Rocket Science


Rating System

What the rating system really means.

By Padgett Peterson

     The standard of the automotive hobby for rating cars is the 1 to 5 rating used by the Old Cars Price Guide. Just what is meant by the ratings is not so easy to determine and quite subjective. Of course, seller and buyer will always differ in opinion as to just what kind of horse they are dickering over.


     This is the one that OCPG left out simply because there ain't no such animal. This is the "perfect" car, the one of a kind, the national show winner. To rate a car, there must be a basis for comparison and this car would set the standard.
     Since class 0 cars change hands at prices that have no relation to reality, there is no purpose to their inclusion here other to say there is something above class 1.


     Class 1 is the easiest to define and the hardest to determine. The car must be 95 points or better (preferably better). A class 1 car can go to a national meet and win or at least tie for the Best In Class if a class 0 is not there. This means that not only are the correct parts used, they are installed correctly, just as the factory did it -- including mistakes.
     To simply determine what it would take to restore a car to correct class 1 condition would take a non-expert six months to one year of research alone.
     An expert would spend several hours to properly asses the elements required to make a class 1 car and would probably have to take some things apart. Non-obvious criteria would be option mix (some options required or prohibited other options), such as whether the car has the correct size wheels or the fuel line may have incorrect fittings.
     At this level, you have to be concerned with what the assembly plant was doing that week and be able to document it.


     This is what many people think of as a class 1 car. To anyone other than a fanatic, it looks great. It will win at a local show and place well in popular vote at a national meet, but it is not 100 percent right. This is the red convertible that sometimes beats a correct tan four-door.
     A class 2 car might have a maintenance free battery or even a 459 tar-top battery instead of the correct 558. The plug wires may not have the Packard logo. The radio might be a correct year Delco, but may have chrome push buttons instead of black ones.
     Date codes for added options may be wrong and non-factory wiring harness may be present under the dash. A W-30 may have the wrong size wheels or incorrect paint on the engine. Seen on the road, you probably could not tell a class 1 from a class 2 car. Of course you wont see a class 1 on the road.


     This is what most hobbyists keep garaged and waxed. A class 3 car looks good and makes up 90 percent of the local car shows. A class 2 that is driven on the street for 6 months with out detailing will become a class 3. Additionally, a class 3 car will show the effects of non-fanatical maintenance. Decals may be deteriorated or missing. A Carter AFB may have been replaced by a Holley or later Quadrajet.
     The car still looks good, but the finish is no longer perfect, some chrome or non-stock wheels may have been added, and the drivers seat upholstery has aquired some creases. However, nothing major is missing and a winter's work and some bucks can make a class 2 out of it.


     At class 4 we have a two-way split between the "Original Un-restored" and the "Hot Rod". On the one hand is the "little old lady" who bought a '66 Cutlass new, had it serviced regularly at the local gas station and drives 4,000 miles a year, mostly on weekends. The tires are wrong, the battery is wrong, the belts are wrong, the generator is rebuilt and has a paper tag, a little rust (I mean Texas little, not Ohio little) may be present, and there are a few dings here and there, but nothing a good paint job wouldn't fix. The front end is loose but driveable. This is your typical California or southern car seen in Hemmings. It is what I call a 20/20 car; at 20mph and 20 feet away it looks good.
     On the other hand is the 442 with the fuel line cut and a Holley, headers, traction bars, and turbo mufflers, plus a few decals for good measure. Somewhere along the way the 455 was replaced by a Delta 88 455 and a Turbo 350. There is a Dixco tach on the hood and a Grant wheel on the column. He probably spent five grand on accessories and the Imron paint job. It looks okay at the drive-in, but it's going to take big bucks to make a showable car out of it, mostly for the stuff the kid threw away. Remember, ignorance is cureable.


     This is not a junker despite what many people think. Rather, you see these at curb sides and in the classified ads all over America. It may need a trunk lid and some body work, the seats probably show their stuffing, it burns oil, and the lights work randomly, but it is still licensed and inspectable. Unless there is some overriding reason to rescue it, it will probably not be in a collector's stable even as a "future work", since the cost of restoration to even a class 3 is probably greater than the value of a class 2. Most of our beaters fall between class 4 and class 5.
     For most of us, our first restoration project is a class 5 and it teaches us not to do it again. For me, this was a '69 OHC Firebird that was probably used to justify the base price ads. It had maybe two options, but I'm not sure about the radio. When I bought it, there was no reverse (did you know a '73 Vega 3-speed will bolt up to a Firebird?) and it had either been in one of the better Texas hail storms or it had been turned on its side and used as an infield for batting practice. It did run well though...


     This is the junker, the kind of car you pay $100 for if you take it away and $200 if you can leave what you don't want. More marriages have been broken over bringing home class 6 cars than any other cause in the hobby. It might make a good planter but isn't good for much else. (like the '70 442 convertible a friend and I bought last year; it looked like the pictures brought up with the Titanic--including the bow and stern separation. We figured it must have spent the last five years in the ocean at Daytona).
     As a rule of thumb, the cost of upgrading a car from one class to another is usually twice the price difference between the two classes, and the interclass relationship is exponential. In other words, to go from a class 4 to a class 3 (which is what most people do) is not bad cost wise. Going from a class 2 to a class 1 is merely astronomical. as far as class 0 is concerned, figure what it would cost to manufacture the car by hand, then triple it.
     Also, there are three axioms I've discovered to be true about restorations:
  1. The maximum increase in value in restoration equals one half the money invested.
  2. Labor invested is worth zero at selling time.
  3. Maintenance/repair is also worth zero.

This information originally appeared in Guide to Muscle Cars magazine. And is reprinted pending written approval.

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