As auction prices blast into the stratosphere, auto critic Robert Ross names 10 great cars with wheels still on Earth.
It is no secret that the collector car market has been on a roll. Whether this impressive performance of tangible assets is in response to a slow and painful rebound of more mainstream financial markets, or a matter of more basic principles of supply and demand, or simply object lust, is almost irrelevant. What is relevant is that some old cars—a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing today valued at more than $1.5 million, for instance—doubled in value from 2013 to 2015, representing a return on investment as respectable as any other passion purchase that comes to mind.
Anyone who is on top of collecting trends, attends car shows, follows auctions, or just has a pulse fueled by gasoline knows that today—and historically, since the 1980s—Ferraris are the gold standard of automotive collectibles and indeed, that postwar European sports and competition cars are the hot ticket, likely reflecting the age and preferences of most collectors who are in a position to acquire them. A flip through major auction catalogs over the past two years also reveals the sudden disappearance of prewar classics, which until recently populated far more pages of those catalogs and commanded far more collector dollars ➤
than they do at present. Similarly, American iron—specifically muscle cars of all stripes—has cooled considerably over the past few years.
A constant is that top-tier cars of every era, origin, and marque continue to maintain or rise in value. According to the Hagerty Price Guide, the authoritative source for collector car valuations, blue-chip cars saw a 30 percent gain overall in 2014, with market experts anticipating just slightly slower growth overall in 2015.The most desirable marques and models can command amounts many multiples higher than lesser automobiles, even when they are distinguished by seemingly minute differences. And lately, the “rising tide lifts all boats” analogy is proved by the fact that these more affordable cars are continuing to appreciate more rapidly than top-tier trophies.
But real car lovers open their hearts and wallets for reasons unrelated to logic and the raw data of spreadsheets. They respond to stimuli having more to do with the curve of a fender, the details of a grille, the design of a wheel. While everyone recognizes the immutable beauty of a Ferrari Lusso or Jaguar E-Type, fewer might appreciate the quirkiness of a Facel Vega or Jensen Interceptor. To be sure, these oddball cars will never attain the grail-like status of the former. But they can deliver immeasurable pleasure for—in some cases—dimes on the dollar.
Identifying undiscovered cars with an upside is a crapshoot; trends are fickle, and powerful is the herd mentality. The horse has already escaped the barn for plentiful cars like Jaguar E-Types and Porsche 911s, while long unappreciated rarities like Maserati Ghiblis and Sunbeam Tigers have catapulted out of the bargain basement and are shooting skyward. But independent thinkers who happily mix their stripes with plaids, oblivious to others’ opinions and out to impress no one, can build a connoisseur’s collection when it is judged according to aesthetics, historic significance, engineering, or performance.
With all of that in mind, here are 10 cars that hit a high note in one or more of these categories. Each can go for a song relative to the big-boy toys: A superb example of most of these automobiles can be had for $50,000 to $100,000, and nonperfectionists can do much better still. True eccentrics with an eye to the upside and more to spend should consider such rarities as an AC 428, a Facel Vega HK500, an Intermeccanica Italia, a Lamborghini Espada, and a Maserati Mistral. But every one of these is a car of substance and beauty, and none will disappoint an owner not afraid to mix up the status quo.