Though once considered fairly risky, classic cars have become an increasingly popular and worthwhile investment in recent years. With a finite number of examples produced, and models only getting rarer and rarer each year, the vast majority of classic, investment-grade cars are only increasing in value. Not only do these vintage vehicles consistently make for profitable long-term investments, but it’s also markedly more fun to own a classic car than it is to have its value sitting in a bank account in currency.
We’ve all heard the stories about cheap barn finds being purchased only to later exponentially increase in value. And, while you’ve probably already missed the boat on a handful of classic cars that are now valued at six or seven figures, there are still dozens of vintage models that are steadily increasing in value year after year, making them stellar investments. Below, we’ll unpack our choices for the best classic and vintage cars to invest in right now, along with the benefits of classic car investment, the potential downsides, how to choose an investment-grade classic, and what factors to consider when buying one.
An Argument For Automotive Assets
The Many Upsides To Classic Car Investment
Just from a financial standpoint, classic cars are pretty stellar long-term investments. There’s been an enormous influx in the popularity of classic cars over the last half-decade alone, which has not only led to a marked rise in traffic and sales on sites like Bring a Trailer, The Market By Bonhams, and Collecting Cars, but has also seen certain classics appreciate by as much as 25% annually — which is around 2.5 times the S&P 500’s average annual return. And while 25% is admittedly on the higher end of the classic car return spectrum, seeing annual gains of 10-15% isn’t uncommon.
From a long-term perspective, returns have been even greater, with certain luxury investment indexes reporting that, since the turn of the millennium, specific classic cars have seen a 500% in the value. In fact, classic car investment has become so stable and reliable in recent years that there are now companies like TheCarCrowd that allow automotive enthusiasts to purchase shares in a classic vehicle that’s later sold for a shared profit.
As enticing as the financial returns can be, most collectors of investment-grade classic cars find the biggest upside to ownership is getting to enjoy and experience these increasingly rare examples firsthand on a personal level. Many classic car investors and aficionados also take pleasure in the privilege of getting to play a role in the preservation of these machines and their rich history. This type of investment can also unlock the door to a special community of like-minded individuals who also believe in the appreciation and preservation of these vehicles.
Most importantly, there’s something markedly more rewarding about owning a $10,000 classic car versus having $10,000 sitting in the bank. Not only can you look at and appreciate the vehicle, but you can also enjoy driving it to car shows, meet-ups, parades, or weekend cruises — albeit likely on a somewhat limited basis, as adding excessive mileage obviously hurts a classic car’s value.
Classic Car Concerns
The Downsides, Risks, & Expenses Of Classic Car Investment
Though classic cars can be great investments, there are downsides that are important to be aware of. First off, there’s always the possibility that a car is being misrepresented as a different year or trim level than it actually is, or that it has mechanical problems, non-original parts, rust, or other value-mitigating elements that the seller hasn’t disclosed. It can also be extremely difficult to accurately predict the value of a classic car a decade or two down the line.
Unlike an expensive investment-grade piece of art that can be purchased, hung on a wall, and left alone, investment-grade cars require additional expenses and care in order to maintain their value — whether this be preparing them for long-term storage, or just maintaining them, inside and out. This can be particularly expensive when dealing with rare or exotic cars that necessitate specially-trained mechanics and often require difficult-to-find — and expensive — replacement parts.
In addition to their upkeep, classic cars can also be expensive to insure, and at times require coverage from specialty insurance outfits — which at times include conditions such as limits on use and mileage, proof of another primary vehicle, and indoor storage, just to name a few. What’s more, you’ll also need a secure location or facility to house your classic car, which will cost additional money, assuming you don’t have space in your garage.
It’s also crucial to note that classic cars are very much a long-term investment opportunity. Unlike simply flipping a car — which involves hunting for a good deal on a low-priced used example before immediately turning around and reselling it for a profit — investing in a classic car usually means holding onto the vehicle for at least a few years (if not decades), allowing it to slowly but steadily increase in value. As such, classic cars seldom make for good short-term investments. And, unlike more liquid assets like stocks, owning a classic car usually ties up your money and requires that you find a buyer (or auto equity loan) should you ever need to liquidate. It’s also worth noting that, should your classic car increase in value and turn a profit, you’ll be required to pay capital gains tax.
