Data Driven

These two common assumptions about car collecting and age are dead wrong

by John Wiley
30 March 2023 3 min read
Photo by Preston Rose

As the collector car market evolves and different generations age into and out of their time in the hobby, plenty of theories have popped up that attempt to tie certain habits and preferences to age. Sure, they may have anecdotal evidence going for them, or even a strong kernel of truth, but what do the data show? We took a look at a couple of these ideas to find out.

One of the prevailing theories of the classic car market is that enthusiasts chase their “poster cars.” That is to say, enthusiasts primarily want the cars they pined for—and maybe had hanging as posters on their bedroom walls—in their youth.

It’s a reasonable concept, but it’s unsupported by data. Every day, Hagerty fields thousands of calls from enthusiasts looking for a quote on insurance for a collector car. Since we will naturally ask for the age of the car and of the caller, we are able to track who is interested in what. Check out the typical difference between the age of the person and the age of the vehicle on the chart below.

The oldest enthusiasts are looking for vehicles typically 41 years younger than they are, while the youngest enthusiasts are looking for vehicles 24 years older. Let's say it again: enthusiasts aren't looking for the *new* cars of their youth. Remember that the next time you watch American Graffiti.

Collector age and value

Another prevailing theory is that young car collectors are primarily motivated by budget. Though it might seem counterintuitive, this is also untrue. There is no correlation between older buyers and high values, and younger demographics and more affordable cars.

To understand how that's so, it might help to recall the old line about logical fallacies: Just because all cats have four legs doesn't mean that all four-legged animals are cats.

It is true, in the macro sense, that older enthusiasts tend to have more money and spend more of it on collector cars. However, that does not necessarily mean the reverse is true—that more expensive cars always appeal to a higher share of older collectors.

Ferrari and Nissan are two brands that paint this picture well.

Ferrari's many valuable collector vehicles appeal to an array of buyers. For instance, both the 1964-1967 Ferrari 330 GT (2+2) and 2020-Present Ferrari SF90 are $700K+ vehicles with a similar number of quotes. However, only 42% of the people calling us about insurance for the SF90 are older enthusiasts, compared to 65% of those calling about the 330 GT. The SF90 may appeal to appreciation for modern technology and contemporary use habits, whereas the 330 GT 2+2 likely resonates someone who digs a set of Webers and a manual transmission.

Zooming out and looking at all Ferraris, we do see some correlation between a collector's age and a Ferrari's value, but it's a weak one at 0.32 (a perfect correlation would be 1). In other words, just because a Mondial is comparatively affordable doesn't mean that younger buyers are flocking to it for that reason.

For Nissans, the correlation is actually negative, meaning the brand's more expensive vehicles (read: Skyline GT-Rs) are slightly more likely to get interest from younger collectors. Only five percent of our policy quotes for the most valuable model, the 1998–2004 Nissan Skyline R34, come from older enthusiasts.

Zoom out and you'll see that the relationship between vehicle value and age varies greatly across the market:

(Vehicle) age is nothing but a number

In essence, we are not arguing here that the age and value of a vehicle don't matter. The facts that today's thirty-somethings weren't alive during the British Invasion and typically don't have $100k to spend on a classic certainly helps explain why relatively few of them own E-Types.

Rather, we're pointing out that these are just two of many variables. Consider, for instance, scale of production over time: Older Mustangs get a lot more interest than newer ones from young collectors. It'd be easy to conclude that young collectors don't care about newer Mustangs (in fact, it'd make a great headline), but that would miss the fact that older Mustangs were produced in much higher numbers than the newer ones. For a brand like for Ferrari or Aston Martin, it's just the opposite—production numbers have grown greatly over time, so interest as measured by insurance quotes naturally skew toward newer vehicles.

If nothing else, our data can serve as a helpful reminder to treat stereotypes with extreme skepticism. The next time you see a desirable classic roll by, about the only thing you can safely assume of its owner is that they have great taste.


  • Edward Greenberg says:

    Question – what data does Hagerty or any other company compile on private sales? Many collectibles are sold w/o registrations, have been unregistered for X years are sold privately and restored (or not) to varying degrees. The car remains unregistered until and unless it is sold AND registered in another state. Tracking such a common sale is often impossible and rarely worth the time and expense unless the auto is worth minimum mid six figures.

    As a former divorce lawyer there are many techniques that obscure the sale or valuation or profit…if any. Additionally, say I live in Alabama and my inherited vehicle is unregistered and is now worth 50k. I don’t insure its value for 50k or perhaps not at all because I never drive it and I don’t want to pay the premiums. I sell it by signing over the title and/or my sales contract says 15k but the buyer paid 40k in cash. You buy it from him and you live in FL. You spend 10k doing work on the car but never register it. You then sell it to Joe Blow in GA for 100k in the same type transaction. The GA who registers the car (or not) and insures it for far less than its value because it will be in a warehouse
    This can and does often occur within months. How does Hagerty or any entity know that the car (any model/year) was sold for 40k and then 100k? Additionally, I can pay 40k for the car and -wink, wink – pay 60k for the restoration rather than pay 100k for the car.

