiac division of General Motors developed the GTO in secret behind the backs of their conservative executives, who feared their consumer base would view the muscle car in bad taste. To their chagrin, the GTO proved wildly successful and was selected Motor Trend Car of the ear in 1968.
Behind the rock ‘n roll and flower power of the 1970s festered a desire for expression and adventure, a consumer trait that gave way to the success of the versatile Chevrolet El Camino. Blending power with personality, the fourth generation of the El Camino, produced from ’73 to ’77, boasted Chevy’s then largest and most powerful engine.
From Almost Famous to Anchorman and more, innumerable depictions of the ‘70s feature the El Camino as a classic car and decade-defining icon that everyone, from car collectors to nostalgic consumers, hold in their minds forever.
From the rise in science fiction and futuristic designs like the illustrious DeLorean, it was clear that Americans desired highs speeds and sleek aesthetics in this decade of many technological advances, and Chevrolet answered the call with its 1984 Corvette C4.
With engine power ranging from 205 hp in ’84 models to 230 in ’85, the C4 provided Corvette with its second-largest production run in history, as well as the return of the convertible Corvette in 1986, making it one of the country’s most desirable sports car by collectors and consumers alike.
“The new Corvette is a truly stout automobile. It is all that the fevered acolytes so desperately wanted their fiberglass fossil to be — a true-born, world-class sports car loaded with technical sophistication,” wrote journalist Brock Yates in the March ’83 issue of Car and Driver, echoing the sentiments of classic car enthusiasts for decades to come.
Though few could afford one of their own, everyone coveted the beautiful body and record-breaking speed of the McLaren F1, which pushed the boundaries of automotive science at the end of the millennium, earning its eternal place in car history.
Influencing nearly every subsequent sports car since its 1992 debut, the McLaren F1 set the record for the world’s fastest production car, reaching 240.1 mph, and remains one of the world’s fastest natural aspirated cars, according to Top Gear Magazine’s April 2017 issue.
“The F1 will be remembered as one of the great events in the history of the car, and it may possibly be the fastest production road car the world will ever see,” wrote journalist Andrew Frankel in Autocar in 1994 of the historic car.
As the new millennium began, the events of the world seemed to race faster than ever, consumer expectations rose to their highest in the technological revolution, and the 2005 Ford Mustang GT provided all that American drivers could demand or desire in a car.
Blending ‘60s muscle with ‘80s elegance, the design team created a cultural icon “up there with the Marlboro man and the Beach Boys,” Ford Group Vice President of Design, J Mays, reportedly said of the historic car. Its 4.6L V8 engine provided up to 300 hp, and sales revved to over 160,000 in 2005 after a decade-plus delay in launching any new models of the classic car.
2012 Tesla Model S
If anyone expected the technological bubble of the early 2000s to burst, they were wrong, as it has only expanded to every corner of the globe, including the auto industry, as Elon Musk’s Tesla Model S proves.
Earning recognition and awards with each charge of its battery, the Model S was the 2013 World Green Car of the Year, the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, among Time Magazine’s Best 25 Inventions of the Year, and Car and Driver’s Car of the Century, among other distinctions.
Though facing controversies on many issues, from range limitation to power consumption and more, this historic car has altered the course of automotive history indefinitely — as has each of these decade-defining classic car icons in their own unique way.
From timeless Formula 1 racecars to vintage American muscle cars and classic drag racing vehicles, motorsports boasts a host of four-wheeled legends that all classic car enthusiasts can appreciate, but it’s the prolific drivers behind the wheel that elevated the cars into true icons. Among the revered history of the sport, many names leap to mind, but five prolific vintage racecar drivers demand recognition most of all for their impact on the pastime and their dedication to the craft.
Born February 15, 1929 in North London, British racing driver and team owner Graham Hill’s rise to the racetrack reflects the same need for speed drivers across the world have felt their first time behind the wheel. According to Formula 1, Hill first tried racing in 1953, taking a F3 car for a few laps around Brands Hatch motor circuit. As the story goes, he then bought a 1934 Morris, taught himself how to drive and finally got his license. He quit his job, collected unemployment and talked his way into a job as a mechanic at a racing school.
There, he eventually met Colin Chapman, an English design engineer, inventor, and builder in the automotive industry, and founder of Lotus Cars. Chapman hired Hill to work for Lotus and, in 1958, when Chapman decided his company was ready to truly test their mettle, Graham Hill became a Formula One driver.
In 1962, Hill collected a World Championship with wins in Holland, Germany, Italy and South Africa racing for British Racing Motors. He is also the only driver to win the “Triple Crown of Motorsport” : the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix
In 1973, Hill created his own Formula One team, Embassy Hill Racing, and raced with the vintage racecar Lola T370 designed custom for the team; but after failing to qualify for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix, Hill finally retired after many years of renown.
