What’s it Worth? Value Trends Show the Way of the Future of the Old Car Hobby

(Editor’s note: Gerald Perschbacher is a pricing consultant for Old Cars Price Guide, a bi-monthly periodical covering values from 1930-2001, and its annual companion book, “2009 Collector Car Price Guide,” which covers values from 1905-2001.” Below are some of Mr. Perschbacher’s recent observations regarding pricing trends.)

The above question has been linked to our hobby since Day One. Don’t anticipate that it will fade away. It’s here to stay, as well it should. Collecting cars carries costs, so astute collectors are interested in valuations. So will the buyer who is entering the hobby, upgrading models or building a collection. Insurance companies, repair shops and estate executors have similar interest in values.

    How are values “running” these days? I’ve done some heavy research recently, so sit back and read about my findings.

Avanti

    Among postwar cars, I was intrigued by values on Avanti automobiles, the first-generation models offered by Studebaker in 1963 and 1964. The Avanti has a strong following, even for succeeding versions following the passing of the Studebaker name.

    Selling prices can range from $5,000 on up, well into the $20-$30,000 range for 1963 and 1964 versions. Collectors like the styling, which remains fresh and creative well after Raymond Loewy completed his design.

    Generally, Studebakers are not high on the escalator of rising values in comparison to Ford and Chevrolet products. But among the Studebaker lineup, the Avanti name carries magic. If you want a model that will continue to rise, I’d bet on it.

DeLorean

    What about DeLorean? A mixed bag, for sure. Innovative in its day, the stainless-steel body flashes attention. However, there are drawbacks. Try to get one in great condition. If it needs body work, think carefully. You can’t putty a spot and shoot it with paint. Stainless steel is the actual skin. It’s hard to work and hard to buff and match other panels. As for values, those of you with long-term memories will recall what happened when the DeLorean was introduced. A couple decades ago, it was all the rage, thanks to the flamboyant nature of its namesake. Back then, I can recall cars selling new for $27,000 or more.

    Speculators shivered when demand dipped. In a couple years, those fine DeLoreans were priced at $16,000 and were not easily moved. Today, I’ve seen nice DeLoreans priced around $27,000. Value-wise, that’s a dip from the buying power of the dollar when the car sold new. My advice is this: if interested, hunt for the best one you can find. After all, do you recall seeing any in salvage yards? Most still exist, tucked quietly in garages. Seek and find.


Buicks like this 1925 Buick roadster are steady value risers. While the car slowly rises in value, owners can have immeasurable fun.

Muscle cars

    Muscle cars are running a bumpy stretch in the market. I’ve heard seasoned auction participants say that the “fun crowd” is shrinking. Those are the people who like to party around old cars and gain publicity in the process. It’s not hard to do the math. Paying $150,000 for a muscle car a year ago and watching the same car cross the auction block at $80,000 today is a definite loss. Who wants to be a loser?

    If the “fun crowd” lets car values seek a natural level, then we will continue to see a retrenching of postwar hot-car values. Few people are bold enough to predict those values right now. In a few months, auction trends may form a predictable pattern. My advice: watch carefully; think wisely.

    It’s a clear case of values drifting down. It happens occasionally. Then market demand adjusts itself.

Postwar cars

    If you like cars from the 1950s and older, into the immediate pre-World War II era, then don’t expect values to drop. They often rise steadily, plateau for a while, then rise slowly again. In the long run, this makes for the type of value increase that stockbrokers might call “Blue Chip” performance — steady and sure.

    Cars from the 1950s are still great values. They offer fun in motoring, can be easier to repair and maintain than newer cars and are increasing at a comfortable rate. Demand is good. The supply for fine examples is still growing as cars come out from hiding. Much can be said of cars from the 1960s and 1970s.


Prices for some early open Cadillacs, like this 1909 model, have increased 22 percent in recent years.

