6 Rules for Buying Your First Classic Car
There is no experience quite like driving a classic American car. The roar of its primitive engine. The relentless whistling of air that always finds a way inside closed windows. The powerful lift the car feels whenever you hit the gas.
But what made the experience so unique for me had nothing to do with the feel of the car itself. It was all in their faces. The expressions of all the people who look at you when you drive by or stand next to the car when its parked.
And thats when it hits. You’re not just driving a classic car. You’re driving a piece of American history. A piece of American history etched on the face of everyone who stares at you. And that history has a story to tell.
A grandfather stands next to my parked car talking with his grandson. Explaining to him what American steel is. Showing him what American pride looks like when you put it on four wheels.
An elderly couple pulls up next to me and shares an intimate laugh. Their first date was in a 1967 Lincoln Continental Convertible just like mine. They wave at me as I drive away.
It even makes die-hard hippie environmentalists smile. Somehow, someway, this car, that gets an abysmal 8-miles to the gallon, is granted an exception from judgment. And so am I.
The Dark Side to Classic Cars
But as I’ve learned during the past five years, theres a dark side to driving the classic car of your dreams – it’s the ultimate used-car. And the ultimate-used car attracts the ultimate used-car salesperson. And mechanics.
So I’ve taken the liberty of sharing a few tips I’ve learned along the way for all of you budding classic car enthusiasts.
1. Don’t buy a classic car unless the person selling the car has at least five years worth of repair receipts and paperwork. A long repair history will show you where the real problems are. And believe me, when you’re dealing with cars that are regularly 50 years old there are always problems. The key is to buy a car with problems you understand and that won’t break the bank.
2. Don’t buy a classic unless you know what you have to fix in advance. And every car will have certain things you need to fix. For example, with respect to my Lincoln, a prospective buyer would know that they would have to invest in the interior, an area that wasn’t terribly important to me.
3. Use Hagerty.com as a guide to judge what condition your vehicle is in and what it may be worth. Hagerty (www.hagerrty.com) has a terrific and easy number system for judging a vehicles “Condition.” A Condition 1 vehicle is a car that is in perfect condition. A Condition 4 vehicle is the opposite. Assign a condition to the car you’re thinking about buying and Hagerty will give you an idea of what you should pay for that car.
4. Don’t spend $30,000 on a classic car unless it runs well and is mechanically sound and in good working order. This is just an old rule of thumb that I’ve learned from some friends but it seems to be a good one. If anyone is trying to sell you a car from $30,000 or more make sure any major issues you need to fix are cosmetic.
5. Join a local classic car club – before you buy your classic car. You probably have a dream car in mind already. If so, join a local classic car club and you will be able to find a specialist who can help you find and work on your dream car. If they are members of a reputable car club, chances are they’ll steer you away from shady dealers toward people you can trust.
(It took me two years to find a mechanic I trust and I consider myself lucky. For those of you in South Florida I use Dave Arnst from Arnst Ocean Auto).
6. And finally – Buy the original factory repair booklet and don’t be afraid to trouble-shoot any issues yourself. The original factor repair books are the books the car manufacturers sent to the mechanics at their dealerships. These books are incredibly detailed and remarkably easy to use. Since most of your problems will be solved simply by opening this book, I cannot overstate the importance of doing this.
I hope these six rules help you make a good decision when you buy your first classic car. Lord knows I could have used the advice.