How to Value an Antique Car: The Ultimate Guide

Datsun 240Z Porsche 911 and Chevy Corvette Antique Cars

Having an antique car is a badge of honor and a source of pride for a lot of people. Still, you’ll need to know how much your car is worth at some point. Even if you’re not looking to sell your car, an evaluation will help with a lot of things.

Finding the value of your antique car starts with learning the classification, condition, and comparables of your vehicle. From there, you’ll compare what other cars are selling for and have sold for in the past. You can also bring in an expert appraiser to give you a definite answer.

In this guide, I’ll go in-depth and talk about antique cars. I’ll discuss what they are, what makes them special, some terminology you need to know, and some ways to evaluate your antique car.

Introducing Antique Cars

People often confuse “antique cars” with “classic cars”. The general distinction is that a classic car is at least 20 years old while an antique car is at least 45 years old. At the time of this article, that means that any car built before 1976 is an antique car.

One step further is the “vintage car” which is one that was built between 1919 and 1930.

Of course, these phrases all get muddled and argued between people. Even different DMV’s have different rules and definitions for these types of cars.

For example, California doesn’t waste any time thinking about car phrases. If it’s at least 25 years old, they call it a Historic Vehicle and all the licensing and insurance goes through that stream.

Plymouth Cuda purple with rear spoiler
Plymouth Cuda

Antique cars are pretty easy to spot. You might not know what year, make, or model the car is, but you can tell that it’s seriously old.

Back then, they didn’t have cars that looked like today’s cars. There was a big emphasis on workmanship, design, and engineering back then. Today, the focus is creating mass-production models of cars and making the most money possible for the CEOs of manufacturing companies.

Objectively speaking, many of the older vehicles were built to impressive manufacturing specifications. For example, the Aston Martin DB5 took thousands of hours just to make the body let alone build the engine. They had very primitive manufacturing techniques as compared to today, but that didn’t slow them down.

As time goes on, they just become more impressive. Some big years and names for antique cars are:

  • 1969 Chevy Camaro
  • 1972 Chevy Chevelle
  • 1968 Chevy Corvette
  • 1964 Mustang
  • 1974 Plymouth ’Cuda
  • 1972 Pontiac GTO

If you want to drool a little, google pictures of these beauties.

What’s the Appeal of Antique Cars?

Antique cars are a beautiful specimen. People collect them for a wide range of different reasons.

A big reason is because of how rare they are. Like anything else, the rarer it is, the more desirable it is.

No one buys an antique car to go to a racetrack and set some records or go crazy fast on the highway. It’s a car for people to appreciate the beauty of automobiles.

They’re also a great pick for project cars. Since older cars are easier to work on, they can give you great insight into how cars work at their most basic level. There are no complex electronics happening behind the scenes — everything that you see under the hood is all you get.

Ford Mustang 1965 Green Restored Front
1965 Ford Mustang

Along the same line of reasoning, they’re also really easy to repair. Well, “easy” might not be the right word. An old car is simple to repair if you have the right replacement part in your hand, but sometimes it’s impossible to find an OEM replacement for your rare car.

For some antique car owners, it’s an ode to the early days of automobiles. Back when innovation was propelling automobiles faster than any other industry. An era of hardworking Americans that came together to change our roads forever.

Even writing about that time is making me yearn for the early days of automobiles.

Anyway, there is a huge market for antique cars. These aren’t just strange collectibles for a small handful of people. Industries are built specifically to cater to antique car owners, further showing that there’s a big appeal for them.

What Goes into Evaluating a Car?

Evaluating a car is an interesting concept. The overarching idea is that your car is only worth what someone will pay for it, but how do you figure out that number?

When it comes to evaluating a car, a few general factors are considered:

  • Condition
  • The year, make, and model
  • How much is original?
  • Total mileage of the vehicle

With antique cars, the mileage doesn’t matter a ton. It will still factor into the evaluation, but not as much as the other components.

What’s the Point of Evaluating Your Antique Car?

Even if you’re not ready to sell, knowing the value of your antique car is paramount. An appraisal is might be needed in order to have insurance on your car. Remember, insurance companies base your policy on the value of your car. Without an evaluation, no insurance company will cover your car.

