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Collector Corvettes

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What differentiates the collector car from toy, driver, or used car?

It’s not uncommon for Bloomington Gold to receive calls from buyers asking details about the new “collector” Corvette they’ve purchased.  We’re happy to accommodate but puzzled why they often do it after the purchase rather than before.  This article will touch on some of the points of interest prospective buyers ought to consider before purchasing a collector Corvette.  First of all, what is a collector Corvette and what differentiates it from simply a used car?  I guess nearly anything could be considered a collector Corvette in the eyes of the buyer/owner.  In other words, “If I want it in my collection, then it’s a collector Corvette, right?”  However, the traditional definition of a collector car would probably be that the market demand significantly exceeds the supply–and therefore, its value on the auction block will reflect it.  Some or all of the following characteristics drive demand and value.  Does the Corvette you are considering have many, any, or none of them?

- Probably older than 25 years (although there are exceptions)
- Historic significance (the first, last, only, records, accomplishments, etc.)
- Limited production
- High horsepower
- Rare or desirable color
- Rare or desirable options
- Racing history
- Celebrity owner
- Condition & authenticity
- Limited number remaining
- Unquestionably un-restored
- Critical paperwork intact
- Photos from new
- Provenance of ownership


Depending upon the number and degree of these characteristics held by the Corvette you are considering, its collectability can be plotted somewhere on a scale from 1 to 10.  In short, if the Corvette is an average-restored, low-horsepower ’64, ’74, etc. with no interesting options, history, or knowledge about its past, it will probably not be considered much of a collector car and may score in the 2-3 range.  However, that’s not to say that it has no value.  It may be the perfect Corvette for the person who always wanted an older Sting Ray to polish and drive and couldn’t care less about its collectability.  It will certainly be much less expensive, and 99 percent of the people who see it on the street won’t know the difference anyway. And chances are that it may be re-sold many times thereafter without losing too much money. However, as the boomers age, the values of non-collector Corvettes will not likely maintain the levels seen over the past 30 years.  There is a very large supply of them and the corresponding demand by younger buyers will continue to diminish.  So, are they collector cars?  Probably not.

On the other end of the scale would be a 1967 L88.  It’s a classic example of all the intrinsic characteristics of a collectible wrapped into one: limited production (20), high horsepower (560+), historic significance (clandestine GM racing project), neat options (or lack of them), plus history in both road racing and drag racing.  Some of the 20 still have original engines, loads of paperwork, and photographs to prove their histories.  These would move the collector needle up to a 10.  Obviously, collector Corvettes fit somewhere in between these examples.


Where Do I Start?

Question number one is, “What do you intend to do with your Corvette? Why do you want one?”  Most of us just want one to play with and drive on nice days.  Others want to fiddle with them and add accessories to personalize them to the owner’s tastes. However, there is also a segment who is interested in the true collector-level Corvette for both reasons of taste and potential return on their investments.  History has shown that these are the Corvettes that not only retain their value, but have significantly outpaced the stock market in terms of annual growth over 30 years.  Bloomington Gold has historically been the leader in these types of cars, and hopefully can help current and potential collectors in their pursuit.  So, if you are really interested in some level of collectability, do the proper research and don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions to qualified people.  Just make doubly sure they are really qualified before acting on anyone’s advice.

Giving examples of all the potential collectable Corvettes available would be impractical.  However, the easy examples would include 1953-1972 Corvettes with interesting colors, high horsepower, and reasonably documented authenticity.  Although there are numerous post-1972 Corvettes that are and will become more collectible over time, this article will necessarily limit its scope to pre-1973.

With a general understanding of the characteristics that drive the degree of collectability, the fly in the ointment is trying to figure out the difference between the authentic collectible and one that’s been “created” to appear authentic.  Whether collecting artwork, antiques, or toys, the trick is to determine the real from the reproduction.  Not always easy but very important when it comes time to writing the big check. 

Here are some things to take with a grain of salt when you hear or read descriptions about potential collector Corvettes for sale
- Matching numbers
- All original
- Documented
- Frame off restoration
- Restored by a Corvette judge
- Award winner

Granted, these are things we certainly want to hear, but unfortunately they are ambiguous or weasel words that can create an impression far different from reality upon inspection by a truly qualified Corvette expert.  Ask the owner the following questions for each term in order to assure this is not misleading hype.


Matching numbers 

Ask the seller, “Are you promising that the engine block, engine stampings, trim tags, and VIN tags are the exact same ones that this car left the factory with?”  If you get a quick and enthusiastic “yes”, then it is not a sure thing but a good sign.  If you hear a long pause….then you may want to rely less on the description or the seller’s credibility.


All original

Ask the seller, “Are you promising that very little has been altered or re-finished?  In other words, even though the chassis, engine components, or other trim pieces are original, are you promising that less than 10 percent has been re-painted or re-plated?  Are you promising that less than 10 percent of the interior has been replaced or dyed?”  If you get a quick and enthusiastic “yes”, then it’s still not a sure thing, but it’s a good sign.  If you hear a long pause…then you may want to rely less on the description.


Documented

Ask the seller, “What does that mean?  What kind of documents do you have?”  If they are window stickers, dealer sales receipts, order forms, or warranty books, this is a good sign.  However, window stickers and warranty books are not without considerable risk unless they have been carefully inspected by qualified experts.  The average person cannot tell the difference between authentic and reproduction paperwork.  It’s very good and needs a trained eye to spot it.


Off-Frame Restoration

Ask the seller, “Who did it?  How many Corvettes has this person done?  How many of that person’s restorations have been Bloomington Gold Certified or received an NCRS National Top Flight award?”  If the answer is along the lines of “Bill Jones” from Anywhere, USA and none have been Gold Certified or received National NCRS awards, be very skeptical.  This is not to say that an unknown first-time restorer cannot do great work.  Some of the best work I’ve seen has been done by “unknowns” in their garages.  But the odds are not in your favor.


Restored by a Corvette Judge

Ask the seller, “Who is the Corvette judge?  In what organization is he a judge; Bloomington Gold or NCRS?  Then call either Bloomington Gold or NCRS and determine if that person is a judge at all and if he/she is current or not.  We have found that sometimes restorers have maybe known a Bloomington Gold judge or been one years ago and were terminated due to poor knowledge.  Other times, the restorers are top level judges and restorers and extremely competent.  It’s relatively easy and worthwhile to check.


Award Winner

Ask the seller, “What awards did it win, and when?”  If it was a local award, it can be meaningless.  Or if it was a national award from more than five years ago, it may no longer be in the condition or level of authenticity it was at that time.  Ask to get copies of judging sheets if available.  If they are not available, it may reflect the lack of care or attention that the car has received since the award.

After you have done the initial research and everything looks promising, be sure to consider a pre-purchase inspection done by a really qualified and trusted Corvette authority.  Bloomington Gold is generally able to provide names of people specializing in the years and types of most collectibles.  After getting some experience as a new collector, you will start to repeatedly hear the names of those who are excellent and can be trusted.

Just remember: it makes a lot more sense to do the research and ask your questions before the purchase, not after it.

Text and photos courtesy of Bloomington Gold.

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