Classic car valuation is often an exercise in frustration

Collectors might be happy to pay $10,000 for

Collectors might be happy to pay $10,000 for the rust-free shell of a 1970 Dodge Dart, on which they could build a “big-block” clone. (Credit: Chrysler)

I dropped off a few brand new sport shirts at the dry cleaners to have them pressed. The dry cleaner told me it would be less expensive to have them cleaned and pressed, rather than just pressed. Without questioning why, I simply agreed. Some things just aren’t logical, and to try to make sense of them is an exercise in frustration.

A customer in Australia recently hired me to perform a pre-purchase inspection on a 1970 Dodge Dart. The car was a clone of a Demon in that a few decals and stripes had been affixed to an otherwise base model car.

At first glance it appeared to be a nice “driver quality” car, but nothing more.


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There were a few scuffs and dings. The adhesive from a long gone emblem remained on the trunk. The front seats had been recovered, but they didn’t quite match the original rear seats, or the door panels. The dash had a small area that was warped, and one of the vents was cracked. Someone had “spray bombed” the engine bay with black paint. A GPS was affixed to the dash with Velcro…right in front of the speedometer. The laundry list of deficiencies totaled about twenty items. None of them was major, but when combined, they conspired to give an impression of a car that was average at best.

First impressions are important, but not always accurate. I began the inspection as I always do, by walking around the car a few times while looking at the fit, finish, and “straightness” of the car. Something about this car was unusual. The paint was average, which is to say that it was just like new. The panel gaps were also just like new. Not perfect, but close. And the body panels were straight. Clearly at some point in the life of this car, someone had made great efforts to perform a fairly high quality restoration to original standards. The inevitable patch panels at the bottom of the quarter-panels were invisible. As was the rust which must have been repaired under the vinyl roof. The doors, which must have had the hinges replaced, hung evenly, and opened and closed properly.

So much for first impressions. Now it was time to earn my pay. It was time to take a closer look at the workmanship that had gone into this restoration.

Hmmm…The door hinges looked original. A look under the car revealed floor pans that looked they belonged on a one year old car, with no undercoating and even some original paint…and they were original! The rocker panels were also perfect. And wait…the rust under the vinyl roof could not have been repaired because this was the original vinyl roof, and clearly it had never been removed from the car. And even a close inspection could not find where the “patch panels” ended and the original quarter panels began, because they had never been patched. They were original.

Wait a minute.

Was it possible that this car still had all of its original sheet-metal that was in virtually perfect condition? This is not something that you normally find in a forty-something year old entry level car like a Dart. These thing rusted if you looked at them wrong. Especially when they were ordered with the optional “water retaining, rust promoting sponge” vinyl roof. A quick look revealed that the car still had its original Fender Tag, VIN Tag, and Door Tag. All were original, unaltered, and had never been removed.

My impression of this car was quickly changing. This was a car that had some real intrinsic value. Suddenly all of the little defects had very little meaning. They could be fixed very easily. But try to find another car like this. That would be difficult. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the car ran and drove very well.

Many inspectors will simply complete a punch list when inspecting a car. But I always end my reports with a synopsis of my impressions of the car, and this case was a perfect example of why I do that. A punch list would highlight enough minor flaws on a car with such limited value potential that most buyers would walk away. But this car was just the opposite. This was a great car. After speaking with my customer who had hired me to inspect the car, I was asked the inevitable question. “What do you think the car is worth?” I offered my opinion that I knew collectors that would be happy to pay $10,000 for a rust-free shell such as this, on which to build a “big-block” clone. When I was told that the car was being offered at $9000, I immediately recommended that he buy it.

I suppose that in a way it’s like my dry-cleaning. Why would a complete running car, in such great condition, sell for less than the shell alone. Trying to figure it out is an exercise in frustration.  

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