By Ken Gross / Illustrations by Etienne Carignan
As the saying goes, you only go around once. So you might as well go in style—at speed in the car of your dreams. Judging by the high-flying bids at RM, Gooding & Company and Barrett-Jackson’s recent auctions, when it comes to smart investing the vintage car market has outperformed many blue-chip stocks in recent years. What would you rather own, anyway, a certificate from General Electric or a 1964 Shelby Cobra, Wimbledon white with blue racing stripes? All of these mid-century classics in the playboy fantasy garage top 40 years of age, yet they offer performance, looks and road-handling agility. There are no sophisticated electronics, air bags or antilock brakes. These cars will test your mettle. For $55,000 to 100 grand—and more for one special splurge (the BMW below)—you’ll get an appreciating asset. Travel back to an era when sports and muscle cars were honest, visceral and guaranteed to turn heads.
This BMW’s proud front wings sweep rearward with the dash of a destroyer’s hull. Arguably more a boulevardier than a serious race-bred sports car, the 507 was designed by an independent consultant, Count Albrecht Goertz (who penned the Datsun 240Z) and was offered in limited numbers for just three years. Its competition was the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing. With just 254 units produced, the 507 was rarer than the Gullwing, then and now. Its pushrod 3.2-liter V8 (up to 165 bhp) was the first production V8 with an aluminum block and heads. At a then lofty $9,000, the 507 was double the price of a contemporary Cadillac and more expensive than a Gullwing. BMW’s advertising for the car showed a gentleman in a white dinner jacket inviting an elegant woman to go for a spin. It made no mention of the fact that this sleek roadster could nip at 140 mph. Today, 56 years after the 507’s debut, the car’s slim silhouette, cinched waist, arced fenders and dramatically raked windscreen all spell elegance and adventure. It’s estimated that 240 BMW 507s exist today. Hit the lottery and the price tag ($720,000 to $900,000) will seem like a bargain for one of motoring’s immortals.
The E-Type (called the XKE in North America) catapulted Britain’s Jaguar into the modern era. It appeared just before the Beatles; one might say it launched the British invasion. Toiling in the precomputer era, British aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer painstakingly devised the thousands of mathematical calculations necessary to model the E-Type’s 150 mph shape. At the time, Car and Driver called it “the car we’d most like to own of any we’ve tested.” With a stiletto-like silhouette, it had specifications to match, such as fully independent suspension, a tightly drawn monocoque body shell and a snarling 265 bhp, three-carburetor, twin-cam 3.8-liter six-cylinder, paired with a four-speed manual and disc brakes adapted from Jaguar’s Le Mans–winning D-Type. Sure-footed and tractable, the E-Type hammered contemporary rivals and rocketed Jag from an “interesting” specialist sports-car purveyor to world-class competitor. The best, simplest and most beautiful E-Type was the Series 1. Just $5,900 new, a decent coupe will run you $65,000 and up today. Add $25,000 to $30,000 for the convertible. Jaguar has never built a better-looking model.
When Pontiac’s rising star John DeLorean shoehorned a 389-cid V8 into a lowly Tempest, ignoring GM’s edict on engine displacement in midsize cars (330 cid was tops), the muscle car was born. The GTO appeared in 1964—the same year as the Ford Mustang. With its 325 bhp engine and four-barrel carburetor, the GTO started at around $3,000 and came as a hardtop, sports coupe or convertible. After testers blazed a 4.6-second zero to 60 in a juked-up Bobcat GTO, sales spiked. Today, tri-power first-year GTO hardtops go for $60,000 to $75,000. Watch out: Not all of them were heavily optioned road racers. Counterfeiters often add the good stuff; an original bill of sale is key.
Chevrolet introduced its cult-favorite Nomad—a two-door wagon on a Bel Air platform—in January 1954 at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. By 1957, for about $3,500, you could order a Nomad with all of Chevy’s go-fast goodies, such as a 283-cid fuel-injected V8 and a close-ratio three-speed manual. The engine’s 283 bhp marked the first time an American over-the-counter power plant offered one horsepower per cubic inch. Management decided to emasculate the Nomad in 1958, making it a four-door. Bad news for enthusiasts, good news for collectors. Expect to drop about $100,500 for a “fuelie” two-door. Throw your surfboard in the back and head for the beach.
Curvaceous and catlike, Ferrari’s diminutive Dino 246 GT never came with a Ferrari badge. Named for Enzo Ferrari’s late son, it was sold through Ferrari dealers and advertised as “almost a Ferrari.” The car cut a dashing figure on ABC’s 1971–1972 show The Persuaders! as the hip ride of international playboy Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis). At the time, it was revolutionary thanks to a transversely mid-mounted 195 bhp four-cam 2.4-liter V6, with three Weber carburetors, a five-speed all-synchromesh gearbox…the list goes on. It came in two versions: a GT coupe and a GTS convertible with a lift-off “Targa top.” The coupe (originally $14,500) is by far the prettier, with a beautifully curved roofline and flying-buttress rear corners. Figure on $100,000 for a GT, 50 percent more for a GTS. Either way, you have the essence of a 1960s Ferrari in a delightful package.
Chevrolet launched the first Corvette Sting Ray for 1963. Its fuel-injected V8 transformed a boulevard cruiser into a tiger and confirmed the Corvette’s status as a world-class sports car contender. The Sting Ray’s rivalry with the Shelby Cobra, which appeared the same year, is heralded as one of the most exciting in American racing history. The unique rear window, divided by a sculpted rib, lasted one year, which is why this Vette is so sought after. Split-window coupes with a 327-cid 300 bhp engine were $4,500 new. You can get one for $55,000 to $77,000 today. If you forgo the split window, Sting Rays from 1964 and later represent great value with upside potential.