Question of the Week: Would you rather have a preserved base model or rough condition

Purchasing a vintage ride often requires some form of compromise. For this week’s Hagerty Forums Question of the Week we pose a different type of question. Would you hand over your hard-earned money for a preserved base-model or a rough around the edges high-option car?

With survivors and preservation cars more popular than ever, cars that have survived decades without damage or modifications are commanding a premium in most cases. That means that for the same amount of money you might be faced with the decision to purchase a nicely pickled car that lacks the desirable options or a well-equipped model that is a bit worse for wear.

This 1964 Buick Special is short on options, but tall on class.

There is something captivating about a preserved car regardless of how it is equipped. Just appreciating a vehicle that was so lovingly cared for and appreciated by those who owned it over the last decades. To be a caretaker for such an object is an honor, and possibly a burden. Any parts replacement of tiny damage from a poorly planned drive can feel like a disservice to the car.

Which possibly makes a car that shows more use appealing. Tired seat foam under pulled seams, faded paint and a tired engine attached to a car with all the right options can still have a significant value. One could drive and repair a car like this with less guilty feeling since it has already been fitted with non-factory parts and survived some neglect. It won’t be the star of a show regardless of the options on the trim tag, but a future restoration might take interest in it to a higher level.

So tell us below where you fall in this automotive would-you-rather conundrum. Have an example where you took one path? Be sure to post a photo and share the story.

From a financial perspective, the bare bones all stock numbers matching base survivor would be the best “investment.”

From the “wrenching can be fun” category. The other choice wins hands down, even though financially it can be a major suck.

I posit a majority of the crowd in this game isnt the investment class, but rather the people who love these classic vehicles… and would choose the latter option.

As for me, I would choose the former option, but vehicles like that in the rust belt of the models and manufacturers I’m interested in can’t be found.


I found a 1988 Celica ST coupe with 64,000 miles that is a rust free AZ car. However, this car falls in the middle. While it fits the low end model that has low miles and is a survivor, it has been in a minor accident so the CarFax isn’t clean and it was poorly maintained. I have resolved the maintenance issues and it runs really well as expected for such low miles. Since it is not perfect, I have no guilt at using it and replacing parts as they wear. Further, many of these models have been used up Or highly modified. I still consider it a survivor so I am still treating it right.
I guess my answer to the question is yes to both.

There’s an old saying in hot-rodding, " buy one done, it’s cheaper ".


Preserved base model was the choice I made. I bought a numbers matching 1977 F100 Custom short bed truck with 60,308 miles in 2017. The body was solid with a couple of small dings but no rust. It had mechanical issues from sitting but those can be resolved when checking timing , compression test, etc… I had wanted an old truck since I turned 16 so for me I was looking for something in good shape more solid than fancy. I would have liked some options but the way I see it is I can add those to a mechanically solid platform later while getting enjoyment driving the truck now. I could have bought better optioned trucks for less but would spend more to repair and replace rusted panels than add the options I may want later since the parts are still easy to find. While that will not be the same for all projects it was a contributing factor in my decision. I have also decided to leave the truck unrestored since I do drive it weekly.

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As long as the chassis is clean I don’t car. Restomod is how I like it, I let those who can appreciate the “historic” status cars have the clean base model stuff.

For me it depends on what options we’re talking about. Luxury options don’t appeal to me but but the go-parts are important. I’d rather have a manual transmission, better engine, and suspension than power windows or some stripe package, and an auto-box, for me, is a no sale in most cases.
With a base model, especially one with a manual transmission, I’d have a platform to build on and one that’s probably the lightest example possible.
As some have said before, you can always add options as you want or need them. For an original car, whatever you do, keep the original parts and don’t do anything that’s un-doable.
So my vote is clean base model.

How rough is rough? It’s more a question of money. If you are independently wealthy, then it doesn’t matter. If you are just getting by, then buying an old car, truck or what ever is just a pipe dream. That’s more or less where most of us are. just dreaming.

