5 Things to Consider When Buying a Classic Car

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Buying a classic car can be tricky business. Stuart Johnston shares five things to consider when searching for that classic car of your dreams.

1. Decide on the car you really want

Check that a reasonable number of examples you might find for sale are within your price range. Then hop on a classic car website or buy one of the classier UK classic car magazines (there’s a good local South African mag available too called Classic and Performance Car Africa) and check out all the other makes and models that are comparable to the car you are after. See if they measure up, in terms of  demand, price, performance, looks, and read all the reports you can lay eyes upon. Still returning to 'The One' that activated that dormant classic-car DNA double-helix? Okay then, do all the research you can on that particular make and model.

2. Check production years and local availability

Familiarise yourself with the various models in the range, and find out via magazines and websites which model is the most collectible. Then find out about all the possible flaws, reliability issues and likely rust spots. The next step is to contact the marque club for your particular make, to check out spares availability. A good reference source for this is a book called Motorheads Diary, which lists hundreds of local clubs in all major centres. Grill the club members via telephone or e-mail, then visit a classic car meet and speak to owners of the car that has you awake most nights. Then find out whether, since they bought one, they are still awake most nights, but thinking about how they might unload the car!

3. Do NOT buy a lemon

Don't buy a basket case, or a partially assembled example, or a highly modified number, unless you are a skilled mechanic with a comprehensively-equipped workshop. You'll also have to be pretty good at panel-beating, upholstery, and have the patience and the money to source various hard-to-get parts. The best classic car to buy is a fully restored one, and don’t fool yourself that you will stumble upon an old crumbling, rusted-out barn-find, restore it back to concours condition yourself, and sell it for a profit. Probably 90 per cent of restored classic cars sell for less than what the owner has spent on them. If your budget forces you to go for a less-than-perfect example of the car you crave so single-mindedly, go for the one that is most complete in terms of trim and bright-work. This means really doing your homework to familiarise yourself on what badging, beading, bumpers, hubcaps, upholstery, etc, was fitted to the specific model you are targeting. Things like bumpers are almost impossible to find for some cars. Hubcaps too.

4. Buying a classic car as an investment

If you are buying a classic car with the idea of it appreciating, the general rule of thumb is to go for the most expensive exotic car you can afford. Just about anything with a Porsche badge on it that is older than 30 years will be a blue-chip investment. However, a car like a Jaguar XJS of the same vintage will not appreciate nearly as fast, if you can sell the thing at all! Lovely car, but it doesn’t have the cachet of a Porsche which is noted for its reliability and the fact that spares are readily available. Most Ferraris 20 years and older will see you recouping your investment, although there are a few  less-desirable ones, like the 400i from the early ‘80s. Muscle cars from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s  are on a roll thanks to massive TV and movie exposure, but don’t overpay! Relatively unsung heroes in this league that are going to appreciate soon are Mercedes SLs from the late ‘70s to 1988. These are the convertible short-wheel-base models, they are still under-valued but their prices are rising quickly so get in now! But go for a well-preserved one, as spares are not cheap.

5. Enjoy the time warp

In terms of buying a more affordable classic car, good buys right now are Ford Escort Two doors, the Mk I and Mk II rear-wheel-drive models, not the front-wheel-drive cars which were dynamically inferior. But some guys are already asking far too much for Mk I and Mk II Escorts, especially the 1600 Sport models. Four-door models are far less valuable. The equivalent Toyota or Vauxhall or Opel from the late 60s to the early ‘70s doesn’t have nearly the same demand as thosr fast Fords. Of course if you have to have one of these because your old man and mom conceived you in one, then go ahead. Buying a classic car is never going to be a completely rational decision. VW Kombi prices are going through the roof right now, especially the split-window early examples. My personal feeling is that most of them are over-priced, because there is such an overseas demand for them. Better to buy a later Bay-Window example (from 1969 onwards), as these too are appreciating fast. Okay, and like any car you buy, make sure you get papers, preferably a current licence disc with the car, and ask for a document from the seller stating that there is no money owed on the car. Then enjoy your classic car, but don’t be disappointed if it feels slow, or handles like an old dog, because, relative to a modern car it will. The idea is to turn back the clock when you hop behind the wheel, and treat it like you would an old lady. Gently, and with respect. Also take a look at these 6 Modern Classic Cars to Consider Buying Today