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Originality vs Over-Restored

by Keith Cornett on March 27, 2006

Last week at VetteFinders.com, our Corvette classifieds and appraisals website, we received an order to appraise the value of a 1965 Corvette coupe. Usually, this is a fairly easy process and the owner of the car provided very complete answers to the questionnaire that we require which allows us to place an approximate value on such a car. First, here are some details of this 65 Coupe: 1965 Coupe, VIN 194375S123XXX. Blue with Blue interior (not original colors), Body off restored in 2005. 396 ci 425 hp, 4-Speed transmission. Power Steering, Brakes, Windows. Factory Side Exhaust, Knock-Offs. Telescopic Steering Column. Also the following RPO’s: A01, A31, F40, G81,J 50, K66, L78, M20, N14, N32, N36, P48, T01, U69. Car is in “Excellent, Show Condition” and has won the following awards: Second Flight NCRS, Bloomington Silver. No owner history was available including any original ordering and delivery documents. This coupe was loaded with desirable options. Among them are power steering, brakes and windows, as well as a telescopic steering column and teak steering wheel. It is equipped with the F-40 special front and rear suspension, knock off wheels and side mounted exhaust. These three options are classified as “rare” with less than five percent of the 1965 models built with these options. Sounds like a great coupe, right? Catch the last line of the description? “No Owner History Available”. And that’s a serious issue we have when it comes to correctly appraising a classic Corvette. Corvettes are a hot commodity these days. Most Mid-Year Corvettes have yearly double digit appreciations and buyers are paying premiums for big block motors and rare options. If you’ve watched the Barrett-Jackson auction over the last couple of years you understand what I am saying. Unfortunately, in a hot market, one of the first casualties is Originality. I’m not talking numbers matching originality. I’m not talking NCRS originality. I’m talking about how THAT particular Corvette was equipped when it rolled down the assembly line and was delivered from the Chevrolet dealership to the first owner. It was only in 1967 that Chevrolet started including build sheets on top of the gas tanks that showed how that Corvette was equipped when it was assembled. If you are buying a pre-67 Corvette, the most important documentation you can have is the window sticker or sales documentation which included the options for that particular car. Many owners were smart and held on to these documents and passed them on to the new owner when the Corvette was sold. There is a joke about the 1967 L88 Corvettes. Chevrolet only produced 16 of them, but there are at least 20 in existence. Some restorers were able to recreate the magic of the L88 and even without having the documentation to prove it was originally an L88, there are people ready to buy into the lie and pay the bucks to acquire such a “rare” corvette. If there were 100 L88 Corvettes available in the marketplace, what does that do the values and uniqueness of the original 16? When doing a frame-off restoration, it is easy is it to add options that originally were not on the Corvette when it was assembled. Options that would add “rare” to the description. And when the restoration is complete, the owner goes out and gets the Corvette certified through the NCRS and Bloomington so that when it hits the auction block, he gets his premium. As our appraiser started working on the substantiation for our 1965 Coupe, he first believed he had a $100,000+ car. But the more he researched and reviewed the photos, not everything was as it appeared. So we had a conversation with the owner. He claimed he had spent over $100,000 in the restoration of the Coupe and wanted us to provide an appraisal for that amount for his insurance. I told him our concerns over the lack of documentation and how that plays a role in valuations, but he didn’t care. He had just received Second Flight status from NCRS and a Silver award at Bloomington and was preparing the car for Top Flight and Gold and eventually a Duntov award. We don’t know if options were added during the restoration, but without the documented history of the Corvette, we could never justify the number he felt he needed, so we refunded his appraisal order and suggested he look elsewhere. Over-restoring a Corvette seems to be acceptable in a hot market, but at some point the classic car market will cool as it did in the late 80’s and those that buy these cars will be left hanging in the wind as the marketplace corrects itself and the speculators move on to the next great money-making idea. This experience has me thinking about the future of Classic Corvettes. What will happen to market values and the hobby overall when anyone with enough money can build a Corvette with whatever options he feels is profitable? What would be the point of sharing the documented history of a car if in the end it doesn’t matter? All of us involved with Corvettes have a vested interest in trying to preserve what constitutes Originality not only from a Numbers-Matching issue, but from preserving the Corvette as it passes from owner to owner.
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