“I am an artist. The track is my canvas, and the car is my brush,” he had said about his career.
Inspired by his uncle, a great driver in his own right, Pierre Bouillin adopted the racing name Levegh in memory of his uncle, who had allegedly rearranged the letters of his surname Velghe into a more French-sounding name.
The dedication of Levegh endured far beyond the legendary driver’s career. He had attended every running of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures, as he knew The 24 ours of Le Mans as a young man in Paris, since it began in 1923. He represented Lago-Talbot in four consecutive races (1951 to 1954), including the epic 1952 event. There, at the 24 Hours Of Le Mans, Levegh drove for the duration of the race on his own, and was well in the lead when a gear-shifting error blew his engine minutes from the finish line. Not only did the malfunction cost him the race, but also a place in the record books as the only driver ever to win Le Mans single-handed, though “close enough” has earned him eternal renown in the purveyors of racecar lore. Today, no contestant may drive for more than four hours in six, and 14 hours total out of the event, so no other driver may ever achieve that which Levegh was minutes shy of winning all on his own.
After driving Talbot for most of his career, Levegh drove the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, an iconic 2-seat sports race that Hall Of Fame Formula One driver Stirling Moss called, “the greatest sports racing car ever built — really an unbelievable machine.”
It was in that legendary racecar that Levegh passed away, on June 11 ,1955, during the infamous 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans automobile race, which took his life as well as 83 spectators when an accident during the race launched Levegh’s car into the air and its wreckage into the crowd.
Raised on a family farm in Goldsboro, North Carolina in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Malcolm Durham gained his mechanical experience working on tractors and later employed his skills to accelerate into a classic American rags-to-riches tale of motorsports renown.
Durham began racing in 1957 at Easy Street Dragstrip in Newton Grove with a 225-horsepower ’56 Chevy, a brand he would forever champion throughout his racing career. He even began working as a mechanic for Chevrolet, then in sales, which afforded him more time to race. He campaigned Chevy racecars under his own series of Super Stocks with the moniker Strip Blazer, beginning with a 427-cid Z-11 ’63 Chevy, one of only 57 ever built according to Robert Genat’s book, Vintage and Historic Drag Racers. Durham continued representing Chevy even after Chevrolet and the rest of General Motors pulled out of factory-supported in 1963.
Nicknamed “The D.C. Lip,” a title given to him by his public relations director, Durham was awarded before his death a Lifetime Achievement Award at NHRA’s Hot Rod Reunion, both for his prolific accomplishments behind the wheel as well as for challenging racial discrimination as drag racing’s first African-American superstar.
“Drag racing was and still is very exciting,” Durham said in a 2006 interview with NHRA months before he passed. “I am amazed at the current popularity of yesterday’s muscle cars and the level of participation in the nostalgia racing. Amazing. It says a lot about the growth of the sport.”
Even those who do not immediately recognize the name of the prolific racecar driver, anyone remotely aware of the motorsports culture has seen the lasting impact of Dan Gurney on racing everywhere with the iconic spray of champagne post-victory.
Born on April 13, 1931, Gurney first began racing when, after moving to California as a teenager, he quickly got caught up in the West Coast hot rod scene. At age 19, he built and raced a car that exceeded 130 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats, a timeless destination to set land speed records. He was discovered by Ferrari North American importer Luigi Chinetti who, after watching him finish second in the inaugural Riverside Grand Pix in 1957, invited Gurney to race at Le Mans in 1958.
Gurney was the first of three drivers to have won races in Sports Cars (1958), Formula One (1962), NASCAR (1963), and Indy cars (1967). According to All American Racers, Gurney drove in 312 races in 20 countries in 51 makes of cars (and also winning 51 of those competitions). Perhaps most enduring of all his deeds, Gurney started the motorsports trend of spraying champagne following a win in 1967, after winning the 24 Hours Of Le Mans together with racing partner A. J. Foyt. In that same year, Gurney won the Grand Prix of Belgium in a 416-horsepower American Eagle, which he had designed and built himself, becoming the first American in 46 years to win a world championship in an American car.
“Race driving is a form of brinkmanship, I suppose,” he told The New York Times in 1967. “First you use your judgment to determine where the brink is. Then you use your skill to approach the brink and stay at that point.
A self-described trouble-child from upstate New York, Shirley Muldowney has aptly earned the title the motorsports world has given her as the First Lady Of Drag Racing. Born June 19, 1940, Muldowney earned many firsts in her career, including the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association to drive a Top Fuel dragster; the first person to win two and three Top Fuel titles, with a total of 18 NHRA national events, and Championship titles in 1977, 1980 and 1982; and more.
