Classic Car Value Showdown: Sexy Curves vs. Pure Muscle

1957 Chevrolet
Eric Meola | The Image Bank | Getty Images
1957 Chevrolet

When you go to any car show or auction, cars that are gorgeous and have lots of horsepower attract the most attention. The rare ones get even more notice, and in most cases this all translates into greater market value.

All the horsepower in the world won't make a car worth seven figures if it is aesthetically challenged and built in large numbers. And let's face it: We'd all rather be surrounded by things of beauty. I am not talking about wives, girlfriends and children here.

First impressions count for a lot, particularly with cars. A sleek and well-detailed nose is a great place to start. Three examples that come to mind are a Series 1 E-Type Jaguar, 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray or a 1940 Ford. Those pleasing front views invite the eye to look further. A Chrysler Airflow or an Edsel is much more polarizing and likely to have as many detractors as fans, despite their many other merits. So beauty really does sell.

As you move on from the nose, flow is important. Both the E-Type and the Sting Ray have incredibly sleek lines that move organically from the nose to the flank, to the haunches and on to the tail. They are considered styling masterworks, and the original, purest iterations are the ones in demand. I would argue that the closed versions of both are the most visually successful.

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Yet, with very few exceptions, the convertibles of these iconic cars carry a significantly higher value in the market because, as they say, "When the top goes down, the price goes up."

Of course, some coupes are so gorgeous that they negate the appeal of a convertible, and the Lincoln Zephyr three-window coupe is a perfect example of a car where coupe and convertible values are very close.

Source: The Hagerty Group, LLC

This isn't to say that the closed version of a car is always more beautiful. No Auburn sedan or coupe can come close to matching the visual allure and market value of the speedster, which is the clear winner in beauty and value. The same is true for the extraordinarily rare Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spider, of which only 10 were built. A chop-top version of the 275 GTB Berlinetta, the NART Spider is mind-blowing in its beauty and trades for three to four times the value of the original coupe.

The 1959 Cadillac Eldorado is valued much more highly as a convertible, thanks to its long, sleek and soaring fins with spectacular detailing. While the Eldorado coupe is just as striking and was built in smaller numbers, it is in far less demand and, as a result, sells for far less. One high-volume car I think has a prettier convertible than coupe is the original 1964½ through 1966 Ford Mustang.

While the coupe is attractive by any standard, the sleeker look of the convertible boosts it to the next level and helps to keep the prices of open cars higher. I will say the same for the first generation Thunderbirds. Although the hardtop is a great option, the sleek look without the top makes the convertible the hands-down winner in aesthetics.

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Sometimes when a convertible is involved, the value is boosted just because people love open-air motoring, not because the open version is more aesthetically pleasing. With competition cars, though, all bets are off. Take a pair of important Ferraris: the 250 GTO and 250 Testa Rossa (TR). They are both powerful, fast, beautiful and very successful on the track. Both are eligible for all kinds of vintage races and rallies, yet the closed GTO is worth more than twice as much as the TR.

So while many closed cars may be considered more pleasing to the eye, open cars are often viewed as more pleasing to the heart, thus driving values upward. Of course, there will always be exceptions, particularly in the case of competition cars, which is one of the reasons why I find this market so fascinating.

1961 Jaguar E-Type Coupe: $52,248
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe (with fuel injection): $77,734
1940 Ford Deluxe Two Door Business Coupe: $18,300
1937 Chrysler Airflow Coupe: $27,600
1958 Edsel Corsair Hardtop Coupe: $10,911
1936 Lincoln Zephyr Three Window Coupe: $17,600
1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 Nart Spider: $8,555,500
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Convertible: $123,297
1966 Ford Mustang GT Convertible: $51,670
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO: $32,227,500
1957 Ferrari 250 TR: $13,218,000

Sources: Valuation Tools,

McKeel Hagerty is president and CEO of Hagerty, a Traverse City, Mich.-based company specializing in classic car insurance and values. He's also a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network.

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