Never Stop Driving #28: The $50,000 Beetle

Car people, me included, can be a tiresome lot. We’ll gleefully debate the merits of a tappet versus a roller cam, recite 0-60 times for days, and revel in our insider’s jargon. Worst of all, many of us feel the need to claim that we make money at our hobby.

I’m not talking about professionals who actually take their paychecks from trading cars, I’m talking about casual car fans who brag how much money they made on their last flip. At my local cars and coffee, I hear a lot of car-trading boasts. While I’m convinced that at least half of these stories are total bull, I’m perplexed why so many car owners feel the need to even tell them. Status in the car community is somehow tied to financial prowess rather than enthusiasm, discernment, and knowledge. I don’t get it.

One of the best lines I stole from McKeel Hagerty, and there have been many, is this: “I buy high and sell low.” My cars are a hobby and they cost money, just like golf. I’ve sold a few cars for more than I paid, but with a full accounting that includes parts and my labor, they were losers. Who cares? I buy high and if that makes me the fool to others, fine. I had a great time and at least I’m honest.

So I felt a kinship with the man who recently paid $51,000 for a 1977 Volkswagen Beetle, which we featured in our sale of the week. Oh, boy, did some commenters weigh in about the price. The VW buyer responded with a wonderfully thoughtful essay that explained his passion. Reading it, I felt sad that the naysayers couldn’t see past the price and help the man celebrate that he bought something he loved. “I liked this car and had the money,” said the Beetle buyer, “so I bought it.” Amen, brother. Enjoy it.

1977 Volkswagen Beetle front three-quarter
Bring a Trailer/Scott_Ales

Yes, I must admit that Hagerty Media almost always talks about prices when discussing cars. We even do an annual list that predicts which cars will go up in value. Are we then part of the problem?

Our philosophy is that most of us don’t have infinite funds, so we all need to be smart with our money. We provide resources to help, like Hagerty Valuation Tools and Hagerty Insider, a website dedicated to the market. There’s even a new weekly podcast called No Reserve. We also believe that more information invites more people to join us.

As for our predictive list, Bull Market, we started it five years ago to show just how inexpensive the car hobby can be. Those are cars that you can buy, enjoy for a few years, and then sell for about, or perhaps a little more than, what you paid. We always advise people to buy what they love and then they’ll never be disappointed.

My new love is a modified Datsun 240Z that our own Henry Catchpole featured in his latest video. Sadly, those machines are out of financial reach, which means I might have to set my sights on a…..Fiero. You probably think you know everything about that mid-engine Pontiac, but I promise you’ll learn much more, and laugh, while watching Jason Cammisa’s latest video on the plastic two-seater.

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    I am fearful that the days of being a car enthusiast are coming to an end. I own and drive a 1976 BMW 2002 highly modified, owned 38 years, and a 1999 BMW M Roadster that I bought new. My daily driver is a Mercedes Benz GLC 43 AMG. Pretty boring stuff. We will all be driving appliances…

    I couldn’t afford the used 914 of my dreams back in 1985…so I bought a brand new Fiero. It was an absolute blast! Like MGs before it, not fast, but nimble and FUN! And almost 40 years later I have a 1987 in the garage. I restored it several years ago and drive it at least once a week. Still a blast.

    Hey if that gentleman wants the VW and willing to pay the price, that is his business. Those that brag about making money on “flips”, typically have nothing else to discuss. I am sure that is to impress their friends or make themselves feel “important”. Me, I buy, work on them, DRIVE them, if I sell and break even, I am happy.

    The Fiero when they improved some early model issues and really were on the right track in 88, then get rid of it, typical of GM, and other large car companies. The Solstice Coupe was real appealing to me but just too late to pull the trigger. I thought it looked like a baby Cobra Coupe. Larry, you may have to put off that purchase of a Fiero and wait and see what that final bill is on that Ferrari you are working on. It is going to be beautiful and will become a family heirloom. Remember, “Motion is Lotion, Rest is Rust”. DRIVE them while you ca.

    Could not agree more!!! It’s tiresome, and at times very irritating that there is so much emphasis, and to your point BS related to the money aspects of this hobby. We do this, or should do this for the fun of it, and if someone wants to spend $50K for a VW Beetle, that’s their business and more power to them for buying what they want. Life is just too damn short to have someones idea of profit and loss interfere with personal choice and fun!
    Thanks for calling BS.

    Thanks for the Beetle story. It reminds me of what I was taught when I was a kid. “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it”. Keep up the good work at Haggerty.

    Sincerity and Love go a long ways no matter what it is….Never look back and never stop driving. Hagerty articles are a highlight for me when time permits…Never Stop Writing and Thank You !

