The conclusion of our conversation with car collector Brian Styles
Classic Car News: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start collecting cars?
Brian Styles: A couple of things, first everything is cyclical. Every market is cyclical. If you are going to get into a hobby, if you are getting into it as a true collector with multiple cars and invest seven or eight figures into a collection, the best advice is to buy what you love and plan on keeping forever.
If the market turns, you don’t want to be in a position where you have to sell it because you are going to take a loss if you find yourself in a position like that. If you buy what you are passionate about, then it doesn’t matter if it goes up or down in value. It is a piece of artwork, a car, something you will always appreciate and enjoy.
The other place collectors can get hurt is the being “in-between.” Like you want to get into the hobby and want a car or two and want to drive and have fun with, then seek out, find, and pay an appropriate price for a driver quality car.
If you’re the type of collector who is like, “I want this one of 29, 440 six-pack 1970 ‘Cuda convertible,” that’s arguably a seven-figure car these days. Chances are, you aren’t going to be driving that. That’s going to be a show piece. The most driving you will do is on and off trailers, assuming that you’re going to share that with the rest of the enthusiasts of the world by taking it to national events.
You get hurt when you have that passion and the money and want to spend money on a great car, but also want to drive it, hence the “in-between.”
I mean if you want to spend money, you can get a great car that has maybe 10 miles on the restoration and drive it, deteriorate it, and then re-restore it and eventually still be safe, but a restoration is at least $100,000 when you pay someone to do it.
So let’s say you buy a car that’s worth $100,000 and pay maybe $50,000 for it and it needs restoration, you will be in upside down. If you have a disposable $150,000 then maybe you don’t care and you like, “I’m going to buy a car, it’s going to be fun and it is what it is.” But if you’re taking your life savings to buy this car for a price you think is great and then you have to put money into it, whether its major mechanicals, or restoration, or both, you can end up upside down really quick and that can be really devastating to a budget as well.
CCN: What’s the best way to make your first purchase?
Brian Styles: When you first start out as a collector, unless you have someone to guide you into the hobby, there are essentially two different ways you jump in. You either go to an auction and cut your teeth or, if you are lucky, you find a good broker to help you with what you are trying to do.
I mean, of course, when you’re just getting into the hobby, you don’t know what you are doing. It’s like looking at real estate, you maybe don’t know exactly where you want to live, but a good broker is going to put enough stuff in front of you, to where you are like “I really like that style and that neighborhood, alright let’s look for a home.”
I think usually a lot of people meet brokers through ‘for sale’ ads. The brokers I have met list a lot of cars and they do so through a lot of classifieds sites. Sometimes they will be like, “this car is for sale, but by the way, I have a whole lot of access to other cars,” and they use that as like a lead in, like you will call them up and be like “I’m interested in this, but what else do you have.”
When you collect desirable stuff, not necessarily rare, but desirable, there is a lot of stuff out there. Like I said with the whole cutting your teeth at an auction, you don’t know what you could be getting yourself into, like if it is a re-body or has fake paperwork.
Anytime you have a high-dollar hobby, whether it is artwork, cars, you name it, there are going to be people lurking in the shadows and that’s one of the biggest problems. You can take a new collector who is excited about the hobby and they jump in and get burned, they’re going to get knocked out and be poisoned by this. It’s naturally very difficult, and I’ve had my experiences with bad people. But if you find a good broker, typically they will steer you in the right direction.
CCN: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the hobby?
Brian Styles: Everyone thinks there is huge money in this hobby, and there can be. There are a lot of players in this hobby that have been doing it for so long they know how to make money, but then you look at this hobby if you are a hobbyist and you look at it like “I’m going to buy and sell to make money,” then you are thinking the wrong way. When you start thinking about making money, it becomes work, and a business concept. It defeats the purpose.
CCN: How often do you sell a car from your collection?
Brian Styles: If it’s a hobby and you have bought what you are passionate about, you’re never really motivated to sell. But there are few reasons to let go of a car, the first being that tastes change. For us, when we look back at the collection and if the car has a hard top, I can tell you chances are that would be one we are willing to let go of to make room for another convertible, because that’s what we are chasing after now. That said, that’s usually what you do as a collector. You free up floor space, cash, or your tastes have just changed.
CCN: What do you anticipate the next collectable car to be?
Brian Styles: If you take a step back and look at what’s next, I’d say the Pontiacs are the next big thing. When people realize how rare the Ram Air IV cars are with the round port performance motors, and then when they realize how rare the Ram Air IIs were in ’68, everyone will start tripping over themselves to acquire those rare cars. Essentially, it’s the same formula as the Hemi ‘Cuda convertible. So it’s just a matter of time.
On a broader scale, we see a lot of people buying, selling, flipping, and collecting German automobiles.
As much as I love American muscle, I don’t know if it will ever truly be appreciated on a global scale like the cars with prancing horses, you know Italian cars. But I believe the next global collectable is going to be the Japanese muscle cars from the ‘90s and earlier.
We already see a ’67 Toyota 2000GT as a million dollar car these days because it was one of the first Japanese supercars. In the last couple of years we have seen a number of prominent Japanese supercars being sold at Amelia Island and other prominent auctions fetching north of a quarter million. We reluctantly just let go of one of our 1998 Toyota Supras, and it fetched six figures. Sounds crazy, but if you think about it, yea it was a ’98, which was the last year of U.S. production, with a 6-speed and was painted the highly desirable “quicksilver,” which only 24 were built. We start talking the same metrics that are applied to older cars and you can see that rarity wise, it’s the same.
As a collector, it’s easy and safe to follow those metrics and it’s much harder to speculate on what you think is the next thing.
It’s good if you’re right because you are ahead of the curve and not paying that premium for the in-demand items, but it’s bad if you guess wrong. For example, we have a lot of the Ram Air IV Pontiacs in the collection. I believe they are the next big thing because they are so rare, but if we are wrong, there is millions of dollars invested. However, going back to one of the first things I said, its OK because they are cars we love and are not looking to sell, not in a hurry to flip or anything and so if we are with them for the next 20-30 years, that’s OK.
That’s the position you want to be in, speculate but don’t borrow money to speculate. I don’t think you can go wrong with Japanese cars. I’ve been saying this for the last five to six years and I see article after article talking about collectable cars of the ‘90s. Of course, you will see a Ferrari F40 and F50, but you’re also starting to see a lot of Japanese cars peppered in that list. They look good, they are fast, and can be made even faster.
Photos by Nicole James