Also, it’s always good to know how the value of your car is fluctuating. This will help you decide if you want to keep the car or sell it in the future. If the price goes up dramatically, maybe it’s time to sell if you’re on the fence.

Antique cars at an antique car show

Another reason revolves around taxes. If you want to donate your antique car and write it off as a taxable charitable contribution, you need to know how much it was worth. Additionally, you might need to know the value of your car so you can tally up your assets for legal reasons (in the case of a divorce, for example).

If you were in an accident, you need to know how much your car was worth for your insurance company and the other parties’ insurance.

If you’re considering selling, it’s a good idea to regularly check the evaluation and see if things are changing.

Private, Dealership, or Auction?

Before going any further, you’ll have to decide between the three types of sales that you’re facing. Do you want to sell it via a private sale, directly to a dealership, or through an auction?

An estimated:

  • 70% go through private sales
  • 20% go to auction
  • 10% go through a dealership
Young man inspecting the body of a vintage car

These numbers tell a pretty good story about what you should do. A vast majority of people sell their antique cars privately because that’s often the best way to do it. You’ll make the most money, have the most say over the sale, and can walk away if you want.

If it’s me, I’m probably going private sale every day of the week. Any dealership is going to gouge you and majorly rip you off. With an auction, it’s a matter of luck — you need the right person in the audience who has deep enough pockets.

Sometimes the auction crowd isn’t biting, and your antique car will sell for much less than it should have. The worst part? There’s very rarely a way to undo an auction just because the price was too low.

Three C’s of Evaluating an Antique Car

The good news is there’s a little cheat sheet to help you find the value of your car. The three C’s of evaluating your antique car are:

  • Classification. This term refers to the make, model, and year of your car.
  • Condition. How is the car physically?
  • Comparables. This is a method of looking at cars that are similar to yours. You’ll check to see how much they sold for so you know what yours might sell for.

Know Your Car’s Classification

Your classification might be tricky to find out. Unlike a 2021 Honda Civic that you can quickly recognize and classify, your rare old car isn’t so easy.

The biggest question when it comes to classification is whether your car is authentic or a replica. I don’t mean that the car could be fake, but it could be made from scrapped parts of previously junked cars.

It’s also possible that someone took the body of an antique car and stuffed it with random components from newer vehicles.

Jaguar E-Type Mk1 parked on the street
Jaguar E-Type Mk1 – Coupe

Unless you really know a lot about your specific year, make, and model, finding your classification could be almost impossible.

Another piece of classification has to deal with the history of your car. Maybe it was used in a major movie, a celebrity once owned it, or it was a famous car that won a certain race. Again, this is really hard to know as an everyday person.

All of these questions come together to make up the classification of your car. This plays a huge part in finding assessing the value of your antique vehicle.

Understand the Condition of Your Car

The condition of your car is the next component. This works just like the “condition” of an item you’re selling on eBay. The only difference here is that your antique car’s condition could mean a difference of tens of thousands of dollars.

Your car will fit into one of six condition categories. The categories, in descending order of value, are as follows:

Excellent

The best possible rating is “excellent”. This denotes a car that is in its original condition or perfectly restored. There is no major damage, the car is drivable, and the car retains all of its original functionality.

Fine

One step down means that the car is in really good condition and has most of its OEM parts. There are a few hiccups, missing parts, or discrepancies.

Very Good

If there are more problems, then the car drops down to “very good”. This is still a great car to own, but it’s not in its original shape. Parts are mismatched or missing. It’s in good working condition with some concerns.

Rusty old vintage car in an abandoned old mechanic shop

Good

A “good” antique car needs some TLC before it can be considered “fully restored”. This might mean that parts are completely missing, and the next buyer will need to source OEM parts to install.

Restorable

In this condition, your car works and shows potential. In the right hands, your antique car can be brought back to its original state. Currently, it’s not roadworthy.

Parts Cars

Finally, a “parts car” is used for just that: parts.

