How much is classic car worth? Pepare for long answer

A pair of 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Rays

A pair of 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Rays are displayed. (Credit: General Motors)

I prepare a lot of classic car appraisals. They are used for all sorts of purposes including purchase, sale, insurance, probate, divorce, donation, legal matters and just about any other application you can think of. These appraisals incorporate many different kinds of values such as Actual Cash Value, Fair Market Value, Agreed Value, Replacement Value, Marketable Cash Value, Salvage Value, Liquidation Value, Diminished Value, and more.

Simple math demonstrates that there are at least 56 different values that can be assigned to any individual car. So, as you can imagine, the answer to “What’s my car worth?” may not be as simple as you might think. 

Value is a funny thing. All of these different types of values have carefully crafted definitions that apply to everything from antique automobiles to Victorian furniture. Yet none of them offer a method to quantify an individual’s tastes or desires and how these effect a vehicle's value.


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Case in point. I was recently hired to inspect a 1967 Corvette Roadster with 45,000 original miles. It had the 327-350 engine, factory air-conditioning, and just about every option that was offered. It also had lots of documentation, including the original Tank Sticker, Window Sticker, Bill of Sale, and Protect-O-Plate. The entire drive-train was “matching numbers” and the car was entirely original with the exception of one high quality re-paint in its original red color that had been done about ten years ago.

The car was beautiful, but close inspection revealed some very minor wear and tear that was more a function of age rather than use or abuse. The beautiful white interior exhibited very slight fading, and the console showed slight wear around the shifter. The paint in the door sills had a few chips caused by passengers shoes as they entered and exited the car, and the carpeting, although perfect, showed the slightest signs of wear in the same area. The chassis and engine bay, although un-detailed, could pass for that of a two or three year old car. In fact, the entire car could pass as two or three years old. It was a great car that had obviously been well-maintained throughout its entire life. The book value of a car such as this is right in the range of $75,000. 

Later that week I had to inspect…you guessed it. Another 1967 Corvette with a 327-350 engine, “matching numbers” drive-train, factory air-conditioning, and lots of options. But this car had no documentation. This car had undergone a frame-off restoration to concours quality standards at a cost exceeding $100,000. Thanks to better materials than those that were available when this car was manufactured, it was truly better-than-new. The book value of a car such as this is also right in the range of $75,000.

How is it possible that a car that has had no restoration work done (a paint-job is not a restoration) be worth the same amount of money as a car that has had 1000 intensive and expensive hours of restoration performed? The answer is in the intangibles. 

Lets look at the first Corvette. How much is a Tank Sticker worth? A Bill of Sale or a Protect-O-Plate? How do we value originality? How do we value the experience that comes from driving a car that feels the way the manufacturer intended it to feel because it is original? How do we value the time, effort, and expense that went into maintaining this car in this condition for almost half a century? These individual intangibles cannot be reduced to dollars and cents, but when viewed within the context of the entire car, they add tremendous value to an otherwise ordinary Corvette. Perhaps as much as 100%. 

Everything on the second Corvette can be measured in dollars and cents. It is simply the cost of the donor car, plus the cost of the parts and labor that comprise the restoration - which by the way, often exceeds the value of the completed car. 

Some people assign a high value to things that are intangible and irreplaceable such as maintenance, care, and originality. Others assign a high value to perfect aesthetics - something that can, and is, duplicated every week in restoration shops across the country. 

For many collectors, high value resides in a classic car that is somewhere in between. This might be a car that has some original documentation, all original body panels, a new paint-job and interior, and a short ownership history. In other words, enough intrinsic value from originality so that it will always be a desirable car, yet not perfect enough, or original enough, that they are afraid to drive it. 

Each and every collector car derives its value in a different way. None is right and none is wrong. Although every car has a Fair Market Value, an Agreed Value, a Replacement value, and so on, the only value that really matters is what it’s worth to you. 

So the next time you ask me “What’s this car worth?”, be prepared for a long answer.  

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