I’ve always been utterly baffled by how many people will buy a new car and then instantly (or very shortly thereafter) put it in storage, never to be driven. What is the point? The whole point about cars is to drive them, to experience them, to use them, to savor the sensations, to appreciate their dynamic qualities.
It seems more than a bit like marrying a beautiful woman or man and then never having sex with them.
And of course it’s almost invariably a bad investment. If the owner of this 1979 Corvette had put the $13,000 he spent on it in the S&P 500 (stock market index), it would be worth $1.68 million now. Instead, he got….$38, 500, which is way less than what he paid for it, adjusting for inflation. And how much was spent on its storage?
The owner of the 1979 Pontiac T/A with 37 miles did a bit better, but not all that well either: It sold for $220k; still a lousy investment, with a total return of some 1,803%, or about 14% of what the S&P returned.
Undoubtedly genuine exotic classics would have done better, but did anyone really expect a ’79 Corvette or any of the other low mileage cars covered in the previous post expect comparable increases in their value?
I don’t get it. Maybe some of you do. If so, please enlighten me.
For some collectors, it’s simply possessing it. Also, all the low mileage fans that think cars are ‘saved’ if never driven, just want to admire and reminisce of HS dreams. aka “feel 17 again”.
I’d drive them, 😉
At least some of the time I think it just kind of happens by accident, particularly with those who own several vehicles, they want to keep it nice, but just end up not driving it.
When I was a kid in the mid eighties the neighbor across the street was a NASA Engineer and his father, who was a pilot in WW1, lived with him. He had a car parked in the corner of the garage that he had purchased new in Europe in the late sixties and then drove on vacation, shipped home and had been in the garage since. It was a Toyota 2000GT with under 3000k miles.
My impression was that he was simply busy with other things and time got away from him, as it has a habit of doing.
There are a number of collecting trends I do not understand. Like folks that pay thousands of dollars for athletics shoes for example.
I can get behind a company or museum essentially mothballing a certain car or model to preserve it in some sort of static display for future generations. But as an individual collector it would seem to be more chore than enjoyment. Maybe that explains the relatively low price of the 3 mile Corvette. The new owner will likely feel compelled to keep up the extreme measures to limit mileage. I suppose if I had the means to have a large collection and could not practically drive them all I might feel differently.
And then, you have to flatbed your precious super-low-mileage car to anywhere you want to display it. Because otherwise you need to apply for the “4 Miles” plate, then the “5 Miles Plate”… At least it’s probably easier for the guy with the Trans Am to just put a new sticker on his window.
These things are the even more crazy end of the spectrum that includes people who go on about preserving the “investment value” of their daily driver cars.
And eventually you’ll have to get that 4 MILE plate because eventually all those 500 foot drives on and off the trailer add up. Disconnecting the speedometer would be cheating.
When Cadillac announced the end of the ELDORADO convertible, many people bought one or more thinking 🤔 these would be a good investment and stored them. On a different note, I once owned a 72 LTD convert. Midwest winters caused me to pay for storage. Eventually decided to let it go. Not sure that was a good decision 🤔
You are right, and the Eldo turned out working as a speculative short term investment, but on the long run, it’s just as bad as the others.
And when Cadillac had ASC start producing factory-supported Eldorado convertibles in 1983, the following year a group of 1976 Eldorado convertible owners filed a class action suit against GM, claiming it falsely advertised their cars as “the last convertible in America.”
The class members claimed that the reintroduction of the convertible devalued their cars – as though a seven year old malaise-era luxury car wasn’t going to depreciate anyway. That suit was eventually dismissed.
Fun fact: Cadillac produced 14,000 Eldorado convertibles in 1976 and would have produced more if not for the shortage of convertible top mechanisms, due to a shrinking number of suppliers.
Another example of this is the 1978 Corvette Pace Car. There’s no telling how many of the 6,502 produced are stashed away, waiting for the day when they’re priceless museum objects.
My brother bought his 1950 Dodge 2 door about 30 years ago from a fellow who was extremely proud of how original and low miles it was. He asked my brother what he was going to do with it and my brother replied I’m going to customize it and drive the piss out of it! He’s put over 350k miles on it since then and still drives it daily.
There is a very real feeling among people that simply owning or acquiring something gives them a feeling of accomplishment, a lot of collecting and hoarding is driven by this.
I only know one person who parked a car that was almost new and never drove it. (i have known lots who hardly drive something but that’s a bit different) A friend of my father’s was a mechanic who worked at dealers and then owned his own shop for something like 30 years. He was a GM diehard and bought himself a brand new Monte Carlo SS Aero Coupe in 1986. He drove it for a few months then decided he really loved the car and wanted to keep it perfect to pass down or use in his retirement. Not sure where he stored it at first as he only had a single bay garage at home so it may have lived in a bay at his shop, but I do know for the decade or longer before his passing about 11-12 years ago he kept it at a friends 150 year old farm house house that had a weird half height basement garage under one of the additions. The car wasn;t perfect as the basement garage was brick and not climate controlled but it still looked more like a 1-2 year old car than the 25 year old car it was. I seem to recall the family only got in the mid teens when they sold it after his passing which again seems hardly worth it.