The vehicle is not functioning and undrivable. The car’s parts are in good shape and can be used on another car to restore it.

Shop for Comparables

Finally, you’ll want to know how your car’s comparables are looking. Remember, this is a term that refers to other vehicles that are very similar (or comparable) to yours.

For example, look for cars that have the same year, make, model, submodel, and condition as your car. I’ll talk more about where to go to do this in the next section.

Porsche 912 driving on a curvy road with other vintage cars
Porsche 912

For now, it’s important to understand the real value of comparables. This is your way of saying, “well, if these ten guys recently sold their similar cars for $50,000 each, then I can too”.

You’re gathering a bunch of data points. Since you can’t plug your info into Kelley Blue Book, this is the closest thing we have.

7 Ways to Value an Antique Car

Now that you know more about what goes into an evaluation for your antique car, I can talk about different ways to get a value assessment. These points can all be used in conjunction with one another to get the best possible evaluation.

Make Sure You Use the Right Source

I mentioned earlier that you can sell your car through a private sale, an auction, or to a dealership. Make sure the homework you’re doing to find an evaluation uses data from the same selling stream that you’re going to use.

In other words, only consider auction sales if you’re going to sell your car at an auction.

Use an Online Collector’s Calculator

There are four online calculators that collectors put together. They compile a ton of different sources in order to spit out a single evaluation for your car.

Keep in mind, these calculators are just going to give you a rough estimate. These aren’t going to act as official evaluations that you can use for an insurance company.

Collector Car Market Website
Collector Car Market

These calculators are legit, though. They have a lot of online and offline data that they use. They’re praised by collectors as being highly accurate.

Most of them also give you a multi-tiered range. They will give you at minimum a low-end and high-end evaluation of your car. You’ll then combine this with your condition and classification to settle on a figure or range.

ClassicCarValue.com: This is a trusted source that uses data from the National Automobile Dealers Association.

CAARGUIDE.com: This uses a proprietary estimate from Classic Automobiles Appraisal and Resource Guide.

Collectorcarmarket.com:  This compiles sales and estimates to put together a single calculator.

See What’s for Sale Online

It might also be a good idea to see what’s currently on the market. This will show you how other collectors are evaluating their cars.

Hemmings Car Site
Hemmings

As far as currently selling antique cars, you have four options:

ClassicCars.com

Hemmings

Autotrader

CollectorCarAds.com

Any of the four are equally viable. I’d personally suggest using all four so you have the most possible data points.

Check Online Auctions

There are also plenty of online auction sites that will give you the same insight into car evaluations if you want to put your car on auction instead of selling it privately. You should start with these two:

Bring a Trailer

eBay Motors

ebay-homepage
eBay

In addition, these two sites will show you historical data for online auctions:

ConceptCarz.com

ClassicandSportsCar.com

Picking the Right Price

If you’re looking to get a value for your car strictly to sell it, then you can play the market a little bit. Start with a price that’s on the high end of the range you found. If no one bites, then lower the price and keep doing so until someone reaches out and you make the sale.

As I mentioned earlier, your car is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. The best way to find out what this value might be is to keep changing your price until it works.

Ask an Expert

If all else fails, you can reach out to an expert in the field. There is a whole profession of antique car appraisers.

Contact one in your local area and have them check out your vehicle. They will be able to give you the best possible appraisal for your specific car.

Their appraisal can be directly used for insurance or to sell your car. They are going to charge for their service, but it’s the only way to know that your price is fair before listing your car.

Retro cars tuning service, vintage motor show

Consult a Car-Specific Forum

There seems to be an online forum for every type of car. Mustangs have their own, old Camaros have their own, and old Pontiac fans made their own, too.

It’s a good idea to go on a forum that’s specific to your car’s make or model. Search the different threads to see if anyone is talking about it and make your own post and ask.

While they might not be the most active forums, they have the expertise that you need to answer your question.

Conclusion

Once you have an evaluation for your antique car, you can go on to the next stages with your car. Hopefully, you found this guide helpful. Comment below if this guide helped you. Explore the rest of my site for more car guides and explanations. Be sure to go through my list of suggested car products.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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