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'Rare' classic car: No one wanted it then, no one wants it now

An entirely original 1969 Camaro Z-28 will be

An entirely original 1969 Camaro Z-28 will be sought after by 1st generation Camaro collectors, Z-28 collectors, and those who collect “survivors.” Credit: General Motors

Maybe that’s not always the case. In fact maybe it’s not even the case most of the time. But it is often the case. So don’t be lured into thinking that a car is more valuable because it’s rare.

Most cars that are considered collector cars are now at least several decades old. The market has spoken as to what has an enhanced value because of rarity, although this does change over time. The term “rare” is defined by most dictionaries as “Not occurring very often.” As applies to collector cars, this can and does mean many different things.

Vintage racing cars were produced in very limited numbers, so although this limited production is factored into its value, provenance is everything. Even a re-body after a serious crash will often have little, if any, effect on the value of the car. The cars value is derived from its history.

American “Muscle Cars” derive their value from that which defines it as a “Muscle Car.” For example, there were plenty of 1967 Chevrolet Impalas built. Although 1967 Impalas are of the right size to be considered a “muscle car,” they are not. But toss in a “big block” engine (the bigger the better) and a 4-speed transmission, and suddenly you have a car that defines the term “muscle car.” No car exemplifies this term more than the 1967 Impala SS427 (code Z-24) and this is reflected in their values.

The value of almost all collector car is enhanced to some by low mileage. But with some collector cars, low mileage alone is what makes it rare and collectible. Take the Mercedes Benz 560SL for example. Between 1986 and 1989 over 37,000 of these cars were built. Hardly rare. Although great cars, they are not particularly collectible, with very nice examples available for under $10,000. However, examples with low mileage, say 20,000 or less are very collectible. Expect to pay upwards of $30,000 for one of these.

Sometimes way upwards.

Originality in a collector car is by definition rare, and in most cases this enhances a cars value. As a simple function of their age, most collector cars have been restored to one degree or another. Those that are fundamentally original, and in excellent condition are so rare that they have multiple markets. An entirely original 1969 Camaro Z-28 will be sought after by 1st generation Camaro collectors, Z-28 collectors, and those who collect “survivors.” The simple fact that a car is a ”survivor” will often make it collectible even if it would otherwise not be. For example, a 1974 Dodge Dart Swinger with a V-8 engine, factory sunroof, and build sheet (which I happen to own) is not a particularly desirable collector car. But when the car is 100% original and looks like a one year old car, it suddenly becomes collectible.
Rarity in and of itself will often, but not always, translate into value. In 1972 Buick made approximately 101 Grand Sports with the Stage 1 engine and a 4-speed transmission. A fine example of this car will cost you well over $50,000. One year later in 1973 they made only about 92 examples, but these cars can be purchased (if you can find one) for the price of a good used Toyota. In other words, less than half the price of a 1972 model.

Different things make different cars rare. Provenance, power-trains, mileage, originality, and production figures all contribute to a cars rarity. When more than one of these attributes is combined in a single collector, it enhances the cars rarity in a meaningful way that also enhances its value.

I suppose that “meaningful” is the operative word when discussing rarity in a collector car. I am often asked if a car is more valuable because it is rare, so I naturally respond by asking what makes their car rare? I am usually shown a document that says something to the effect of “There were only two 1973 Cadillac Sedan DeVilles that were built in Fuschia with a Green and Yellow plaid interior, no air-conditioning, no power windows, no power door locks, and a 4.11:1 rear axle ratio.” This only means that there were two crazy people who ordered a car equipped this way. The car is in fact rare, but not in a meaningful way, so it does not enhance the cars value. In other words… no one wanted it then, and no one wants it now.

But rules are meant to be broken, and as mentioned earlier, things change over time. Hemi ‘Cudas and Challengers, and Plymouth Superbirds and Dodge Daytonas are perfect examples. These cars were rare even when they were new, yet no one wanted them. Many sat on dealer showroom floors only to be sold as leftovers when the new models arrived. I don’t have to tell you what happened to the value of these cars in the four decades that ensued.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t strive to seek value in rarity. Just look for it in a way that the rarity is meaningful. In other words, steer clear of Fuschia Cadillacs.

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