Usually happens when someone “saves a car for my kids”. And they have little interest or knowledge about it.
Make sure your “heirlooms” go to who really wants them.
As a person with a bunch of cars happily stashed away, if you like having them and you enjoy the process of caring for them, and you can swing the costs and commitments, why not? Things don’t have to make sense to the outside world, and as quirks go, stashing a few cars is on the harmless end of things.
OTOH, if you are stashing them to make money, and you don’t particularly enjoy being involved in the ownership process along the way, then you have created a burden for yourself, especially as the net profit, over time, after costs, is going to typically be minimal or nonexistent. The “three mile” car strikes me as one of those (though if a’79 Corvette is your dream ride, here’s your chance to buy one at not too-high-a-price and drive it from new, with a ton of miles left in it).
As we move to a less car-centric future and a less ICE-based car future, it will be interesting to see how things go for ordinary transportation versus sports and exotic cars. It might just be that the older plain-Jane four-door sedans become the automotive version of the late-bloomers, the ones overlooked in their youth that become the most-desired, later on.
Was just thinking about the EV revolution, and since Biden is making emissions for new ICE cars near impossible, those will go up in price 20-30%, and electrics are expensive, so I predict that Americans keep their older cars, and there’ll be a big jump in the aftermarket manufacturing parts for the older vehicles. The average age of a used car now is 12.2 years, almost to the lifespan of electrics, said to be 15-20 years. I can’t see much of a market for used electric cars.
I doubt those ICE-eliminating EPA emissions rules will last longer than the current presidential administration but if by some fluke they do then the US will increasingly look like Cuba over the next 30 years, with people keeping their ICE cars running by hook or by crook.
Yep, just like Stanley Steamers.
Things change. Technology evolves. Time marches on. Get used to it.
There will be great changes, but electrics aren’t sustainable in the near future because of the inadequate grid, their life span gone by the time they’re the average used car, their current high price, and that most Americans can’t afford a new car of any kind right now.
14-something million Americans would disagree, they are happily buying new cars this year when they could just as easily buy used ones for less. An ever greater percentage is buying electric ones. Most charge them at home at night when there is no load on the grid. I could go on but I realize your mind is made up, and that’s of course your prerogative/right.
This is so peculiar, finding statistics on Google is near impossible. Ask a question and all the unrelated comes up. What I could find is, New cars are now considered a luxury item. Polling reveals that nearly 1/2 Of Americans are unlikely to buy an electric car. Electrics are now 4% of the fleet. Used car sales are double the sales of new cars. Another fairly considerable factor will be the state of the American economy. With inflation at record highs, deficit spending at record highs, government over regulation a chilling effect on the economy, warning signs of recession, this will determine whether Americans buy new cars, or not. Anyone out there have an accurate crystal ball?
I hope and pray you are right!
Over the course of a lifetime, I’ve met a handful of vastly wealthy people who see a shiny thing and then send an assistant off to buy it. They enjoy it for a brief period of time and then move on to the next thing, but since they don’t need the money, the previous thing is just left to sit in a corner or some warehouse they own.
Vacation homes are often on this list. I’ve had occasion to vacation with wealthy friends from time to time in various waterfront communities. Some percentage of homes in such communities are visited a few times and then forgotten or ignored. I can barely grasp the concept of being so wealthy that you forget a house you own.
Probably the presumption of being the last of something, like 400(3) cube Trans Ams, last of the Eldorado Convertibles etc. Note that quite a few of these extreme low mile survivors are from the Malaise era with doom and gloom on the horizon, so there was probably a mentality of “get it while I still can”.
I’m certain that’s going on now as well, people putting brand new Hellcats and Mustang coupes in bubble wrap because nothing will ever be made like that again in the upcoming electric autonomous subscription service transit pod era.
And what’s to say they didn’t have the means to have both; an example they did drive regularly, and one to stash away to keep nice?
It boils down to generally one of 2 things I’d say-
Like the “last ever” convertible Eldo or the Anniv Edition Vettes, the buyer thinks he has a goldmine that will bring him vast future riches.
Sometimes, not so much. The 05-06 Ford GT has indeed proven to be a great investment (no house I coulda bought for 150 Grand at the time is now worth half a Mil, for example), but the ’07ish Shelby GT500 only brings around MSRP today. Folks thought WHOAH 500 HP!! We will never again see the likes of this monster! Well all the Hellcats would like a word with you. LOL
The other possible reason for ultra low mile cars is “something failed to go as planned”. Aunt Gertie bought her retirement car, got 600 miles on it, then lost the ability to drive, or any number of variations on that theme.
