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So You Want to Buy a Classic Car? 


eciding to buy a classic car is a major life decision. It should be approached with the same knowledge and care you would use when buying any significant work of art. You’ll be making a serious investment, so the more you know, the better your investment will turn out.


You will be joining the rarified club of classic car collectors. As with all such groups, there are differences of opinion about certain aspects. Probably the most debated question is what exactly constitutes a “classic car” as opposed to a simply old, therefore valueless car. To some enthusiasts, finding the answer to this question ranks with finding the meaning of life! 

Older cars can be grouped by the year they were made. “Vintage” cars are any car built prior to 1930. A car built between 1930 and World War II is generally classified as a “Post Vintage Thoroughbred.” After this time period, classification becomes significantly less clear: the term “classic car” being applied to any car from the 1940s right up to the 1980s.

A visit to a classic and vintage car show may only confuse you more. There are displays of accepted classics, such as MGBs, Rileys, old Jags, Triumphs, Austin-Healys, among others. Then there are collectors of the Opel Manta, Ford Granda, Camaro, BMW, and Cadillacs.

The term “classic car” is now accepted as applying to any car over 15 years of age that has a group of admirers.

So how do you decide on the perfect classic car for you? As I’ve said, it pays to do your homework or you might end up with an old lemon. Look at image archives, read books and articles. Once you have a little knowledge under your belt, you need to decide on what condition of car you want to buy. Decide on what you can realistically take on, logistically and financially, and stick to it. Then think about storage facilities. This is extremely important — no old car likes to be parked outside, even under a car cover. The worst scenario is a car sitting on grass with a plastic sheet thrown over it. Damp air rises, and with a cover in place, the mist has no where to go but the underneath of your car where it will corrode it. Working on a car in a cold garage is no party; working outside and battling the weather can turn out to be a nightmare.

First of all, try to view the car for the first time by daylight on a sunny day. Take along a jack and look underneath. Notice how the car sits; walk around it and notice if there’s any sagging. This may indicate a worn suspension or a corroded chassis. Do the panel gaps line up? If they don’t, the car may have been in an accident, and you will want to access how well the repair work was done. Open and close the doors, the hood and trunk, and see how clean the shut areas are. Do the tires match, and are they all the same type? Does the paintwork look good, or does the color vary around the car? Parking a car under a yellow street light is an expert way of accessing this because it highlights any imperfections in the body as a whole. 

Check the body all over for rot or stress cracks. Don’t forgo popular areas for corrosion around the headlights, the sills that run below the doors, the doors themselves, around the front and rear windshields, and the floor in the trunk in the spare wheel area. Get inside the car and lift up the carpets wherever possible, checking the floor beneath and its joints to the inner sills.

One of the key issues is BODYWORK. Body parts for some classic cars are impossible to find. In this case, a car with worn mechanics is a better choice than one with a rotted body. 

Try to start the engine from cold to see if it has problems starting. Listen for knocks and notice things like clouds of smoke from the exhaust. Blue smoke means its burning oil. Clouds of steam on startup could indicate a blown headgasket, or worse, a cracked cylinder head. A rumbling noise would probably indicate a main crankshaft bearing that’s about to die, which is a costly part to replace.

Don’t forget to take the car for a spin. Does the car drive straight, or pull toward the curb? Wiggle the steering wheel and feel for any resistance that may mean wear in the suspension. This may possibly also be a costly and difficult problem to fix. 

Before you buy it, have a good mechanic who is familiar with classic cars check it over. Make sure he inspects the engine, chassis, transmission, and body panels for rust. 

Look for originality. Has the car been significantly altered? It is a good idea to buy a car as close to its original state as possible.

Finally, once you pick your classic car, pick the right price for it. Do a little comparison shopping to make sure the figure quotes is reasonable. Everything from the condition of the vehicle to the car’s availability on the market will affect the price. Once you’ve settled on an appropriate price, make sure to consult with insurance carriers to make sure you are buying adequate coverage. You want to insure it for its proper value.

Now its time to consider financing. Banks and other financial institutions offer a wide variety of options. With a few tips, finding the best deal should be much easier. 

So before you open you wallet, be sure to study up! As you do, you will find yourself becoming part of a specialized, exclusive group of collectors. 

You may even find yourself a bit obsessed!


Also see:  

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