The average new car price in the U.S. now is a tick over $34,000, per Kelley Blue Book, and that big number has triggered a hard rethink around the viability of buying a collector car.
The possible plus: a collector car may increase in value. A new car is destined to lose value - as much as 9% in the first minute of ownership and perhaps 19% in the first year, per Edmunds. But what if you could get a car that performed all of a car's expected duties - and it also appreciated? Or at least held its value?
That can happen, say many motorheads, who point to a 1974 BMW 2002tii with a value of around $70,000. Many muscle cars from the 1970s now top $200,000 in value, and as for Ferraris and other super cars, some fetch over $1 million at auction. Of course those are homeruns but the point is: buy the right car, and it will give driving pleasure as it gains in value.
Face facts, however. Most cars lose all value over time. Nobody is bidding up the price of, say, a 1975 AMC Gremlin or a late model Chevy Impala, not even vintage Toyota Corollas. It is easy to talk about collector cars, it is much harder to pinpoint models that appear primed for a long run of appreciation.
But car experts and enthusiasts are ready with suggestions of cars that will function as comfortable daily drivers but may also be expected to gain value.
1983 Pontiac Trans Am - That's the daily driver of Portland, Ore. writer Jessica Mehta, who bought it three years ago for $15,000. It had 28,000 miles on the odometer, is a powerful V8, and it's black with a gold phoenix on the hood. "It is my childhood dream car," said Mehta, who added, "I plan to have it forever." A lot of the fast cars of the 1970s - such as Camaros - have appreciated in value at a brisk pace, and many experts think the same will happen to cars of the 1980s, very possibly including the Trans Am. For now, however, Mehta said good condition Trans Ams from the 1980s can be had for under $20,000 and when you drive up to anything, anywhere, with that flamboyant hood decal, you do get noticed.
1963-65 Buick Riviera -- The pick of Santa Rosa, Calif. auto historian Rick Feibusch who runs the Motorhead 101 group on Facebook. Feibusch explained: "The Buick Riviera was GM's response to the popular Ford Thunderbird. The first year Riviera was Motor Trend magazine's 1963 Car of the Year." He added: "A really nice one should cost about between $25,000 and $30,000," but that buys a big, distinctive statement car that nonetheless should drive with comfort approaching that of a new car.
1966 Ford Mustang - That's the recommendation of Sam Carter, sales manager at Challenge Coins 4 U in Cheyenne, Wy., who said he bought his six cylinder car four years ago for $13,450. For many, the Mustang defines the mid 1960s pony car trend, and, 50 years later, the vehicles remain fun to drive. There are plenty of these cars around and $15,000 will buy a good condition example.
1977 Datsun 280Z - "The car is a street dream in itself," said Frank Sassone, who added that his first car was a 280Z. Figure under $15,000 for a very good condition car that will still deliver sporty handling. Some prefer the predecessor 240Z (almost nobody is a fan of the stopgap 260Z in between the two headliner cars), but the 280Z delivered high performance that in most respects bettered the 240Z and 240Zs that in good shape nonetheless usually cost twice as much as 280Zs (a very good condition car will run around $30,000). That's why bargain hunters usually will look for a 280Z.
1975 Mercedes 450SL - Multiple experts pointed to this Mercedes convertible that looks as good on the streets in 2016 as it did when new. How much? Good condition cars, with a good ragtop, usually cost under $15,000. Factory airconditioning, power windows and an automatic provide riding comfort. A 2016 SLC roadster starts around $48,000, by the way. But the 450SL just may deliver more driving fun.
Want more suggestions? Classic car insurer Hagerty offers The Hagerty Price Guide Index of Affordable Classics, a kind of Dow Jones type collection of a dozen cars Hagerty believes are undervalued. All are priced below $30,000. On the present list are the 1967 VW Beetle, 1949 Buick Roadmaster, 1967 Karmann Ghia, 1972 Porsche 912, 1969 Javelin, 1963 MGB, 1971 Datsun 240Z, 1965 Chevy Corvair Monza, 1965 Mustang, 1972 TR6, 1963 Studebaker Avanti, 1962 Studebaker Lark and 1970 Camaro SS.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.