They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Although we wouldn’t want to give up parking cameras, lane assist and heated seats, there’s something to be said for the beauty, simplicity and durability of cars made more than thirty years ago (which is our totally arbitrary cut off for what can count as a ‘classic car’.)
If you’re looking to buy a classic car and start a collection or just want your everyday drive to make a statement then there’s a wealth of magazines, websites, car shows and clubs (online and off) dedicated to buying and selling classic cars. However, when you’re buying an old car you’re buying upwards of thirty years of wear and tear, and unless you know what to look out for you could end up with a lemon.
- Research, research, then research again
So you’ve seen a ’69 Charger in a magazine (or even eBay) and you’re about to contact the seller. Before you do, hit up every resource you can, from the library to online sources and other owners to find out everything you can about the car. You might find that the model you’re looking at has problems with engine corrosion, so you’ll know to pop the hood and inspect every inch. You might find that these particular Chargers aren’t too highly sought after, so the $50,000 price tag should be more like $20,000. You might be able to spot a scam before it happens, saving you time and money.
- I’ll take mine rare
Research will also uncover how rare the car is, and from there how much you ought to pay for it and, roughly, whether you can expect to it to increase or decrease in value. Even fairly average cars can fetch a high price if they have an oddball paint job (providing it’s original) or hard-to-find customization. Just like today, in the era of classic car, there were plenty of options for making a car unique instead of just accepting a dealership’s floor model, and unusual or rare options are likely to fetch high prices.
- Don’t Be A Sucker
When it comes down to it, you’re still buying something online, so exercise caution. If the pictures look too good to be true then they might be- do a reverse image search by dragging and dropping a photo into the Google search bar and see if they turn up elsewhere on the web–a sure sign that the supposed seller copied them into their ad. If the seller wants to do complex arrangements to pay for the vehicle then it’s probably a scam- that goes double if they want you to pay for anything up front. The same goes if the seller won’t meet at their home or refuses to let you do a test drive ‘in case you damage it’ etc. Run every statement they make through your highest Spock-level logic brain and your gut and only proceed if both are in agreement that the seller is on the level.
- Know What to Look For
By the time you’re actually in front of the car itself you’ll hopefully have done enough research to find the majority of the car’s problems. There are common problems in any second-hand car, old or new, that you should watch out for, and they only get more pronounced (and costly) in classic cars.
Rust is your number-one enemy: bring a magnet with you to the viewing and check if any of the panels have been patched up- a magnet won’t stick to the fibreglass or plastic used to repair rust. You should also check the oil: if you see shiny particles or rust in there that’s a sure sign that the engine is corroding, and the car is a hard pass.
- Think Ahead
If you’re buying a classic car for yourself then feel free to buy whatever you want, but if you are looking for an investment then you’ll need to keep one eye on the future. Sixties and seventies muscle cars are hot right now, especially the big-block gas guzzlers, but they may not always be hot-ticket items. Boxy eighties cars are fast becoming ‘classic’, and in five to ten years an IROC might be as desirable as a Ford Mustang is now.
- Ask An Expert
Unless you’ve got years of automotive repair experience you’ll probably only be able to spot obvious signs that a particular car is a bad investment. If you can bring the car to a mechanic you trust before you exchange money, then great. If you can’t, hopefully, the seller is willing to sign a notarised document saying that they’ll return your payment in full if the vehicle doesn’t pass an inspection. If the seller is cagey about inspections, see point 3.
The hugely successful investor Warren Buffet says that he only invests in companies he likes and understands- he drinks several cans of Coke a day and has a significant weight in the Coca Cola company. The same applies to classic cars: you’ve got to be totally in love with a classic car to drop so much cash on something that for all you know might be scrap metal a few years from now, and you’ve got to know that car inside and out. Get these things right and you can buy a classic car of your dreams.