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Buy now, buy low: Value of '80s today, tomorrow

Recently, someone asked me if his one family-owned, 40,000-mile 1985 Chrysler LeBaron GTC was not given collector status, and if the $5,000 “default rate” collector car insurance coverage was enough insurance. He asked his question of me since I own a 1981 Chevrolet Impala coupe that I treat like a collector car, and I thought my reply would be of interest to.

Personally, I consider any car that is special to a car enthusiast, and treated as such, to be a collector car. That could mean a pampered 1996 Buick Riviera or a 1986 Corolla (if anyone does such a thing) that are only driven in nice weather.

When it comes to values, the market determines the price a car is worth. The large bulk of the market for many 1970s cars and nearly all 1980s and later cars is made up of people who regularly buy and sell cars of this era as used cars for transportation, so as a 1980s car collector, you are in a large minority (as am I with my 1981 Impala coupe). As an example, most people who own ‘57 Chevys use them as collector cars and few, if anyone, still uses a 1957 Chevy as daily transportation while disregarding its collectability. Most people who own 1981 Impalas and 1985 LeBarons use them only as daily transportation without ever considering their future or present collectability.

Since an insurance company needs to follow the market when determining prices, it cannot change prices for specific cars and owners (i.e., it’s bad business for it to give you more than the market value of a car because you treat your car better than 99 percent of those out there). And right now, our cars are at their lowest values they will ever be at.

It’s not all bad, however. Since most people treat 1981 Impalas and 1985 Chrysler LeBarons as “used cars,” and have done so since they began driving off the dealership lot, our very nice cars are in a shrinking minority. Attrition has set in, and there are far less mint models like ours than there were when they were new. Therefore, we have cars that can only grow in desirability.

God forbid, if your car does need to be replaced, you should be able to find another one in the $5,000 price range. It won’t be the same car, of course, since you can’t turn back the clock to 1985 and buy a brand new one. Also, it will be difficult to find another low-mileage 1985 Chrysler LeBaron GTS, but they’re out there. You just have to look. I would never want to try to find another 1981 Impala coupe to replace mine because I know how long it took to find the one I did, but they’re out there, and right now, that difficulty in searching for one does not carry a very high price tag.

The people who began collecting Duesenbergs in the 1940s and 1950s were picking them up for $250 to a few thousand dollars. Of course, those cars are now worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. Our cars will likely never be worth that much, but now is the time to invest in cars that we feel will appeal to future car collectors. LeBarons were popular and attractive when they were new, and so it’s likely a market will grow for them.

The first Impalas were two-doors, and my Impala is from the last year a two-door Impala was built. Therefore, I feel that, although my car is valued only at around $5,000, it can only go up from there. And by purchasing the car now at a relatively low price, I got in at the ground floor, like those insightful Duesenberg owners.

My suggestion to you is to keep up with the market values and prices for cars like yours. If and when you see cars sell for more prices than your car is insured for, contact your insurance company and get a recent appraisal from a qualified appraiser to reflect the value gains.

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