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Buying Your First Collector Car? Here’s What to Know

John Gessner

You’re in the market for a collector car? Congratulations! You’re our kind of people.

Most new buyers can’t wait to run out and make a purchase, whether it’s a car, truck or motorcycle. But next to buying a home, a collector vehicle may be one of the bigger financial transactions most people ever make.

You likely wouldn’t purchase the first home you tour, and you should approach purchasing an enthusiast vehicle with the same planning and forethought.

Buying a collector vehicle should never be intimidating. Picture yourself behind the wheel as our partners at Hagerty answer a few frequently asked questions among first-time buyers.

What Makes a Car Collectible?

In the simplest terms, think of a collector vehicle as the car you want to own for fun, not the one you need for daily transportation.

Through an insurance lens, Hagerty defines a collector vehicle as a car, truck or motorcycle used as an extra vehicle (not a daily driver), that is well-maintained and holding steady (or increasing) in value.

You’ll notice that age is not a defining factor. That’s because collector cars include fun-to-drive vehicles from almost any era. This includes early Model-Ts up through 1950s hot rods and street rods to muscle cars of the ‘70s. Believe it or not, vehicles from the 1980s and ‘90s are now considered classic. Even select modern cars up to present day are collectible.

But rare cars of any era, including exotics and high-performance supercars (think Porsche 911s, Dodge Vipers, Maseratis, and Ferraris), can also make the cut.

classic cars

What really drives demand (and values) in classic and collector vehicles is a combination of the car and desirable options and equipment. For example, Corvettes in the ‘60s came standard with a three-speed manual transmission, but most buyers wanted a four-speed or an automatic. Three-speed Corvettes are not more valuable even though they are very rare.

Equipment like power windows, hardtops for convertibles and more powerful engines drive higher values (and thus, higher prices). These options make the car more desirable in the eyes of the buyers.

In many cases – especially when there are multiple examples of a particular make and model on the market – the buyer (that’s you!) has an advantage. And sometimes that advantage can be turned into bargaining power.

However, when you’re looking at a very rare or one-of-a-kind vehicle, especially these days, there may not be much room to negotiate.

Classic, Antique and Vintage Vehicles…What’s the Difference?

While these terms may seem interchangeable around the kitchen table, there are subtle differences within the collector car space – and it usually comes down to age.

  • Vintage cars are typically those produced between 1919 and 1930. At (or nearly) 100 years old, it’s exceedingly difficult to find these vehicles and they’re usually reserved for car show displays and occasional parade routes. Think 1919 Ford Model Ts and 1926 Pontiac Boat Tail Speedsters.     
  • Antique cars generally refer to any vehicle age 25 or older according to the Antique Automobile Club of America. Believe it or not, this era now includes vehicles from the 1980s and ‘90s, which are among the fastest-growing sectors of the collector car market.
  • A classic car, as defined by the Classic Car Club of America, is a “fine or distinctive automobile, American or Foreign built, produced between 1915 and 1948. Generally, a Classic was high-priced when new and was built in limited quantities.” Over time this term has evolved to describe cars at least 25 years old and generally those produced in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Are these definitions absolute? Not really. If you ask ten different people, you’ll probably get ten different answers.

And remember: Any type of vehicle may be considered collectible (or not) based on its condition and scarcity. Even a late-model supercar or high-performance exotic may qualify due to its collectability and use.

All that really matters is that you find the car you love.

What Questions Should You Ask Before Purchasing a Collector Car?

You may already have a good idea of the type of car you’re looking for. But which model or particular vehicle may depend upon how you intend to use it. Some questions to consider:

  • Do you want a show car to win prizes but have little interest in driving it?
  • Do you want a car for distance driving and touring?
  • Will you use it for racing or rallying?
  • Do you want a car to cruise around town and take to local shows?
  • Do you prefer to do your own maintenance work or do you want to have someone else do it?
  • Will you share your hobby activity with the family or drive the car solo?

The greater the manufactured number of a given make or model, the better your chance of finding that particular vehicle in a wide range of conditions. In most cases, it will be easier to find a presentable car for driving and touring than one that is in the superb condition required to win shows.

Once you’ve found a car you like, it’s time to do some detective work. Ask a lot of questions so you have a clear picture of the vehicle, its history, why the owner is selling it and what kind of documentation goes with the car. Most importantly, make sure you understand the vehicle’s condition.

Are the car’s mechanicals sound? Is there body rust? Does the paint look good in different light? Are there any chrome faults? If you’re not sure what to look for, any reputable mechanic can help.

Bottom line: Always do your homework. If the car is some distance away, ask for additional photos. This may be your dream car, but the condition or a questionable history may save you the time and effort of seeing it in person.

What’s Important When Looking to Insure a Collector Car?

You’ve inspected the car, agreed on a transaction price, completed the paperwork, and made the payment. The car is now legally yours, which means you need to have it insured, preferably with a reputable company specializing in collector car insurance.

The Hartford has selected Hagerty to provide specialized collector vehicle insurance through our Nutmeg Insurance Agency. Our partnership with Hagerty and their team’s deep knowledge of cars means we can provide collector car insurance coverage for less (as much as 26% less than daily driver insurance).^

Benefits of working with Hagerty include:

  • Guaranteed Value® Coverage: With Hagerty’s industry-leading valuation tools, you can determine the true value of your vehicle and get a policy that guarantees you’re paid every cent of your car’s insured value in the event of a covered total loss (less deductible and/or salvage value). Guaranteed Value includes all taxes and fees unless prohibited by law.
  • Freedom to Drive: Vehicles can’t just be driven daily to work or school. Flexible usage means you’re not limited to parades and car shows. You’re protected whether you’re headed to a show, a race, or the beach. Drive your car for the fun of it; that’s what it was made for.
  • Exceptional Claims Service: Hagerty claims adjusters and parts specialists love cars just as much as you do. This expert team knows your vehicle requires specialized labor that comes at a higher cost, which your policy covers. You can even get paid to do the repairs yourself.
  • Hagerty Drivers Club®: The ultimate community for car lovers was designed specifically for collector car owners. Membership includes Hagerty Drivers Club magazine, exclusive event access, and automotive discounts—not to mention emergency roadside assistance to help keep you on the road.

What began as a niche insurance agency has evolved to become a global automotive enthusiast brand with a mission to fuel car culture and save driving for future generations. Through The Hartford’s partnership with Hagerty, we protect collectibles as if they were our own.

We hope to see you on the road!

Do you need collector car insurance? Request an online classic car quote today.

Hagerty & Hagerty Drivers Club are registered trademarks of The Hagerty Group, LLC. © 2021 The Hagerty Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved. The Hagerty Group, LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hagerty, Inc. Membership services are provided by Hagerty Drivers Club (HDC). Purchase of insurance not required for membership in HDC. Insurance services are provided by Hagerty Insurance Agency, LLC in the US and Hagerty Canada, LLC in Canada. Some coverage not available in all states/provinces.

Membership by Hagerty Drivers Club (HDC), a non-insurance subsidiary of The Hagerty Group, LLC.  Roadside services provided by/thru Cross Country Motor Club except in AK, CA, HI, OR, WI & WY where services are provided by Cross Country Motor Club of California, Inc. For additional information and a complete description of benefits, visit hagerty.com/corporate/legal. Purchase of insurance not required for membership in HDC. 


^ Figure based upon 2021 consumer data collected by Hagerty on single vehicle quotes, with premiums $5,000 and under, from several daily driver (or “Everyday”) auto insurance carriers.

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