Look at the Condition and History

You love everything about your classic car: driving it around, showing it off, waxing it, and going to shows and talking to other classic car owners. But, occasionally, you wonder if you would like to sell it. You may have had it for 10 or 20 years… what’s it worth now? On the other hand, maybe you’re looking to buy a classic car. You may wonder what you’d need to spend to get a classic Vette, a 1960s oval window Bug, or an original American muscle car.

Below, we’ll talk about some of the things you need to do in either situation to assess the condition of a classic car.

First, you need to look at the car’s interior and exterior with a fine tooth comb. Use a vehicle inspection form like the one here to help. Honesty is the best policy here: take note of any mechanical issues, rust, dents, upholstery rips, or carpet wear and tear. Check the floorboards, and the undercarriage, too.

Second, search for the history of the car. (If you are the owner, you may already know this, but it’s still useful information.) You’ll need to know the make, model, and year for the classic car. Manufacturers began using vehicle identification numbers (VIN) in the 1960s. If it has one, run a title search from Carfax or other reputable company. This will let you know of any accidents, how many owners, and maintenance.

Next, we’ll tell you the standard types of condition for classic cars!

Five Conditions That Set Value

You might have a yen to pinpoint the value of a classic car you already own, or you might be eyeing a specific make and model and wondering what the purchase price is. In Part I, we advised you on how to assess the condition by looking and how to find the history. Here, we give advice on figuring out what condition the car is in.

There are five generally recognized conditions for classic cars.

  • Show condition: The cream of the crop. Show condition vehicles are the most valuable collector cars. Show condition means perfect. A show condition car cannot have been restored. It is likely either brand new or has been resting comfortably in storage somewhere.
  • Excellent condition: As the “excellent” moniker suggests, this classic car has to be in superior condition, with no rust or damage. Excellent cars can be restored, but they must be fully restored, with excellent quality and accuracy. An excellent condition class car is frequently very valuable.
  • Good condition: For a classic car to be deemed in good condition everything must work properly. Any wear or damage has to be capable of being easily repaired. A car in good condition shouldn’t need significant restoration or repair work. It may require minor restoration work.
  • Fair condition: Cars in fair condition have to be operable, although repair may be needed to make sure it is in peak running condition. A car in fair condition may have mechanical issues. If a car is in fair condition, rust or damage to the body panels may exist.
  • Poor condition: If a car is in poor condition it may not be operable and if so, driving it won’t be an option. Poor condition classic cars may have obvious major rust or damage. Restoration may not be possible. Although they are the least valuable classic cars, they do retain some value for parts.

Assessing Market Value

Once you have inspected your classic car or one you have your eye on and have an idea of how it stacks up on the generally recognized markers of condition, you can do some research to find out how much it is worth on the market. Just as prospective car buyers rely on Kelly Blue Book values, classic car collectors have several trusted sources of value. It is wise to consult several so that you have a good survey of the available data.

  • Hagerty – Hagerty can be used to assess the value of any car manufactured after 1945. It is searchable on make, model, and year. Hagerty offers several valuation tools, including value changes for a given car over time.
  • Collector Car Market Review – CCMR is a valuable resource for determining the price of classic cars. It publishes a value guide for collector autos and hosts a classified ad site that attracts thousands of viewers.
  • NADA Collector Car Guide – NADA gives price guidelines for classic cars, exotic cars, and muscle cars. Excellent valuation tool will factor in your location.
  • Hemmings – Hemmings bills itself as “the world’s largest collector car marketplace.” Their selection is vast and the valuation tools can be customized for your needs.

Finally, demand is a key component in setting a price for a collector vehicle. Ideally, a car will be in high demand with other collectors—and in relatively short supply. Some of the valuation tools above have features in which you can research demand. Exploring auction sales and tracking demand for the car is another method.

Want to talk about classic cars? Come out to the next Pomona Swap Meet. You’ll find tens of thousands of people, who all love the classics… and you just might find your dream car!