If you're a car enthusiast like us, you've probably lusted after some special car for years. But you've hesitated because you don't want to make a mistake that could cost you thousands, and maybe even ruin your marriage, right? How do you get into that sexy classic car and stay out of financial trouble? Follow a few common-sense tips and your love affair with a classic car will be less destined for heartbreak.
Fall is the best time to shop for an old car. It's the time of year when a lot of cars are changing hands, and the market is more for the buyers than the sellers. Lack of winter garage space, unfinished summer project cars, and classic-car dealerships cutting their inventories are all reasons why fall is a good time to buy.
In shopping for classic and vintage old cars, the local newspaper is not the place to look. Pick up a copy of Hemmings Motor News (www.hemmings.com) for heaps of classified listings, or Sports Car Market (www.sportscarmarket.com) for listings and excellent advice. Collectors' meets, car shows, and club events are also good places to hear about quality classic cars for sale. Also, there are several reputable auction companies that stage regular classic-car auction events around the country. These auction companies usually have decent documentation on most of the cars to be auctioned off. Two such examples are RM Classic Cars (519-352-4575, www.rmcars.com) and Dan Kruse Classic Car Productions (210-495-4777, www.dkruseclassic.com).
When you do find a potential car, be wary. As in buying any used car, buying an old car is a risk. Follow these tips to minimize the risks:
Determine the fair value.
Check on the car's value, in its present condition, in a price guide such as the Standard Guide to Cars & Prices. Double-check it with another resource if possible.
Check for clubs that take special interest in the model. This will provide some assurance of the car's status and collectibility, and it will also give you contacts for procuring hard-to-find replacement parts. Rarity of a particular model is not necessarily an indication that the car will have a loyal following.
Check for obvious alterations or flaws.
If any significant components of the car have been altered or replaced with different ones, or if body panels don't meet properly, pass the car up, even if it's extremely cheap. Shoddy body repair work or a poor paint job indicates that the last owner cut corners on a restoration. The car will be extremely hard to resell, and repairs may be complicated.
Have the car checked by an expert.
It is extremely worthwhile to have the car checked out by an experienced classic-car appraiser. Such shops usually do a complete inspection, including making sure powertrain and chassis numbers match, for less than a few hundred dollars. Sometimes, only the experts will be able to tell a poor restoration from a good one.
Have a place to properly store your car.
Make sure you have a secure place that's warm and dry. Ordinary home garages often suffer from moisture buildup (read: rust), so make sure you have adequate ventilation. Sometimes, local car clubs arrange for group car storage in dust-free, dry environments at reasonable rates.
Insure your investment.
Remember that you need to arrange for full-coverage insurance, valued for what the car is currently worth. Some major insurance companies, such as the AAA, offer classic car insurance in some states. For specialty and antique vehicles, check with Hagerty Classic Car Insurance (800-922-4050, www.hagerty.com).
Be prepared for costly repair bills and maintenance.
Routine repairs can cost a fortune, especially on some older European cars. Ask the experts or your local car club what the weak design points are on your car, and also which parts are especially hard to find, and pay special attention to them.
Are you ready for it?
This is probably the most important question of all. Restoring, or just keeping, an old car can be taxing on personal time and the wallet. If you find yourself not having enough time in your schedule for family time and social obligations, don't buy it. If you have enough spare time and money, having an old car can be a relaxing and fulfilling hobby. If you don't think you're ready for a big investment but have the garage space, start with something less risky but fun, like an affordable 60s- or 70s-era MGB or American muscle car.
And one final point: Don't plan to make money on the car, because you probably won't. Buy a car you like-better yet, one you're passionate about-and have fun with it!