Buying Classic Cars

Buying a classic car

Buying classic cars is a lifelong dream for many people. The thought of spending weekends driving along country roads with the top down and the wind blowing in your hair. Looking at the jealously in other men’s eyes as you drive to work in a sporty two seater sports car on a sunny day while they are driving a people carrier with a baby-on board sticker on the back window that has taken away a piece of their soul.

Many people spend their time surfing the local classifieds and salivating at the list of reasonably priced classics for sale and are forever dreaming until the moment the other half buys a new kitchen and the classic cars idea is confined back to dreamland. However for some, the dream comes through, they make it happen. For these lucky few, here are some things to consider when you finally do make the leap and push ahead with the plan to buy a classic car.

What do I want it for?

It may seem stupid considering that you have spent the last 20 years longing for a classic car, however the first question to ask yourself is “Why do I want a classic car?” Is it :

  • For everyday use?
    • In which case this will greatly influence the type of car you buy. For example a reliable medium price range Mercedes may well be used as an everyday driver but an E-Type jag with a V12 engine costing huge money may not be an ideal purchase.
  • As an investment?
    • If you are tired of making meager returns on the stock market or that 3 bed rental property, you may have an idea about purchasing a high end car that you can park in the garage and resell in 5 years. In this case perhaps buying a fiat 127 may not make sense but if you had invested in a 1970’s Porsche 911, 5 years ago you would have doubled your money today.

Classic Cars

  • As a hobby?
    • If you dream of re-storing a car bit by bit then maybe buying a great starter classic such as a Triumph or an MG with simple engines and cheap parts would be a better idea than buying a lotus that has complicated and expensive parts.

Once you answer this question along with the “How much can I afford?” question you can then shortlist a number of candidate models.

What do you need?

Once you know what you intend to buy you also need to consider the basics of owning and running a classic car. For example:

  • Storage: You definitely need a garage to keep the car dry. If not your pride and joy will be reduced to a pile of brown dust sitting on the street in front of your fancy penthouse. If you don’t have a garage, consider renting one in your locality.
  • Tools: You will need a basic set of tools to maintain the car. Actually most classics can be totally rebuilt with a set of spanners (Imperial sizes for British sports cars)
  • Running Costs: Insurance, maintenance, parts etc all cost money.
  • Mechanically Minded: Unless you have lots of the last item, you will need to be mechanically minded to carry out some of the basics yourself, such as oil changes, bushes changing, greasing etc. It’s not that it’s difficult but if you’re not that type of person it can be a challenge.

Buying a Classic car

  • Patience: Cars that are 40 or 50 years old break down! If you’re not prepared to put up with this don’t buy one. It will just frustrate you.

What do you need to have ready before buying classic cars?

If you have thought about and prepared a number of items before buying it will save you a great amount of time and make you appear as you know what you are talking about when you view potential classic cars. For example:

  • A specific car: You’ve already though about why you want a car and how much you can afford to spend. But really you need to know exactly what car you want to buy. If for example you want a starter car that you can use everyday for a reasonable budget, pick something like an MG or a Triumph spitfire. If you have a bigger budget, pick a Mercedes 280 SL. This means that you can search specific car club sites and forums to identify common issues with a particular car as well as cost bands for poor, medium or good condition cars in the market.

Buying a classic car

  • Budget: You may have a specific budget in mind and think to yourself, I’ll buy the car for this amount and spend another amount rebuilding it. Don’t think like this. Buy the most expensive car you can afford for the simple reason that it works out much cheaper to buy a car already restored than to do it yourself. Note this is mainly true for lower end classics . Obviously if you are restoring a Ferrari 250 GTO this is different case.
  • Where to buy: Typically classic cars auctions are a bad idea for the simple reason that usually you cannot drive the car. This is a key requirement for a classic car as if the engine is seized and you didn’t know, this can work out expensive. The best option is to join a classic cars club (even if you don’t yet own a classic). Usually good cars come up for sale internally at a fair price within the clubs members. Failing this, start checking out the local classifieds on a regular basis.


Things to do before buying classic cars?

