A concours quality 1969 Camaro with a “big block” engine...

A concours quality 1969 Camaro with a “big block” engine and a 4-speed transmission with set you back at least $50,000. But take exactly the same car with a 6-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission, and you’ll have enough change from your $25,000 budget to buy gasoline for years to come. Credit: General Motors

It sounds like an oxymoron. How can the word “affordable” be immediately followed by the words “concours quality?” Well, it turns out it can. But only if we shed a pre-conceived notion that only rare, expensive cars are treated to very high quality restorations. Bargains can be found if you open yourself to the idea that you do not necessarily need to own a Hemi Cuda Convertible, or a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing. I find it curious that many collectors, and would-be collectors, would prefer to own nothing at all if they can’t own the car that they lust after.

If your budget is $25,000, then you are not going to own that concours quality Plymouth Hemi Cuda or Mercedes 300SL. In fact, you’re not going to own any Hemi Cuda or 300SL. But there are plenty of alternatives in that price range. You could buy a show-winning base model Plymouth Barracuda or a Mercedes 560SL. Not only would either one of these cars be the envy of many collectors, they are a particularly attractive alternative to the idea of owning nothing at all.

Within almost any genre of collector car, very high quality examples can be purchased for $25,000 or less. If you like pre-war American classics, how about a Model A Rumble Seat Coupe. If early post-war British classics are more your style how about a MGA, MG-TC, MG-TD, MG-TF or Triumph TR-3. The same money will buy you the finest TR-6 or MGB on the planet. Comparable selections are available if your taste buds crave Italian or German cars. There are some pretty tasty Alfas, Fiats, and Volkswagens that will fit well within that budget. If you’re looking for something voluminous that you can keep at your weekend home to tote around family and guests in style, how about just about any Cadillac convertible from 1965 to 1976, including an Eldorado. 

Most of the aforementioned are convertibles. Your choices are even greater if you’re open to the idea of a closed car. OK, so a concours quality 1970 Corvette convertible is not within your $25,000 budget. But a coupe is. A 1969 Road Runner convertible will set you back at least $50,000, but a little careful shopping will get you a coupe at half that price.

The number of doors on a collector car will have a tremendous effect on its value. American collectors covet cars with two doors, often overlooking fantastic examples of the same car with two additional doors. A concours quality 1962 – 1970 Cadillac Coupe DeVille is a $30,000 - $60,000 car. Make it a Sedan DeVille by adding two extra doors, and I can buy the finest ones in the country for $15,000 - $20,000. Many of my European customers have been taking advantage of this oversight for years.

Engines and transmissions are another criteria to consider when looking for bargains. A concours quality 1969 Camaro or Firebird with a “big block” engine and a 4-speed transmission with set you back at least $50,000. Make it a well optioned car, and the price only goes up from there. But take exactly the same car with a 6-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission, and you’ll have enough change from your $25,000 budget to buy gasoline for years to come.

Small metal emblems can also have a huge impact on the value of a collector car. If the emblem happens to say GTO, or Chevelle, or 442, or Gran Sport, concours quality examples will begin at $50,000 and go up over $100,000. But you’ll be hard pressed to spend more than $20,000 for the identical car with an emblem that says LeMans, Malibu, Cutlass, or Skylark. You can even get a rag-top for well under $25,000. General Motors does not have a monopoly on “the name game.” Ford played the game as well. A very high quality 1969 Mustang convertible with a “big block” engine will be impossible to buy with a budget of $25,000, but a comparable Cougar is well within reach.

Quirky cars will often sell at tremendous discounts, even for concours quality examples. And this quirkiness is what makes them charming and appealing. It’s not unusual to see cars such as Pintos, Gremlins, Pacers, Edsels, Nashes, Corvairs, Volvos (P1800), Saabs (Sonett), Volkswagens (Karmann Ghia), and a long list of other cars for sale at or below $10,000. Even a very high quality AMX (“Americas other 2-seats sports car”) can be bought within a $25,000 budget.

Vintage pickup trucks have enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past few years. Concours quality examples can still be found at around $25,000, but this will not be the case for much longer, as prices continue to rise.

Whether it’s a Corvette or a Corvair, a GTO or a Gremlin, the cost to restore a car to concours quality condition will likely far exceed $25,000. But they are still only worth what the market will bear, which is a fraction of that cost. To me, that makes them a bargain.  

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