Paul, I agree with you 100%. I’m a car guy and for me, the biggest part of having something I enjoy is that I actually drive it an enjoy it! Recently I picked up a mint 1986 Cadillac Seville, one owner with 22,635 actual miles. The guy who owned it from new barely drove it. Why? He passed about 2 years ago and his family put it on non-op tags (California) and after the 2 years decided to sell it. So I purchased it and so far I drive it at least once a week. I also have the 1988 Cimarron with 62K and I drive that once a week as well. If I miss one week, I feel stupid for having them. On the flip side, back around 2003 I purchased a mint 1984 Eldorado Biarritz that had a certified 1,800 miles on the odo. I was terrified to drive it and would start it once a week, run it for 10 minutes, take it for a 3 to 5 mile short drive (only on perfect days) and then spend the next hour cleaning it. In less than a year I decided that was crazy and not for me so I sold it.
But the biggest thing that comes up for me on these is just how were they stored and kept for all those year? If done properly, the cars should be ok. If not done properly, then I would not want to buy them and have all the seals, etc be bad. Like you said Paul, it just seems like a really bad way to invest and still not really enjoy the car.
> seems more than a bit like marrying a beautiful woman or man and then never having sex with them.
In the US being or not being married can have drastic effects on you finances for all sorts of reasons, good or bad, so it’s not that unusual to run into these situations
I should have taken more time when I wandered the centuries old city next to the Coliseum in Rome, in 1976, by myself. I might have spotted a barn stored chariot since this urge to hold onto things might be eternal.
Having always been in a position where my cars had to earn their keep I don’t quite see it. But this is not exclusive to automobiles. Some watch collectors will spend a small fortune gathering a collection, most of which will rarely, if ever, be worn. Or fancy jewelry that spends its life in a safe deposit box. I don’t quite get it, but it’s their money.
However if you’re going to collect something, hoping that it will appreciate, collect something you love. That way when it doesn’t appreciate as you expected you still have something you love.
Continued . . .
Interesting story. That sounds like an extreme form of collecting, because he didn’t even make an attempt at sheltering the 51 Chevy. Parked outside on the bare ground and never driven. No preservation, just acquisition. What exactly is the point if you are not trying to keep the car in like-new condition? No miles means nothing in a rusty hulk.
I think in general people have a mistaken idea that anything that’s old and in pristine condition must be extremely valuable. The hear about things like baseball cards, comic books, and Star Wars toys selling for insane amounts of money, and they think “Oh, if I put this thing away for a few decades it’s going to me worth a fortune someday”.
I made that mistake when I was in middle school in the 1990s. I bought a bunch of baseball cards, even though I didn’t even like baseball, and just saved them, because I thought all I had to do is hold onto them for a few decades and then they’d be worth a fortune. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, and 1990s baseball cards are worth pretty much zilch today.
That came from their dads either not keeping track of or letting their mothers throw out their cards from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Those became rare and valuable, but the double effect of different companies joining the action and everyone preserving their collections made cards from the 1980’s and beyond ubiquitous.
If you store baseball cards correctly, they’ll last indefinitely. Cars are a little more difficult, because oxidation takes its toll on metal, plastic and rubber. Buy a car new and garage it for 50 years and it’s a hunk of junk. Take the same car, drive it and maintain it well and it will be in much better shape.
Definitely! That’s what makes these cars impressive. Keeping a car in like-new running condition is not as simple as stashing it away and never touching it. A car’s a fragile thing in its way. Designed to be used, not stored.
I suspect such low mileage cars become self-perpetuating after an “accidental” circumstance. For example the elderly spinster who buys a plain jane Bel Air/Biscayne with 6 and PG and only drives it to church for 10-5 years during nice weather, and then gets too old to drive and parks its with 5,000 miles in the garage until death/moving to old age home. Or the elderly couple who buy a fancy car to celebrate retirement or paying off the mortgage or 50th wedding anniversary and drive it sparingly for a few years (because its too nice to use everyday), and then the husband dies and his widow can’t drive/doesn’t like “big” cars, but is too sentimental to sell it, so the Cadillac with 7,500 miles sits in the garage until she dies or get taken to a home. Or the collector who buys the “hot” limited edition/last version of a Corvette, Cosworth Vega, Eldorado convertible, Mustang, Trans Am, Porsche, new Beetle, new Bronco, etc. with the idea that he will make a killing as he sees prices only going up for several months until the “surprising” reversal catches him by surprise and the prices quickly slide down to normal used car level and he decides to “wait for the price to go back up” or “can’t afford to sell it as a loss” because he paid way over sticker, and so the car with delivery miles sits in his garage for years waiting for the market to get hot again. Or the rich “car guy” who buys a “dream car” for “special occasions” but is too busy making money (or has too many other cars) to drive it much, and so the 3,000 mile Ferrari, Lambo, AMG, M-3/4/5/6/8, Corvette ZR1 sits in one of his garages until the next “special occasion” that doesn’t come.