Prewar luxury cars

    Luxury prewar models are a mixed bag. Since the demand for V-12 and V-16 engines from the 1930s has increased, the “super Classics” seem to attract more attention. Is it an investment prospect? The desire to fulfill a dream? The wish to tour with comfort and reliability? The prestige of ownership? The extra availability of disposable cash? Perhaps all of these, and more.

    So watch the prices fluctuate. Will there be jumps as with muscle cars? There may be truth in that statement. Massive convertibles, custom-bodied versions, and boat-tail forms usually lead the upward spiral. Celebrity ownership and other notable provenance fuel the rise even farther.

    Will these “super Classics” be priced beyond the range of the vast majority of hobbyists. Possibly. Then again, there could be some jerky downward movement, depending on the seriousness of collectors. If buyers become edgy in light of a weak national economy, lower valuations may follow — or at least prices will plateau. Will values jump up appreciably thereafter? Indeed, it is possible. Some might say they hope it is probable. With this mindset, owning a “super Classic” may very well be the best of “Blue Chip” investments.

    I hope you want to own a nice, old car for more than just investment. It’s a risky investment when you think about it. One accident can demolish your car, leaving you wheel-less to work out a settlement with insurance companies that may not have an appreciation for honest old car values. Better to own a car for fun and enjoyment than to roll it around as a dollar sign on wheels.

    Would you be surprised to learn that many owners of old cars think their vehicles are more valuable than price guides indicate? Deep down, it’s human nature to want to “make a killing” with a high profit. People like to brag about such victories. String together several high prices from a variety of similar sales, and a trend can be established. Good, bad or otherwise, it can happen.

     Happily, most hobbyists simply want a fair price for their car. They reason that an increase would be nice, but it does not have to pay for an entire college education. Bravo the thought!


Marmons have seen a steady 3-percent increase, but brass-era and Classic models, like this 1931 Marmon Sixteen LeBaron close-coupled sedan, are extremely difficult to chart as their prices have been strong.

    How can you establish a fair price for your vintage car? Examine reputable value guides. If no inflation factor has been built in, then calculate it yourself. Here’s how it works. According to my investigation, the 2007 inflation factor ranged from 1.25-4.5 percent, with a general average of 2.96 percent over the past two years. Round it off to 3 percent. If you pick up a year-old value guide, do the math. This could be the minimum increase you might expect. Remember, you may have a model that is slipping slightly in value, and the inflation factor could be negated in the process. That is something you would have to determine.

    There are exceptions. I’ve established a “percentage rule.” As values of cars reach the sky, the percentage rate drops slightly. Look at it this way: Most price hikes come on lesser-priced items. You’ll see greater price rises on commodities selling for less than $100 than you would for items selling for $1,000. Carry this thinking to rises in gasoline prices. Is the same percentage fluctuation seen in the price of houses? No.

    Hence, to reflect the range in higher-priced cars, the “percentage rule” works this way: an annual 3 percent increase for cars valued up to $70,000; a 2.5-percent increase from $70,000 to $79,999; and a 2-percent increase on cars more than $80,000.

Trends by marque

Auburn — Fine collector cars. Many are reasonably priced and will continue to hold values. Increases seem gradual and steady.
 
Buick — In general, a steady riser. I’ve noticed an increase in the 1929 models. The 116 four-door sedan in top condition can break $20,000, with the 121 sedan close behind. Convertibles from 1929 have jumped as high as 20 percent. Other 1929 Buicks seem to have risen in demand by 10 percent. All 1930 and 1931s up by 10 percent; convertibles for those years by 20 percent.

Cadillac — 1909-1914 versions are very similar (the Model 30 was introduced in 1909). Excellent examples of touring cars from this period can rise well past $50,000. In effect, individuals have witnessed a 22-percent increase on open cars and 11-percent increase on closed models from 1909 to 1914. There seems to be a 9-percent increase on non-custom Cadillacs from 1915 through 1927 and a 4-percent increase for the Custom line, 1926-’27 roadster. Fleetwoods from 1915-’27 are up 4 percent. LaSalle models appear to be rising at a modest and steady rate. Open versions seem to be increasing in demand, although comparable sporty Cadillacs are often preferred.