The Hunt For The Right Ride
How To Find The Right Classic Car For You To Invest In
If you’re simply looking to make the greatest financial return possible in the shortest amount of time, classic car investment definitely isn’t for you. One of the biggest upsides of classic car investment is the sheer joy of possessing and getting to drive a well-kept vintage car. So, while there are obvious factors that will guide your search, such as your budget, the vehicle’s location, and whether you’re willing to take on a project, the main driving force behind your decision should ultimately be your love for a particular car.
An enormous part of classic car investment is getting to enjoy the classic car, which is why you should only consider makes and models that you genuinely feel passionate about. At times, the cost of ownership and upkeep can almost — if not entirely — eat up any profit from the car increasing in value over time, meaning if you don’t think you’ll get serious enjoyment from the potential experience of owning one of these classic cars, then investing in one almost certainly isn’t worth your while.
Where you buy the car is also of extreme importance, and there are several routes that can be taken. There’s the option of searching classified ads, Craigslist, and eBay; you can hire a broker to help find and track down a specific model, and there’s the option of going through one of the aforementioned online automotive auction sites like Bring a Trailer or Collecting Cars. Reputable auction houses — like Mecum, Bonhams, and RM Sotheby’s — can also be a fantastic way to acquire a classic car. And, while it does admittedly involve some hassle, importing a car from overseas can also be a great way of purchasing an investment-grade classic, especially if the model happens to be rare — or was never sold — in your home country.
It’s also incredibly important to do your proverbial homework before purchasing a classic car by learning about its history and different model variants. Prior to making a purchase, you’ll want to research the current value of a given model, along with its value history over the past decade or two, as this should give some idea as to its projected increase in value. It also typically helps to reach out to marque experts for independent advice, as a knowledgable, unbiased opinion can be extremely valuable in these situations. Experts can also help field questions on areas such as the difficulty of sourcing parts, or the availability of mechanics that are qualified to be wrenching on a specific investment-grade classic.
Engines & Equity
What Factors To Consider When Looking For An Investment-Grade Classic
Different examples of the same year, make, and model can massively differ in value due to a myriad of different factors. Below, we’ll briefly touch on seven of the most crucial areas to factor in prior to making your purchase.
Originality: One factor that has an enormous effect on a classic car’s value is its originality. The closer a car is to stock, the more valuable it will be. Whether a car has been restored — and to what extent it’s been restored — also plays a pivotal role in determining its value. If a car has been modified — even with upgraded aftermarket parts — its value will almost always significantly decline, the same goes for if it’s been repainted in a non-factory color. A matching numbers example — i.e. one that has its original engine, gearbox, and frame from the factory with matching serial numbers — will always be the most valuable. On a similiar note, specimens with early production numbers also tend to be more valuable.
Rarity: Unsurprisingly, a vehicle’s rarity plays a major role in its worth. Factors such as how many examples were produced will greatly impact value, as will elements such as if it has rare features (such as a sunroof) or is a rare variant such as an LHD model, or if it’s a limited-edition model or high-performance trim level. In fact, one can argue that rarity is a huge part of what gives investment-grade classic cars their value.
Documentation & Records: Even if a classic car has lived a somewhat boring and uneventful life, it will always be significantly more valuable if it is sold with extensive documentation on the car’s ownership, including any competition and servicing history. This gives potential investors a much better and more objective sense of how the vehicle was cared for and maintained over the course of its life, as well as if it suffers from any major reoccurring issues. Retaining included tool kits, owner’s manuals, and other original items from the factory also help raise an example’s value.
Innovation & Historical Significance: Historically significant models are almost always of higher value. This can be owed to a model pioneering a new technology or system, boasting bar-raising speed or performance capabilities, or being powered by an idiosyncratic engine configuration. Early generations of now-iconic models — such as the Ford Bronco or BMW M3 — also tend to boast significant valuations.
Appearance: While there’s no shortage of extremely valuable classic cars with long-in-the-tooth aesthetic designs that aren’t exactly easy on the eyes, a vehicle with an iconic appearance that’s managed to stand the test of time tends to result in higher valuations. If it was penned by a famous designer or coachbuilder, this can also raise how much a car is worth.
