23 July 2013

It’s Worth What??? Five classics you’d never guess are so valuable

Some classics wear their price tags on their sleeves. Look at a fuel-injected ’57 Chevy Bel Air, and it’s immediately apparent that it’s valuable merchandise. On the other hand, there are the sleepers of the classic car world, the cars that are worth a lot of money but it’s only obvious to those in-the-know. Your Accord-driving neighbor would, for example, never guess that the proceeds from a restored VW microbus could put his kid through college at a very good state school. Here are five you’d never suspect of being quite pricey:

Volkswagen “Samba” Microbus: There’s a simple rule of thumb with VW Microbuses: More windows equals more money. The 21- and 23-window versions of the venerable ’50s bus can bring money that would shock the hippies who ran them into the ground in the 1960s—around 70 grand for a nicely restored one. They’ve even been known to break $100,000 at the right auction. 

Fiat Jolly: The Jolly was an open-top version of the classic Fiat 500 that was meant to be stowed onboard yachts and used as transport in places like Monaco and Positano. They have no doors, the seats are made of wicker and the tops are meant only to provide shade. Appallingly cute, the pint-sized Jolly can sell for upwards of $70,000.

Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser: The classic Jeep-like 1960-1984 Toyota Land Cruiser was one tough vehicle—so tough that they invited horrific abuse, which explains the dearth of clean examples. A nicely restored one sold at an auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., last January for $88,000. We’ve heard stories of $100,000-plus examples. In response to FJ40s getting so expensive, first-generation 4Runners are starting to increase in value. Don’t say we didn’t mention it.

Ford Bronco: The humble 1966-77 Ford Bronco was a product of the same team that brought us the classic 1964½ Mustang. Unlike the Mustang, which sat on Ford Falcon underpinnings, the first Bronco was a totally unique platform.  The size and shape were just right, and collectors have latched onto them in droves. Totally stock, unrusted Broncos without cut fenders and flares are rare; it takes around $30,000 to get a nice one.

BMW Isetta: Prior to becoming known as the ultimate driving machine, BMW suffered from a case of bipolar disorder, selling the super-expensive V-8 507 roadster and the tiny egg-like Isetta microcar out of the same showrooms.  It’s no shock that the gorgeous 507 roadster sells for a ton of money, but the fact that Isettas can pull more than $40,000 is surprising indeed.

