Hooniverse Asks: Why do people preserve normal cars?

There’s something strange going on. Auction sites such as Bring a Trailer and Cars & Bids are listing pristine examples of completely unremarkable cars. A couple weeks back, a 2002 Daewoo Leganza SE with a mere 47 miles on the clock brought a modest $7,000. Just recently, this 2003 Ford Mustang GT with just 4,000 miles sold for a little over $19 grand. And we recently saw a brand-new Plymouth Neon, which sold for about $19,000 as well.

Of course, visitors to these sites are presented with a question: why? It makes perfect sense to preserve something like a Bugatti Divo. Only 40 will ever exist. You won’t find another. And it’s a special car designed for only occasional use. But it’s much harder to make the case for preserving these more “normal” cars.

The reasoning here is simple. You can do two things with a car: use it, or make money on it. If you’re smart about your purchase, you can do both simultaneously. But if you buy a non-collectible car and don’t use it, you’re doing neither.

Take the aforementioned Mustang GT for example. That car travelled just 4,000 miles over the course of 18 years, meaning it was driven less than many Porsche Carrera GTs have been. And yet it only brought $19,000. Sure, this is more money than a well-used example would have brought, but is it really that much more? Surely, if the owner can afford to buy a car and use it that sparingly, they can afford a little more depreciation as well, and they’d have had far more driving enjoyment in the process.

Another point is there are far more profitable ways to park tens of thousands of dollars into something you won’t drive. Investing that kind of money into the financial markets would have yielded a far greater return. So not only do you lose out on years of driving enjoyment, you lose out on tons of potential money as well.

And so the mystery remains: why do people preserve these normal cars? They don’t gain much value, and you miss out on the enjoyment of actually using them, which was the entire point in the first place. They certainly make for interesting auctions, but it’s a strange trend nonetheless.

About Ryan Lowe

Car fanatic located in Huntington Beach. I have a propensity to make fun of vehicles. I also play the drums and like clothes.

15 Comments

  1. “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used …. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition …” – Henry Ford

  2. If you check these auctions, most of the cars don’t tell a tale of intentional preservation. Something odd or something off happened. As I have followed the Korean car collector scene for the past two years (yes, we all know each other by full name; globally), another aspect has become apparent: Many pensioners buy a new car for retirement. Often their first new car ever. Then they find out they can walk everywhere they want to go, lose the ability or will to drive, or are just too afraid to use their new car (think doilies on sofas). This is how I see a 20 yo Hyundai Pony or Daewoo Esperanza or Kia Pride with 1000-5000 miles pop up; mostly in the UK. This is not a common occurence, but it is way less rare than one would think.

    1. Many years ago, the family hauler was incapacitated (at night, on a weekend, after the rental car agencies had closed) and we didn’t want to strap the baby to the roof to all take my two-seater. We ended up asking my wife’s grandmother if we could borrow her car, a Mercury Sable that was 11 model years old. It had fewer than 10,000 miles on it at the time. The receipts in the glovebox indicated an annual service a year after purchase–maybe 5,000 miles on the clock during the first year, so an average of 500 miles per year after that. That’s probably about the time her kids started taking her for groceries and other errands.

      The car got regular routine mechanical maintenance, but she lived in an apartment, where the exterior picked up plenty of scrapes and dings.

    2. Yep, like fossilized footprints, or Bog Bodies, or Ötzi the Iceman; given a production run in the hundreds of thousands the “normal” cars stand a statistical likelihood of one or two of them being preserved through happenstance greater than the ‘enthusiast’s specials’.

    3. I used to work at a dealer service department, and can totally vouch for that. Two of the most notable ones for me were a 25-year old Chevy Cavalier with about 40k and an original car phone, and an early 2000’s Olds Intrigue with just 2500km (would have been 7 or 8 years old at the time).

  3. I actually think that the Leganza definitely should be preserved – not because of any inherent value in the vehicle itself (although it was actually a decent enough car), but because of the wild story it represents – how Kim Woo-choong took a lackluster knock-down-kit assembler of cars who had managed, over the years, to lose contracts they’d had with Nissan, Toyota, and GM, and which was stumbling along assembling such favorites as the Daewoo Massey, to near greatness on an international scale. Before the end, he had plants or deals for plants (outside Korea) in The Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Romania, Poland, Russia, and India. Daewoo, coulda been somebody, coulda been a contender. There was never any money though, but there was always going to be money tomorrow.

