Classic Car Myths


A good question from a regular reader of the Garagistry Blog sent us on a search to find the best answers from those who know the most - serious car collectors. Let us know if you have heard of another myth we should consider too.

We're not going to take sides as to which myth is the most notorious - but some speak to something we know very well - the need for documentation and preservation...

MYTH #1:
"You want a low mileage classic car. The lower the mileage the better. High mileage classics are trouble!"
Irv Gordon and his now 3,000,000 mile 1966 Volvo P 1800 S Coupe, as certified by Guinness
"A well-documented maintenance history trumps mileage any day."

{Case in point is Irv Gordon of East Patchogue, NY who holds the Guinness world record for racking up the highest mileage in the same vehicle. At last count, Irv has surpassed 3,000,000 miles in the Volvo 1800 S Coupe he purchased back in 1966. If you've ever seen it, it looks like a museum piece, which is a testament to Gordon's meticulous care: Forbes Magazine}

The thought is higher mileage classic cars, if well maintained are more likely to be reliable because they have been regularly driven. Parts that may have been worn or faulty have long since been replaced, issues which may have affected the car when new have been identified and resolved. A driven classic car is also a car that has been known and understood by someone - dare we call them a true "Caretaker"?

Obviously, if the current or previous owner abused and trashed the car, experts suggest we keep looking lest we get involved with a massively expensive project that may not have any real value when finished. 

"People do a disservice when they put it (a Classic) in a garage for years...
they need to be driven or they have to move"
But a classic car can also be abused and neglected by seldom or never driving it. Low mileage cars may be attractive in theory, in in reality, letting a car sit for extended period of time will age a car more than driving it.

Yes, a low mileage car may have better preserved paint chrome trim and the driver's seat might show less wear. But the seals will be dried out and most gaskets will be of questionable integrity. Basically, you are buying someone else's "deferred maintenance". And with something like a V12 engine, such deferred maintenance could bite your wallet something awful. 

Buying a high mileage car is for some just not something they can bring themselves to do. One opinion suggested buyers don't psychologically feel comfortable taking someone else's well-used toy which shows the evidence of its enjoyment by another owner.

Such buyers want something untouched - figuratively suggesting "A Virgin" classic. That is why the mystique of the "barn find" is so alluring. Such classic finds offer the illusion of purity, the new owner will possess something that hasn't been damaged or worn by prior owners. The term "A Sleeping Beauty" has been used by hunters for barn finds. Unfortunately, mechanics think this is folly as most barn find cars need a complete mechanical overhaul to become operational again.

An experienced classic car buyer will view a classic car as a machine or even as a historical artifact that needs a custodian (aka: a Caretaker). The key to buying the right car has little to do with the odometer mileage and everything to so with the maintenance records. If a seller doesn't have records, hesitates or refuses to show the records to you, experts urge us to keep searching...

Maintenance records are the Rosetta Stone with which you can decipher the true condition of a vehicle, see what problems have occurred in the past, and how old the key components are. If you approach a car like that, we're told you may find great cars other people aren't interested and secure a great deal in the process.

Do you homework and look at the records, meet the owner in person (if at all possible), and don't limit your decision based on the odometer reading. If someone wants to pay top dollar chasing imaginary virgin classic cars, the pros simple reply - "Let 'em..."  Over time, your well-loved car will hold it's value and give you a lot less grief when it comes to maintenance and driving enjoyment.

Conclusion: "A well-documented maintenance history trumps mileage any day!"

Myth 2A
"No cars built within the last 20 years are truly collectible."
2006 Ford GT
Best Answer Found:
Not true! Two of the hottest collectibles in the market today are well under 20 years old. The 1995-98 McLaren F1, which originally sold for about $1.2 million now trades for more than $8 million. The fantastic retro 2006 Ford GT sells for more than 160,000 against an original MSRP of about $140,000. Most collectors agree that 10 years from now these prices will seem cheap. On the more affordable end of the spectrum, the now discontinued Pontiac Solstice GXP (2006-2010) coupe are a good bet for the late-model collectible world.

Myth 2B
"All cars become more valuable when they hit 25 years old."
A Now 25-Year-Old Nissan Maxima - Not Necessarily A Collectible Classic Car
Best Answer Found:
In reality, there is nothing magical about the 25-year-old mark. Some cars can appreciate well before that, some afterward, and some never at all. An arbitrary date has nothing to do with collect-ability. Steer clear of ads that scream at you "Buy NOW, next year this car becomes a classic!"

Myth 3
"The rarer a car, the more valuable it is."
Not So Much - 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger 340
Best Answer Found:
More often than not, this is not true. Desirable trumps rarity! 

A four-door 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger may have been the only one produced with a bench seat, a column shift, manual transmission and a certain color with a vinyl roof - but this doesn't necessarily mean it is a desirable car. Yes, Dodge did rework the Dart for 1970 with new front and rear styling, and the base 170 V-8 was replaced with a larger 198cid engine. And the Swinger model with a three-speed manual transmission and front docs brakes became standard. But those changes did little to increase the car's desirability...
ABSOLUTELY!  - 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO - photo courtesy of Bonham's 
There is the concept of "rare and should be" among classic cars and collectors. It takes rarity combined with desirability to get collectors to open their checkbooks. Take for example, this summer's auction sale of a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO for $34.65 million. The Ferrari GTO's are considered the holy grail of collector cars as Ferrari only produced 36 of them, or 39 if you include different versions.

Myth 4
"Perfectly restored cars are the most valuable"
1939 Packard Super 8
Best Answer Found:
At one time, this seems to have been the case. However, as the classic car world matures like the antiques market did many years ago, savvy collectors are seeking the best-preserved examples of totally original unrestored cars for their collections.

High-end car show events, as the Concours d'Elégance, have now established special judging categories for these cars known as "preservation classes". The best preserved example of the all-original cars can often bring double the price of a beautifully restored car.
1921 Vauxhall 30/98 Classic, Chassis Number E385
Furthermore, the world-famous Simeone Collection features millions of dollars of classic race cars that best represent their last day at the races. Dings, scratches and all... Not every classic worth a small fortune will appear as if it just came off the factory production line. But, if you're looking for your first classic car, consider a "daily driver" instead of a museum piece if you're looking for value appreciation. As your experience and investment increases, you can upgrade to a classic that may bring greater appreciation returns on the invested value.

Myth 5
" 'Name brand' cars are always the most collectible."
1968 Iso Grifo
Best  Answer Found:
Not necessarily true. For every valuable Ferrari, Corvette or Porsche, there is a highly sought-after 1968 Iso Grifo or 1967 ASA 1000, plus dozens of other cars most people have never heard of.

Some classics seem to be iconic to the hobby - take for example, the ever-popular 1957 Chevy Belair. No '50/60's era movie would be complete without at least one '57 Chevy thundering into view. But, hundreds and hundreds of other makes and model came off the production lines years ago that may have an inherent value more than when the cars were new.

Determine your budget and your preference: American, European or Asian or another country of origin. Sports car or "family-type" model, original or modified, etc., then begin your search. As others have urged buyers everything - don't develop an emotional attachment to any car until you know all there is to know about it. Heartbreaks can extend far beyond a romantic relationship...

Enjoy your search and may you find your classic car!

The Garagistry Team