43 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Chris United States July 27, 2013 at 22:20
    Price for 1955 VW Sedan and 1961 VW Convertible
  • 2
    Sue Henley Arkansas July 29, 2013 at 10:29
    I have a 1996 Ford Bronco I would like to sell. Can you help me go in the right direction to do so. I purchased the bronco from a gentleman that purchased it new. Any advice would be appreciated.Thanks
  • 3
    Joe Garcia Elizabeth, NJ July 31, 2013 at 13:41
    Does it matter if the successful buyer had completely emotional reasons for paying so much? To what extent do auction results REALLY set selling prices for average examples? Car owners would do well to rely on value guides and actual selling prices rather than auction results to realistically value their cars.
  • 4
    Mundy Grundy Oklahoma July 31, 2013 at 14:38
    Sue, Paint it white and sell it to O.J. Simpson!
  • 5
    Ron Lyons Arroyo Grande, CA July 31, 2013 at 15:02
    This is a classic example of people having more money than brains! I am sorry, but not one of these vehicles is worth anywhere near these auction prices. And Joe is right. The auction prices are often driven by emotions and are not indicative of real value.
  • 6
    Len Zapala New York July 31, 2013 at 15:15
    It is amazing to me that the microcar fad has lasted this long. Anyone who pays six figures for a car that was meant to be a cheap (in every sense) piece of junk to hold you over until you could buy a "real" car, is out of their mind!
  • 7
    Jonathan Whorf New Hampshire July 31, 2013 at 16:07
    Being a former owner of 3 FJ-40 Landcrusers, the major reason there attrition was so high is that they rusted like crazy. I had one that was 10 years old, and it had 2 layers of extensive rust repair, and the body was still unfixable. The drive trains out lasted the bodies.
  • 8
    Bill gaino Sc July 31, 2013 at 16:09
    I was watching an auction on tv a few years ago and saw a woman bid against herself until she bought a police car as seen on the Andy Griffth show from Mayberry ,but was not a galaxy and she paid over 100,000. Too much money,too little brains. Remember the 21 year old kid that bought the hemi Cuba for 1000000?
  • 9
    Michael Attwood Portland, Oregon July 31, 2013 at 16:18
    In response to Len from New York - remember that muscle cars, for example, were also basically cheap pieces of junk with big engines shoehorned into them, but they hold an appeal for those who grew up with them. Without modifications they handled badly, had questionable brakes and mostly just lit up their back tires, yet huge money is paid out for them! The appeal of most of our collectibles is emotional, and tied to memories, exceptions being the rare and exotic machines which truly set standards for their time and beyond...
  • 10
    Steve Maryland July 31, 2013 at 16:40
    Sorry folks but auctions DO set selling prices. The fact that prices are driven by emotions IS the real value. Unless you think the "real" value is the value of the metal, glass and rubber then the ENTIRE value is the emotional vaule. The other thing to keep in mind is scarcity. That's exactly why a "cheap piece of junk" or a vehicle that was built to be abused and made 50 years ago is so vaulable. There aren't that many around.
  • 11
    jeff colorado July 31, 2013 at 16:43
    you got a 21 window VW in photo not 23
  • 12
    Micro Tom New Canaan Ct. July 31, 2013 at 16:46
    I have two Isettas, a Heinkel and a Messerschnidt all are a lot of fun and are not junk, the 356 SC was also built around the sane time as a inexpensive car and now selling for over 100.000
  • 13
    Bob Frazier Oklahoma July 31, 2013 at 16:55
    The quoted prices are well above what these vehicles are actually going for. Still, a couple of them are gaining rapidly - e.g., the Isetta. Most of the interest for the micro cars comes from Europe where these things are in people's memory. Kinda like Gremlins for US folks (which are becoming collectible).
  • 14
    Richard Lumberton, nj July 31, 2013 at 17:03
    My Triumph Herald mechanic specializes in VW campers bus's and Bugs. If he has read this, he has had a stroke ! I hear Triumph Heralds are REALLY going up !! lol
  • 15
    Doug Dodge Mpls July 31, 2013 at 17:22
    This list is no surprise to anyone that has followed the big, overinflated auction results over the last few years. These are hardly "real world" values, just egos bidding against each other after a few martinis.
  • 16
    Bill LaJoie Phoenix July 31, 2013 at 17:43
    I had a friend in the army during the 60's that thought the Isetta was collectible. I asked him "Are you smoking dope?" Silly me - It was the 60's after all. Looks like he's still at it.
  • 17
    Steve Indiana July 31, 2013 at 17:44
    The price of our cars and collectibles is driven by demand, I don't think any book or guide can cover that? So what if someone pays 100k for a micro, vw or Toyota. If their set on owning that car they will pay a high price to get the best. It doesn't have to be a Chevy, Dodge or Lamborghini, fact is ever car out there is not worth the selling price but its what people are paying.
  • 18
    Tom C. Connecticut July 31, 2013 at 17:52
    Hey guys and girls,auction prices ARE real, although sometimes people overspend this is a true valuation of the vehicles listed. Don't forget someone else offered close to the same number as well. You can't have an auction with just one person.
  • 19
    Brent Lehner Wichita, KS July 31, 2013 at 18:12
