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Collectible cars: $9,999 and under
That nerdy car your Mom drove in the 1970s could be a hot property someday.
January 23, 2004: 11:40 AM EST
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Want to get into the collector car hobby but you don't have, oh, $650,000 to spend on a nicely restored '32 Duesenberg?

The folks at Hemmings Motor News, the Bible of the collector car industry, and Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in covering collector cars, have a few suggestions for more inexpensive starter models.

Much more inexpensive, actually.

1973 AMC AMX Javelin  
AMC AMX Javelins, like this 1973 model, can now be worth well over $10,000.

Hemmings calls them "Sleepers." These are cars that you can buy today for less than $10,000 that, they predict, will increase nicely in value. It's a feature Hemmings has been running more or less annually for about 15 years.

In recent years, cars from the 1970s and '80s have started appearing on the list. Already, one 1970s picked has crossed over into the land of five-figure investments. An American Motors AMX Javelin in very good condition can command prices in the teens or even mid-$20,000 range.

Hagerty Insurance has been tracking prices of what the company calls "Nerd cars." These are cars from the mid- to late-1970s, a period that produced some of the most cringe-worthy clunkers in American automotive history.

Still, surviving cars from that time have now passed their magical 25th birthday, an age that marks them as potential collectibles. And a surprising number of people are buying cars that, by all measures, pretty much stank the first time around.

"They weren't particularly well built, they didn't have a lot power," said McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance. "They really had very little going for them."

Gallery of hot collector cars
In Winter, car collecting heats up

Even so, nostalgia reigns in the car collecting business.

"When certain generations reach a certain age they want the car their parents had," said Richard Lentinello, editor-in-chief of Hemmings, "or that they sold when they were younger."

Souped-up little models

Some cars from the '70s and '80s were estimable performers and are genuinely quite rare. For example, there's the Dodge Shelby Omni GLH. This souped-up economy model actually outperformed far more expensive sports cars. Just 500 of the boxy little cars were built in its one-year run as a 1986 model.

"Those cars are hard to find now," said Lentinello.

American Motors' Gremlin X, particularly when equipped with a 150-horsepower V-8 engine, is "one of the most unusual V-8 powered collectibles that every old car enthusiast can afford," according to Hemmings.

Gremlins and Pacers, other odd-ball creations from American Motors, are particularly popular examples of "nerd cars," said Hagerty. American Motors, or AMC, was bought by Chrysler in 1987. Only its Jeep brand survives today.

Donnie Solomon of Roxboro, North Carolina, owner of an equipment rental business and Webmaster of, said he gets at least a dozen mails a week from people wanting to buy a Gremlin X. Solomon owns six himself, although four are "parts cars," as well as two AMC muscle cars.

"I've always been an American Motors fan partly just because they're really unique," he said.

(Note: After reading this story, Solomon contacted the writer to mention that a few Gremlin X models have surpassed $10,000 in value. His own, a red car pictured in a graphic on this page, has been appraised at $15,000, Solomon said in an email.)

Some cars are just famous for their former newsworthiness. The Ford Pinto, which was the subject of much litigation over its alleged propensity to explode when hit from the rear, is now going up in value as collectors seek to acquire them, according to Hagerty.

If you're thinking of getting into car collecting and you want to start at the low end, don't go looking at collector car auctions. Really inexpensive cars aren't worth bringing to auctions, said Hagerty, because entry fees would eat up a big percentage of the proceeds.

Instead, search ads for private sales and have the car professionally appraised, advises Lentinello. And always buy a car because you love the car, not as an investment. That way, even if it declines in value, you'll still be happy to have it.

As for which "nerd cars" are most likely to reach real collector auction values in the future, Hagerty has a simple formula: "The weirder the better."

What's your favorite overlooked, underappreciated car of the past? Let us know.  Top of page

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