Jeff Zurschmeide, About.com's Guide to Corvettes, has been an automotive journalist for more than 5 years. His writing history includes a stint working for Corvette Market magazine, and his lifelong passion for classic sports cars makes him a natural Corvette fan. He seemed like the best person to approach when this question was pondered, "How do I buy a used Corvette?"
Q. Why does the Corvette continue to be such a magnetic used car? What makes it continuously appealing 57 years since it was introduced?
A: That's easy - with the old cars, which is to say before 1984, it's all about muscle and classic looks. The newer cars have muscle, fantastic handling, and very sporty looks, too. Corvette is a two-seat sports car, and there's always a market for that kind of car. There are a lot of people who don't care for Corvettes, but plenty of people are nuts about them.
Q. Almost any consumer needs a professional inspection before buying any used car, Corvettes included, but what are some inspection tips you can offer a person buying a used Corvette? What are some things that might be an instant deal breaker?
A: As you know, you should always have a used car inspected by a competent professional mechanic with some prior knowledge of the specific kind of car. I have a good friend who runs a repair shop, but all their business is modern Japanese and European cars - he won't even work on my 1977 Corvette because it has a carburetor! So you need to find the right mechanic who understands Corvettes and the specific year you're considering.
Deal breakers would include any kind of branded title - such as "Salvage" or "Reconstructed" - that's just because those cars will always be very hard to resell and aren't usually worth what sellers are asking.
Really, the other deal breakers vary from person to person. I don't mind mechanical problems, because I like to fix things and I have the tools and garage space to do it. But for most people, they want to buy a used Corvette to drive it, and so they should have a mechanic check it out like any other used car. That's especially true because of the comparatively higher prices that Corvettes command and the possibility that the car has been driven very hard.
Q. How can you tell between a faithfully restored with original equipment Corvette vs. a Corvette that uses non-Corvette parts?
A: That can be a tough call. First thing - faithfully restored Corvettes are going to be expensive. I saw a 1977 Corvette advertised in perfect condition for $29,995. I bought my 1977 'Vette for $4,000. Corvette Market lists the going rate for a top-quality 1977 Corvette at $18,000. So a lot of the value in these cars is psychological.
If you're looking for a top quality restored 'Vette, you want to ask if the car has been certified. The two certifications you're looking for are NCRS - which is the National Corvette Restorer's Society, and Bloomington Gold. These certifications mean that people who really know have inspected the car and found it to be correct in every detail.
Buyers should never, ever, rely on a seller's promise that the car is correct and properly restored. The world is full of "perfect" cars that turn out to have been pieced together from sections, or just outright fabricated. Another personal example - my 1977 Corvette has the high-output "L-82" badges on the hood, and the seller thought it was a real L-82, but the VIN [vehicle identification number] says this car was built with the base engine - so someone stuck those badges on the car to look cool.
One resource you can use is NCRS - there are chapters of the society all over the United States, and they can look at the car (usually for a price) and let you know if it's as advertised.
Q. Are certain era Corvettes better values than others?
A: Absolutely, but it depends on how you want to play the value game. If you're just talking potential for value appreciation, there are lots of resources devoted to predicting that. Corvette Market magazine is all about "what's it worth today, and what will it be worth tomorrow."
Here's the thing - Corvettes have already had big run-ups in value. To buy into a Corvette that has a lot of appreciation potential, you're going to need to spend a lot of money up front. The "barn find" original 1957 convertibles just don't exist any more, if they ever did. So, if you want to be one of these happy sellers at an auto auction talking about how they made a $50,000 profit, well, you're going to have to invest a lot of money to get a car with that kind of potential. To directly answer your question, Corvettes from 1953-1972 have the most upside potential.
But let's talk about other measures of value - like "what do you love?" What I mean by that is, you can buy a comparatively inexpensive Corvette, but if you don't love it, why bother? I intentionally bought one of the least expensive models of Corvette ever made, and I did that for a couple of reasons.
First, I wanted to spend as little as possible up front - and I'm willing to put in the sweat equity to compensate for a low purchase price. And I also wanted to prove that you can make a nice Corvette out of one of these less desirable models. But I really had to have the swoopy bodywork of the 1968-1982 third-generation Corvette - I love that, but I don't love the looks of the 1980s Corvettes, which are also affordable. So for me, I had to buy a car I was going to love, and that's a very personal decision.