August 16, 2016 / Market Insights

Drive Time: How to Collect Classic Cars

As the upcoming Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance creates a buzz in the world of classic cars, here's our 10-step guide to buying vintage vehicles


With classic cars selling at anywhere between $5,000 and $25,000,000 plus, starting a collection takes time, patience, and knowledge. Whether you’re looking for an iconic Aston Martin DB5, or a slinky pre-war racer, it’s important to seek expert advice.

Miles Morris, co-owner of Morris & Welford, LLC, historic car consultants and brokers, has nearly 30 years' experience in the classic car world, and has been on the selection committee and a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, one of the leading car shows in the world, for more than 10 years. “Collectors are invariably drawn to elegance, that something special about the build and body,” Morris says. Ahead of the event this weekend (August 21), he reveals how to start a classic car collection.

<strong>507 BMW</strong><br> Elvis Presley in front of his BMW 507, which is on show at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this year after a two-year restoration. Photograph: BMW AG. Banner image: 1952 Ferrari 340 Mexico Vignale Spyder, owned by Les Wexner of New Albany, Ohio. Photograph: David Burton.1. Starting position
“There are a number of ways to go about finding your first classic car. First, think about what you are intending to do with it, and what your budget is. Then decide what models you like. There are wonderful car clubs around the world for almost every model and they will be a great resource. Once you’ve decided on a model you like, you then have to find the car. That could be through advertising online or in specialist magazines, through a specialist dealer or auction house, or through a broker like myself.”

<strong>Aston Martin DB5</strong><br> Driven by Sean Connery as James Bond, this is perhaps one of the most well-known cars in the world.2. How to spot a true classic
Commercial director for Aston Martin Works, Paul Spires, advises: “The current buzz in the classic car market generally is around originality and authenticity. There are many cars that have been rebuilt to represent a model it was not originally, which can catch out buyers. The best guidance is to seek out expert advice before making any substantial purchase.” 

Morris continues: “With a lot of the prestigious/classic pre-war cars, when purchased new, you wouldn’t just buy the car, you would choose the coach builder, who would then make the body for you, too. Coach-built cars were very refined: although they had many designs you could change it and alter it for your own preference, though this became a dying art after the war. You can spot one by looking for the coach builder’s plate on the door sill or a body tag on the side of the car, and the person selling the car will happily emphasize the rarity of the model.”

3. Educate to accumulate
“A lot of collectors collect only a couple of cars. The key is to educate yourself, do your research and make sure the car you are buying has been well looked after and is the finest example you can find for your budget. New car collectors can be a bit scattergun at first then, after a year or two of meeting other people and attending different shows, start to change their minds. They will then need to sell the less important cars in their collection to concentrate on the better examples.”

<strong>1973 Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS Lightweight</strong><br> One of rarest and most coveted of the 911 series, as just 200 were made. Price range: $1.1 million-$1.4 million. Photography: Morris & Welford, LLC4. Money talks
“For some of the smaller Alfa Romeos you can expect to pay around $50,000 while a $100,000 budget should get you something like a 1960s Austin Healey. Some of the 911 Porsches have become extremely valuable and the most desirable, such as the 1973 911 RS, can go up to $700,000, with some of the rarest Lightweight versions selling for over $1,000,000 in recent years. As they were built primarily for racing, only a small number were made, making them instant classics."

Ferrari produced just 10 275 GTB NART Spyders, one of which sold for $27.5 million

5. Unique, rare, limited editions
“Look out for manufacturers that only produced a few cars of a particular model. That’s where it gets really exciting. Ferrari produced just 10 275 GTB NART Spyders, one of which sold for $27.5 million in 2013. That’s an extremely rare car and very near the top of the food chain in Ferrari collecting.”

<strong>1939 MG TB Midget</strong><br> Morris & Welford is asking $75,000 for this example due to its rarity and high cost of the restoration. Similar-looking cars, such as the MG TC model (1947-49) range between $20,000 and $50,000. Photograph: Sean Smith Photography6. Try before you buy
“When I look at a car I check all around it, under it, at the door gaps, and throughout for originality and authenticity. And make sure you drive it. Do the gears change properly? Does it accelerate properly? Is it misfiring? Are the brakes working properly? Does the suspension feel right? If things are wrong, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy the car, but it gives you an idea of what work you might have to do.”

Auctions can be very good for the buyer, but consider that you won’t be able to go for a test drive 

7. Purchasing power
“Don’t pay the first price. Most people build a little bit of negotiating room into their asking price, so invariably there’s bargaining to be done. Auctions can be very good for the buyer, but consider that you won’t be able to go for a test drive and it’s difficult to examine the car properly. Instead check the history and documentation very carefully or seek advice from a specialist or club that really knows the model.”

<strong>Jaguar XK140 Roadster</strong><br>  This British classic car dates from the mid-1950s. Price range: $100,000-$150,000. Photography: Morris & Welford, LLC8. Specialist insurance
“I recommend a specialist company that only does classic car insurance, like Hagerty. Classic car insurance is actually relatively affordable and the insurance for an $80,000 car would probably be under $700 a year. The risk is quite low because classic cars are not driven every day and are extremely well looked after by the owners.”

9. Hit the road in style
“Classic cars aren’t just to be looked at. They should be exercised on a fairly regular basis. Although you can use these cars for everyday tasks, others are not all that practical for modern roads and can overheat if stuck in traffic, so choose where you’re going to drive it wisely. But do drive it. That’s part of the fun.”

<strong>1964 Studebaker GT Hawk</strong><br> An example of a stylish American mid-1960s car that is also affordable. Price range: $5,000-$25,000. Photography: Morris & Welford, LLC10. Care and attention
“As long as you are keeping an eye on your cars and starting them up every so often they will generally be fine – once you’ve got them in good working condition they don’t need too much extra maintenance. Modern fuel, with its ethanol content, is not very kind to classic cars as left static it goes off and turns to jelly, which can block the fuel line and cause problems with the carburetor, so it’s best to keep them moving.

“Have fun and enjoy it. Classic car ownership is a wonderful hobby, and attracts an extremely friendly group of like-minded people.”

Christie’s International Real Estate is an official sponsor of the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, taking place Sunday, August 21.

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Jessica Hopkins
is a writer and editor specializing in food, culture, and lifestyle.