Competition History: If a car has a documented history of competing in motorsport, this will almost always raise the amount it’s worth — especially if it was previously campaigned in a historically significant or high-level race or series. This is even more true if the example was particularly successful and was used to achieve noteworthy race wins or championship titles. Having been driven or campaigned by a famous team or driver will further bolster its value, and the same goes for if it was built by a famous or iconic race shop or builder like Autodelta or Carroll Shelby.
Previous Ownership: Another factor that can hugely raise a vehicle’s value is its prior ownership. If the car was owned by a noteworthy celebrity — especially one with ties to motorsport such as a famous race car driver or a celebrity like Steve McQueen or Paul Newman — this can bolster the example’s value nearly exponentially. What’s more, if the vehicle in question was featured in a film or TV show, this will also significantly raise its value. While on the subject, it’s also worth mentioning that the fewer owners a car has had, the better, as fewer owners typically point to the car being better cared for and more original.
Alfa Romeo GTV6
Built atop the race-derived 116 type chassis, Alfa Romeo’s GTV6 is an Italian-designed coupe with an unmistakably 1980s appearance. And while more than 20,000 units were produced, the GTV6 has steadily been climbing in value in recent years — a trend that shows no sign of slowing as other vintage Alfas continue to spike in value.
Desirable Years: 1981-1986
Engine: 2.5L V6
While once a widely affordable, classic vintage ride, BMW’s nimble 2002 has slowly but steadily risen in value over the last decade, with clean examples fetching anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000. Taking its name from its 2.0-liter engine and two-door configuration, the 2002 is desirable in all of its trims and years, though the rarer Targa, 2000tii Touring, and Turbo variants are even more valuable. Examples built before 1974 — the year BMW switched to a square taillight setup — are also considered to be more sought-after.
Desirable Years: 1968-1973
Engine: 2.0L Inline-Four
Though at times referred to as a “poor man’s Porsche 911,” Datsun’s Z lineup consists of incredible vintage sports cars that still offer exhilarating performance. And, whether it be the 240Z, 260Z, or 280Z, all of these models have been climbing in value — despite being available for a bargain only a decade or two ago. Interestingly, modified race build Zs seem to hold their value quite well, too.
Desirable Years: 1969-1978
Engine: 2.4L Straight-Six
International Harvester Scout (& Scout II)
Though the original Ford Bronco may have already skyrocketed in value and become largely unobtainable to most auto enthusiasts, International Harvester’s Scout and Scout II are fantastic vintage 4×4 models that can still be picked up for a fair price, with some specimens going for as little as $10,000 to $15,000 and cleaner, more pristine, and original examples taking in as much as $80,000. Both the Scout and Scout II also make for amazing candidates for restomod off-road builds.
Desirable Years: 1961-1980
Engine: 2.5L i4, 3.2L i4, or 3.8L i6, 4.4L V8, & 5.0L V8
Land Rover Defender
The Land Rover Defender may already be a fairly expensive vehicle, though with its price continuing to rise year after year, it still makes for a pretty fantastic investment vehicle. Add to that the fact that there are basket-case examples available on the cheap and expert restoration outfits specializing in vintage Defenders and it’s not hard to see how some easy money can be made off of investing in a retro Defender — assuming you have the initial budget to cover the overhead.
Desirable Years: 1983-1997
Engine: 2.5L Petrol, Diesel, or Turbodiesel i4, 3.5L V8
Quite possibly more so than any other production car in history, the Lotus Elise was developed with an unrelenting focus on minimizing weight, resulting in one of the best-performing and best-handling sports cars of all time. This has made the Elise incredibly popular amongst automotive enthusiasts looking for a genuine true driver’s car, which in turn has made the ultra-lightweight coupe a great candidate as an investment vehicle.
Desirable Years: 1996-2011
Engine: 1.8L Inline-Four
JDM cars have also become increasingly popular in recent times, as evidenced by clean RX-7 examples now routinely fetching close to $50,000 — and only continuing to increase in value. With sleek Japanese-designed bodywork and a unique Wankel rotary engine, the RX-7 is nothing short of a modern-day classic.
