Picking cars that will appreciate, not depreciate, has become a fascination for Bruce Farrow after 14 years of appraising collector vehicles.
Less than $15,000, Farrow says, can buy a vehicle that provides immediate gratification before paying dividends down the road.
Candidate vehicles are generally 15 to 20 years old, and available in such numbers as to keep prices low. While many show road fatigue and some certainly have deteriorated into rolling wrecks, others remain like new. They're the prizes worth searching out: Investment quality, Farrow might describe them.
For example, he cites a 1971 Ford F-100 pickup that five years ago sold for $6,000 and is now commanding $12,000. A 1990 Toyota Supra Turbo: up from $14,000 five years ago, to $30,000.
The art is in identifying cars that will increase in appeal, hence price. Following are five that come to Farrow's mind as proprietor of Road/Show Appraisals and a 14-year member of the Professional Association of Vehicle Evaluators.
"You need to buy a car while it's in original condition," he says. "If you wait another 10 years, by then they will have become candidates for restoration – which is very expensive. And a restored car is never as good as one in original condition."
As with stories in the business section outlining stock market prospects, consumers are reminded they should proceed only after conducting their own research.
Audi A4/S4, B7 Generation, 2004-2008
"These cars have a very classic, clean look," Farrow says of the more tailored lines compared with today's larger A4/S4/RS sedans.
They'll always look good. And go fast, in the case of the S4 with its 339-horsepower, 4.2-litre V-8.
"I believe the S4 will appreciate more because the Audi brand is tied to sportiness, going back to the first Quattro's rallying wins," Farrow says. "But the A4s share that Quattro character with all-wheel drive and, with so many on the market, many are priced to sell."
A4s can soar in price from $5,000 to $25,000; S4s are high in that range. Search for the cleanest car, with the lowest number of kilometres, preferably dealer-serviced because Audi's thrive on expert care.
Chevrolet Corvette, C4 Generation, C4, 1984-1996
Chevy sold more than 350,000 of these adrenalin pumpers. Now they're flooding the used car market so prices are low – good ones go for $8,000, not so good for $5,000. "These prices almost certainly are the bottom of the trough," Farrow says. "Any of the C4s are great buys, both because of the performance you get for the dollar, and the enduring strength of the Corvette brand. [It's] best to buy a convertible."
In 1984 the C4's styling was a dramatic departure from its Stingray predecessor; the latest Corvette is clearly related.
Jeep Cherokee XJ, 1990-95
Sure, Cherokee XJs seem as common as Honda Civics. But some rust away and many more will disintegrate from poor maintenance. Those that survive another decade are destined to look better.
"A great design never grows old, a truth no better confirmed than by Dick Teague's masterpiece," design commentator Robert Cumberford said in saluting the American Motors stylist's Cherokee XJ.
Farrow shares Cumberford's enthusiasm for the XJ's face and profile. "It makes me think of the Jeep Wagoneer (1961-1991), they're $30-40,000 now and the XJ is the next thing – it looks like a proper Jeep, you can see the heritage."
He knows as well as anyone how cheap they can be, having just bought one. "It's a 1990, inherited from the vendor's grandfather: it was the fourth one I looked at and the highest price, $5,000. After I drove it, I said, 'The front shock absorbers were weak,' and he said, 'You're right.' So he accepted my offer of $1,500."
Porsche 968, 1992-95
Overpriced and underappreciated when new, the 968 is gaining traction: Porsche's 924/944/968 front-engine, rear trans-axle series of sports cars have become celebrated for their cornering capacity.
As the last in the evolution, the 968 is more powerful, refined and stylish than the 944, which itself has emerged as a favoured track car among Porsche Club of America members. Adding to the 968's cachet, it was made alongside the 911 in Zuffenhausen, whereas the 924 and 944 were assembled in an Audi plant.
"All Porsches appreciate at some point," Farrow says. "The 968 is very bulletproof, and it has timeless styling. A lot more convertibles than coupes are on the market – and I recommend the convertible."
Fewer than 7,000 968s were sold in the United States and Canada, of which only 2,248 were ragtops. Demand can only grow.
Toyota Celica, Seventh generation, 1999-2006
Farrow views the last of the Celica line as bang-on. "It's totally dependable and it's cheap on gas," he says. "You expect that from a Toyota.
"The base GS model isn't powerful, but the transmission is slick, the handling good, it has great ergonomics and is fun to drive. And it's just an attractive design, a form-follows-function shape."
The more powerful GT-S likely will appreciate more because of its sportier image. But Farrow warns against falling for any Celica that's sportier-than-stock with exaggerated wings and the like. "What you need to look for is a low-mileage, dealer-maintained car – they are out there, available at unbelievably low prices.
"You can get the nicest one for $8-9,000. Or a nasty one for $2,000. No, I wouldn't buy the $2,000 car."
- Never buy sight unseen (he’s appraised too many bad eBay purchases).
- Don’t buy the first car you see.
- Always get an independent inspection – never use someone the vendor recommends.
- Check for collision damage: a certificate stating “never wrecked” means only that no collisions were reported.
- Original paint is always a plus.
- More than 300,000 kilometres, walk away.
If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at email@example.com.
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