7 Tips for Buying a Classic Car

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/27/2007 | Auto and Trucks

Owning a classic car can be a wonderful and fulfilling thing. If this is your first purchase of a classic, there are a few things that you need to decide on before starting your search. Is this going to be a project car that you are going to work on yourself or are you going to have the work done by a professional? Is this going to be an investment that you will eventually sell for a profit? Are you going to be driving it on a daily basis or just weekends? Are you going to show the car? All these sound silly to be asking but they are all good questions and the answers can really make a difference in what you buy.

If you are buying a classic for the pure fun and enjoyment of owning an old vintage car like "Dad" use to have, then you can get something that is not absolutely numbers matching concourse type of quality and still have a great car. If you are buying for the investment aspect then all the numbers and equipment need to be original and close to perfect condition or restorable to perfect condition. The price will definitely reflect the quality.

Also keep in mind that quality does not necessarily mean perfect condition. For example, a 1970 Hemi Cuda convertible can be beat up, rusting with a blown engine and still it will demand over 500,000.00!

The following tips can be used either way, but remember; the price difference between a 69 SS Camaro and a 69 "Yenko" SS Camaro can be over 150,000.00! A 69 Camaro SS big block can be a lot of fun to own and drive, where as a Yenko big block Camaro would be a great investment that you would not want to drive simply because of the extreme value that it has.

Regardless of which type you are going to look for, you need to look out for a few things that can really take away from the value and look for the little things that add to it. Talk to all the people you can who own classic cars. One thing to keep in mind, all classic car owners LOVE to talk about their cars! They will point out the good, the bad and the ugly of buying and owning a classic. Here are seven tips to get you started. Most of these tips are based on looking for an original as possible unmodified classic car.

1. Make sure there is a clear title to the car. Is it registered to the person who is selling it or is not registered at all? DMV fees and penalties can be enormous.

2. Where is the car from? What states has it been registered in? Has it been registered in a state where the roads are salted when it snows? Salt causes corrosion and rust which eats metal like a cancer. Not all cars can come from a dry climate state like California where you will not have a rust or corrosion problem. Most of the higher valued classic cars have never seen snow or ice. Rust can be repaired but it must be done by a professional body man with that type of experience.

3. Do the numbers match? Is the engine code right for the engine that is in the car? The vehicle identification number, (VIN) is coded with engine size, transmission type, body style and more. Is the engine and drive train the same as what came in it form the factory or has it been modified? Did someone take out a six cylinder and put in a 396 big block? Everyone wants the big block but if it did not come from the factory, it can take away from the value. Again, this depends on what you are looking for. Maybe you want an updated vintage car, then the big block would be great.

4. Take the car for a 20 minute test drive. Most serious problems will be demonstrated in that period of time. Listen for noises, squeaks, clunks and any thing out of the ordinary. How does the car feel going around corners and going over bumps? Is it loose, does it have a washed out kind of feeling? If so, the suspension will need some repairs. Depending on the age and make of the car the cost of repairs can vary greatly. Most Chevy classic cars are not all that expensive to get parts for simply because of their popularity and the availability of NOS (new old stock) and aftermarket replacement parts for them. If you are looking at something like a Mercury Cougar, then expect spending two to three times as much on parts. The more common the car, the better prices and availability there are for parts. You really should have the car inspected by a qualified mechanic if possible. A honest and sincere classic owner will not object.

5. The Body. Look down the sides for any signs of damage. Check out the seam gaps between the doors and hood, are they straight or do they look uneven? You want to be able to roll a marble down them smoothly. If they aren't, the car probably has had body damage repaired. Look very closely inside the door jam area down at the doorsill plate and the rear quarter panels for any signs of welds or repair work. Welds and welding marks are a sign that the car has been clipped. Clipping is where a damaged car has an undamaged cars body panels welded in. A hard hit car might have a half of the body welded in from another car. You really want to stay away from this kind of repaired car.

6. Check underneath as much as possible for rust damage. Look inside the wheel wells and when you are looking inside the trunk area, look closely at the area below where the rear window glass and package tray meet. These are two of the most common areas for rust damage. A little can be expected on an older car but seeing complete sections of floor boards or body panels welded in is not a good sign. Unless the person that repaired the areas was a professional body man, it more than likely will return.

7. The Interior. Are the seats original? Is the upholstery original? Are the badges and emblems intact? One thing that doesn't sound like much but is hard to restore or repair is the dash board. Has someone cut a big hole for an aftermarket radio? Are the floor pans in good shape or are they rusted out? Original seats and emblems can be very hard to replace in some of the older classics. You want as much as possible of the original pieces to be there. A small emblem or badge that was original can become quite a problem to find.

These are just a few things that can be helpful when you are looking for a car. The little things will tell you that the owner cared for and took care of their car. But remember when looking for your classic car to buy, there are many idiots in the world that just want to make a fast buck. Use common since when looking for a car. Do your homework. Most cities and towns have the small weekend car shows that can be a wealth of info for you. Most all the people you find there would love to talk to you about cars. The Internet has some great resources for classic car pricing and values. Look at more than one car. Take your time. Do not buy anything until someone that has classic car experience has looked at it with you. Make sure that you are buying what you want. One thing to keep in mind is that the cost of classic car ownership will be a lot more than a family station wagon. Parts and service costs are a lot higher then newer cars, but so is the enjoyment factor too!

Buying a classic car is often a large investment and should be treated as such. Get all the facts concerning that particular car and you will be much better off when negotiating the purchase. Once you own a classic you will enter a whole new world. It truly can be a wonderful experience! Good Luck!