As some point a family member, friend, car hunter, or estate agent finds the 30+ year old low mileage beauty and it ends up in the hands of someone who doesn’t dare drive it because it would ‘ruin the value’ of a car with only 8 or 5,000 miles on it. Thus the accidental low mileage car sits for some more years until the cycle repeats, or flood, hurricane, tornado, fire, or negligent storage destroys it in all its low mileage splendor.
I predict there will be a few late model Broncos that some “put away for future $$” and then pass on, with heirs wanting to “get rid of it”.
There have been a few muscle car barn finds like that. In those cases, often it was a young fellow who buys a car to drive when he gets back from Vietnam and then…doesn’t.
The parents leave the car alone out of grief until someone discovers it and alerts them to what they have and what they might get for it.
If anything can be viewed as ‘art’, well, I can certainly understand someone preserviing a car the same as a painting or sculpture, simply because they view it as a thing of beauty. And they want it in the way it was created, i.e., the way it came fresh off the assembly line.
The other side of the coin is someone who could care less what a car looks like; they only view it as an investment opportunity. Today, they’re known as a ‘flipper’. Not exactly the best investment but, then, if they’re extraordinarily wealthy, it’s no different than gambling on anything else going up in value.
Then there’s that psychological hoarding group that simply want to have something that no one else has. I’m vividly reminded of that guy who hung onto the original 1968 Bullitt Mustang for over a half century, just sitting in a Kentucky barn somewhere. He didn’t care about the value, his joy was simply having something that a lot of other people wanted.
I’ve always wondered the same about a new car never drove. Drives me crazy to see all the DeLorean’s and Buick Grand Nationals with few miles, I thought the big deal with those was the driving experience?
There’s two ways for this to happen. The first is deliberate, the person buys the car with the intention of preserving it, and not to drive it. Sometimes the car is stored properly and will not deteriorate over time. In other cases, the car is stuck in a cold garage or warehouse and it suffers from the time it spends sitting.
Other times the car was bought as something special to be used sparingly and enjoyed, but circumstances intervened. A lot of times it’s not convenient to access the car for use, the storage is too far, the weather is bad on that day, the car has been taken off of insurance or current registration.The opportunities to use the car come up infrequently and they get missed.
People that can afford to do this are often older, and heath issues often become a real problem. They will also have other cars that they can drive, that often are more practical and comfortable to drive.
I met a guy at a GoodGuys show last month who had an ’06 Mustang GT “Foose Special” that was offered through some dealers. He had 15,000 miles on it. My ’06 was bought last year with 116,000 miles on it and I thought that was pretty low mileage for a 16 year old, used car. I’ve only put 1,500 miles on it in the last year, as I’m retired and have several other cars to drive. I just left it in the garage during all the storms we had last Winter. I didn’t want to get it dirty.
Certainly a bad investment if that’s all it is to you. Many folks probably enjoy owning the unused cars for their own sake, or they’re too rich to care,as others have said. Different strokes and all.
Could it ever be a good financial move?. Best case scenario I thought of was if someone had been prescient or lucky enough to buy a Hemi Mopar in the late 60s or early 70s, preferably something especially rare like a convertible or Charger Daytone) hardly ever drive it, store it well and sell it in the late 80s or 90s in the first big muscle bubble market. Without trying to do the math, that seems like it might have been a winner.
The irony of the ultra-rare, ultra-valuable collectable car is the ‘reason’ they’re typically so rare: no one wanted to buy one when they were new. It also goes a long way to explaining whey they’re usually in such great, survivor shape. When someone eventually did buy one, they discovered, quite soon, what a poor car to own and drive it was.
A case in point is what is generally considered the Holy Grail of domestic musclecars, the 1971 Hemi-Cuda convertible. They were expensive and not a whole lot of fun to drive and/or maintain. Consequently, only eleven were ever built.
Yet, today, any one of the eleven (especially one of the three with a 4-speed) will go for well into seven figures.
True, true. The hemi was a race engine slightly tamed for production car use, not the right engine for most people and intentionally expensive to keep the rabble away from it. And at least the early ones didn’t have a warranty (not sure about the later ones). A hemi convertible is kind of an oxymoron. Who would buy a convertible race car? But a few did.
Call me a crazy optimist, but I think I could find a way to have fun with a HemiCuda ragtop.
I guess it would be an attention-getter, but not really a whole lot more.
