Buying a casually collectable car

On the Road 3 min read

Most cars are casual, some are collectable, but very few are both.

The idea behind “Casually Collectable” is to find and highlight vehicles that offer the maximum expression of enthusiast appeal, everyday accessibility, and typical automotive depreciation. Finding the right mix is not easy and it’s crucial that any prospective candidate posses a footing in all three aspects, or the car in question may not be all that casual or collectable.

Let’s break it down. “Enthusiast appeal” describes how interesting or special the car is to a prospective collector, speaking to the vehicle’s rarity, and its general mindshare within the collector and automotive enthusiast community. “Accessibility” attempts to judge how hard the car is to both find and, more importantly, own. Rarity is good, but if the car is so rare that you can’t get parts or the vehicle requires highly specialized service, then it moves away from being casual and more towards exotic. Finally, “depreciation” speaks to the car’s price versus both when it was new and where it sits on the collector spectrum. If the car has been popular since it hit the market and you’ll pay like-new prices for a used example, that’s not so casual. Likewise, if the car has already finished depreciating and has started to rise in value due to collector interest, that too indicates that the car may not be casually collectable. Find a good blend of these three factors and you’ve got a casually collectable car.

For the purpose of highlighting the balance, let’s consider three examples, a Ferrari F40, a Mercedes SL600, and a nicely equipped Hyundai Elantra. The F40 is one of the most desirable cars in Ferrari’s history and thus does very well in the enthusiast category. That said, with a highly specialized and incredibly expensive service schedule and resale values in the seven-figure range, there is little that is casual about the F40 and it remains very exotic.

The SL600 is a fast two-door drop top with a German V12, so it does well for enthusiast appeal and depreciation is in its favor too, as these out-of-warranty Mercs tend to deprecate hard, with some falling into the price range of a well-equipped Honda Accord. That said, accessibility is poor as the V12 engine, the advanced suspension, and the folding roof mechanism all add big question marks that could make a casual purchase seem a lot more intimidating when factoring for a huge repair bill.

Finally, we have a standard Hyundai Elantra, which obviously scores very well for accessibility, and does okay for depreciation, but offers little in the way of enthusiast appeal. While there is nothing wrong with an Elantra, the average model does little to entice an enthusiast or would-be collector.

Instead, consider cars like the Honda S2000 or the BMW Z4 (both of which have been past entries in the series), these cars have been hit with some depreciation, have a well-known, and generally solid, reputation for service and costs, and both offer an excellent connection to enthusiast appeal.

Admittedly, being casually collectable is a moving target, as the automotive marketplace is a living thing and “enthusiast appeal” will vary broadly from one enthusiast to another (and your taste may differ widely from mine). The specific vehicle is less important than the ability to spot a good candidate before the ebb and flow of the market picks up on its general appeal and strong value. Go back a decade and today’s very popular collector cars (like vintage 911s and E30 BMWs) were solid examples of casually collectable cars.

Fun and interesting cars don’t have to be expensive or difficult to own and the goal of “Casually Collectable” is to highlight enthusiast vehicles that offer a strong value, even to the most casual of collectors.

The Toyota MR-2

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