My Car Quest

April 19, 2024

Determining A Classic Car Value Is Tricky

by Mike –

With the Arizona auctions just finished collectors are evaluating the condition of the collector car market and every collector car publication is opining on the subject of classic car value trends. I will likely do so later in the week too.

The Europe auction season starts this weekend with the Retromobile by Artcurial Motorcars auction in Paris.

Determining the price to pay, or the price to sell, a classic car can be a challenge especially when there were few examples made. Few cars made mean that few come to market so in a dynamic market environment, like we have now, setting a valuation can be tricky.

One-off custom cars

It is even more difficult if the car in question is a one-of-a-kind. A one-off car includes custom cars and hot rods. These cars are made to the builders personal taste and will limit the market size of potential buyers to those car lovers who like what the builder did with his custom car or hot rod. What do you compare the custom car and hot rod against when considering value?

If the one-off car was made that way from the factory, or is a coach-built car that was built that way originally, then the valuation can be quite different than if it was customized by a subsequent owner.

If the custom car was designed and made by a famous car person, like a car designer, then the value will reflect that persons following and status in the car world. Like a race car driven by a famous driver a custom car designed by a famous designer will be more valuable than one designed by someone who is not known (like other types of art).

Special history cars

“Special history cars” are those examples that have something unique in their history that could impact the value. The most obvious category of “special history cars” (excluding race cars) is the ownership history.

Liv Tyler Jaguar

Does celebrity ownership, like Liv Tyler, increase the value of a classic Jaguar?

Was the car owned by a famous person like, oh say, Steve McQueen? Depending on who this special person was, or is, then the value could be effected a lot or not at all.

The other question comes up is when one of these special history cars sells does it effect the value of other examples of the same model that do not share the special history? An example is the Steve McQueen 1970 Porsche 911S that sold at auction in 2011 for about 10 times the value of the same model without the McQueen name attached. Did this event increase the value of other 1970 Porsche 911S examples?

Original or Restored?

Classic cars of a specific marque and model are easier to value because there are more people who know and like them and there are more comparable sales to use to help set the price (like Mustang or Camaro compared to Monteverdi or Iso). There is also a baseline of condition – originality – this sets the standard for all the examples made of that model.

Classic cars are like other types of art work – an original Van Gogh painting is more valuable than a Van Gogh painting that has been modified by someone other than Van Gogh. The message here is if you own a Van Gogh painting don’t change it!

With the trend in the collector car market strongly going toward originality then determining if a car is really original is important. The question of how much originality is important too. What if the paint is new but all else is original? Or some of the paint is new and some original? What if some components have been changed but many are original?

What if the owner made modifications that made the car a better driver and a safer car? Does that decrease the value because it is not original? I think it depends on what the changes are – some changes will likely not hurt the value and others may.

Valuing these cars is going to get much more complicated. The recent price differences between original and restored make these questions very important from a financial point of view.

It really doesn’t change the car in question, however. The car is right in front of you and if you drive it and like the drive and the looks and the condition then maybe it is not important. But the value could vary quite a bit in the future depending upon the answers to these originality questions.

It is getting more complicated – be careful out there.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Determining A Classic Car Value Is Tricky
Article Name
Determining A Classic Car Value Is Tricky
Setting the value of a classic car can be difficult especially with the market in flux.


  1. Mike your information is informative as usual, but in this case it’s a bit dated.

    Hip car collectors toss away those old complicated methods of car valuations and go with a fresh modern view. New values are based on “Patina” Patina =$$$

  2. “Does celebrity ownership, like Liv Tyler, increase the value of a classic Jaguar?”

    Only if the celebrity is included in the sale. A classic Jaguar for sale including Liv Tyler = PRICELESS! Comes with a free Aerosmith (Steven Tyler) greatest hits CD.

    But wait there’s more. If you act within the next 10 minutes and list your fine auto, including celebrity, with My Car Quest you save tons of money. Operators are standing by.

  3. What thoughts on valuing hot rods from the 20’s to the 50’s in steel or glass?

  4. The most critical element in obtaining the value of a car is the recent sales of similar models and the condition of the cars.

    Want to find out what your car is really worth and how good your insurance company is? Wrap your car around a tree.

  5. I ask the same question: does prior celebrity ownership increase the price of the classic car – For example the car is at its best and worth $17,000 low mileage (19,000) 1979 VW. How much added value for the prior celebrity ownership (all paperwork).

  6. Oh and all original; no restoration.

  7. Wim van de Kimmenade says

    According to experts in Europe the following should be considered.
    A car for competition should not look as if it came straight out the showroom. A racing car may show the scars of the batlle.
    A road going car should be in its original state. But to add extra value by having the tyres polished, etc., as is required by some judges of concours d’elegance, is a totally over the top requirement.

  8. The provenance and originality give the value to a classic car for sure.

  9. The value standards are usually what the market dictates and insurance value but let’s not forget the passion for various vehicles and events history and condition that can make someone pay more just because they have to own it.

  10. It would appear to me that if you had two classic cars that were the same year, one was all original with some small imperfections, and the other was restored and a thing of beauty. Today the all original car would fetch a higher price.

    Is that correct?

  11. Interesting! Thank you Mike as you are very knowledgeable and I appreciate your efforts.

    Your Grifo is out of this world! Will you buy another if you sell it?

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