Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Collector Car or 4,000 lb Paperweight?

Many cars end up as collectors items, after 50 years or so.  What does this prove?

My neighbor has a 1957 Chevy, sort of like the one above, except (unfortunately) that it is green, and a four-door post sedan, with a green interior.   I haven't seen it leave the garage in years.  It is a nice car, I guess - although is it really a car anymore?  Or just a 4,000 lb paperweight?

You see, a car is a transportation appliance - one that takes you from Point A to Point B.   When a car becomes a talisman of a car - a placeholder of what cars used to look like, then it really is no longer a car, but a "collector's item".   And many people get confused over this.

On many car sites and YouTube, you hear a lot of ignorant people say things like, "Gee, they really don't build them like they used to!  Cars back then were the best!  None of this electronic crap and fuel injection and plastic dashboards!   Cars back then were built to last!  That old car is worth ten times today what it was worth new back then!"

And of course, that is all nonsense.   Cars back then rusted to death in a few years.   After 50,000 miles, most were burning oil.  They got horrible gas mileage.  They were horrendously unsafe.   And the quality - particularly post-war models - was in the toilet.

And as an investment, collector cars really suck.   While such a car may be worth "ten times" its original sales price, in terms of return on investment, that is a rather poor one, representing an annual "rate of return" of only about 4.5% over 50 years.   And that does not take into account the cost of maintenance and restoration - the latter of which often exceeds resale value.   If you want a collector car, fine.   But don't kid yourself that it is an "investment."

When you see a meticulously restored car (like the one shown above) you are not looking at the "real deal" that came off the assembly line back in the 1950's.   Most folks upgrade older cars with things like modern engines, electronic ignition (no one pines for the days of points and condensers!) radial tires, and gas-filled shocks.

But even with these upgrades, few people drive cars this old on an every day basis.   And please, no stories about Uncle Fred and his '62 Buick.   Yes, there are a few people who drive classic cars every day - they are the exception, not the norm.

The reality is, a few cars from every era survive the test of time.   Some are little more than rusty shells when they are found, rescued, and completely restored.  Others sit in garages, unused, for decades, because some "car hoarder" decided to save them.   The vast majority, however, go to the junkyard, after a few years, because they are worn out and old, and at the time, you could buy better cars for less money than restoring an eight- or ten-year-old car.

The cars we see today are often "over-restored" which is a term signifying that the car is of better quality (in terms of paint, upholstery, and fit-and-finish) than they were from the factory.   Many restorers will take an older car and add options that it did not come with originally.   For example, back in the 1950's, very few people shelled out the money to add a "Continental Spare Tire" kit to their car.  It was costly, and it was inconvenient.   If you look at period street photos from back then, you rarely see them.

But go to any car show on the weekend and you might think the fabulous fifties were fabulous because everyone drove a coupe or convertible, and everyone, without exception, had a two-tone paintjob, wunderbar radio, and a Continental spare tire kit.   Such was not the case, however.   These are restored cars, in most cases - or heavily optioned cars that were "saved" over the years.   The stripped-down station wagon (painted in one color) was used and abused and then junked.

And in the same manner, most of the car you see today will end up in the junkyard.   No one will "save" a beige Camry or mini-SUV for future generations to oooh and aaah over.   No one will pull a rusty 2005 Impala from the junkyard and "restore" it, in 30 years.   This doesn't mean the cars today are worthless, only that - like the cars from the 30's, 40's, and 50's - most are just used and junked, and few are unique enough or interesting enough to save.

But a few cars of our era will survive.   The plebian grocery-getters of today will likely be junked.   But sports cars and convertibles and the like, will tend to be saved.   Yes, you will see a 2015 Corvette at the Corvette show in the year 2050.    And you will see some other cars of this era then as well - mostly cars that are interesting or that have a following - Sports cars, high performance cars, convertibles, Jeeps, pickup trucks, and that sort of thing.

They won't be easy to restore, however, as plastic parts and airbags will be hard to find, once a car is out of production for a decade or more.  This does not mean the cars will disappear - people find workarounds for these sorts of things - and they do already.

But to conclude cars today are "junk" is just idiotic.   As I noted in another posting, these are the good old days of high-performance cars.  Chevrolet, Ford, and BMW have cars with 300 or even 400 HP that you can buy right off the showroom floor.   A Mustang V-6 makes 300 HP and gets 30 MPG - and handles like a sports car should - and it won't kill you when you crash it.   Chrysler has introduced a Challenger with over 700 HP (!!!) the likes of which we may never see again.

And yes, these will be the cars that survive the next 50 years, as they tend to sit in the garage and don't get driven much.   I have a 1999 M Roadster with just 50,000 miles on the clock.  I've seen others with as little as 250 miles on them - being held as "collectibles" by some folks with no common sense.  But that is the sort of thing that will survive, not a Camry or a Neon.

And maybe folks in the year 2070 will say, "Gee, everyone back in 2015 drove 500 HP sports cars and hot rods!  And cars back then were better than these self-driving electric cars we have today!   Look how long they've lasted!"

And yes, folks in 2070 will  be idiots, too.