10 Rules For Buying A Classic Car
10. WHERE TO BUY
“Arizona, Bakersfield, California, Las Vegas: Any desert car is what I look for. If it’s a native car from one of those areas, you’re much less likely to have excessive body rot. If that doesn’t work, find a car within a 500-mile range so you can drive to see it. Nothing compares to giving the car a thorough in-person investigation. If you’re buying a car from [far] and you’re just going by pictures, chances are you’re gonna get screwed. Because I’ve gotten screwed.
9. BEWARE OF BODY ROT
Beware Of Body Rot
“Rule number one is to have as little body rot as possible. Look for rust in the bottom of the car: Inside fenders, rocker panels and under the doors. On trucks or pickups, check the running boards and bottom of the cabin. “Also look for bubbling in the paint, a surefire sign there’s rot.”
8. DUH — DRIVE IT!
Duh — Drive It!
Ideally, recruit a good friend/car buff/enthusiast/mechanic to test the car out with you. If you can’t find anyone, drive the prospective vehicle with your eyes and —more importantly— your ears wide open. “I feel for vibrations in the driveline or motor, a smooth throttle when you press the gas. Be sensitive to the car. Listen to the exhaust, feel how good and smooth the braking is. Do the turn signals work?”
7. MIND THE GAPS
As with most of the finer things in life, the devil is in the details. Look out for even panel gaps throughout the car: Door lines, hood lines and trunk lines. Make sure all the mechanisms work. Open the hood and trunk, shut the doors repeatedly and try the door handles. Examine where the fender meets the hood.
6. A PICTURE SAYS A THOUSAND WORDS
A Picture Says A Thousand Words
In the digital age, you won’t always be able to see the car you want to buy in person before you sign the deed. “I get it, we’re all trying to save a few bucks. If you’re paying all that money to fly out and see a car and take time off work and you don’t buy it, then you’ve lost a lot of money”. And even then, if you do buy your perfect car, the cost of traveling to see it will easily add a grand to the total cost.
5. BE THOROUGH
Take your time. Make sure you’re thorough with the process. If you’re relying on pictures, ask a lot of questions.
“Ask how many owners it’s had. Ask if they know what happened to the original motor and transmission. If it’s a ‘low mileage’ car, look to see how many miles were actually driven on it. It always tells you something if it went through ten different owners; that means you’re probably gonna have a basket case. You’re gonna have something that was pieced together: They threw out the right motor, put in the wrong motor, etc.”
“Most people just look at the car itself, they’re so excited – ‘Oh my god here it is! I love this car!’ When they get home the hood doesn’t shut right, the door doesn’t shut right. By then, it’s too late.”
4. TO MATCH OR NOT TO MATCH
To Match Or Not To Match
“You know, I’m finding more and more that people aren’t caring as much about matching numbers [where the stamped serial numbers of the engine, frame and gearbox all match the last six digits of the car’s VIN]. It’s still going to be important in some cases, but it’s more important to get a car that’s in good shape than a car with matching numbers that’s rotted out.” For collecting purposes, an absolute classic with matching numbers will have a much higher ceiling than one without, but it’s not often worth the headache – and extra expense – of finding one.
3. AMERICAN VS EUROPEAN
The basic — although hardly ironclad — rule is that European cars probably have a higher ceiling, but they will cost more and be harder to source replacement parts for (which can seriously delay or even cripple a rebuild). American cars offer plenty of investment opportunities, but the valuation may be slower. Also, parts can be an issue with any car from any country.
“Buying classic cars is kind of like real estate. You’ve got a certain range of car years that will go up in value, and the next [model] year they’re completely down. So if you have the money, you want to buy them when they’re down. Find the best deal— the best model you can find in the best shape you can find, whether it’s a matching numbers car or not.
1. BE PATIENT
Just try and be patient, really look for everything and don’t be afraid to pass on a car. Don’t feel like you have to buy the first one you see. Because that’s what I used to do: ‘Oh my god, I want that car!’ You can’t believe the price. But then, after you see what you get, you can believe the price.”