Classic Cars – Buying Guide to Your Ideal Car

Buying your Classic Car

Buying a classic car is fairly straightforward, but you do need to take care in deciding exactly what type of vehicle best fits your needs. It’s no good buying a classic MGB if you want to use the vehicle for family outings (with kids and dogs) to the beach. Equally, a Ford Cortina 1600E might tick all the practicality boxes if you’re a single bloke – but does it have the same effect on your street cred as a gleaming MK2 Jaguar? Key practical considerations therefore need to be: Number of seats, number of doors, hard-top of soft-top, boot space – and even image!

Where to store your classic car

How you store the car is also a major factor. Unfortunately, most ‘old’ cars simply don’t stand up to the weather like new ones, so you’ll need to keep your new classic in a garage or lock-up to maintain its appearance. If, like most people, your garage is full with anything BUT a car you’ll either need to clear it out or factor in the cost of renting a lock-up in your budget.

If the car needs some work doing on it, you’ll need space to move around the vehicle (especially under it). And if you’re thinking of keeping it outside, covered with a tarpaulin, think again! Damp rises, putting your car at risk – and how will you fancy doing your vital maintenance work in the pouring rain or driving snow?

Car condition

The condition of your chosen classic car is a major consideration. If you have a background in engineering, welding or metalwork, a rusting old heap will hold no fear for you. Classic car magazines are full of adverts for a huge array of potential classic vehicles, and this should be your prime hunting ground. The key is to be realistic about what you can take on. A full restoration project is one thing – but it might be much more sensible to take on a project that’s been part completed, and just needs a few spares to get it back on the road.

Equally, you may find a ‘bargain’ for just a few hundred quid, that may well be worth £15k when complete. But spending hours trying to find irreplaceable body parts, or having to outsource specialist elements of the rebuilding project to experts, will soon make you wonder whether it was all worthwhile.
A sensible option when buying your first classic car is to spend a little more, but go for something that is presentable even if it takes a little longer to find the car of your dreams.
Where to find classic cars

The internet has made it easier than ever before to track down a classic car. Previously, buyers had to scour shop windows for likely purchases or buy specialist magazines, but now simply typing ‘Daimler Sovereign’ or ‘Austin Healey ‘ into Google is likely to bring up results. You’ll find specialist dealer sites, individuals using auction sites like e-bay, even portals aggregating all the classic car websites in one location.

Magazines are still useful, as they often provide added information by way of features about restoration. While the internet is great for finding vehicles quickly, printed media usually go into much more depth about the joys and pitfalls of classic car ownership.
Preparation before plunging

Having found a few potential purchases, now you need to do some homework to make sure you don’t end up with ‘a lemon’. While you’ll have some comeback if you buy from a dealer, classic cars are unlikely to be sold with a warranty and if you’re buying from a private individual you’ll have even less rights.

This is why you need to have a series of key questions to ask on the phone, or by email, with the seller to make sure you build up an accurate history of the car. Example questions could be – Why are you selling the car? How long have you owned it? How often is it used? Does it come with any spares? Do you have any receipts for MOT’s or work that’s been done? Where has the work been done? How easy is it to find spare parts and can they recommend any local suppliers? You might want to know if the car runs on unleaded fuel, or if it can be easily converted, as leaded petrol is expensive and has limited availability in the UK.

Viewing your car

If you’ve progressed to a viewing, choose a time to see it during daylight. Avoid seeing it in the rain too, even the worst classic car has a certain appeal when it’s sat in the half light with the rain bouncing off it. And think about taking along an expert. You could enlist the paid services of an AA or RAC inspector, but by using internet forums you can usually find a classic car club member close to you who’d be delighted to give you the benefit of their experience (often for the price of a pint of real ale!).
Other MUST DO’s on your viewing:

  • Look underneath the car.
  • Check for signs of sagging, which might indicate suspension or chassis problems.
  • See if all the tyres match.
  • Look for signs of bodywork repairs, especially paint retouches (black and metallic colours are very difficult to match).
  • Check the body all over for rust and rot, or cracking in the example of fibreglass-bodied cars, like Lotus.
  • Lift up the carpets if you can, checking the floor pan and joint to the inner sill.
  • Start the car from cold.
  • Go for a test drive – look and listen for knocks, grinding, and smoke which may indicate oil escaping and burning.
  • Look out for a soft or lazy clutch and check to see whether the car has a tendency to pull to the left or right.

Hopefully, this list of simple Do’s and Don’ts will help you take the first steps to buying a classic car. Trying to cover everything would take all day, but the key things to remember are:

  • Take time to consider what’s best for you
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
  • Ask plenty of questions
  • Be thorough with your inspection.

Follow these rules and your first foray into classic car ownership should be a joy, not a disaster.