    The comments about "auction values" is interesting - if a car sells at auction for $100,000, don't forget that there was at least one other person who was willing to pay $95,000. Auction results are actually a cery good indication of value - FOR THAT PARTICULAR CAR AT THAT PARTICULAR DAY AND TIME!
  • 20
    Bob Stokes Buellton, CA July 31, 2013 at 18:12
    The often used statement about classic cars "It's worth what someone is willing to pay for it" holds true here. I think if you polled the general population of classic car buyers you would most likely see theses listed numbers drop significantly.
  • 21
    Dean Hanson Tyler, Tx July 31, 2013 at 18:22
    I have a 1974 Chevy Impala 2dr hardtop "Spirit of America" all white with blue and red pinstripe along the sides and around the wheel rims. It has the white vinyl top and all white vinyl seats with oxblood red dash and carpet. I bought this new in April 1974 and was the first one off the carriers truck. I have all the price window stickers, manuals and other papers that come with the car when purchased. Actual mileage on this car is just over 53,000. It runs good and drives and rides like a big heavy car would back 39 years ago. I was told that only 2600 of these were made for the 200th year centennial of the great USA.I am considering on selling and want to know how should I go about doing this and also I would like to get an idea of what the car should be worth. Would collectors be interested in this car?
  • 22
    Joe Pinute Shreveport July 31, 2013 at 18:55
    Sue: Email me some info. I might be interested if you're close pnutlaf at gmail.com
  • 23
    alfista Pennsylvania July 31, 2013 at 20:01
    The top money goes to the small production vehicles with hand made craftsmanship from Italian design houses such as Ghia, Bertone, Isetta, Pininfarina, Iso-Grifa, Touring, Zagato, Italdesign, Frua and Gandni to name a few. We long for examples of the dying art of autombile masterful design. To get that design car companies have paid handsome figures to lure top designers to their firms such as Bruno Sacco to Mercedes and Walter DeSilva to Audi/Porsche/VW. Bmw to Isetta, Volvo to Bertone, Cadillac to Pininfarina Ford purchases Ghia of Turin, Audi purchases Lamborghini, Fiat saves Chrysler, etc..
  • 24
    Mike Stone Seattle July 31, 2013 at 20:15
    I think the BMW Isetta has historical significance as a post-war answer to providing fun, basic transportation to an austere Europe, even as the VW Beetle started to take over the world. Likewise, the VW Microbus is certainly an icon of the 60's era, as important a vehicle as the Chevy Bel Air, and deserving of being labeled as a classic. The Fiat Jolly, more of a toy than a car, but some people just love them, and they are becoming rare. The prices at auction may not be representative of a typical sale but I think they may indicate of a trend upwards in perceived value for these vehicles. The Ford Bronco and the Toyota Land Cruiser, well, I guess only time will tell. The seemingly high prices mentioned may not be sustainable but then again these two are early off-road / utility pioneers and there are many fans of that sort of vehicle.
  • 25
    Tom Escover Sea Ranch, CA July 31, 2013 at 20:20
    I completely agree w/ Ron. I've worked on the restoration of a BMW 600, and a 700 as well, and the materials used, the craftsmanship (or lack thereof) and assembly work that originally went into these cars was to a bare minimum standard...just enough to keep the thing running long enough to get it off the lot. It is nearly impossible to find the exact replacement materials and parts in some instances, and the costs to reconstruct and hand fabricate new pieces cannot justify the end result, even at $40k.
  • 26
    Gordo Bosstown July 31, 2013 at 22:03
    @ Ron: Wrongo Ron, Real value is set by the market. If the market is set there and people are paying those prices then it is worth it. I can imagine you pulling into a gas station, not liking the price of the gasoline, and NOT paying the price? No, you'd be walking!
  • 27
    Jeff Odders wisconsin July 31, 2013 at 22:48
    I had a "73 FJ40. It was the biggest piece of crap I ever owned.
  • 28
    brad Texas July 31, 2013 at 22:53
    I don't know about the others, but a 66-77 early Bronco restored can bring 25-30k all day long but it has to be cherry!
  • 29
    Bill Los Angeles July 31, 2013 at 23:06
    I predict that when the older generation who can afford their nostalgia toys pass from the scene, things like the VW Microbus, among other vehicles of that era, will be just about worthless.
  • 30
    Richard Washington July 31, 2013 at 23:16
    Regarding the micro fad. You probably have never pulled your Messerschmitt up next to a Lamborghini and watched the crowd gravitate away from the $200k engineering wonder over to the cheap piece of junk. Works for me every time. And the micros don't attract just car buffs... everybody loves them. I have four weird micros and they get all the attention every time I take them out. Way more smiles per mile...
  • 31
    Karl Pallastrini Carmel CA July 31, 2013 at 23:27