I never saw the show, and don’t know who might have been responsible, but who could forget the 1971 Hemi-Cuda convertible that Don Johnson drove in Nash Bridges? While it was most definitely ‘not’ a real Hemi-Cuda, it was interesting that someone thought the image of such a rare car would fit the character.
The Cuda and Challenger weren’t the only Hemi Convertibles, there were Belvedere/Satellites, GTXs, Coronets, Superbees and Roadrunners between 1966 and 1970 as well. They too are understandably rare but the key thing that makes the 71 Cudas so extra valuable is they were the last of their kind, not just using Hemi power but the last to-date Mopar muscle car convertibles ever made.
I don’t think there’s any more disconnect in buying a Hemi convertible than any convertible, they’re inherently fair weather vehicles, and were getting less and less common naturally. Unless you were buying a Hemi in a low buck Roadrunner/Superbee or earlier stripper Belvedere or Coronet when the engine could be equipped independently in 66, to some degree or another the buyer was buying the image in a more ritzy GTX or R/T, same goes for today with Mustang GT convertibles or 70s Trans Ams with T tops even, as both compromise weight and structural rigidity. The thing to remember is Hemi Cuda convertibles were expensive new, I know E bodies weren’t the best put together cars but there’s more to the rarity of them than ”they were terrible, so nobody wanted them”.
Nash also lived in a vacant/abandoned high rise building with a giant designer loft in the middle of downtown San Fransisco, by comparison the Hemi Cuda was the most plausible part of that show!
I’ve always had similar questions about people who lease a brand new car and then buy a used car to drive in order to “keep miles off the lease.”
If the miles were going to be a problem, then leasing wasn’t the right answer. Yes, I know circumstances change and unloading the lease may not be feasible, but something about the math doesn’t add up.
Many long-time Packard Club members know of this true story and the car; Member Don Rook from the Philly area owned a 1948 Packard Custom Eight sedan with only a couple of hundred miles on it. Don found it in a garage with only the mileage from the Packard dealer to the man’s home. It had been placed on jack stands, the interior strewn with mothballs that were refreshed as needed. The outside was always kept covered with a series of old blankets stitched together to cover the entire car. The engine was filled with oil.
Don said the original owner had retired in 1948, and at his retirement celebration, he was given a cash award. The cash was enough to cover the purchase a top-of-the-line Packard Custom Eight sedan from the local Packard dealership. On arriving home in the Packard, the man’s wife was incensed that he spent so much money on the car, with nothing remaining for her needs.
The couple got into a heated argument, and it ended with the man parking the car in the garage. It was prepped it for long-term storage, never to be driven again. Don bought it from the heirs on the surviving spouse’s death.
Don gave me a ride in it about 1972, on a bright sunny day. as he drove around the neighborhood he spied some water running across the street. Don turned the car around and went back the other way rather than let water spray up into the wheel wells.
Over the last 5 decades I’ve found quite a few ultra-low mileage vehicles. In most cases the car’s owner became ill shortly after buying their new car, and on the owner’s death the car was never driven again as the surviving spouse didn’t drive.
I know where there is a 1984 Plymouth Voyager mini-van with 11 miles on it, still sitting in the same garage, and bearing it’s long-expired cardboard temp license plates. I’ve talked to the owner of the house, and was told it belonged to his father, and bought for the mother to drive. She refused to drive a van, so the Plymouth was parked in the garage, never to move again. The son won’t sell the van. For over 25 years there has been a pile of gravel dumped in front of the garage, never spread. Whenever I’m in the area, I checked to see if the gravel pile is still there. As of last year, it still is.
In the early 1980s there was a 1953 Packard Patrician advertised in Hemmings, with a claimed 123 miles. In talking to the owner he said it was a family member’s car that had been customized by the Packard factory, & the customizations included “everything under the hood was chrome plated”. [I think not done by PMCC of Detroit!] The ad ran off & on for about a year, but I’ve never seen it at any Packard Club events.
Around 1988 I found a 1950 Packard Custom Eight sedan, Miami Sand [light tan] paint, with the dark brown interior. The car was sat in a garage attached to the house, and had only been driven about 1,100 miles. It was original down to the Firestone “Spiderweb” wide whitewall tires [the whitewall sides had a molded spiderweb design, something I’ve never seen before]. Again, I was told that the original purchaser became ill and died shortly after buying the car. I sold the car to a Packard collector in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and I heard it was on display there in his private museum for years.
In the early 1970s a friend here in Maryland found a 1953 Studebaker Commander Starlight hardtop with only a few hundred miles in it. He bought it from the original elderly lady, and he named it after her; Stella. Once Stella was cleaned up and detailed, it went on to be a Studebaker Driver’s Club 1st place National meet winner.
