Sitting in a marketing meeting in Detroit one day not so long ago, I recall seeing a presentation that explained how the Corvette’s primary competition was the Porsche Boxster and 911. There were some other cars mentioned as well, but I had already tuned out. As a guy in my 40s at the time, with a family and a mortgage, I knew a different reality.

Those German cars weren’t the ’Vette’s first competitors — they were its last ones. The real rivals actually lurked much lower on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the house, insurance, medical expenses, taxes, and college and retirement accounts all required regular feeding. Beyond that, remodeling, landscaping and vacations vied for what time and money remained. Sports-car ownership seemed predestined to be preempted.

Lower the pressure

Given the seemingly endless locust swarms eating away at my resources, how could owning any special-interest car — whether a sleek new Corvette or a goofy old Goggomobil — ever make sense?

I came up with this analogy: A body shop’s positive-pressure-painting room. When the room (a representation of my life) is pressurized (by obligations), no outside contaminants (i.e., that collector car!) can enter, because the pressure inside the room pushes everything else away. But instead, if the fans are reversed to turn the room pressure negative (netting a vacuum), it will actually attract outside air (the collector car).

Ergo, to enable classic-car ownership, I had to make room in my life for one.

Better than new

So how does one forge this figurative space, exactly? For me, it starts with looking at the finances — and making sure whatever I bought could be sold for that much or more later on. This is a fundamental and decisively attractive difference between collector cars and new cars.

For instance, a 1972–73 Porsche 911T 2.4 Targa has a median value of $115,000, according to the SCM Pocket Price Guide. That’s nearly identical to the $115,100 MSRP of a 2021 Porsche 911 Carrera S. As this is written, a Porsche Financial Services lease on the new Carrera is advertised at $1,199 per month, with the fine print showing $43,170 in nonrecoverable payments over three years. Or if you buy a 911, a study shows the projected depreciation is $44,309 after five years. If the value of that classic 911T simply remains stable, however, neither gaining nor losing much (a reasonable likelihood if you buy smart), you will easily come out ahead, even after budgeting for repairs. And if a collector car appreciates, so much the better.

The point here is not that you should buy a collector car instead of a new car. Rather, it’s that thinking about buying a collector car relative to buying a new car can be instructive — and liberating. Tens of thousands of new cars are purchased every day, largely without their new owners suffering the objections of naysayers. Smart collector-car ownership is much more rational and fiscally responsible. Done right, you can have plenty of leftover funds for kids’ braces, a kitchen makeover or a nice IRA contribution.

Nail the timing

I’m no longer in my 40s, but with my advancing age comes the wisdom to recognize that timing plays a vastly misunderstood role in most decisions we make. In certain life stages, desire, optimism, vitality and capability concentrate like sunrays through a magnifying glass. If we recognize and take advantage of these moments, we can better enjoy our relationships with old cars.

Understand: Your emotional and intellectual attraction to collector cars may be forever, but the energy and drive to mess around with them can and will ultimately wane. Which is why scratching the itch when, well, when it is itchy, is the right call.

Of course, there is always the potential guilt of selfishness. I would counter that I have suffered much more long-lasting anguish about cars (and bikes and boats) that I could have bought but didn’t…or those I owned but sold too soon, right before their values launched into the stratosphere. I never stress about vehicles that prove to be a mistake — just sell them and move on.

“How bad can I get hurt?” is a useful question. Even in a worst-case scenario, collector cars can be about as liquid as you need them to be. Need to get out? Year-round live and online auctions enable selling quickly, so there’s a built-in escape hatch. If you liked it well enough to buy it, someone else will too.

Permission granted

What this all means is if you really crave that collector car, figure out how to make it fit gracefully into your life. Not only for the happiness and fulfillment it will provide, but as a reward for working hard. Otherwise, what is the product of toiling year upon year?

This is not an idle question: A UCLA pharmacologist once told me that one’s “mood” is the result of how reality matches expectations. As such, not getting the car you have your heart set on — and have worked to afford — is a recipe for a bad attitude, and all the harmful effects that can have on those around you.

So tell your spouse what you’re going to buy over dinner tonight. Don’t delay! Let’s just hope the couch is comfortable. ♦

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