    Hear Hear! What a great evaluation of the hobby. I have an ’85 IROC Camaro that I bought new (yep, I’m that old) for about $12,000 in November of ’84. It is probably worth $25,000 now, not a stellar ROI. Over those 36 years I’ve put probably $15,000 into the upkeep. I don’t go to car shows but the other day when I got it filled up at the gas station, the teenager filling it up (I live in NJ where we don’t have self service gas stations) told me, “I love your car.” Then, recently when I left it at the Chevy dealer for a month for much needed maintenance they put it on the showroom floor. They shop manager said everyone there enjoyed seeing it. It gave me new respect for the old beast.

    I think it is very cool that your IROC got to be on the dealership floor as an oldie. That’s a high compliment as far as I am concerned.

    Good for him! I suspect a lot of the neigh sayers are the folks who had a clapped out Beetle in college, and feel that God Himself ordained that the VW is, and shall always remain a 200$ car. But, times change.
    I bought a Miata when it was a 2 year old used car. The Gen 2 had just come out, and prices were falling. As the years flew by, the prices and condition fell furthur. I used to buy non runners and barn cars, spend a few bucks, and flip them as runners. Certainly not getting rich, but it was a hobby, and kept me off the streets.
    Now, the first gen cars have been discovered. Once plentiful, rust, racing, teen age drivers and the ‘stance’ fad have decimated the supply. Like the Beetle, Miatas come in 2 flavors- minters, or junk.
    Now, my decisions are tempered by the notion that my little car actually has some real value. It shouldn’t impact how you use it, but it invariably does. It’s early December, and my Miata is sitting outside, looking lovely. Sadly, I know that the days I have to drive it before first snowfall are numbered.
    In the end, who am I kidding? I’ll never sell it. The condition, the value, the originality will someday be another person’s concern.

    I could have written that about my 97 Miata……purchased in 2000!
    “In the end, who am I kidding? I’ll never sell it. The condition, the value, the originality will someday be another person’s concern.”

    Respectfully, Dave

    Thank you for putting my thoughts in words. I have been rebuilding, driving and showing cars for 25 years and the satisfaction I get is from everyone enjoying the results as much as I do. I love hearing older people tell me they had a ’51 MG TD just like mine when they were in school and they really miss it. Or to see someone give me a thumb’s up while hauling/driving my cars down the road. I know I will never get the monetary value back out of them but the pleasure I get from having them and the pleasure I get from seeing others enjoying them is more than worth it.

    I love air-cooled VWs and Porsches! I started in college with a ten year old 1968 Bug and really loved the engineering. When I graduated I wanted a 914 but even used was out of my market so I bought the Fiero. Over the years I restored 5 more Bugs, a 71 Karmann Ghia, a 76 914 and owned a 1992 and 2000 Miata. All were fun yet the dream of the 914 was tarnished greatly with the amount of maintenance and COST of maintenance to keep it running; fun but, well, my wife ordered me to sell it. And that was the only one that brought MORE money than I paid for it because I got it for next to nothing in 1996, got it running in 1998 and sold it in 2006 when the were suddenly jumping in the market. Most of the others were money losers in the long run but NOTHING was cheaper to restore and keep running than VW Beetles, at least until 2010 or so. The 1971 Karmann Ghia was a real loser because, although very reliable daily driver throughout the 90s, it was a “one year only” orphan that had many expensive parts made from unobtainium and other-year parts didn’t fit or looked wrong. The Miatas required nothing but new tops and timing belts beyond regular maintenance but they still lost money when I sold them. My retirement project 5 years ago was another Fiero which took less than a year to get road-worthy after sitting for 11 years, including repainting! So yes, I’ve traded money for fun and I don’t regret any of them…well, maybe the first Fiero because it was actually one of the fire victims yet I put the fire out and GM paid to fix it so it actually worked out. Ironically it was one of a handful of 85s to catch fire; all the other approximately 300 were 84s. As Fiero owners are often asked “Don’t these catch fire?”, the standard answer is “Not this one, all the flaming ones burned up long ago.”

    Great article! I watched as the seller was questioned time and again about the sales price of his might/might not be unrestored Triumph TR250. My thoughts were the same as yours. If I had the disposable income and loved that car, why not?
    Thanks, Scott

    If you’re truly passionate and not a flipper, throw away the price guides. Buy what you like and can afford in your price range. Look for keepers. When you reach your Medicare years like I have, you’ll be all the better for the experience and enjoyment.

    Good choice with the Fiero. You might also want to consider a Kappa (Solstice/Sky). The Michigan Kappa Club holds some jount events (including road rallies) with the Fiero club and both groups are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I have a modified Solstice GXP Coupe and have been involved with the Kappa Club for years. You might want to check out one of our events to get a better feel for the cars and the people.

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