Muldowney began street racing in the 1950s in Schenectady, New York. When she was 16, she married 19-year-old Jack Muldowney, who eventually built her first dragster for her. She debuted her racing stripes in 1958 on the dragstrip of the Fonda Speedway, forever changing the world of racing with her fiery determination and defiance of gender expectations. She was bestowed such awards as an induction in the Automotive Hall Of Fame in 2005, as well as many more.
Though she pressed in an interview with Hot Rod Magazine in 2009 that her favorite car was the twin-engine dragster she competed in the U.S. Nationals at Indy with in 1970, fans and followers have said that her career truly launched with the purchase of her first nitro car from fellow racecar legend Connie Kalitta. Nicknamed the Bounty Hunter and the Bounty Huntress, the two competed together in the Funny Car racing class with her vintage 1972 Buttera Chassis Ford Mustang.
“A lot of competitors were ugly to me. What they didn’t realize was they were making it worse for themselves. The angrier they made me, the more pissed I was, the better I was in the car. Driving came naturally for me. I was not afraid or unready to deal with the unexpected. That’s where I think I had an edge on some other drivers, the new guys who came along every few years and many of the veterans, too. I could make a decision. Nobody held my hand,” she said to Hot Rod Magazine.
As every parent knows, it’s hard to see your babies grow up, a grim truth that classic car collectors especially understand when debating if their vintage automobile is beyond restoration.
When solving mysteries, sometimes detectives can be too close to the case to discover the clue. Similarly, when determining the value of your classic car, don’t stand so close that all you can see the are the obvious dints and scrapes — you want to step back several to fully appraise its condition. Publications like the “2018 NADA Classic, Collectible, Exotic and Muscle Car Appraisal Guide & Directory” can guide your eye as you determine its worth. From checking for sagging doors to the condition of the upholstery, there are a milieu of factors that contribute to estimating the value of your classic car.
The first step in determining if it’s worth restoring your collector car is going through and fully appraising your old glory. From there, you learn all that is needed to fix, replace or refurbish in order to bring that dream to life. If the full cost of that project far exceeds the value of the full restoration, as well as the joy that you’ll glean from owning a restored piece of history, then that’s the first red light in your noble pursuit.
As every vintage collector knows, a classic car is more than just the shiny chrome product in the driveway — it’s the sum of many different, original, and almost irreplaceable parts. In each vehicle, there are about 30,000 parts, according to Toyota, including everything down to the smallest screws. Though some parts may be replaced with newer or modern pieces of engineering, a truly authentic restoration project requires original parts to be salvaged, discovered or bought — a time-consuming and expensive endeavor.
As you decide whether or not your collector car is worth a full restoration, consider the parts that will be required to bring your dream vehicle to fruition. If you don’t want to spend the time or money chasing parts that may or may not exist, then perhaps it’s best to live another day and dream another dream.
For most classic car collectors, the journey is as much part of the dream as the end result. Understanding the early mechanics of a several decades-old engine, rethreading nuts that had long been stripped by rust, reclining on the concrete to replace by hand brake pads along rotors older than your eldest child — every bit of sweat that spills out is a bit of love poured into the project.
Nonetheless, that’s a lot of sweat. According to several classic car restoration shops, some projects may require over 2000 hours of labor, a commitment most would struggle to make on their own. However, even the most skilled mechanics may need to tap out for some assistance, which doesn’t come cheaply — especially with vintage restorations. If your classic car seems to require more labor than you can afford, it may be a sign to retire your baby before that first bit of sweat falls.
Those in the business of classic car restoration know by heart the fable of George Washington’s axe — though recovered, it’s been through three new handles and two replacement blades, which begs the question, is the resulting weapon still a piece of history or simply a piece-meal tool that’s got a supposed story to it?
With car restorations, the same question comes to mind: if too much of your collector car has been replaced, is the resulting vehicle truly a restored piece of history or no more than an expensive homage to a long-lost time? From the undercarriage to the frame, there are many pieces of metal to that hunk of beauty you call your baby. If too much must be replaced to bring it to full restoration, then you might be better off keeping the memory of what was than creating a shadow of what might have been.
Art can hang on walls, but still the paint will fade. Models may win pageants, but their youth will never last. Collector cars are no different — with each mile it drives, another dollar of its worth ticks off.
As automotive journalist Jacob Clifton writes, “a car is not equity: it’s an ongoing expense.” Beyond the cost of bringing a collector car to full restoration, there’s also the cost to maintain that value you labored tooth and nail to restore. If the costs of parts and labor are already a burdensome expense, consider as well how often you’ll be driving that beautiful hunk of restored glory. If you can’t afford the costs to maintain, on top of the costs to restore it, then perhaps you might as well rest easy knowing you could have brought that dream come true.