We’re about to enter prime shopping time for classic car collectors. In a few weeks, in and around California’s Monterey Peninsula, a series of collector car auctions will take place where record vehicle values are all but guaranteed. Among the headliners to cross the blocks is one of only 39 Ferrari 250 GTOs, a model that could easily sell for $30-plus million. Another auction will feature one of four Ford GT40 roadsters, a 1960s racer likely be the most expensive American car ever sold at auction (predictions are ranging from between $10 and $25 million).
When you consider both models were available for less than $10,000 — at some point in their histories — it’s easy to see these figures and think car collecting is a sure-fire ticket to financial windfall. But the reality of car collecting is that for every investor who cashes in big there are hundreds who lose far more money than they make.
As someone who’s been in the car collecting game for 30 years I’d like to share the most important rules I’ve learned over three decades of buying and selling collectible vehicles. I’ll relate each lesson to an actual vehicle I’ve owned (or still own) to help illustrate my points.
1. 1968 Dodge Charger R/T: I purchased this muscle car before I had a driver’s license, with visions of creating a killer street machine to rival the bad guys’ ’68 Charger in the movie Bullitt (a good goal, given how that car ended up). I knew it needed serious work even before paying $200 and towing it out of a junkyard. But between its seized engine and severely rusted body it became clear, once I got the Charger home, that a restoration effort would take a long time and cost far more than the car was worth (in 1985). Instead I parted it out for roughly $400, doubling my money. Lesson learned? Don’t throw good money after bad at a collector car once you realize you can’t come out ahead. Sometimes you’re better off cutting your losses and starting over.