Contributed by Gary West
Here Be Dragons…..Sail A Wise Course
Without painting the vintage and classic car world with too broad a brush, it seems there are two distinct paths enthusiasts have chosen to enjoy the hobby.
The first is the buying and selling of vintage and classic cars for pure profit. It seldom involves the joy of driving the car so much as it focuses on flipping it for a fast buck. No different than doing the same with coins, art work, houses, etc. Buy low, sell high. We'll ignore that part of the equation because most of us don't choose to drive that line.
Then there is us. We buy what we like, fix them, restore them, drive 'em, show 'em and, if we ever choose to sell them, we hopefully enjoy a profit. If your Great Aunt Millie kicks and leaves you 1500 shares of Berkshire-Hathaway, you're probably not concerned with the profit margin aspect of the vintage car hobby. For the rest of us the prospect of profit is icing on the cupcake and very appreciated. While an end-game profit shouldn't be guiding motivation in the selection of an inexpensive vintage or classic car, it certainly should enter into the formula. (FYI. If you have earned or acquired wealth, your college knows this. My college, the Aklawaha Junior College for the Torpid (Home of the Fighting Paramecium) has monitored my age, nearing 70, and are now calling and e-mailing once a month to remind me to remember them in my will when I finally make it into the Great Pit Stop in the Sky.) Anyway, occasionally, possibly once, I was asked what presently inexpensive cars would have a modicum of a chance to appreciate in value over the next several years and yet still deliver the fun of ownership. The Roman philosopher Flirkingschmit once said “….all questions have correct answers.” Not that one, boopie.
Below are cars that I THINK have a chance of increasing in value plus are fun to own and drive. As the title says “Here Be Dragons”, navigate these waters at your own risk. If you read this article then rip the seams out of your financial boxer shorts based on what I've written and haven't done your due diligence then P.T. was right. Using conversation and observation, here are cars I THINK might provide a pleasant surprise sometime in the future. In all cases, buy manual transmission cars whenever possible. Leave the slushies to grannie. ‘Member, this is my opinion, it's free and that's what it's worth. Your mileage may vary. This is a budget hunt, we're not here to out-Gate Bill Gates. OK, grab the keys, let's go.
From the Land of the Rising Sun. A very few Japanese cars have risen to big buck auction status, notably the Mazda Cosmos and the Toyota 2000GT, the rest are used cars and thus obtainable. Of these cars a few are beginning to shine their light and show promise such as the Datsun 240Z – 280ZX series and includes the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo. Mazda RX-3 and RX-7 are both interesting cars and fun drivers that are firmly in the hard to find category. Many 7's have become race cars and that has culled that herd. In the case of the 3, they were just cars and treated as such. The remaining few are worth a look. Will the Miata ever be worth more than you paid? Probably not as they made millions of 'em but they're cheap to own and fix, hard to break and let you channel your inner F1 driver without alerting the local carabinieri. Everybody should own one. Buy 'em by the sack full.
The Acura NSX is starting its trip up the financial strength-meter. For years this car was snubbed like the Dino. Now it's coming into its own. One of the hardest of Toyota's most desirable cars to find is the Supra. Most have been modded, pimped, slammed or are toting a wrecked/rebuilt title. Choose carefully, grasshopper. A stock, unmolested, maintained Supra Turbo is Christmas. For reasons unknown to me the Toyota FJ40 bring enormous sums and I don't get it. However I'd like to be the 1st person to bring an old but pristine Izuzu Trooper to auction……if I can find one. I'm lookin'. Call me but remember, I'm cheap.
What opportunities come from Germany? Alles ist gut! If you own an air-cooled or water- cooled boxer engine Porsche, hold on to it. It's a winning lottery ticket. Other Porsche's? Try the 914 1.7 and 2.0 4 cylinder. Slow but fun and not a budget breaker. The 6 cylinder 914's have, like a Delta rocket, left the earth's atmosphere. 924 and 944 get no respect and that's too bad as they're bloody good cars. Find a nice one and snicker. Feeling lucky? Wanna drive a super car? Find a 928. Drive it til it breaks then leave it by the side of the road as the repair parts cost will crush you. While it runs it's a sweet heart. There was a moment in time when the 930 Turbo Whale-tail (the supreme ultimate in badassery) was within reach. No more.
