Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How to buy a classic car and live with the consequences: Part 1 - Do you really want to do this?


It's a given.

Even for the Millennial generation classic vehicles are alluring.  Sometimes the definition of a "classic" becomes a bit blurred with the younger set but so long as they're enthusiastic about something other than smartphones and Instagram there's still hope.

Yeah, I was around when the Honda CRX was just another weird Civic with 2 seats.  Now it's a holy grail akin to my reverence for 70 454 Chevelle with factory Cowl induction.

At least to some.

Here's the reality.  Any car over 25 years old can by law (in most states) be considered a classic car.  Meaning that CRX would technically qualify; of course your mom's 81 Caprice would too.

However,  that doesn't mean every car is destined to become a classic  just because it's old.  Some cars, no matter how "vintage" will never attain the lofty heights of being considered a "classic."

Simply put; cars become classics because a lot of  people consider them to be that way.  It's the purest expression of a free market.  For better or worse.

For example; did you know that in 1969 you could buy an Oldsmobile station wagon with the same engine as it's muscle car cousin the 442?

Believe it or not the famed 400 V8 (one of the 4's in 4-4-2)  was available along with a number of other stout poweplants.

To which I say, So what....

It's a perfect example of what you need to understand about the classic car market.  For one thing while age is important, it has to be desired by someone to have value and to most of the market A Vista Cruiser with a 400 is just dad's old station wagon.

Meaning you won't be getting much interest (or $$$) from the 442 faithful but that 442 bloodline may peak the interest of the Vista Cruiser crowd, if there is such a thing.  Which is an important factor in getting involved with a classic car.  The halo effect or depending on your perspective; guilt by association.

Buying a classic car is no different than a Sci-Fi nerd paying 100's of dollars for a vintage 1977 Star Wars action figure in it's original packaging.  It's a kind of time capsule.  A door open to the memory of happier times unspoiled by the ravages of reality.

It's like any other collectible market driven by irrational motivations fueled exclusively by the intoxication of rose colored glasses.

All collector markets are built on this.  If we were really being honest all these old cars and action figures would be of more use ground up and recycled for raw materials for a half a dozen Hyundai's.  .


Hey, I'm just putting it out there.  I don't believe it and honestly I wouldn't want to live in such a plain vanilla world.  That would be like using the Mona Lisa as a door mat or living on cup-o-noodles for the rest of your life.      Yuk...

Here's the "How"part...

Your first step toward owning a classic car is to answer the question, " Why do you want to do this?"

If you look at a classic car like a retirement account you can expect the same return as that IRA you took out in 2007.   Don't believe the hype over someone's "barn find" 70 Hemi Challenger with 23 original miles going for a million dollars.  Chances are you're going to end up owning a Fury with a 318 and a lot of Bondo.  You can pump 50K into it and not get back half the money

Remember the Vista Cruiser?

It's a market and markets are not only picky but fickle. Fickle equals volatile which translates into yo-yo valuations only a day trader would tolerate.

Don't believe the reality TV car shows either.

Those wrench monkeys have got resources and
expertise available at their fingertips that you'd have to pay extra for.

The words "cheap" and "restoration" don't go together unless you're aiming to own a "beater" not a "classic."

 Older vehicles are going to have problems that need attention and the cost of dealing with them will vary depending on what they are and how much of the work you can do yourself.  Not to mention HOW you choose to deal with them.

Even if you're Chip Foose it can be expensive if you happen to be working on a vehicle with sparse parts availability or serious rust issues.

So yeah, don't buy a 1974 El Camino....

By the way, be honest and know what you're capable of.  A couple of rattle can paint jobs and a few oil changes does not make you an automotive restoration expert.

Playing the Field

From here you have to take a hard look at the car's market and determine what it (and you) will bear.

Paying 442 prices for a run of the mill Cutlass does nobody any favors.  Meaning you need to do some research.  That doesn't stop at just looking up prices on Hemmings or the latest auction either.  You need to connect with people who've already made the leap not only to see what they paid but the cost of upkeep.

Check the more mundane sources like Auto Trader or the classifieds.  See what's available locally before heading into a nationwide or even worldwide search.  Often the cost of transport of a "perfect" car is trumped by one that needs a little more love found in your hometown.  Only after exhausting local resources should you expand your search outward.  Even sites like Ebay motors can be filtered to listings in your local area and by default Auto Trader sites (including classic) do the same.

Know what you're looking at!

Too much of the word "new" can be the death knell of a classic car's value.  Find out what your chosen model originally came with.  Tires and batteries are irrelevant by the way.  We're interested in things like drivetrain and available options.  Some cars demand original everything while others known for unreliability will offer more latitude in modifications.
For example, nobody is going to ding you for swapping drum brakes for disc brakes on a classic that's actually driven.  Safety upgrades are acceptable in all but the most rare of classics and nobody is driving those very often.

Be aware of "tribute cars" and fakes.

What's a Tribute car?

Simply put, a tribute car is a model upgraded to a more desirable model after the fact.  The only difference between a fake and a tribute is how honest the seller is about it.  Don't be fooled into paying 50K for a fake 67 GTO that's really a 30K LeMans.

That research thing again....

If you really want to get to know a car you're interested in get to know the people who own one.  A quick Internet search can yield dozens of resources and forums where you can learn about a car you're considering.  Use multiple sources and treat it the same way you would as if you were buying a house.  Ask questions like: What are the problem areas?  What are the parts availability?  What's it cost to fix?

Speaking of fixes.  Don't buy someone else's failed project.  Rust buckets will continue to be rust buckets AKA money pits.  Protect yourself and learn what to look for so you don't buy one.  It's never a bad idea to bring along someone who knows what they're looking at.

Don't limit yourself to one information source either.  Online car forums are wealth of information  but realize that not everyone in them is an expert.  Don't just rely on online either.  If there's a regular car show or meetup near you go check it out.  One thing about the classic car hobby is that owners love nothing more than talking about their cars.   It's a great source for finding things like car clubs and good local shops too.

Buying the car is just the beginning.  Living with it is more than just Sunday blasts along the coast.  You've essentially purchased another mouth to feed much more demanding than the Kia now displaced in your driveway.

We'll get into that next time....

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