    Here’s the point – private transactions, even simple ones can not be tracked by Hagerty or any other company. As an attorney and somebody who owns/drives a classic I have a bit of an edge in analyzing these transactions. At the end of the day and for all practical purposes it can’t be done.

    Here is a VERY simple example of how valuation “tables” do not accurate reflect the real world but rather the “auction world”. I paid 14k for my car 19 years ago. I have put in $2,500 in necessary repairs over 19 years. The car is driven regularly. I have received over 35 offers…several from dealers…who have offered me 3 – 5 times what I paid for it.

    According to any/all estimates, “book value” and similar charts and similar auctioned vehicles the car should command about 2.5 times what I paid for it. It is insured post inspection for 4 times what I paid for it. I will never sell the car but it was purchased in say SC where it was unregistered, then registered for years in NY, then another state and now FL. Hagerty nor any other service has any way of determining what I paid. Many DMVs destroy title records after 20 years. Some states less, some states more. A husband would up with a Lotus with mid to high six figures. The wife’s attorney never even knew. Finally, when I moved to my current address a gentleman came up to me and said “How much can I pay you for the car”? I said “its not for sale…ask my wife when I die” Him ‘I had this car in college and I do mean THIS car’ I will pay anything just tell me how much you want” He owns a Rolls and a Porsche. To him my car is worth 7 -10 times what anybody else what pay. Bona fide offer.

  • Mauresque11 says:

    The article might be misleading:
    If you take 1944 for Boomers, add 41, then they’re looking for 1986 vehicles.
    If you take 2010 for Gen-Z, deduct 24, then they’re also looking for 1986 vehicles.
    This is why I don’t believe polls. They say whatever you want them to.
    However, I note that most MG owners I know are Boomers and that my 1953 MG TD is now worth about the cost of the 5 new tires I just put on it.

    • Jake says:

      That’s exactly what I determined from looking at the charts. I don’t believe the data is telling us that we have significantly different tastes in cars as much as certain cars appear to a much broader age group.

    • John Wiley says:

      You’re close on the model years, which are
      Pre-boomers: 1973
      Boomers: 1976
      Gen X: 1977
      Millennials: 1978
      Gen Z: 1979
      The point is to show that everyone is looking for similar cars, and not the new cars of their youth.

  • Scott Chamberlain says:

    I wonder how many of those old car/younger driver matchups have to do with cars passed down from a family member, or other personal connection to the brand or model. In general, I find much less interest in cars in general, and enthusiast cars in particular among young people. I’ve met lots of young people who are unlicensed, and in no hurry to obtain one. Reasons? It seems we live an increasingly virtual existence. Hell, many I encounter won’t even speak to a person on the phone, much less face to face. Will there always be car enthusiasts? Yes. But, much as there are horse lovers today, I think that car enthusiasm will become a more niche. What worries me is that as we move away from the cars we know as transportation devices, the infrastructure will change, and the cost of car ownership will go up, beyond the grasp of younger, less affluent persons. And, if the economy were to crash and burn, I see those changes coming sooner than later.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    I have little interest in most of the newest cars because most of them have become digital weapons. A thousand buttons on the steering wheels, over complicated digital everything. Downsized motors and other than the rocket launch they do off the line there is no thrill in driving them. That’s why I bought a “throwback” modern car with the last of the NA V8’s. I want some thrill when I start it up and when I drive it.

  • John Dirven says:

    We’re 55 years and we have about 30 old cars and trucks. All were purchased privately. Many were/are project type vehicles in various states of repair. We have only about a half dozen registered. We only insure those we drive when we’re using them. It is a diverse eclectic collection that ranges from the 20’s to the 80’s. Little by little I’m improving them and some are now close to the fair condition rating. It is often uneconomical for me to take them to a higher standard, perfection is not a virtue I strive for. There’s no way to track these types of cars as I never sell and enjoy them quietly, my wife doesn’t know all what we own, how can anyone else?

  • jane don says:

    What I notice is that lot of folks under 40 can’t be bothered with owning or even driving Any cars–something that Used to be pretty rare–

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More on this topic

Hagerty Insider Newsletter

Your weekly dose of auction reports, market analysis, and more.

Thank You!
Your request will be handled as soon as possible
Hagerty Insider Newsletter
Your weekly dose of auction reports, market analysis, and more.