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Car Guy Diary - 8/29/2014 - What’s it Worth?

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This question comes up so often it’s begun to sound like background noise. With the proliferation of collector car auctions, money-biased car shows on television and big money collector car transactions finding their way into the mainstream media, it’s doubtful that this question will fade away anytime soon.

Having owned a number of collector cars, people have put this question to me plenty of times. And nearly every time I get asked, I answer the same way; it’s not worth anything. Inquisitors are taken aback. After all, they have seen collector cars go for hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars. How could an old car not be worth anything? The kibitzers will of course have to tease that my old cars are usually a mess and barely worth scrap value, but their kidding aside, my old car isn’t worth anything.

How? Why? What? Well, it’s pretty simple, my old car isn’t for sale and I am not trying to buy it, so whatever it is worth is a moot point. Folks struggle with this concept. The hard cases who live to make you wrong so they can be right will press the issue asking you if you would take some outrageous figure for your car. Well, if the car was for sale, sure, I would take an outrageous amount of money for my car…who wouldn’t? But it’s not for sale and nobody is offering me a pile of cash for it.

The flip side of this coin is if I were forced to sell one of my cars due to some unforeseen circumstance. This has happened a time or two and is also a real teaching moment. Whenever you (or me) wants to sell your collector car, it always seems to be when the market is bottoming out and you can’t get what you may need for it. I’m not talking about value, book or otherwise. I mean you need $10,000 to pay some medical expenses and it seems all you can get for your car is $5,000. During those moments, it always seems like you are at the mercy of others. Any other time during your ownership, the car could fetch $10,000 while it was on fire, but when you really need the money, value is nowhere to be found. That can be a bitter pill, right when you are least able to swallow it.

With so many artificial influences, like those I mentioned above, prices have continued to go up completely out of proportion to reality. A rusty car that does not run and has no title is what we used to refer to as a parts car, because that was all it was good for. Now, such a car is worth $3,000! Four years ago, I paid $850 for my ‘65 Rambler Marlin. It was a little rusty, but was complete and missing none of the rare Marlin-only parts. It had a title but no keys, so I could not confirm the owners assertion that it did in fact run. For the money, I could hardly lose because I could sell the rare parts off of it for a profit, so I took a chance. Within hours of it’s arrival in my driveway the car proved its previous owner was speaking the truth…the car ran.

Four years later, I have a running, driving car with less than $1,500 spent on it, car included. I have seen other Marlins that mine puts to shame condition and functionality wise that are priced three times as much as my total expenditure. But does that mean my Marlin is worth that kind of money? No, it doesn’t.

My car isn’t worth anything because it’s not for sale.

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