Desirable Years: 1985-1997
Engine: 1.1L, Turbocharged 1.1L, & 1.3L Wankel Rotary
A bonafide 1960s British popular culture icon, the original Mini Cooper was produced for several decades by a variety of different manufacturers — including the British Motor Corporation, British Leyland, and the Rover Group, and that’s just in the UK. Spurred on by the popularity of today’s revived Mini model, these diminutive vehicles have also experienced a major influx in interest that’s also resulted in the value of clean used specimens to steadily grow.
Desirable Years: 1959-2000
Engine: 848cc, 970cc, 997cc, 998cc, 1,071cc, 1,098cc, & 1,275cc i4
Successor to Nissan’s 200SX S12 model, the 240SX is a sporty vintage Japanese hatchback that was produced in two generations; the S13 (from ’89 to ’94); and the S14 (from ’94 to ’98). Powered by a 2.4-liter inline-four, both models have become popular collector cars that are only expected to grow in value as remaining surviving examples continue to be modified and/or raced into the ground. And, with clean examples typically going for anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000, this is one of the more affordable investment-grade cars on this list.
Desirable Years: 1989-1998
Engine: 2.4L Inline-Four
Though the 924 and 944 were once seen as rebadged Volkswagens and not true Porsches, these cars have become significantly more valuable in recent years — a trend that extends to pretty much all vintage models from the Stuttgart automaker, even so-called “oddball” models like the 914, 928, and 924. Solely speaking from a financial standpoint, these Porsches are easily some of the best investment cars on this list.
Desirable Years: 1976-1991
Engine: 2.0L, Turbocharged 2.0L, 2.5L, Turbocharged 2.5L, 2.7L, or 3.0L i4
Renault 5 GT Turbo
A homologated, street-legal Euro classic that’s derived from an iconic Group B racecar, Renault’s 5 GT Turbo is not only a ridiculously cool car that’s undeniably thrilling to drive, but it also just might be the fastest- appreciating car classic car at the moment (that can be purchased for under six-figures), having increased in value by 25% over the last year alone. Considering its Group B lineage and ultra-widebody aero kit, it’s not hard to see why the 5 GT Turbo has become so popular and sought-after.
Desirable Years: 1980-1986
Engine: Turbocharged 1.4L or 1.5L Inline-Four
Though the Suzuki Samurai was once a quirky and affordable 4×4 platform, it’s slowly become a collector car, with a niche, albeit dedicated following that continues to grow. And, with your average example only fetching around $10,000, it isn’t that difficult to add one to your collection.
Desirable Years: 1985-1995
Engine: 1.3L Inline-Four
The Toyota MR2 is an exotic yet affordable sports car classic that represented Japan’s first-ever rear mid-engined production car. Produced in three generations — the first two of which are by far the most desirable from an investment and collector’s standpoint — the MR2 was extensively campaigned in motorsport, both by factory teams and countless privateer drivers across the globe.
Desirable Years: 1984-1999
Engine: 1.5L, 1.6L, or Supercharged 1.6L Inline-Four
Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
Another stunning classic car that can be purchased for relatively little money and is only expected to greatly rise in value, the VW Karmann Ghia is built atop the Type 1 Beetle platform and features bodywork that was penned by Italian design firm Carrozzeria Ghia and built by German coach-building house Karmann. This is also an investment-grade classic that can actually be driven on a regular basis — so long as its properly maintained — without hugely affecting its value.
Desirable Years: 1955-1974
Engine: 1.2L, 1.3L, 1.5L, or 1.6L Flat-Four
The Volvo 1800S is an objective automotive classic, with a sleek midcentury design that’s managed to wonderfully stand the test of time. Clean original or restored examples do go from anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000, though if you know where to look, neglected specimens can be picked up for only a few grand — making for a very profitable investment opportunity. And, while it doesn’t necessarily contribute to the 1800S’ value, this is undoubtedly one of the coolest and most interesting cars that Volvo has ever produced.
Desirable Years: 1961-1973
Engine: 1.8L or 2.0L Inline-Four
The 20 Best Restomods You Can Buy
Not interested in owning a classic car in its original condition? Then be sure to cruise over to our feature article on the best restomods you can buy for a curated list of iconic cars that have been treated to modern-day upgrades and componentry.
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