How much is that old Volkswagen worth, anyway?

Always wanted to own a classic 1967 Volkswagen Beetle? Been looking for a vintage VW Microbus to relive the nostalgia of the 1970’s? While the market can count on new cars substantially getting better year-over- year, the collector car market ebbs and flows in ways that can puzzle even the experts.

“The collector car market is undergoing a massive revolution as millennials are getting buying power, which is why cars from the 80’s and 90’s and even some 70’s models, are starting to double, triple, quadruple in value,” says Keith Martin, Publisher of Sports Car Market and a VW collector car expert.

In the collector car market, Martin says there are five factors that entice and motivate buyers and sellers: the rarity of the car, its overall beauty and design, the vehicle’s performance, its past racing success, and whether or not the car was expensive when it was a new model.

1972 Super Beetle

The VW Beetle lacks four of these traits – we concur with those who find it beautiful and well-designed, but it was never rare, high powered, racy or expensive. Yet the typical price of collector-quality VW Beetles has gone from a median value of $9,500 in 2002 to a medium value of $15,000 today, according to Martin. Early Beetles have sold for a lot more money, though, with a 1950 example selling for $44,000 earlier this year and a 1958 model making $71,500 at a Pebble Beach auction last year. Well-preserved VW Microbuses have appreciated even more, with a rare 21-window 1965 VW Type II selling for $302,500 earlier this year; the median auction price of a Microbus is currently $52,520.

The driver? The increased buying power of those who are looking back fondly to the cars – and memories – of their youth.

“People want to buy what they loved when they were young,” says Martin.

While the original Beetle was once among the most common vehicles on the planet, time and wear are thinning their numbers. The historic Type II vans were far rarer on these shores, and many led hard lives; finding an unrestored, low-mileage example borders on the impossible. If you’re thinking it would be more cost-efficient to just do a restoration on a fixer-upper once purchased, think hard before making the jump. Restorations often run more than the value of a vehicle, and if you do choose the route of buying a refurbished-ready car, at least go into the buying process prepared.

“Buy the best car you can afford,” says Martin. “And do your homework in advance so you know what you’re buying. Invest in getting the right answers early so you are prepared for the restoration work needed later.”

Martin notes there really is no other functioning industrial “thing” that is 50 years old and still in use; a 50-year-old TV or toaster is either a museum piece or antique store clutter, but collector cars are expected to still fit in with modern traffic and meet some basic operation requirements to carry a license plate.

Ultimately, if you are in the market for a collector car, Martin advises to respond to your gut feeling. “If you need to have a California Beetle – and you find one that is not really what you wanted – be honest with yourself and wait to buy the one you really want or else you’ll always be second-guessing yourself.”

“Even if it’s the best deal on the planet,” says Martin, “having the wrong car for the best deal is still the wrong car.”