Answer: There’s one group of people that prefer “over-restored” cars because they literally look “better than new.” There’s another group of people (myself included) that prefer original cars that are in excellent condition.
Cosmetically and mechanically speaking, restored cars can actually be better than new because the materials that are available to restorers are better than those that were available when the cars were manufactured. However, as restorers go, the quality of the workmanship varies widely, and this quality (or lack thereof) is often not evident until some years, or miles down the road. So buying a restored car is always somewhat of a long-term risk.
On the other hand, as much as we hate to admit it, most manufacturers of collector cars actually made a pretty decent product that if cared for would last for many decades. The reason that we don’t see more of these cars on the road is because when they were purchased new, they were never intended to be anything more than transportation. The relatively small number of cars that have survived in excellent condition is a tiny fraction of the number of restored cars.
That’s why in today’s collector car market original cars are in tremendous demand. In many cases collectors are willing to pay much more for an original car (warts and all) than they would for a comparable restored car. Remember, “They can only be original once.”
What it comes down to is personal choice. Some people like shiny and some people like original. But there is no doubt about one fact: from an investment perspective an original car will always have a greater intrinsic value than a restored car. You can always restore another car. You can’t always find an original one. Guess which car I would buy?
Question: There’s an out-of-state dealership that specializes in Triumphs, MGs, Morgans, Austin Healeys etc. They have two TR4As that I’m interested in. The owner of the dealership said that the cars are in great shape and he sent me pictures. I can’t get out to see the cars. Do I “roll the dice” and take a chance on the owners word?
Answer: This is the million dollar question that I'm asked all the time. The answer depends on how much of a gambler you are because “rolling the dice” is exactly what you’ll be doing. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t.
The risk that you’re taking is not black or white. If it was, you would either get exactly the car that you had bargained for, or you would get no car at all.
There are shades of gray. Perhaps you’ll get the car but the engine will need to be rebuilt, or the paint won’t be as nice as described, or the accessories won’t work, or the top will have a tear, or the tires will be bald and so on. The list of possibilities is literally endless.
It doesn't happen often, but I've even been involved in several cases (all with dealers) in which the seller was in financial trouble. In each case, the buyer got the car, but never got the title, because the dealer never paid the consignor, and the consignor would not release the title until paid.
The bottom line is that you dramatically minimize your risk if you or someone else you trust sees the car before you buy it. At the very least you’ll know the car exists. Then again, gambling exists because some people enjoy gambling. Do you?
Contact Steve: firstname.lastname@example.org