Then there was Clayton Motors in Central New Jersey. Clayton had been a Packard dealership for decades, taking up Studebaker when the companies merged. Bruce Clayton continued to maintain the dealership after Studebaker stopped selling cars, and as of the early 1970s he still had BRAND NEW Studebakers for sale. My best friend and I made a visit to Clayton Motors in 1973, but Bruce wanted way too much money for anything he had there. He even had a NEW, never titled 1956 Packard Caribbean convertible, always kept inside and never driven. It was not for sale. It still had it’s original color-matched BROWN sidewall tires. Bruce was murdered by a couple of US Army guys from Ft Dix in 1975, and everything was sold off not long after. The Caribbean is a well-known car today.
In 2015 I found a 2001 Ram 2500 pickup with a utility bed. It had been a US Military vehicle assigned to Aberdeen Proving Grounds just east of Baltimore. It was supposed to be used as part of the Haz-Mat facility’s operations, but they didn’t find the truck to be of much use, so it sat in a warehouse until the government sold it off, and I was the high bidder. It was [and still is] a good running truck, and when I bought it the truck had 1,800 miles showing.
Good stories! I wonder how much that Voyager would sell for? Chrysler has a pristine original 84 that they lent to Motor Trend for an article a few years ago. They did a comparison test with a new Pacifica.
The Ram story reminds me of an ambulance my agency has that they bought new in 2018 and assigned it to the special events team. It only works a few times a year, and not at all for two years during covid, so now it has about 1500 miles. Considering most of the ambulances get driven 40k miles a year and the others bought at the same time are all over150k miles now and getting a bit ragged, that unit is bizarrely pristine now.
I have one similar story – in the mid 90s a lawyer called me. He knew I liked cars and asked if I would go look at some in an estate he was administering. The daughters were convinced they were valuable, but he wanted an informed opinion.
The deceased had run a Plymouth-Desoto dealer in a small southern Indiana town. He was kind of the town big-deal, and also owned an airplane. In the garage behind the house was a 1959 DeSoto Firesweep convertible, painted red. The car supposedly had about 3k miles on it. A customer had ordered it, then backed out. The guy knew that DeSoto was axing the convertibles for 1960 and kept it. The car still had all of the paper tags under the hood and hanging from dash knobs. There was a tree growing up through the gravel driveway behind the car, and the trunk was maybe 2 inches in diameter.
The same garage contained a yellow 69 Fury III 2 door hardtop with 400 miles on it. The daughters told me it was the last car in inventory when their dad closed the dealership and he just kept it.
At my father’s funeral, I knew one of his friends who loved Forward Look Mopars. I told him the story about the Desoto. He started laughing really hard, and told me that he had bought that car. He said it cleaned up beautifully.
The Prodigal Son is a story, not just about Bible times, but also regarding human nature. There’s a bit of him in all of us so we think that doing nothing but sitting on our riches will make us happy, when it is what we do with our riches that make us happy.
For every one of those cars is decades of happiness never harvested due to the mistaken belief that burying that car in the back of the barn will give us happiness 40 years later.
That parable definitely is apt. The one I thought of is the parable of Ten Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The master gives 3 servants some of his money. Two invest it wisely and the third buries it. Eventually the master returns and praises the first two and dismisses the third for doing nothing but burying it. Keeping a car in the garage for 30+ years is kind of like burying money.
I prefer judge not lest ye be judged. But that’s clearly not the spirit of this topic.
The thing that comes to my mind is what happens to the mechanical bits after sitting still for all those years.
They need to be serviced like any mechanical bit of a car driven regularly. Difference is the body doesn’t need to be sandblasted to bare metal, patched up repainted interior reupholstered and have literally every piece of rotten hardware replaced.
A local lube joint frequently puts “Protect Your Investment!” on their sign. I wonder what proportion of cars end up being an investment and not simply an expense. It’s probably in the thousandths or ten thousandths of one percent, cars that end up having a real, inflation adjusted increase in price. Maybe during Covid and the supply chain problems one could turn a real profit buying a new car and selling it for more money a few months or a year later, but that’s a one-off situation.
I don’t think they meant the sign like “protect your investment because it will appreciate if you lube it well”. More like any major expense is an investment of sorts. You use your car to earn money going to work and to go to the places you want/need to in your life. It’s an investment in allowing you to better live the life you choose to live. Something like that.
But yeah, making money on a new car you buy at retail is practically impossible.
Cars for the vast majority of people are CAPEX and cash flow positive compared to the transportation (and also employment) alternatives. An investment is deployment of funds. As you say, few people can deploy funds on a car and expect a positive ROI. That’s what car dealers try to do.
In the late 1980s, at the big Hershey Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) fall meet, there was a pristine 1959 Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday coupe with 50 miles on the odometer.