So you’re very excited, you’ve prepared well, you’ve seen just what you want in the classifieds at a nearby location for the right price. What now?

Before you go ahead and view the classic cars, firstly you must not buy the first car you see! You need to view a number of classic cars to compare against each other.

In addition you need to have a checklist of what you are going to check when you view the classic cars. These are summarized as follows:

  • The Body:
    • Rust:The number one enemy for classic are is rust. If you see it run away. I’m not saying it can’t be fixed but it can work out very expensive and take lot of time. Also the chances are if you spot some rust you are only seeing a small percentage of the what the actual damage is. Best advice, walk away if you see rust.
      • Storage: If the car has been stored under tarpaulin outside, chances are it will have rust. Walk away.
      • Filler: Bring a magnet and check that the body is not full of fillers that may be hiding a larger rust problem.
      • Areas: Check underneath the car, under the wheel arches, the battery holder, the door sills, the chassis and underneath the door itself for paint bubbles, hinges and underneath window rubbers.
    • Buying a Classic Car
    • Paint: Check the condition of the paint. A full re-spray can cost a huge amount. If it looks dull and cracked. Chances are it will need a re-spray.
    • Chrome: Check the condition of the chrome bumpers. Re-chroming is very expensive and now becoming harder to find companies to perform the job as chemicals are restricted. BTW, if it has a rubber bumper, this reduces the value of the car
  • The Engine:
    • The Oil: The condition of the oil can tell a lot about an engine. Take out the dip stick and check for the following:
      • Burned smell: If the oil smells of burn, this may indicate wear on the engine and will involve a costly recondition.
      • Grey lumps in the oil: This indicates a blown cyclinder head gasket ( the cardboard sheet that seals the top of the engine from the bottom and stops oil leaking into the coolant). In this case the engine may have overheated and warped the engine block.
      • Black slimey oil: This indicates that the engine has not been serviced and may have been mistreated.
      • Leaks: Classsic cars leak oil all the time and this is normal. However if the dipstick shows low oil levels and you can see the oil dripping underneath, This can spell trouble.
      • Metal pieces in the oil: Need to expand on this! Walk away.
    • Noises: Start the engine check for the following noises
      • A clunk when you accelerate: May indicate a worn Universal Joint ( Linking rear differential to the back wheel, expensive to fix
      • A whine when you drive: Worn differential ( Box that links the drive shaft to the back wheels). Another expensive repair.
      • Knocking in the engine: Could be loose tappets (easily fixed) or something more serious. Be careful.
    • The Clutch:
      • Put the car into first gear, engage the handbrake (if it works) and leave out the clutch slowly, if the clutch pedal comes out very far and noticeably slips. May need new clutch.
    • The Brakes:
      • Press the brake pedal, if it doesn’t maintain pressure the master cylinder may be gone. Don’t worry this isn’t a big job.
    • Drive the car: Take the car for a drive and check the following
      • Smoke: When you start the car do you see black smoke ( Engine is worn). Walk away.
      • Woobly back end: This may mean the rubber bushes in the suspension are perished. Not a big job to fix
      • Changing Gear: Do the gears grind ? May indicate gearbox problems . Can be costly
      • Acceleration: Does the car accelerate smoothly. If not it can be many things. In general these are relatively easy to fix such as points system, tuning, rusty fuel tank etc.
      • Braking: Are the brake soft? These can be easily fixed.
    • Quiz the seller: Your main source of information is from the seller. If he/she appear genuine and open here are some valuable questions to ask:
      • Has the car been converted to unleaded fuel? This requires the valves heads tio be hardened to allow for lack of lubricating lead . You can use an additive but it great if this is already done.
      • Electronic ignition: The main fault with older cars is the old points design whereby a mechanical arm spins and distribute current to the different spark leads. This can be easily easily upgraded if not
      • What work has been completed?
      • What are the known faults?

In general if the car looks well looked after it means that the previous owner had pride in the car and maintained it well. If you are suspicious in any way or the story doesn’t add up. Walk away. There’s always another one out there that’s got you name on it!


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