    Interesting comments. What is happening here is "supply and demand." The multi-window VW Micro-bus with sunroof is rare because most of them not only were driven into the ground....but the huge sliding canvas sunroof was a victim of bad weather, causing many of them to rust out. There is no other vehicle that offers a scenic view- micro windows and sunroof that can come anywhere near the 23 window Micro Bus, also known as the Samba. And then you have impeccable German quality control that was...and maybe is unparalleled. The Toyota FJ appraisals are highly suspect. Good vehicle in many ways, but also prehistoric in so many ways. Low RPM engine, poor handling qualities unless you are in the outback, 50 mph on a good day with bad gas mileage. You can find a totally restored one of these in every configuration for less than 20K. Usually quite a bit less. No answer for the little temperamental Italian cars...novelties at best.
  • 32
    Nicholas Vancouver, WA July 31, 2013 at 23:29
    That picture is not a BMW Isetta. It is a BMW 600. You all must not have microcars or else you would understand. Microcars are so much fun to drive and get WAY more attention than "real" cars. Take an Isetta to an American car show and everyone flocks to the Isetta. I have a 1969 Austin Cooper S and a 1970 Morris Mini Pickup. I would not even think about selling them for anything less than $50k each.
  • 33
    Timbo Michigan August 1, 2013 at 13:08
    "Value" is subjective. All running cars will get you to a destination. As for older vehicles, collectibility is largely driven by emotion, rather than rationale. Is it old, is it memorable, desirable, did I get my first kiss in it? None of this really makes in any more "valuable" than any other vehicle. Just because someone is willing to pay a lot for it, does not make it valuable, only expensive.
  • 34
    Tailgunner PNW August 1, 2013 at 08:32
    Amen to those that realize that auction prices are grossly over inflated and are not realistic "real world" prices attainable by the Average Joe. The only things auctions do are provide a playground for the rich & famous, an inflated income for the Barrett-Jackson's etc etc and make a lot of otherwise nice cars unaffordable for the "working class" enthusiast.
  • 35
    Eric Marr United States August 1, 2013 at 09:04
    This is a large part of why the collector car market is so skewed, and average prices for other cars are so high. People look at the price that cars go for at the large auto auctions, and think that if those cars can sell for so much, then certainly their family Dodge Aspen must be worth $15000. Ebay is another place where car prices are way out of proportion to what they should be.
  • 36
    Don Boston August 1, 2013 at 10:46
    "Worth" is not a finate word. A car, or anything for that matter is "worth" whatever another party is willing to pay. "Value" is something else.
  • 37
    Tony Hillman Cape May Ct Hse NJ August 2, 2013 at 12:25
    Percieved value is often based on the buyer's past history with the model, (nostalgia), how much money spent is relative to your personal finances, and how much fun it is to recapture something you enjoyed once upon a time.
  • 38
    Stan Reed Lone Tree, CO August 3, 2013 at 13:03
    After reading all of the previous posts there is one thing that I feel I must point out. No one has mentioned the significant cost of restoration as parts prices are inflated for collector cars. I have a 78 Fj 40 that I have almost $50k invested in restoration costs. I plan on keeping it forever but it was a labor of love to get her back to where she is now.
  • 39
    Ian Kilpatrick Canada August 4, 2013 at 14:44
    My very first car was a BMW Isetta. I was 17 and very proud of my little car. The football team in my high school even carried it on to the stage before we had an assembly. I t was easy to park, just drive it forward into the parking space. I had my first date in that car and have other fond memories driving it around town. You have to be careful following a large Cadillac as you could not be seen behind the fins. I installed a large truck horn which helped me clear the way. I would probably pay good money for that car as it brought back wonderful teenage memories.
  • 40
    Debbie Rael Tucson AZ August 5, 2013 at 09:46
    Nicholas I think the confusion on the BMW Isetta everyone is talking about is the page that brought me here has a Bubble Window 4 wheel export on it. I did not even see the little pictures under the VW Bus until you mentioned 600 then I went to the top of the page and saw the tiny pics.
  • 41
    Dave Sutton Southern CA September 2, 2013 at 09:28
    Cant believe anything with a Toyota nameplate would be worth anything. My experience with that company ranges from broken camshafts, multiple recalls, engine sludge, rusting frames, and poor arrogant dealer service (not just one). So an FJ cruiser is worth nothing to us in southern CA....except for scrap, that is.
  • 42
    Martin Feagle Georgia September 19, 2013 at 11:25
    Wonder what a 1972 Honda Coupe would be worth. Now there was a fun little car to drive with speeds over 80mph and park anywhere. 40mpg. wish I had a new one today.
  • 43
    mark roehrig Florida December 6, 2016 at 22:57
    have 3 fiat 600s purchased them in the UK on my last trip each is restored and in good order will be selling two and keeping one their great fun to look at and drive after all they have historical significance they were the 1st rear eng fiats and got the country off the vespa and into 4 wheels here is the strangest thing they were to big and the 500 was produced to this day it is much more popular but there would have never been a 500 if it wasnt for the 600 may not beat a muscle car in a race but gets more attention in a car show than any of those "see it all the time" cars

Join the Discussion