Are you thinking about buying a classic car that not only fits your needs but also a budget? Our Expert explains the popularity boom of classic cars and why you need one!
Over the past two years all of us had to adjust their lives in one way or another. We had to adapt to the new lifestyle forced on us by the global pandemic, and for the sake of the healthier society we had to “play it safe” by sacrificing our plans and future adventures. For many, their private automobile came as a rescue in those challenging times. Cars have been, and will continue to be, the tool of choice for freedom, mobility, lifestyle, and are a living thing that we carry so many great memories in.
"A collectible car is one that you connect with on an emotional level and it is a car that you want versus one that you need for everyday use"
In the recent months there was a noticeable spike in sales of classic cars by the group of new collectors that have arrived in force into the collectors market. These new collectors aren’t shy to ask for help and advice, and they have a large supply of affordable classic cars and trucks to choose from. They can quickly find information by doing a very thorough research and don’t feel the need to overspend. Affordable classic cars satisfy their demand and their taste in them is expanding.
A classic is broadly defined as any vehicle that played a role in an era that previous and future generations appreciate and want to experience for themselves. There are specific models of cars like Corvettes or Mustangs which are widely collected as well as other brands like Porsche and Ferrari that produce unique and collectible cars year after year. A collectible car is one that you connect with on an emotional level and it is a car that you want versus one that you need for everyday use.
I answer with a jumble of reasons that include “it’s a time machine, everyone loves a classic survivor, nobody needs one”. These are all good reasons but the “nobody needs one” speakers to me more than ever, especially today. In the world when one hears too much of “you need to, you must, you can’t”, here comes a point where we all need to take a step back and assess what we actually want. And what most people want is to gather and share the experiences of the past they treasure the most and what they need is a time machine to get back to those easier days. A classic car is a time machine that will transport you back to a collection of those memories.
Related: How to Value Classic Cars?
"I routinely heard comments and questions about utility, simplicity, reliability, accessibility, and a desire to just enjoy a classic car with a clean and comfortable interior rather than shiny and flashy. No so called show ponies are popular"
At the beginning of 2017 there was a measurable increase from 18-24 year olds and all things collectible. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, watches, art, wine, and nostalgic things from their childhood. Originally, this was supposed to be the generation that didn’t want to own anything outright like a car and let alone a classic. Five years later, in 2022 their approach to investing and collecting changed into a more pragmatic one and they started to express their need for value, simplicity, and the urge to experience and make memories. I have been appraising classic cars for many years and in 2021 met many people in their mid and late 20’s looking for valuations, information, and advice on collector cars. Men and women were all looking for a neutral opinion based on data and experience as they searched for the perfect classic car for them to own.
The range of vehicles that Gen Z is looking for is very broad but there is a theme. I routinely heard comments and questions about utility, simplicity, reliability, accessibility, and a desire to just enjoy a classic car with a clean and comfortable interior rather than shiny and flashy. No so called show ponies are popular. Their desire was to venture out close to home in a classic that will connect them to the most simple things, like taking B roads, family meals in the minivan on the way home from soccer, carpools from school, field trips to nature, tailgate parties. What they were also looking for was a break from the connectivity that modern vehicles have which always keep you instantly accessible, never lost, and on schedule. Classic cars don’t have a nice voice telling them that “they have arrived.” These new collectors know exactly when they have “arrived”, because the entire journey was at a pace they chose.
As this group collects more classic vehicles and they take road trips of any size, they get to restock their “wants'' for a change. And what they want is simplicity. They want 2-3 hour adventures where everything that you discover along the way has more meaning, exactly how it was when they were younger and going on a roadtrip with their parents. They also want a time to pause the inbound jet stream of “everybody & everything” and discover the cool vibe of wing windows, VW pop-tops, roll back roofs, folding chairs in the bed of a C/10, station wagons, smiles and thumbs up waves, and the unique sound of motor noise, wind, and maybe even a rattle or two. These new collectors want access to the experience and they are not afraid of the squeaks, the rattles, the “260 air conditioning” that every classic can provide.
The next group of new collectors, are people in their 30's. I encounter that significantly more of them seek adventures immune to cancellation, because of restrictions or an overbooked plane, and they have found this behind the wheel of a classic car or truck. Millennials has been settling down and working for a few years now and they have also found themselves in a slow drip of online meetings and isolation. The lure of the outdoors is strong with these folks. They don’t want their kids to miss out on the fun and cool adventures that we have around us if we look closely. These collectors are taking on the ownership of American, Japanese, and European sports performance cars, and trucks that will carry four people and a dog on an energetic day-long romp. Examples are BMW 2002’s, 3 and 5 series BMW's, Audi A6’s, Volvo wagons, 5.0 Mustangs, 1980’s 911’s, Gen I and III Broncos, and crew cab trucks with modern engines and interiors. I see these collectors all of the time and there is usually a bike for everyone in the truck bed or a pair of kayaks on the roof. These cars come home after a fun day with muddy fenders, drive-through food wrappers, and a solid sense of satisfaction of a day not wasted.
"The lure of the outdoors is strong with these folks. They don’t want their kids to miss out on the fun and cool adventures that we have around us if we look closely"
Over the past two years, the access to traditional markets that carry classic cars was hazy and unorganized. The pandemic brought everyone to the same global showroom and everyone used the same high resolution images, fresh price guides. The auction houses and dealers that carry classic cars were forced to provide more variety of vehicles and transparent virtual experiences. The private sector was not ready or comfortable with sharing a car for sale in person. Buyers were very much in the same boat as we were and the only way to access the market was through our smart devices. The new collectors had already built the technology of crystal clear video, photos, instant access to online valuation tools, and now they were themselves using the technology to find their own classic.
The tier 1 classic car auction houses had to behave more like Bring A Trailer, Hemmings Auctions, eBay Motors, etc. Sellers needed a partner that would market their classic in a compelling modern way. The buyers were now more comfortable browsing on Barrett Jackson, MECUM, or RM Auctions, and many others, and finding all kinds of affordable classic cars of every type. The mega cars that sold in Monterey each August were just headlines and curiosities for these new collectors, that is until 2020. Millennials often swiped past the $44M Ferrari's, the $375,000 Porsche 356 Speedsters, Gullwings, Miura's and many others, to find affordable 1970’s Alfa Romeo’s, VW 60’s - 80’s VW Transporters, 912 Porsche’s, 308 Ferrari’s, Mercedes and BMW station wagons, Mustangs, K5 Blazers, 1950’s American classics with LS motors, Riviera’s, Galaxie 500’s, and 510 Datsuns.
Everyone in both groups certainly had memories of minivans, carpools, and drive through meals. They all needed something to draw them away from dual monitors, longer work days, four walls, the food deliveries, and let's face it - the monotonous isolation and blur of days and weeks and months of doing what was needed and not wanted and especially in the past two years. Classic car seems like a perfect “time machine” to revert time and go back to those cherished memories of childhood, and is an opportunity for their nearest and dearest to enjoy the similar experience.
So if you look around you will see those new collectors are everywhere, happily moving down the roads in imperfect, noisy, squeaky classic cars with maybe a draft and a scent of those days where they sat patiently waiting for their happy meal. Suddenly they are the mom passing back the napkins while dad says “I’m not lost…we're close….it’s around here somewhere…. we have arrived!
- If you are looking for a new adventure in a classic car there are a few basic tips that you should follow.
- Study buying guides and auction results going back two years for the car that you are interested in.
- Find local car shows like cars & coffee and talk with owners. Make them tell you what they like and don't like about their classic cars. Within five minutes you will be invited to sit in the car, fire it up, and you now have a local person to network with.
- Mechanical repairs and restoration costs are typically the same for most vehicles so define your budget. Finished cars cost more today but you get them today…projects cost less but you won’t get to enjoy them for a while.
- Go test drive a variety of vehicles that are for sale before you commit to one. Be patient as there are a lot of classics out there.
- Get a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) and an appraisal from a neutral professional before you buy. If the car you wanted is sold, then the next one is around the corner.
- Before you buy a classic car, talk to professional transporters. I recommend enclosed transport and confirm that the car doesn’t change trucks on the journey.
- Buying guides are available for the specific car or truck that you are interested in.
- Should I get a 911S…a 911T…wait…what is a 912 and why are they really affordable? Post 1958 Porsche 356’s are ⅓ the cost of the 1960 - 1964 356’s and they actually handle a bit better and are more comfortable? Trucks used to be worn and tired vehicles but in the past 7 years, you can buy anything for them. Would you like a classic 1960’s Ford F150 or a Gen I Bronco with a modern engine and transmission that gets 22mpg? Modern air conditioning and modern instrumentation that looks original? Maybe you want a 1950’s American car or truck? The inventory of these has never been higher in all price points - wagons, convertibles, SUV’s, trucks, it’s all available.
Brendan Ryan has been appraising cars for over 30 years. An avid collector himself of classic cars and coaches, he has followed this market for the past three decades, and seen quite strong fluctuations in prices achieved for vintage vehicles. His fascination for classic cars, engines and race paraphernalia is a tremendous asset when it comes to valuing and advising our clients on their vintage items within this field of expertise.