Car Collecting is a Serious Passion

Collecting vintage cars is not for the faint of wallet but there are ways to do it that won't lead to debtor's prison. But, heck, let's start from the top. We can dream, can't we?

A recent post by the auction portal http://www.invaluable.com rounded up the 16 most expensive cars ever sold at auction. There were a few surprises but not very many. Fully half were Ferraris, most were red, and only one American maker hit the top 10. That one was a luscious 1935 Duesenberg SSJ in two-tone gray, a giant of a car once owned by Gary Cooper and sold last year for 22 million dollars. The Duesenberg Motor Company was founded in 1913 as an early entry into the high-end automobile market. It built some great cars during the 1920s but the stock market crash and subsequent Depression were too much to overcome and by 1937 it was gone. If you have a garage-full of Doozies, you should be writing your own articles.

Interestingly, only three of the 16 cars on the list were built before WWII. The large and gorgeous touring sedans from the Belle Epoque and Art Deco periods have largely come down in price. Young collectors today are looking for mid-century cars that are reminiscent of what their parents drove or what they saw on TV as youngsters. Besides the Doozie, the other two pre-war cars on the top 16 list were Alpha-Romeos built in 1939. Both were distinctive cars of great rarity and immaculate condition. All the rest were later, including a 1994 McLaren F1 sold for a paltry $19,805,000.

For those of us with fewer zeros in our bank accounts, unrestored muscle cars from the 1950s and '60s can still be purchased for something less than a fortune, and even more pedestrian cars with unusual features or low production runs are within reach of many. Parts and service are still fairly reasonable, and restoration costs south of the border can save a lot more. And while low mileage adds to the price, well maintained cars of higher mileage are not to be shunned. Many are the vehicles still on road with odometers well into the six figures.

If buying whole cars exceeds your threshold of pain, consider the many offshoots of car collecting that can bring considerable pleasure. Categories such as vintage hood ornaments, license plates, and repair manuals are ever popular, and model cars of every stripe continue to draw adherents. There are old ones and new ones, large ones and small ones, cheap ones and spendy ones. Matchbox cars come in almost limitless variety and are a great way to start collecting. More contemporary makers such as CMC (Classic Model Cars) offer incredible detail in their limited editions, some featuring 1,000 or more individual parts. As model cars go, CMC cars are not inexpensive but best-of-breed products never are.

If the big stuff is for you, where to you find them? There are several classic car dealers here in the valley, including three within just a few miles of each other in south Palm Springs. The fall McCormick auto auction, now held in the parking lot adjacent to the convention center, is coming up shortly and is a great opportunity for learning and buying. A few visionary collectors are also starting to look to places like Cuba where pre-1959 cars still abound. If you think this world is for you, start with subscriptions to the better car magazines and read up. It's a big-boy (and girl) hobby and mistakes can be expensive.

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