Understanding Condition Class When Buying Collector Cars
Condition class is the most important factor in estimating the price of a classic car. When you watch a high profile auction like the Barrett-Jackson Auction on TV you hear the announcers talking about a car being in “Number 2 Condition.” The number is part of a widely used system for measuring the quality of a classic car, and in this case means the car you are looking at is in very good condition, probably a show quality car that has been authentically restored. (A Number 1 Condition car would be “perfect.”) How can you be sure of the quality of car you’re going to receive in an online setting?
The easy answer is to have it appraised. The Cars On Line Appraisal Service is one way to find what your car is worth. The appraiser inspects the vehicle to see what condition class it is in. Then, based on the condition class, he interprets data from the Cars On Line.com database of current sales to give you a comparable price. You can get an idea how important condition class is when you review a recent inspection report on a 1967 Corvette Convertible which was inspected by an affiliate inspection service in Ft Myers, Florida. This is a great looking Corvette, but only in about average condition. The inspector rated it a No. 3 condition car. While a top end Corvette might bring a price of up to $75,000, this one was appraised at $40,871 based on actual sales prices of similar condition vehicles. Click here to read the report and see photos of this No. 3 condition car.
When buyers become disappointed with their collector car purchase the problem is usually related to making a wrong determination of the value. Once you have determined the condition of the car or truck, even a novice collector can check a price guide to find what price range the vehicle will fit into. Price guides are usually available at local news stands.
Understanding the rating system used in listing the condition of a classic car is integral to determining its worth. Cars On Line uses the most common rating system, where cars are assigned one of six classes. The following is a breakout of how Cars On Line.com determines in what condition class to categorize a vehicle:
Number 1 Condition (Excellent):
These are what are affectionately referred to as “trailer queens.” They’re not driven, and are transported via trailer from show to show to accumulate trophies. These can also be museum pieces. They are either a “body off” restoration, or an untouched, factory original that is very close to perfect. All components are either original or appear as new and are fully operational. This car is a top show winner and is not driven, but transported to shows by trailer. The vehicle is completely detailed, including the engine compartment, interior trim, wiring, suspension, paint and frame. Ideally, this vehicle has been judged with other vehicles in its class and achieved the highest point ratings. We won’t post any photographs for this class of vehicle. Simply put, they have to be perfect. If there’s one spec of rust, one dent or ding, one leaky hose, then you’re not looking at a number 1 condition car.
Number 2 Condition (Very Good):
This car is well restored with an eye for detail, or is a well preserved original, possibly with such low mileage that it remains in showroom condition. The interior and exterior show well, and it runs and rides smoothly. This class is a slight grade below Class One. A Class Two has not been detailed to the extent that a Class One has been. It is considered “cherry” or “mint”. This vehicle might appear as a Class One until judged against one. It would not qualify as a 95 or better “point” vehicle. Although a Class Two might be driven sparingly it should show no signs of being driven. (Clean underneath, absolutely no rust anywhere.)
Here’s a 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda from RK Motors Charlotte. They’re just one of the dealers in the Cars On Line Network that has a reputation for top quality cars, with many being in a Number 2 condition.
Judging from the photographs, it’s very difficult to discern any imperfections at all.
Number 3 Condition (Good):
This is a functional, drivable vehicle in good overall condition needing no, or only minor, work. Most vehicles at car shows reflect this condition. This car is what is termed a “10 footer”. From 10 feet, it may look very good. Close inspection, however, would reveal some imperfections in the paint (faded paint, tiny nicks, swirls from buffing, but not much of this), worn interior trim, dirty undercarriage or dirty engine compartment. You may even see some early evidence that surface rust is beginning in the body panels or on the underside of the car (but not much.) This car is completely operational and could be termed an “older restoration”. It is driven fairly often, runs great, and is enjoyed by its owner. The undercarriage may display limited amounts of surface rust, and may be in need of detailing. Chrome and trim may be less than show quality.
In the example above, we mentioned a 1967 Corvette that’s in a solid number 3 condition. Here’s some more of the photographs that were taken by the inspector:
Class Four (Fair):
This type of car is a fun “driver” with a solid frame and is structurally sound. This car is in need of considerable work. It needs work in and out. Cosmetics, body, and mechanical components may need work. It is not a serious collector candidate, though a restoration could result in a higher condition class. Soft floors, isolated areas where rust has eaten through (but not structural), excessive use of Bondo, lots of pitted chrome, glass repairs are symptoms of this condition. Badly soiled headliners, badly soiled and ripped upholstery, rusted out trunks are also signs.
Take a look at the inspection photographs for this 1970 Chevy Nova SS for an example of a Class Four vehicle. Some of the underbody looks to be in better condition than it is, as areas that have rust have been painted over.
Number 5 Condition (Poor):
This type of car is in need of complete restoration and may not even be able to be driven. The exterior body panels have significant areas of rust-through. The floor and structural components may not be intact. Many may decide to make a car like this their first attempt at a restoration.
Many barn finds will likely be in a Number 5 condition. Decades of minor exposure and neglect will leave their mark. Take this 1951 Studebaker for example:
Number 6 Condition (Parts Car):
This type of car is good for parts only. These are the rusted hulks that populate the nearest junkyard, their steel bones exposed to the weather.
To get an insight as to how to use this information you may want to review some of our inspection reports. Click here to see some sample inspection reports online. Be sure to note the appraised value in each report.