Which car is worth collecting?

Cars made today that are likely to become collectors' items include the BMW M2 (above) and Alfa Romeo 4C Spider .
Cars made today that are likely to become collectors' items include the BMW M2 (above) and Alfa Romeo 4C Spider .PHOTO: REUTERS
Cars made today that are likely to become collectors' items include the BMW M2 and Alfa Romeo 4C Spider (above).
Cars made today that are likely to become collectors' items include the BMW M2 and Alfa Romeo 4C Spider (above).PHOTO: ALFA ROMEO

Whether the value of a car will appreciate depends on its design, performance and brand

Earlier this year in Arizona, Gooding & Co sold a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTC Speciale for US$3.4 million (S$4.6 million). The car was among the last of the great coach-built Ferraris and the third of only four ever made of this specific model. Plus, it had a 300-horsepower V12 engine and thrilling five-speed manual transmission. It looked like one's wildest dream embodied in rubber and steel.

It is no surprise, then, that such a gem sold for so much money: It was rare, beautiful and special. Which may make you wonder: What cars being made today will eventually be just as collectible?

In its simplest form, a car is considered collectible when it is "the fun car you don't have to have", says Mr McKeel Hagerty, president of car valuation website Hagerty.

From a valuation standpoint, a car becomes recognised as collectible once it is fully depreciated and has started increasing in value. It is fully collectible once it has appreciated past its original purchase price.

"The general rule of thumb is it takes 25 years for a vehicle to fully depreciate and start climbing in value," Mr Hagerty said.

But in the past few years, he has seen enthusiast-oriented vehicles (think 2000s-era Pontiac GTO) fully depreciate in 10 to 15 years before they start their climb. That is when it becomes interesting - if you are smart about it, you can find some pleasantly undervalued automotive gems that, given a few years, will retain and even increase in value.

What pushes the pricing? The usual things: How many of them were made, how well they fared on the race-track, how beautiful they are and the veritable prestige of their mother brand. It explains why, say, a Honda Accord is not collectible and a Ferrari 488 is.

"Most modern cars drop in value immediately and keep going down and never come back," said Mr Karl Brauer, senior editor of Kelley Blue Book, a vehicle valuation company. "But if something is truly collectible, after some time, it will eventually swing back up and keep going. It just takes more than a year or two."

Hagerty recently assembled a team of analysts to produce a list of the new cars most likely to do just that. Stipulations included that the car must be produced within the 2016 model year and must have a manufacturer's suggested retail prince of less than US$100,000.

Such models as the US$65,900 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider and the US$51,700 BMW M2 took top billing. They are likely to appreciate by double-digit percentage points because of their pureness of design, their superior performance among their competitors and the strength of their brands.

The 4C captures Alfa's famous race-track finesse in a skin akin to the much more expensive old Ferrari 360 Modena. The M2 showcases BMW's rich heritage - it echoes the 2002tii and the Z3 M coupe - and it is being replaced by a new model this year, which means that it falls at a great point in the spectrum of BMW's historical line-up.

Others, such as the US$37,295 Chevrolet Camaro SS, US$89,090 Dodge Viper SRT Coupe and the US$60,465 Cadillac ATS-V, embody American tradition.

The new Camaro SS follows last year's debut of the new Mustang, so it had to be good. And it is great, bringing a 455-horsepower V8 engine with its brawny body and wide-open grille.

Meanwhile, that Cadillac was created to dominate similar cars from BMW (the M3) and Mercedes (the MG C63). It has a smaller V6 engine, but gets 464 horsepower and even comes with a (increasingly rare on sports cars) six-speed manual transmission. So it stands out in its category.

"If enough time passes, almost anything is collectible and that includes cars," Mr Brauer said. "Any sort of special car with an enthusiast following, including Camaros and Mustangs, if you stick it away for 30 years and don't drive it much, it's going to be collectible."

Furthermore, plenty of contemporary mainstream models - the Mazda MX-5 Miata, for instance - have stronger enthusiast followings than those of similar luxury examples. That means they will be highly valued three decades from now. It will just take some time to get there.

"If you have a car - at any price - that is extremely beautiful, it helps a lot," Mr Brauer said. "But you really have to think about how long you're willing to wait."

Of course, to really reach the highest echelon of collecting, you have to go exotic. Most Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Bugattis, McLarens and the like will be highly collectible, so it is interesting to consider the lesser-known versions of these brands. 

Following the same philosophy as before - that limited-edition and higher-trim levels will retain their allure better - consider such cars as the Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3 Special Edition, the Dodge Viper ACR Extreme and the Jaguar F- Type SVR Coupe.

The thing to remember is that cars should be enjoyed. Virtually any well-preserved auto example that is 30 years old will find a willing buyer who will appreciate it for more than just a basic form of transportation.

So buy something you will have fun using. Cars must be driven to fully appreciate their mechanics and beauty - the investment value will follow naturally, if you are patient (and gentle on that stick).

"It's safe to say the majority of vehicles purchased for the fun factor will become collectible sooner," Mr Hagerty said. "But you should give 100 per cent consideration to it being a fun car that you want to own and be less concerned about how the masses will view it in the future."

In short, lean back, relax and drive. And give it 30 years.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'Which car is worth collecting?'. Print Edition | Subscribe