Whether you're a casual or serious automobile enthusiast, driving the rare car of your dreams is the ultimate thrill, but finding and buying a rare or classic car is a challenge for even the most experienced collectors. Stumbling across a precious rarity gathering dust in a local barn may happen on "reality" TV, but it's a scenario that rarely transpires in real life.
In fact, patience and perseverance are two traits you need to possess when it comes to searching for your dream automobile. After all, a vehicle is rare for a reason, and that makes finding and buying an uncommon make and model a challenging adventure.
A car classified as rare implies a limited supply and a high demand. As a result, it's often considered collectible, but there are exceptions. In some cases, a car is rare because it performed so badly that only a limited number were produced. Personal taste dictates demand for these vehicles more than actual collectability. Rare cars are often classics, but not all classic cars are rare.
"Rarity is defined in cars as in anything else. There are not many of them," says Bill Sampson, president of the National Woodie Club, an organization for owners of rare and classic cars with wood-paneled exteriors. "'Classic' refers to design beauty, which, of course, lies in the eye of the beholder."
In general, several circumstances can lead to a car's rarity:
- A unique feature not found on other makes or models, such as gull-wing doors
- Limited production of a particular model
- An older make and model with a dwindling number of vehicles still intact
- Special factory modifications not found on other models, such as a one-of-a-kind exterior color or trim
- A famous history, such as an appearance in a film or ownership by a VIP
Finding Your Dream Car
The first step in finding a rare car is learning exactly what the manufacturer made. You can't find your dream car if it doesn't actually exist because you have some details wrong. Even automotive experts and collectors do their homework to make sure they nail the details. "There are undoubtedly a lot of rare and classic cars out there about which I have never heard," says Sampson.
A host of magazines, books, and websites provide expert information on rare and classic cars, including up-to-date details on specific models, buying opportunities, and the rare car market in general. Read as much as you can to learn about a specific rare model you know you want, or to broaden the scope of vehicles on your wish list.
"Explore, explore, explore!" says Nicolas Zart, co-founder of Car News Cafe and a rare and classic car authority. To find a rare car, Zart and other experts recommend attending car shows to talk with rare car owners and enthusiasts. "If you develop a taste for a rare car and communicate it," he says, "then you'll become known for that." This networking could lead to someone contacting you later with information on the rare model you want.
If the car you want is a popular rare model, it probably has at least one car club out there. Join the club (or clubs) for your rare car to access online forums, where you can discuss details and ask questions about the car. Current rare car owners and enthusiasts are often the best sources for finding specific models for sale and could point you to private owners, reputable dealers, or car shows and auctions. "Word of mouth is the best," says Sampson. "The best cars tend to be known by those who desire them already."
Making the Purchase
If possible, take a mechanic or expert with you to examine a rare car you find for sale. As with any vehicle, check the integrity of the body for signs of rust, and check the engine for mechanical issues. Talk to fellow car owners in advance, so you know what to watch out for during a test drive.
For rare cars, you're paying for more than just transportation, and originality is important if collectible value matters to you. If major parts have been replaced, such as the engine, transmission, or rear axle, it lowers the value of the car in the eyes of many collectors. The serial number stamped on the engine should match the vehicle's VIN number. The ideal scenario would be to find a car with a complete history file, including receipts for service, repairs, and parts. If the car has been restored, ask for a detailed log of the restoration project with photos.
Prices vary widely for rare cars, and Blue Book value may not exist or be irrelevant. Ask owners on car club forums or check specialty car sites, such as Hemmings Motor News, to get a feel for current prices for the brand, model, and year, and don't be afraid to negotiate. When making an offer, factor in repairs the car may need as well as projected future maintenance costs. You should also make sure the car doesn't have any existing liens or undisclosed co-owners before handing over any cash.
After finding and buying your dream car, there's only one thing left to do — enjoy the drive! If your new ride is photogenic, show off its good side on our Instagram page.