Why Would Anyone Buy a Classic Sports Car?

EBay, Barrett Jackson, and Hemmings all abound with classic and veteran sports cars for sale and auction year-round, but why do so many people want to buy one – or even more than one?

What makes an otherwise-sane person sink exorbitant amounts of money into an obsolete piece of machinery?

I bought my first classic sports car in the 90’s – a decrepit and pitiful 1978 MG Midget. That was just the beginning; I was bitten as they say. Shortly after the Midget came home, I bought a 1977 MGB, then a 1973 MGB, a 1967 MGB GT, BMWs, Porsches, Triumphs and on and on.  Let’s take a look at the reasons why folks might consider buying a classic sports car.

Are they cheaper than buying a modern car?

1963 Ferrari Lusso cockpit


Volkwagens, MGs, and most British sports cars are relatively inexpensive to buy, but nearly anything that says Ferrari or Porsche on it is going to cost you dearly.  Buying the car is just the beginning, because then you need to consider the cost of any road preparation work and parts that need attention, insurance, and titling.  If, bless your heart, you decide to undertake a complete restoration, it should only be as a labor of love – no one ever makes money restoring old cars, except the guy who owns the shop.  Forget what you have seen on TV.

It is sound advice to buy the best condition example of the car you want to own.

If you are going to drive it a lot, don’t buy a “trailer queen” or show car – you’ll cry the first time you pick up a hood nick….buy a “driver” and just drive it.

1965 Porsche 912 (Body Restoration)

Registering, titling, and insuring a classic or antique car is cheap, but not necessarily the easiest task. In states like NJ and PA, you need to present pictures of all four sides of the car to prove that it is stock, roadworthy, and the actual car to be registered. In the past, I’ve even had to bring in rubbings of the actual body number from the chassis.

The difference between classic- and antique-registered cars (at least in PA and NJ) is that classics are defined as less than 25 years old, but more than 15 years old. Antiques are defined as 25 years old and over. But registration is a once and done process – you do not have to register the car ever again as long as you own it.

Also, the year of first titling, not year of manufacture establishes the age of the car. An old car that was manufactured in 1963 but not titled until 1964 is a 1964, at least according to the PA DMV. This may not be that important to some, but it depends on the person and the car in question. I bought what was described as and has been verified as a 1963 MGB, but since the original title for the car was not acquired until 1964, it’s recorded as a 1964. For most, this is not a big deal, but 1963 MGBs are rarer (READ: more valuable) than 1964 MGBs. It would be nice to have the MGB titled as a 1963.

Once the car is registered and titled as a classic or antique, insurance is usually a quote based on an agreed-upon value. It is a matter of stating what you think the car is worth, say $10,000, then they quote you an annual premium based on a value of $10K. If you wreck the car to the point that they consider it a total loss, you get $10,000, and they keep your car. Of course you always have the option of buying the wreck back, but it will be re-titled as a Salvage car, which kills its resale value.

Are they more fun than a modern car?

I think so.

There are hordes of aficionados on any given weekend that are at shows or events with their cars, having fun. When the car is running right, the sun is out, and traffic is sparse on a great winding road, it can’t be beat. The sound of the old engine humming, the smell of the uncatalyzed exhaust and the leather and old horsehair seats, the responsiveness of the non-power steering, rear-wheel drive motoring -.it is hard to duplicate that with any modern car.

1963 MG B Engine Bay (simple and roomy)

Are they easier to maintain than a modern car?

Most of the time, yes.

Parts for old British sports cars are easily acquired, and at reasonable prices.  The same is mostly true for old BMWs and Porsches, but they cost a bit more. Italian sports cars have a fairly good supporting network of suppliers as well. The nice thing about owning an old sports car is that it is not an everyday car; if it’s down and out, it doesn’t mean that you are stranded or cash-strapped because of it. Having no pressure to fix the car for immediate transportation combined with a wealth of documentation and online support groups also lends itself for one to tinker and learn to fix the car yourself.  Of course, the lack of pressure has its downside as well.  Without the necessity of doing the work, many of these cars sit incomplete and unused in their owners’ garages for years.

Do they appreciate in value more than a modern car?

Most of the time, yes.  After all, a new car should almost never be purchased as an investment opportunity.

Of course, some make and models just seem destined for mediocrity all their lives, but others seem to skyrocket. It is difficult to predict which ones will be extremely worthwhile investments, but you can bet that if it says Ferrari on it, you’ll do OK.

1986 Ferrari 328 GTS

I was on the fence about buying a 1972 Dino 246 GT around 1995 – the asking price was $35,000! I challenge you to find the same car for that price today (starting prices are around $85,000).

Balance that statement however, with the risk of buying a car that you know nothing about nor the current market and you can get hurt – I’ve “given” away my share of cars that had no upside in the near-term.

Remember the most important thing – you should buy the car to use it and enjoy it. The worst thing that these old cars can suffer from is a case of “lackausatosis” (lack of use). Not driving the car will actually cause more things to break than if you drove it on a regular basis.

As Harry Pellow was fond of saying: “Keep the faith!”

Author: Erik Brzoska

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1 Comment

  1. It’s a sick compulsion that they cannot resist, that’s why someone would buy a classic sports car. At least that’s what is in my case.

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