If any doubt lingers about the strength of the collector car market, consider that four of the five most expensive cars ever sold at auction were sold in 2013. Of those four, three of them sold in the past six months.
At this weekend's Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, there will be consummate collectors with millions to spend as well as first-time buyers looking for hidden treasures.
"Car connoisseurs come in every wallet size," said Bill Warner, founder and chairman of the event.
Over the decades, the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance—held at the Florida island's Ritz-Carlton Resort—has become recognized as one of the world's top-ranking classic car auctions. The Concours d'Elegance (which in French means a "competition of elegance") has everything from vintage cars evoking memories of past decades to more recent hot wheels.
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Judges rank entries based on attributes like authenticity, history and quality of restoration. A perfect score is 100. Just like a beauty pageant, judges select first, second and third place for each category. They then confer a "Best in Show" award on a single car from the entire group.
But before they even hit the judge's circle, these rare and historic collectible cars undergo a thorough verification process. There is a physical inspection, an examination of factory codes, serial numbers, period-correct mechanical restoration and a search of racing heritage or past ownership by a celebrity or noted public figure. All have an impact on the car's value.
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"We're not as concerned about picking grass out of the tire because these cars are made to be driven, not stand around and act like 'trailer queens,' " Warner said. But provenance and the condition of the automobile, matter.
"It's less about profiting from these cars and more about showing off the beauty and power of these lovely automobiles. ... Our collectors want accolades, not dollars," Warner said.
Nostalgia also is important for those attending the event.
"Most like to buy a vehicle they first fell in love with as a young adult," Warner said."So for instance, I'm 70 years old, and so the Cadillac Eldorado is 'it' for me. Totally un-PC! Cars back then were lower, longer, wider and more extravagant."
But for those aficionados who love vintage cars and hope their investment will eventually turn a profit at some point, Hagerty Insurance compiles the largest database of post-war collectible automobiles and values in the world. Year-to-date, their data show the market for high-end cars has been soaring to new heights.
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Dave Kinney, publisher of Hagerty Price Guide, picks two up-and-comer collectibles, the Acura NSX and Buick GNX—both offering name recognition and active owners—for long-term investment potential this year.
"I don't think this is a greater fool market waiting for the music to stop. But there are some slippery slopes ahead. Most important is not to bemoan the fact you didn't buy a 289 Cobra at $5,500. There's always another car out there," Kinney said.
And Hagerty CEO McKeel Hagerty, offers up another piece of advice for new collectors: "The important thing is to get out and put some miles on your car and have some fun!"
—By CNBC's Kerima Greene.