A couple had purchased it new, and the husband unexpectedly died two weeks later. The wife never sold the car, but also she never drove it. She must have maintained it, and properly stored it, because the car looked brand new.
In the mid-1990s there was a very clean, all-original 1967 Cadillac Sedan De Ville at the show. It was from the New York City area, and had less than 30,000 miles on the odometer. It had been owned by an elderly gentleman who never drove it that much.
I knew two examples. One was a successful man who bought a new Packard 160 in 1936, drove it home, then died of a heart attack. His wife kept the car as a memory. Later a collector, a neighbor who had helped the old lady, inherited the Packard.
The other was a brother and sister who lived together in a small town. (Probably ‘autistic’ in modern terms.) They bought a Chrysler New Yorker in 1948, perhaps without understanding why, drove it home, then never used it again.
The biggest winner is probably the manufacturer who doesn’t have any warranty claims to pay out.
In another car site, was story of 1958 Cadillac in a boarded up garage. The son who was selling it said his Dad got it used in 1959, from rich man who got a new Caddy every year. Only drove on nice days for a few years, but then by early 1970’s parked it and never drove it, again. The Dad was simply happy to “own it” at that point.
But, was not a climate controlled garage, in Chicago, so did get some wear. But, was sold to a museum to be restored.
I think there are several very different possible scenarios, which really depend on the kind of car(s) involved and who bought them:
1) As someone noted above, the buyer may have suffered some health decline that limited or removed their ability to drive.
2) The buyer may have had multiple residences in different parts of the country and wanted to have a vehicle at each, keeping the one not currently in use in storage rather than taking the trouble to drive it or have it transported back and forth.
3) The owner may have inherited it after the death of a family member and been reluctant to sell it despite not really needing it.
4) The original buyer may have died unexpectedly shortly after purchase and the vehicle was placed in storage by the executor while the estate was in probate, which can drag on for a very long time.
5) The vehicle may have been purchased and owned by a business entity that went bankrupt and ended up in storage while the bankruptcy proceedings dragged on.
6) The owner may have bought the vehicle intending to use it, but then ended up being assigned or transferred overseas for an extended period of time and never got around to disposing of it.
I think scenarios like these are probably more common than “bought it as a collector’s item to sock away.” People do that with OLD cars with some frequency, but being able to do that with a brand-new car or truck requires more means than most people have.
Ate up with motor,
Your scenario reminded me of another low mileage vehicle;
In 1959, along a very trendy and upscale stretch of Massachusetts Avenue, a huge multi-story brick apartment building was constructed. On the top floor were located 4 or 6 [can’t remember the exact number] of penthouse apartments. The address was 4000 Mass Ave, and the building still exists today.
I suspect because of it’s upscale nature, the designers planned the underground parking facility to provide a minimum of 2 parking spaces per apartment. However even 20 years later, the parking garage was never even half full. So the management company would lease parking spaces in the bottom level for long term parking, and many local old car collectors stored their cars inside, as it had a 24 hour security system [manned guard booth].
While in high school during the late 1960s, I worked after school for a local antique car restoration shop in nearby Rockville, MD. One of the shop owners kept multiple cars inside the garage at 4000 Mass, and he also used to service and work on customer cars stored in the building. I spent many hours looking at various cars there, and the guards knew me well enough to let me in anytime I showed up.
In one of the spaces reserved for penthouse residents, was a dark maroon 1959 Imperial Crown Coupe hardtop, loaded with all the accessories except for wire wheels. It even had dual A/C and I think it had swivel seats as well. The car had only a few hundred miles showing, and the entire car was covered with dust. All 4 tires were flat.
I wanted the Imperial, so I wrote a letter to the building’s management company asking if it was possible for them to contact the car’s owner and get permission for me to contact him. The answer was no. Seems I was not the only person to try to buy that car.
In talking to the guard one day, I expressed frustration at not being able to rescue the Imperial. The guard said he had actually spoken with the owner many years ago when the guard was one of the doormen at the building’s main entrance when it had first opened..
He said the car’s owner was a very wealthy man from Europe who leased one of the top penthouses, had it fitted out with the finest interior appointments, and had the Imperial delivered to the garage. He claimed the penthouse even had a Steinway grand piano. After being at the penthouse for only a few days, the owner returned to Europe, never coming back to Washington DC, but he continued to pay all the expenses to keep the penthouse available should he ever come back.
After living in Europe for a couple of years, in late 1975 I returned to the DC area, and one day when I was in the vicinity, I went around to the back entrance of the garage, and asked about the Imperial. The guard on duty didn’t know anything about the car, but he did let me go in and check the space as long as I came right back out. The car was gone. A modern car was parked in the space, so I jotted down a quick note asking the car’s owner to contact me concerning the Imperial, and left the note under the wiper.