Out there, somewhere, are VW Type 3's. The old Fastbacks and Squarebacks. The car nobody knows. Be nice to find one. Be first. Ever think those millions of air-cooled Beetles and hippie vans would start to come into their financial own? Astoundingly and to the surprise of everyone, they are. Check out the Sports Car Market magazine auction results and price guide. Then clutch your heart. Those little air-cooled rolling roadblocks are starting to be worth bucks. Who da thunk it? Find a Westfalia camper and enjoy.
Are you a BMW lover as I am? Find a Z-3 manual transmission car, they're still low dollar. Fun stuff. Want to own the car considered the best German car ever built EVER? BMW E-39 M5. Prices are high as is the thrill level. If not that then the E-39 540, manual transmission flavor. You'll thank me.
English cars? For whatever reason the MG-TD/E (the car that started it all), in reasonable shape, are screaming bargains. Their spiritual successors old Mini-Coopers, TR-3/4/5, MGB, Bugeye Sprites, MG MkII, etc are within reason if that floats your boat. Lots of old timey, string-back driving glove, tweed cap fun and there are many, many clubs devoted to the cars of Jolly Old. Everybody should own an English sports car at least once in their life if, for no other reason, than to tell first hand Lucas Electric jokes.
Volvo: All old Volvo's are cool in a quirky sort of way. Love P1800s but the world is taking note of their fun level. Find a 444/544 and be the only one on your block. Speaking of quirk, do you have a Saab 3 cylinder, 2 stoke squirreled away? How about a Citroen 2CV or a DKW?
There are things secreted away in neighborhood garages that would flabbergast. I reside in an average middle class suburban ‘hood. No big whoop. Last year, out of curiosity, I did some garage snoopin' just to see what was stashed. I found the following: restored 1966 Corvair convertible, 3 1980's Husqvarna motocross bikes (same garage), nice driver quality Jaguar XK-E, 1956 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL being restored, 30 year old BMW R100rs, 1955 Ford T'bird, 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk, several Corvettes and a VW Type 3. And this is just what I saw riding my bike around the neighborhood on a Saturday morning. I'll bet things are no different where you live.
American cars; Not my level of expertise but that's not a bad thing. We all know that American iron is considered highly collectible, just watch a Mecum or Barrett-Jackson auction. All American muscle cars, Chevy 55-57, Mustangs, Mopar, ‘vettes, et al have gone from affordable to investment grade. Let's look for affordable American cars that can be daily driven, taken to a Cars and Coffee, be relativity unusual and, with luck, embarrass your kids.
Let us start with that bastion of weirdness, AMC. How 'bout a Marlin? Or a Pacer, your terrarium on wheels. A Javelin, a Gremlin? Whatever you pick, you won't meet yourself at the traffic light. AMC danced to a different automotive drummer.
Ford: If you can find one and desire bang for the buck, a third generation Mustang 5.0 with the manual is worth the search. A bit crude and don't nail it in the rain. The eleventh generation Thunderbird? Could be but I'm a sucker for retro styling.
Chevy: So many of Chevy Camaro, Chevelle, Chevy II, Corvette of all flavors have passed into the collectible realm that I can't find one that could possibly be affordable now and still possess a financial upside. These cars are popular for one unarguable reason, they're cool. I'll take a Nomad wagon, por favor.
Chrysler products: No bargains here. Wish I had my Plymouth Barracuda Formula S back but I got totaled by a teenie in a Cadillac and shafted by the insurance company. Shades of the Blue's Brothers. Buy an ex-cop car. They're cheap, well-maintained with lots of heavy duty parts. And let's face it, if you leave the take-down light, the dog dish hubcaps and the black walls on the car, there is a cool factor involved. Just sayin'.
Ultimately, buy what you want and enjoy it. Words of caution, be careful of “bitsa” cars (bitsa this, bitsa that, and soon the car isn't how it was born.) It's the Eleventh Commandment to have someone knowledgeable do a pre-purchase inspection before you commit your loot and start moving toward that seductive automotive light. In the case of all old cars, beware of tin worms and chrome gophers…..they dine when you're not looking. On some 1980's GM products you can hear the rust rodents at work on a quiet night.
This is in no way a to-do list of automotive financial opportunities, just a gathering of my thoughts on the subject.
Good luck….and if that Pacer you bought fetches $3 million at auction, remember me in your will.
Just for giggles, here's a picture of a “Cyclops” which was an imaginary car designed by a humorist named Stan Mott. He also created “Pignatelli Racing” which was a fictitious race team made up of disgruntled Ferrari mechanics and members of the Sicilian Mafia.