6 Tips for Starting Your Very Own Car Collection

By Alex Perdikis

If the sight of Jay Leno’s car collection makes you sigh and think, “What if?” then you probably think collecting cars is but a dream. But, you don’t need a ton of money to start collecting cars. Most people begin with one. And while a single car may not be a collection, two is.

Here’s the good news — you don’t have to be Jeno Leno or have his financial resources to start collecting cars yourself. You can do it on a limited budget if you follow these six tips to get started. Before you know it, you’ll proudly be able to say, “I am a car collector!”

  1. Answer This Question: Why?

Ask yourself why you want to collect cars. Is it simply because you love cars? Do you think of car collecting as an investment? Figure it out before you start buying.

  1. Narrow It Down

You can’t jump into collecting without narrowing down the choices. A lot of people already know where they want to start. They love muscle cars. Or, maybe it’s a brand they love, such as Chevy, Ford or Dodge. Maybe it’s a time period they’re interested in — cars from the 1960s or the 1930s perhaps.

If you know where to start, great. If not, narrow down your choices to one or two.

  1. What’s the Budget?

You can’t go into a hobby like car collecting without spending some money. Work the numbers and come up with a figure.

This is also the time to decide if you want to purchase an already restored car or a project. If you’re handy and want the experience of restoring the car yourself, you can certainly save money at the start. But, you’ll have to have the tools, the budget for parts and the workspace to restore your treasure.

Of course, restoring a car is a process. You won’t have to pay for all of the pieces you need upfront. That’s why a project car is the way most first-time collectors start.

Whatever you do, don’t borrow money to get started. Save and spend only when you have the cash in hand. Collecting cars is not worth the risk if you have to go into debt to do it.

  1. Where Ya Gonna Put It?

You need a place to put your car. Do you already have space? Will you also need a work area? Figure out the space you need and how to get it (if you don’t already have it).

  1. Research and Study

You know what you’re looking for and you have available space for your first purchase. Now it’s study time.

“Nothing prepares you better for that first purchase than knowing the market, particularly the market in your region.” — Alex Perdikis

One of the best ways to become familiar with the market is by joining local collector clubs.

A local collector club gives you access to knowledgeable people. They can help you learn about prices, where to get parts and with technical advice.

Look through want ads and the local shoppers to see what’s going on with the market. Attend estate and auctions. Talk with local collectors. Learn everything you can about what’s happening in the local car collecting marketplace.

  1. Ready to Buy? Look for Deals

Again, you’ll want to peruse want ads, attend auctions and estate sales, speak with other collectors and police auctions. But, you’ll want to think out of the box as well.

For example, writer Michael Mraz discovered a 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K in a South Central L.A. junkyard. The “Roadster Limousine” was a gift for European race car driver Rudi Caracciola and has resided in an unmarked salvage yard building for years. The car could be worth as much as $10 million if sold at auction.

And, that’s not all. The Mercedes-Benz 500K sits among other rare European car classics, such as an ISO Grifo Spyder, a Mercedes Gullwing and several Lamborghini Miuras. As of 2012, the massive vintage car collection still sits in a junkyard building.

Jay Leno advises collectors to be open to the “weird” stuff. He relates the story of how he received a letter from a woman in her 90s. She and her husband had married in a 1951 Hornet. It was the only car the couple ever owned.

After the woman’s husband died, the Hornet sat in the garage. Intrigued, Jay inspected the Hornet. He found the body in great shape, but the Hornet had 260,000 miles on it and was in poor shape mechanically. He bought it anyway because he loved the story behind it.  

Collectors have found hidden treasures in barns, fields and tucked away in garages. Keep your eyes, mind and options open for unexpected discoveries. You may not find the next multimillion dollar classic. But, if you find the collector car you love, it’s worth millions to you.

Don’t buy a car simply because it’s the right make and model. If the car is beyond restoring, don’t go for it no matter how tempting. Instead, talk to people and get the word out about what you’re looking for. Be patient and ready when the right car comes along.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.