    Kim played fast and loose and hard and was always on the edge, but always one step ahead of the devil. He tried to crack the U.S. market but had no money to build dealerships so he tried using college students as impromptu salespeople. It almost worked but just not quite: still it did get enough name recognition that Daewoo America was able to last long enough to lure in dealers, mainly guys who had just enough credit to afford an old gas station building and have a sign painted on the window.

    And it all woulda worked too if not for those meddling guys in Thailand who generated the 1997 Asian financial crisis…. The first check from Daewoo bounced, and then the second and before you knew it Kim was hiding out in Europe, wanted by Interpol. Daewoo (which wasn’t just a car company) had to sell off nearly 50 divisions….and was still bankrupt.

    When Kim finally came in from the cold some years later, the government seized roughly $22 billion of his personal fortune.

    In the meantime, the Korean government, pressured by the Unions (who at one point were occupying Daewoo Motors Corporate offices) tried to get several major car companies to buy Daewoo Motors and put the strikers back to work. The only one who appeared foolish enough to even nibble was -wait for it- General Motors. At the sign of their interest every single Daewoo creditor and their creditors and… etc, started salivating so hard at the idea of getting paid that even GM negotiators noticed the rising damp.

    They finally balked and refused to buy the company. Instead they sat around like vultures until they could be sure that Daewoo Motors was really dead, deeply and sincerely dead, and legally deader than a door nail, and then and only then agreed to buy some buildings and equipment and designs, and hire some workers who had happened to have previously been involved with who? Oh yes, Daewoo, but they are dead, and took all their debts to the grave, didn’t they? In any case, nothing to do with us … just return those bills to sender, please.

    Still, you can even today buy fine automotive products designed and assembled by the people who were Daewoo, in the buildings that were Daewoo…. We just don’t ever, ever mention that name….

    So yeah… keep that Leganza around just as an excuse to tell the story.

    1. That should be read more widely, I tip my non-existent hat to your sparkling words. The Daewoo BaT auction was…odd. Lots of car collectors sit on a throne – porcelaine or otherwise – and declare what is collectible and what is not. Even if a person is a Ferrari or Porsche or whatever-car-your-dentists-drives-on-sunday enthusiast, it should be clear that a super low mileage mundane car is special in its own right. Some were even irritated that they knew people with more “deserving” cars getting rejected by the auction comittee.

    2. Let’s not forget how Daewoo contributed to the downfall of Suzuki in North America. In the middle of this surreal soap opera, GM strong-armed Suzuki into permitting their good name to be slapped on substandard Daewoo products, irreparably poisoning the brand’s reputation in the minds of many American consumers.

  4. I think some of it is accident, a car gets bought, briefly driven and parked for whatever reason, which explains a lot of barn finds. In some cases an otherwise ordinary car is in some way significant like the Neon recently for sale that was the last Plymouth ever made. Also sometimes there is no rational reason.
    Of course once these cars emerge onto the collector market, we preserve them as examples of what people actually drove. This is historically important because collectors tend to bu and preserve the “special” models. A good example is 60s Pontiacs, go to a car show and everything is a GTO, when the reality is most people bought a Tempest or LeMans with a 6 or small V8 and automatic, not a big block 4 on the floor. The Ex Military Land Rover Association cited a similar issue, where the basic cargo carrier version of the military Series III has become very rare since collectors tend to focus on specialist versions.

    1. You are the automotive fringe, although you do follow convention in some ways since your Metro and Maestro are the MG performance versions

      1. My Metro was indeed the MG performance version (leaving aside the 6R4…) but my Maestro is instead the Austin Vanden Plas snooty version. On the other hand, my Allegro is just an Allegro.

  5. Fun with numbers. From January 2003 until last month, the DJIA returned an inflation adjusted 8.25% annually. If instead of buying a 2003 Mustang GT for an MSRP of $24,000, if you stuck that into a index fund, you would have enough money to buy a brand new Mustang GT and high zoot F150. (~$100k)

  6. Keep in mind that many cars that were considered “normal” back in the 50s and 60s eventually became desirable collectibles later. Who would have thought the humble Datsun 510 would some day bring good money? Or the BMW 2002? For most people, it was just basic transportation back in the day.

    1. I would consider the Datsun 510 and BMW 2002 exceptions because contemporary reviews cited their special qualities and in the US they were perceived as enthusiast cars. A more accurate analogy would have been a Toyota Corolla or Datsun B210 neither of which were known for their driving qualities.

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