Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to collector cars, assessing that beauty accurately is vital for buyers, sellers, auction companies, and price guides.
For more than 21 years, SCM has been rating classic cars — putting “condition numbers” on them, from #1 to #6.
SCM guide states: “National concours standard/perfect.” When assessing 75 cars at a typical auction, #1 cars are the “needle in a stack of needles” … in other words, they are as rare as the numbers-matching engine for your project car.
The first question: Is it “better” than the day it rolled off the showroom floor? If it is, what flaws can you find? If you can find none, then clearly it should claim the highest honor … the #1 rating.
The easiest way to peel off the first layer of the onion is that most of the time you can find a flaw on nearly any car. Bad stitching along the seat seam, inconsistent body gap, a slight hazing in the glass. Super picky? You bet. But one single flaw allows you to respectfully drop a car to a lower level. Find a few more flaws and that car heads close to #2 category.
SCM guide states: “Very good, club concours, some small flaws.”
The dilemma with scoring a car #2 is how many flaws will you accept before dropping a particular car to #3? #2 cars present themselves as “world-class show cars” to the casual observer, but not to an experienced professional. They have detectable flaws but you may need to hunt for them. For instance, look at the chrome close up, perhaps the stainless steel trim … how about the steering wheel … these items may show light scratches, polishing marks or a small crack in the steering wheel. Once you have enough of these “minor flaws,” you have yourself a #2 car. How many flaws you find will determine if that car will score #2+, #2 or #2-.
SCM guide states: “Average daily driver in decent condition.”
This is the broadest range of collectible car conditions. Most of the cars seen at local shows and many auctions will fall into this category. Why? #1 cars have always been fastidiously restored. #2 cars are most likely a former #1 one car that has aged or been driven for a while, allowing the restoration to unwind a bit.
That’s where #3 cars come in … as a much older or perhaps amateur restoration. Most “casual” automotive enthusiasts will ultimately see a #3 car as a #2. I have personally observed about 75% of the guys going over a squarely #3 car talking about the car being in #2 condition (or better). When “drivers” are parked next to “drivers” (which is almost always the case at auctions) it’s more difficult to remain objective.
But park a “driver” next to a national class show car and the differences are apparent. #3 cars have numerous, but usually minor, easily discernable flaws. Paint and body that is not up to show standards, interiors that look fairly well used and worn (but not beat to death), or an engine bay that is generally tidy but perhaps shows some rust, or paint flaking off the engine block. The easiest way to define a #3 car is that once you walk up to the car you can easily and immediately see multiple flaws.
SCM guide states, “Still a driver, but with some apparent flaws.”
This category could use some additional explanation. The best way to describe a #4 car is that you won’t need to walk up close to it. The flaws will be apparent from five feet or so. You might see faded paint, chrome that lacks a deep luster or an interior that looks well worn. The engine bay will almost certainly appear old and scruffy. It would not hold up to the “white glove” treatment. Many “unrestored original” cars might fall into this category. These are not horrible cars, but most collectors may avoid them unless they are highly desirable, rare or significant.
SCM guide states, “A nasty beast that runs but has many problems.”
As we work our way down the scale it’s easier to see the levels. This is the beginning of the SCM “fright pig” rating. #5 cars give themselves away at 5-20 feet. You can see flaws all over the car. No portion of the car will be all that desirable. Actually, you may find yourself “hunting” for a positive attribute. If you find yourself saying something like “well, at least the gage cluster is nice” you most likely have yourself a number five condition automobile. Don’t worry, your restoration shop will love you since this car will gnaw away at you until you drag it over to their shop.
SCM guide states, “Good only for parts.”
This category needs little further explanation. If a #5 car is a nasty beast, then this thing is Satan. No part of this automobile is delightful. If you’re an avid eBay seller, you’ll quickly start to crunch the numbers for any part that looks salvageable. The rarer the car the better, as the parts will most certainly outweigh the value of the whole. Look for the guy with a calculator eyeballing the useable parts. Unless they are extraordinarily desirable, #6 condition cars rarely show up at auction.
This article addresses condition only. Great cars in a “preservation” state most often fall into a number four category (or even number three for exceptional examples) but that is acceptable for those cars. Terrific documentation, original equipment and drivetrains, especially significant provenance will not change the condition assessment but most certainly change the value/desirability. That’s an entirely different story.