Chevrolet — For 1920-’24, all models have inched up by 8 percent. There is a 5-percent rise for 1925-’29 models. The Four-Ninety shows modest increase from 1916 through 1919, now lingering as high as $22,000 for a touring car. The 1940-’42 coupes are up 10 percent. This is an interesting trend to watch. Are coupes on the rise in general, regardless of make?

Chrysler — Models from 1924 to 1929 have witnessed rises from 5  percent to 7 percent. Models that were at the low end of the Chrysler range have a lesser increase. High-end Chryslers and Imperials are increasing, with 1938 and 1939 Imperial Custom sedans and limousines reaching well above $30,000.

    American-Austin/Bantam, De Soto, Essex, Franklin, Gardner, Graham-Paige, Hupmobile, Studebaker and Willys have held modest gains of about 3 percent.

Dodge and De Soto — Victory models have jumped by 5 percent for 1928 and 1929. The 1929 Senior Series is up by 4 percent. De Soto, with an occasional exception, shows about a 3 percent increase.

Ford — Runabouts have gained in popularity. Example: the 1909-’11s are up 8 percent. Brass roadsters from 1912-’15  are up 7 percent. The 1936 Deluxe sedan (Tudor and Fordor models) has jumped by around $800. 1936 coupes show a $600 increase. Remainder of Fords, 1930-’42, are up by 3 percent.

Hudson — In top condition, two-door sedans from 1922 to 1924 are right near the $10,000 level, making them enjoyable and affordable buys for many people. The Terraplane has a similar following. Both makes realize a slight rise of about 3 percent. The Whippet is a similar good buy, valued far less than $10,000 for fine examples.

Crosley — This make is perhaps the best bargain, with prices near the bottom of most value lists. Don’t expect appreciable jumps in values as time goes on.

Lincoln and Locomobile — All years and models, prewar, can generally follow the “percentage rule.” There will be select models that jump higher, due to custom design, outstanding original condition, masterful restoration or rarity. Locomobile follows the same pattern as Lincoln.

Marmon, Rambler, Jeffery and Nash — I’ve noticed a basic 3-percent increase, with some exceptions, especially in the brass or Classic models.

Cord, Oldsmobile and Stutz — These marques will follow the “percentage rule,” with notable exceptions. When high-demand custom cars are considered, values are practically on an individual-car level. Oldsmobile closed cars for 1940-’42 have shown a slight increase by $600. The Series 96 and 98 are up by $700.

Packard and Pierce-Arrow — The “percentage rule,” with exceptions, of course. Recent prices are all over the field for custom-bodied cars. Custom Super Eights and 180 long-wheelbase models from 1940-’42 have increased as follows:
1808,         1908,           2008
7 pass sedan     $51,000-$51,000    $38,000
Limousine     $52,000-$55,000    $41,000

Plymouth — Some great bargains are still available. Plymouth seems to be under-appreciated among collectors. Pity, since these were very fine cars in their day, usually offering comfort and mechanical ability a notch above Chevrolet and two notches above Ford, until the early 1930s. So prices for four-door sedans languish around $10,000 or less. For 1932 through 1939, rumble-seat coupes are up 20 percent.

Pontiac — Cars of this marque carry a 3-percent rise in values, but its companion Oakland has about a $500 increase for most models from 1918-’27. 

Reo — Touring cars for 1925 and 1926 are into the $30,000 to $33,000 range.

    Regional prices may vary widely. The same holds true for areas where certain desirable makes of cars were not common when new. Any value listing you check should accommodate these variables without slanting the entire results. This means you can make your own regional adjustments on values shown in a printed guide. To expect a single guide to carry prices that hold true across the land would be comparable to everyone paying the exact same price for a gallon of gasoline. It just doesn’t happen — and probably shouldn’t.

    Enjoy your car. Appreciate it for what it is…or is becoming. Realize its value even beyond the dollar sign.

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