Investing in a classic car is, for most, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Whether purchasing a prize example of these first car 30 years on or reliving childhood holidays in an excellent example of dad’s old saloon, classic car ownership is all about enjoyment and relaxation. However the sheer enthusiasm with which lots of people enter to the purchase will often blind them to the harsh realities of owning and running a classic car.
I have purchased and sold many cars in my years running the UK’s largest classic car hire company. In that time I’ve learnt the hard way how to get classic cars well. I bought my first classic car in 1993, a rare Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti in black. It was my dream car, having cycled past an identical example each and every day while at school. I did so my research, buying copies of most available Buyers’ Guides and I knew exactly what to find and what things to avoid. Unfortunately, what none of the guides explained was the cardinal rule – buy with your head not your heart. I particularly wanted a black Alfasud and when I clapped eyes on the vehicle this was the over-riding thought in my head. It blinded me to the reality of the car’s obvious flaws, including suspect electrics and typically Alfa-esque rust holes. Floating on a wave of dream fulfillment I convinced myself that they certainly were idle matters and coughed up the price tag to a probably flabbergasted owner.
Once you go to get a vintage car keep in mind two simple rules. Firstly, it’s not the only example of its kind in the world. Regardless of how closely its specification matches your desires, there will be another out there. Secondly, picture the price tag as cash in your hand – this will help you to comprehend the value of the purchase. Often cars are bought and then covered later, which provides plenty of time for circumspection! I strongly recommend that anyone purchasing a classic car takes along a friend who is able to be relied upon to be objective – they are able to reign you back whenever your enthusiasm takes ov er.
When I bought the Alfasud I managed to create it back to a good standard, however it cost me to do so. That taught me another rule of car buying – objectively assess the expense of repairing the vehicle before you buy it. Know industry value of any car you intend to get – what is it worth in average condition and what is it worth in excellent condition? Objectively assess the value of repairing the car’s faults by researching the expense of trim, bodywork, mechanical work and so on. Do not under-estimate the expense of apparently minor work – scuffs and scrapes on the paintwork can cost hundreds of pounds to put right. If your seller says something is definitely an ‘easy fix’ you’ve to wonder why they haven’t done it themselves.
Once you go to view a vintage car do your research first. Triumph Stag Check the buying guides. Visit web forums and ask questions which are not immediately answered by your research – generally forum contributors are very happy to help. Speak with the experts – marque experts who repair cars on a daily basis tend to be very happy to offer advice because you may become a customer. Speak with those who own similar cars – a good place to begin is with classic car hire companies who run classic cars over thousands of miles every year. I often get asked by would-be owners concerning the cars I run and I’m always very happy to offer advice based on managing classic cars day in and day out. Before you view the vehicle ring the master first and run via a checklist of questions – this can save you a wasted journey.
Besides the particular car itself, there are two areas to pay particular attention to when you view a car. Firstly, the master – the old adage about purchasing a used car from a man like this obviously applies. If the master is genuine, the chances are that the vehicle is too. And of course, the reverse does work too. Secondly, have a look at the paperwork thoroughly – check that the contents back up the description of the vehicle in the advertisement and from the owner. The paperwork must be well presented rather than a jumble of paperwork that’s difficult to decipher – if the master can’t be bothered to organise this detail, what else has he skimped on?
Your test includes full inspection inside and out and underneath, ideally employing a ramp (local garages tend to be happy to arrange this – the vendor should be able to sort this out).
On the test drive you must start the vehicle from cold – insist before arrival that the vendor allows you to get this done – and you must drive at least 5-10 miles at the wheel. Check for unusual noises on start up – particularly knocking – and monitor the dials throughout the test. Check that the oil pressure and water temperature perform as expected. Check the brakes – do an urgent situation stop. Rev the engine through the gears and test rapid gear changing. Drive the vehicle quickly around a large part to check the suspension and steering. Test every one of the switches, specially the heating – failed heaters can be quite a costly and very inconvenient expense.
if you like the vehicle you’re taking a look at, buy yourself some thinking time. Don’t be railroaded in to a quick decision by the vendor. Usually the seller will genuinely have lots of interest in the vehicle – if that’s the case, depending on how you are feeling you must ask for either overnight or at least a few hours to think about it. if you should be serious you may provide a small deposit as an exhibition of good faith. It is much better to get rid of £100 than thousands of via a rushed decision. I would recommend viewing the vehicle at least twice in daylight.