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Tips on Buying Classic Cars

Once you have decided which classic you'd like in your garage, it's time to get down to the sometimes tricky business of buying one. Here's our guide to your main purchasing options.

1. Learn All About Your Chosen Classic.

Chose your make and model of classic and then soak up every bit of information you can.

The web is full of pages and forums stuffed with facts plus there are scores of books, specialist magazines and the considerable resources and experience of owners clubs all easily and quickly available. And knowing the occasional tiny differences between models, years, engine sizes and specs can literally save (or make you) thousands.

These days there’s no excuse not to be informed so aim to be a proper expert before you even think about moving off that sofa.

2. Know Your Prices.

The Internet means you can also value classics really accurately. Auction houses publish their hammer results; dealers and private sellers usually advertise sale prices and the major classic magazines print monthly price guides. Watch these numbers like a hawk and learn what your favoured model usually sells for.

You can even put a classic’s registration number into Google and sometimes see how much it sold for when it last went through an auction. And don’t be afraid of ringing up auction houses and classic car magazines for valuation advice – they’ll usually be helpful and charming. These days the old car market moves like a roller coaster so accurate information on current values will stop you getting your leg lifted.


3. Condition is Everything.

No two classics are ever the same and their value is entirely dependent on condition. Learn the differences between ‘average’, ‘good’, ‘immaculate’ and ‘concours’ because in financial terms this can add up to thousands.

Understand too that sometimes a well-kept and immaculate original car can be worth more than something that’s been recently (and hastily) restored. Look for cars with genuine mileage and lots of past history and understand that paying a bit more for a well-kept few owner car will be much cheaper in the long run than buying something that’s tired and needs lots of work. These days some classic car specialists charge like wounded rhinos.

4. History Adds Value.

Classics with sheaves of old bills, MoTs and past servicing invoices are always worth more than those without. You may not find a car with a continuous, unbroken history from Day One but a paper trail of invoices going back many years can increases the value by up to 20%. And classic cars with a history file will usually have been owned by diligent types who’ve carefully kept everything – so chances are they’ll have looked after their classic better than most.

A fat bundle of past paperwork is a sure sign of gentle and sympathetic ownership. Nice people and nice cars go together.

5. Options, Specs and Colors.

Find out which engine size, gearbox, factory fitted options and colours sell best. A Bentley S1 without power steering will be heavy on the hands and a manual ‘box Merc SL has a clunky change and is worth less than an auto. These things you need to know. A slow 2.4 MK11 Jag won’t be as much fun as a lively 3-8 (or as valuable) and a MK1 Sunbeam Alpine is worth more than a MKIV because it’s got those trendy rear fins. There are a slew of specification differences that can make a classic more desirable and often easier to live with so know which differences matter.

You’ll need to keep up with modern traffic so chose a decent engine size. Early 850cc Minis are charming but feel slower than Queen Victoria’s funeral. And don’t forget that colour can exert a much as 10% to values. Brown looks good on 70s Porsche 911s but not on Rolls Royces, Mercs or Ferraris.

Use your judgment (unless you’re totally colour blind) to work out the best-selling and most fashionable shades. Yes, classic car colours are subjective but there are plenty of hues – most on British Leyland stuff of the 70s – that have all the visual appeal of sewage.

6. Originality Carries a Premium.

This may be hard to get your head round but unrestored and unmolested cars are usually worth more than something shimmering that’s just come out of the restorer’s workshop – that’s why untouched barn finds fetch so much at auction.

The old car market prizes time warp original cars highly so understand the value of slightly faded interiors and virgin paint. Simply put, if a classic has had only a couple of owners with good documented provenance and wears its original paintwork, registration number and has an unrestored interior it will carry a premium over a restored car with no history that’s maybe had a colour change or a new bodyshell.

Forensically original classics with tiny warranted mileages can be the most highly prized of all. Originality and patina are valuable virtues and clever buyers prefer genuine unspoilt cars that are in gently mellowed period condition. Learn to spot that rare and special thing – old car virginity.

7. Rarity Means High Prices.

Classics made in small numbers will always be collectible – if you’ve got one of the seven right-hand-drive Ferrari Daytona Spyders ever built you’re now looking at over £2 million.

In 1961 Jaguar only made 500 E types with outside bonnet catches and the few surviving examples are worth up to £250,000 just because of a couple of tiny chrome latches. But there are some rare classics that few people know about. In 1991 Porsche made just 100 rhd 944 Turbo Cabriolets so if you can find a good one it’s a copper-bottomed investment.

Knowing the minutia of productions numbers can definitely make you money and its not hard to find out how many examples of certain cars were built by looking on sites like Wikipedia or owner’s clubs forums. And knowing how many of a particular model still survive can be useful too. Howmanyleft.co.uk will tell you how many are still registered with the DVLA and you’ll find the survival rate of some classics can now be down to single figures. These gems will always be worth buying because irreplaceable rare cars are the ones proper enthusiasts want.

8. Chassis Numbers.

If there’s even the tiniest shadow over a classic’s identity its market value plunges like a falling Steinway. Always check the chassis or Vehicle Identity Number against the V5C or Registration Document. Chassis numbers are usually found on a metal plate or stamped into body panels and since replacement chassis plates for classics are easy to buy there’s always going to be the odd bit of skullduggery.

There are also plenty of old cars where the VIN number was incorrectly listed by DVLA when logbooks went computerized in the 70s. And if you’re buying something like a Mini Cooper, Lotus Cortina, Shelby Mustang or Escort Mexico you need to check that the chassis numbering is correct and you’re not buying something that isn’t the real deal. There are plenty of ‘Evocations’ and ‘Tribute Cars” that look like the genuine item but are just ordinary models in a party frock.

Never pay big money for these and if there’s the slightest doubt over a classic car’s true identity – turn on your heel and smartly walk away.

9. Colour Changes and Imports.

Cars that have had a colour change are generally worth less. They’re not deemed to be original and unless the new paint job was done from a bare, stripped shell the previous colour will always show through in some nook or cranny. There’s also a big market in left hand drive imports from America and while some US imports will have been converted to rhd they’re never going to be as valuable as a home market-supplied UK car.

Dry state rust-free American imports of European classics like Austin Healeys, MGAs, E-type, MKII and XK Jaguars can make canny buys but never pay top money. The other downside of imported cars is that the history is often hard to trace. Getting information from US Departments of Motor Vehicles (or DMVs), can be as fruitful as explaining your hobbies to an Easter Island Statue.


10. Heritage Certificates.

The British Motor Industry Heritage (BMIH) offers certificates that tell you when your classic was built, which dealer sold it and important things like original colour, options, engine and chassis number. BMIH get information from the original factory records so the certificates are unimpeachable.

If you’re selling make sure you have a certificate to reassure buyers and if you’re buying check that prospective classic has a Heritage Certificate to prove everything matches.


Read More : Are Classic Cars a Good Investment?

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