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February 28, 2010

News & Features

When picking your first collectible car, do your research and follow your heart

Special to NWautos


Lance Lambert, with his 1940 Plymouth Coupe, advises classic car collectors to buy for love. (Scott McCredie)

Ever since high school, you've driven a practical, utilitarian car that gets you from A to B without too much fuss. But now you'd like to own a car that gets your blood running a little faster, maybe one of those defining vehicles of its era -- a so-called classic or collectible.

Tips for buying
  • • Consider how you plan to use the car: to drive, show or simply store for posterity. Each type of use will dictate the type and condition of car you'll want to look for.
  • • If you want one car that can do all of the above, a "resto-mod" (short for restored-modified/modernized) might be the best choice. These are older classics modified with modern engines and suspensions, which make them safer and more practical to drive.
  • • Do the research. Talk to members of local car clubs to find out about models you're interested in. Consult Sports Car Market Magazine or Hemmings Motor News for prices and descriptions of vehicles. Hire a classic-car appraiser to evaluate a car you're thinking of buying. You could save thousands of dollars and avoid future headaches.
  • • Decide what you can afford. Lambert says good, car-show-ready vehicles can be had for as little as $3,000-$5,000.

How do you go about finding one, how much should you pay and which models are expected to appreciate the most?

To the automobile aficionado, true classic cars are strictly those from the pre-World War II era "that changed the face of design and that stood out for one reason or another, for the caliber of its design or for mechanical advances," says Jim Simpson, a sports car restorer and former car designer for Mazda who lives on Whidbey Island. These include models from Cord, Duesenberg, Bugatti and Packard, and they sell for an average of $1.5 million, Simpson says.

If that's a tad over your budget, or if you want a car you could actually drive once in a while, you'd probably want to look at more modern vehicles.

"The classics that most people identify with are the '32 Ford, '57 Chevy, '59 Cadillac and '40s Fords," says Lance Lambert, a Ballard resident who has hosted a TV series called "The Vintage Vehicle Show" for the past 18 years. Locally, it can be viewed on Comcast channel 889, the Automotive On Demand gateway.

Then there are so-called modern classics: cars that by virtue of styling or performance are predicted to remain desirable in the future and thus appreciate in value. Lambert predicts that the retro-styled Ford Mustangs (2005-09) have a good chance of becoming collectible, as do Dodge Vipers (1992 to present), whose values he believes are "10 minutes from going through the roof."


Ford Mustangs are "modern classics," cars with a good chance of appreciating in value. (Ford)

Simpson would add late-1960s Shelby Mustangs (especially those modified by Shelby); 1963 "split-window" Corvettes; Ferrari 250s from the '50s and early '60s; and Alfa Romeo 2600s from 1961-68.

But deciding on the right classic for you involves more than just analyzing the market and talking to experts. "If you buy a car because someone else says it will be collectible in 20 years, you're not buying it from your heart and you probably won't enjoy the car," Lambert says.

Phil Lampman, an auto enthusiast and former Ferrari salesman who lives in Sammamish, seconds Lambert's insight. "The most important advice anyone could offer to a would-be collector is: Buy or restore only what you love," he says. "You'll never go wrong, and any appreciation in value will long be forgotten on those warm summer nights when you recall all the memories that made you buy the car in the first place. To my mind, that's a 'classic.' "


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