A couple of weeks later I received a short note in the mail explaining that the previous man who owned the penthouse and Imperial had died, and the new owner had been informed the car was hauled off as junk.
I keep saying I’ll keep my dad’s 2003 Trailblazer (30k) after he dies because a decade ago, the Step-Monster up and died getting out of it, but I’ll have to find somewhere to park it. He kept his aunt’s ’68 Skylark and mother’s ’72 Cadillac, both pretty low mileage and rarely driven, well into this century, after spending thousands maintaining them.
Truth is that all those low mileage garage queens have likely been driven thousands of miles. The owners just disconnected the odometer and tricked us all into thinking they didn’t. A car parked in a garage and never driven is just a momento.
Then there was Ray Lambrecht, a Nebraska Chevy dealer who kept dozens of new Chevys in a field for 50 years. Most were never titled and had less than 10 miles on the odometer. Brand new cars just deteriorating in the elements for decades. Made absolutely no sense to keep these new cars unprotected and rotting in a field. They were auctioned off a few years back.
I had great disgust of Lambrecht. He had new cars sitting under tree’s, the leaves and debris filled the cowl air vents solid and rusted the whole area away. He could have hired a local kid to sweep the junk off with a broom, but he could care less. In his case it seemed like he had no love of any of those vehicles, he had so much money that he could ignore them as simply junk. Vanderbrink treated him like some celebrity, but he was a villain. There were even people who had traded in a beloved car to him, and then tried to purchase the vehicle back at a later date, he refused to sell. He even hated his customers.
I think I speak for most people here when I say that I see a greater novelty attraction in an unusually high mileage car than in an unusuallly low ditto.
Yes that can also be true. One of my DD cars is a 2011 Camry XLE, loaded with leather, heated seats, sunroof, 6-CD JBL audio, rear sunshade, even reclining rear seats. Black with light tan interior and fake wood trim. I am not exaggerating to say the car looks NEW, with glossy paint and flawless leather (regularly treated). Zero door dings until 2 years ago when my kid took it to his baseball game and a foul ball dinged the hood, and he somehow managed to put a tiny ding next to the fuel filler door, I guess he whacked it with the handle. grrrr. Anyway the car has 289k miles on it and not only LOOKS new but runs like new and every feature works. That car has caused me to purchase various other Toyota products.
As my father used to put it, “it takes all kinds to make a world” – and some of them like cars.
There are the accidental cases, where someone buys it, then dies or such and the family can’t part with it. Then there are the intentional cases. There was a cohort of people (usually around my parents’ age) who had lived long enough to see ordinary things explode in value – like baseball cards and such. They had watched cars from Stutz Bearcats to Cord 810s to 1936 Ford roadsters become worth big dollars, but they had not really internalized the effects of inflation on those figures. Add the feelings of malaise in the 70s and how everyone was sure that the world as we knew it with luxurious, powerful cars would soon end.
Also, investments had not been spectacular from the 50s-70s. The DJIA hit 1000 in 1965 and did it again in the early 80s, but most of that was inflation. Financial assets didn’t really start growing aggressively again until the mid 1980s, so people who had watched their holdings whither with slow growth weakened by inflation could be excused for thinking that buying and preserving the right car might be a good financial move. Hindsight has proved them very wrong, of course, but I can at least understand the motivation based on what they knew or had experienced.
Good summary and insight, thanks.
I’m with you, Paul. Always wondered the same thing.
However, if I had lottery money, I’ve thought of doing something like this. I’d buy two exact copies of the same car. That way, I can drive one (for the majority of the time) until it gets older and starts to wear out, then switch to the other one that’s even sitting in the garage. Take my current car, for example. I’ve never owned a car I enjoy this much, but I’m not crazy about the updated model that came out in 2016, and they’ve since stopped making them in 2020. Same goes for my previous car, a Honda Crosstour.
According to https://accuratecalculators.com/historical-investment-calculator, $13K invested in 1979 in the S&P 500 would be worth about $124K today, not $1.6M. Am I missing something?
Nonetheless, the Corvette is an inferior investment.
I used this calculator, which seems a bit easier to use. And the appreciation of almost 13,000% I found elsewhere too.
Weird rabbit hole to stumble down… pulling it back before I get stuck too deep!
Should note that the number from accuratecalculators.com that I quoted was inflation-adjusted. Otherwise about $462 K.
So, does the odometer roll backwards on this Vette when its pushed in reverse or does it not move? Or is the Speedo disconnected? Time to check my Cougar out, attach elec drill and start rolling back the miles.
Apparently in the Corvette the odometer doesn’t add miles either driving backward or pushing it (based on the sign I side car). If the miles went backwards driving backwards we’d be awash in low mile cars because every sketchy dealer and owner would be continually driving in reverse.
I think I learned watching Ferris Bueller the driving backwards trick doesn’t work.