As the Saying Goes, Start With a Large One
By John Phillips III
Investing in cars is like Russian roulette but with more to lose.
For starters, $5,200 in today’s money is $34,249, but let’s not even factor that into the equation. Let’s instead consider the 49 years he had to pay for garaging the car ($2 per day equals $35,770), insuring it ($200 per year equals $9,800), insuring the premises (another $9,800), licensing and registration (at only $100 per year, that’s $4,900). Then, of course, cars fall apart even when they’re not driven. Rubber rots — tires, hoses, wipers, belts. Fluids turn to syrup, bearings seize, and gaskets degrade into confetti. Your collectible car has to be started at intervals and, oops, now it needs a fourth battery, and why aren’t the turn signals working? So, let’s add maintenance at, say, $500 per year, a fair estimate.
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At which point, to get that 1970 Boss 302 to a 2019 auction, an owner could easily have stuffed $84,770 into a car worth $68,000. Talk about fun. And that doesn’t include transportation to the auction and the steep auction fees.
How would I know all this? I’m the guy who bought that 1970 Mustang.
Still, it’s theoretically possible to make money on rare and old cars, but I’ve never done it. And keep in mind what the winsome philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Still, it’s theoretically possible to make money on rare and old cars, but I’ve never done it. Please note that the dollar figures below are true sums paid at recent sales. And keep in mind what the winsome philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
They’ve since peaked, but Baby Boomers aren’t done with this niche. Good examples can be had for $250,000-$350,000. Buy now. The current gold standard in muscle cars is the 1969/70 Mustang Boss 429 ($350,000 and up) and the rare 1969 Camaro COPO 427 ($250,000 and up). And, of course, there’s an always-strong market in late ’60s Shelby Mustangs (a ’68 sold at $168,500, but it’s still possible to find examples around $100,000).
I know a Boss 429 owner who paid $11,000 last year for two period-correct Goodyear Polyglas GT tires. See what I’m saying?
The muscle cars likely to show a profit in five to 10 years are late ’60s/early ’70s Pontiac GTOs, Buick GS 400s, and Oldsmobile 442s, with handsome examples fetching $65,000 or so.
Meanwhile, collectors have lost their minds over Ford’s two runs of two-seater GTs (a 2006 version for $384,900 and a 2017 version belonging to professional wrestler/rapper/actor John Cena that went for $1,540,000).
Speaking of names, unless yours is Edsel, there’s virtually no way to get on Ford’s list of preferred buyers anyway.
Corvettes, you ask? Chevrolet has always built too many to make them wildly valuable, but if you’re going to invest, concentrate on the second-gen cars, such as a 1966 427 convertible ($150,000), and look for “Bloomington Gold” status, which assures the car has been inspected by persons whose Vette fixations suggest a medical emergency. And, uh, you know all about “matching numbers,” right?
Among muscle cars, there exists one outlier that is guaranteed to rise in value: the 2015 Camaro Z-28 ($40,000 to $50,000). It’s a racecar that you can drive on the street — as in no radio and no AC. Find one and salt it away.
If you’re drawn to Mercedes-Benz products, recent offerings are usually land mines. Mercedes is currently cursed by perceived over-the-top repair costs, such that resale values have tanked. A luxo-cruiser 2010 S550 sedan, for example, recently sold for $19,000.
There is money to be made, however, with 1963-1971 SLs with the thin-line “Pagoda” roof ($102,000 to $187,000). Buy now – they’re still plentiful.
Unlike Mercedes-Benz, the Porsches earning big profits right now are fresh meat: 911 GT2s, 911 GT3s, and 911 GT3 RSs. Want proof? An owner who paid $293,200 for a 2018 GT2RS flipped it — not in a ditch — for $428,600.
Another likely appreciator is Porsche’s 2004-07 Carrera GT supercar ($650,000 to $775,000), which should be a million-dollar objet d’art in five years.
With Porsches, mileage is everything. Slink away from anything showing more than 70,000 miles, and, as is true with almost all collectibles, have no congress with cars modified by anyone but the manufacturer.
If you’re thinking of a Ferrari as an investment, look at Daytonas, once a million-dollar car, but a 1972 version recently brought only $600,000. Even better — well, easier to service — are the latter-day Testarossas. Flawless TRs are now in the $120,000 range, when they should be twice that. Plus, they cause onlookers to drop their Dove bars.
Servicing Lamborghinis requires two NASA engineers and a Boston neurosurgeon.
The one Lambo that’s currently tempting is the 12-cylinder Espada (a 1970 version for $198,600). Espadas should be attracting closer to $300,000. Get one that’s perfect, because servicing Lamborghinis requires two NASA engineers and a Boston neurosurgeon.
Which leaves us sifting through the miscellaneous bin. Look hard at no Dodge Vipers except the final 2014-17 model, which is the only half-civilized version that will likely rise in value.
Check out the action in 1994 Toyota Supra Twin Turbos (a ’94 for $51,000), as well as that car’s two period nemeses, the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo (a 1996 version for $30,000) and a 1993 Mazda RX-7 for like money. All three are hot right now.
You might also profitably loiter in junkyards to scoop up any drivable ’60s-era VW Microbus or Transporter (a ’63 double-cab Transporter sold for $64,950 and a ’66 21-window Microbus for $110,000). They’re cheap to restore.
If you’re disciplined enough to buy a car and park it in Saran Wrap for 10 years, grab a brand-new Acura NSX, any McLaren (a 2012 MP4-12C for $110,000), an Alfa Romeo 4C, or even the original Tesla Roadster ($45,000 to $60,000), which rides on a Lotus platform (Lotus being a marque investors associate with eczema).
There are some surprising bargains right now in latter-day Aston Martins: a 2010 Rapide V-12 sedan for $57,200, a 2008 Vantage Volante for $63,800, and a whole slew of handsome little ’94-’99 six-cylinder DB7s going for as little as $37,950. Astons can often be serviced by Jaguar specialists.
There’s also potential in Bentley Continental GTCs, with low-mileage 2010 and 2011 examples fetching only $49,000 to $60,000. Look, too, for late-model Maseratis (a low-mileage 2002 Cambio Corsa Spyder for $16,500; a 2012 GranTurismo Sport convertible with 15,000 miles for $52,000; and a 2006 Quattroporte for $17,600). Even if their values don’t take off, well, you’ve still got a Maserati in the garage. Buy a couple fire extinguishers.
Jerry Seinfeld is a Porschephile who doesn’t even know how many he owns (60 seems to be an oft-quoted number), and he has become one of America’s foremost home-of-Porsche-research-center Weissach experts. Yet he recently sold a sickly green 1958 356A Speedster for $1.54 million, only to have the buyer sue him for offering a car with a phony provenance. Jerry didn’t know. The point being, if you don’t know, hire someone who does.
Me, for instance. I really need money after that whole Mustang fiasco.
John Phillips III was the Executive Editor of Car and Driver and has written about cars for magazines as varied as Harper’s and Sports Illustrated. He lives with his wife in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains.