Answer: This is not only one of the most common questions that I’m asked, but one of the most important as well, so we will dedicate this weeks column to answering your questions.
Classic cars that are unrestored, original, and in good – excellent condition are generically referred to as “survivors.” True “survivors” are a rare breed of car. Condition is just as important as originality. An original, unrestored car that is rusty with a rotted interior and a seized engine may technically be a “survivor” but for the purposes of this column it is simply a “parts car.”
Determining what to look for when examining one of these cars is very much dependent on the type of car and the price point. For example, when examining a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette, every part number, nut, bolt, serial number, casting code, date code, body panel, body seam, material, plating, belt, hose, hose clamp, and more must be scrutinized for originality. This is because so much of the vehicles intrinsic value, which would easily exceed $100,000, is directly related to the degree of originality. If you are contemplating the purchase of a vehicle of this type, it is best to hire an expert to determine the degree of originality. A minor error in judgment, or a small lapse in knowledge, can lead to a decision that can have major negative financial implications.
If we’re examining a 1962 Pontiac Tempest sedan, the definition might be a bit more lenient to include the original paint (or most of it), the original interior and the original drivetrain. Other minor components can be overlooked, and sourced if desired. The more that’s original, the better. A vehicle of this type might be valued in the range of $5,000. Many collectors and hobbyists are perfectly capable of examining a car of this type by themselves. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if the paint is original, so if you’re not comfortable making this determination, bring along someone who is.
As investments, it is my belief that “survivors” are the best of the best, from the most expensive to the least expensive. Through the recent recession, classic cars have done relatively well as compared to many other types of collectibles. Values in general may be off somewhat (although they are rebounding), but the values of true “survivors” have not only held steady, but in most instances have appreciated. Those who invest in real estate often say the reason that they do so is because “They ain’t makin any more.” Those of us who invest in “survivors” do so because “They’re only original once.” You can restore anything that you want, from a Gremlin to a Duesenberg, but the supply of survivors will always be limited. It is for that reason that the values of survivors often exceed those of the same make and model of a restored car.
It is my opinion that “survivors” represent some of the best values in the collector car market, particularly at the lower end of the price range. Look for things that the mainstream market is not looking for. In most cases collectors are looking for convertibles or 2-door cars…you can look for 4-door cars. For example, collectors like 1965 – 1970 Cadillac convertibles, but 4-door sedans that are “museum quality survivors” sell at a fraction of the cost. If collectors are looking for “big-block” or 8-cylinder engines… you can look for a car with a “small block”, or 6-cylinder engine. For example, buy a 1970 Chevelle with a 350 engine instead of a 454 engine. If collectors are looking for fastbacks, look for coupes. For example, if collectors are paying a premium for a 1965 Mustang Fastback, buy a coupe for one quarter the price.
Remember, your primary task is to find a “survivor.” Your secondary task, if it is important to you, is to find the year, make, and model that you desire. You will experience the pride of ownership every time someone compliments your car and you can respond by telling them that “it is all original.” The guy driving the million dollar Duesenberg can’t do that.