I have… well both… I own a 1987 Firebird Formula it was a base V8, 4BBL, and I converted it to TPI, nothing particularly rare about it for the year, they made about 26,000 LG4 total Firebirds, I estimate 7000 of those were the Formula with that engine… I ended up investing around $7000 (car included) in paint, interior and rebuilding the engine myself, The car was rust free for the most part, and is very clean, but it was in a hail storm before I bought it, and I love the car…

8 years later, in 2006, I stumbled upon a unicorn, it is a 1989 Formula 350 Convertible, they only made 43 of them and with 38,000 miles it is one of the lowest miles examples left, only 2 have lower miles… Here is the problem, my car’s original owner lived in Florida then NY for a year or two and back to FL and the top of the car is burnt off from the morning dew, , the second owner lived in NC, Ralleyh NC, it looks pretty good at 15’ but up close you can see the sun damage, otherwise there is no rust except for the center of bottom of the drivers door where the Rubber window stop hits the bottom of the door and the rubber stop had nicked the paint and it started a silver dollar rust spot…
On the one hand I really like nice things and I really like the car, interior looks wonderful for a 30 year old cloth car, especially being a convertible… I really want to fix those trouble spots, and get it up to cruise in quality, but I hate to ruin the originality… I have been sitting on it for the past 13 years, pondering what to do, drive it only on occasion to keep miles off of it. But I enjoy the car…

I have always been a rescuer. I’ll take a derelict that is rare over a perfect car that is more pedestrian. I don’t collect American classics, so the options list is not that important to me. But if I were a flipper, obviously a well optioned car that could easily be “freshened up” would be my choice.

Whether it be a car, airplane or boat, it is always far cheaper to buy one in great shape then buy a beat up one that needs restoration. If the restoration journey is what you’re after, then the dollar cost is probably less important. I bought a 1972 Spitfire many years ago that had a tree growing through the floorboards and needed everything from engine to interior to obviously, floor pans and other sheet metal. It took me a year of careful work to restore it to like new condition. When I was done, I had a car that cost twice what I would have paid if I just hit the Autotrader and bought a nice one outright. The experience was great though so was worth it back then.

I’m over the restoration jones so now when I buy a classic, I want it original and as perfect as possible. My latest acquisition is a Ferrari 360 Spider with a gated shifter. It’s in near perfect condition with low miles and a great history of maintenance. I can afford this now but back when I bought the Spitfire, no way.

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In the day, a 74 Pontiac Grand Am was a decently optioned car. Mine needs some work but it’s nothing catastrophic like rusted out floor boards or anything like that. I’ve been driving it and I don’t worry about door dings. That is what I like most about it.

Actually I want neither - As one that prefers maintaining the original, as delivered, historical vehicle, I want a vehicle that is rare to allow it to hold value - Thus my primary toy is a 67 Pontiac GTO convertible with 4-speed - less convertibles than hardtops, less 4-sp than autos. Thus, can afford to restore and take less of a loss.

I feel that cars were built to be driven. I’m proud to own a driver quality 1969 Corvette convertible which I drive every month in the Midwest. I enjoyed looking at the collector cars at the Chicago Mecum Auction, but trailered cars eliminate the joy of driving and enjoying them.


I have two “base models” - 1974 standard Beetle and a 1994 Jeep Wrangler S. Both are restored My third, a 1970 Impala with the Caprice trim level has all the bells and whistles but is at the beginning of restoration. To get the Impala to the level the other two are is quite the expensive endeavor- more than the car would be worth. Resto-modding it would decrease the value even more. But who can really put a price on smiles per mile.

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I have both categories! The 66 Mustang is a well preserved base model that is low in cost but hard to drive as I need a calendar to plan stopping due to the drum brakes and the power steering is only in my arms. The 308 has all the bells and is in rough condition, but it will keep up (and stop) with modern cars. Of course the down side is the cost! But I enjoy both to the max! It’s like having children… no two are alike, but you still love them both. :slight_smile:


Buy what you like and enjoy it.


I once owned a 1965 Mustang 2+2 with the optional 271HP K-code V-8…and nothing else except for 3.89:1 rear gears. It had drum front brakes, standard black interior, single speed wipers (no windshield washer). So, it only had one option box checked. It appears someone purchased a cheap car to go drag racing with. To answer the question, I wish I still owned that one.

It depends on what you want