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Classic Car Buyers Guide

Date: 2020-03-14
Author: Clasiq

You've seen what they can do in movies like Fast & Furious and TV shows like Fast N' Loud. The thought of owning one sends shivers of excitement down your spine.

 

You have the cash and the garage, but are you ready to pick the right classic car? More importantly, do you know how to spot the difference between a classic that's worth every dollar and one that's prone to breaking down and sitting idle in the garage all the time aka ‘a lemon’?

 

Image Source: @Clasiq_hq

 

Check out our classic car buyer’s guide below. Hopefully, you'll come away with an idea of what to look for and what to avoid in your hunt for the classic of your dreams.

 

 

1. Some Basic Considerations Before You Start

 

The very first question that comes to mind should be, "What Classic Car Should I Buy?"

 

More often than not, you'll have a specific make and model in mind that you do a search for on the web, in forums or car dealerships. While this in itself is good, most beginners fail to do any research on the car and will have no clue on how to determine a classic car's condition.

 

Remember, not all classics are created equal, and there are models that are considered lemons and depreciate in value, even when fully restored.

 

The next question should be, "How Will I Use The Classic?" The answer to this will depend on personal preference. Some will want a car they can display on shows, while others intend to use their new investment for cruising around town during the weekends. What's more, there are those who live to restore a rundown classic to working, or even mint condition.

 

Image Source: @Clasiq_hq

 

How you intend to use the car will more or less dictate the make and model. High-end classics cost a fortune and they become more expensive the longer they're around, so they won't be a good fit for people who want something to drive around in. The general rule is that the higher mileage the vehicle has, the less it’s worth. Value goes down significantly each time miles are added to the clock.

 

If you plan on keeping a car that's estimated to rise in value in pristine condition, you must also invest in a temperature-controlled garage. With this setup you can afford to wait until demand for the classic goes up. The rarer the car, the more likely it is to be sought after and the more valuable it will be to collectors and enthusiasts alike. It pays to have an idea of just how much a car’s value is before you go out and buy one.

 

Image Source: @classic_car_garage

Finally, the closer a classic is to its original condition, the higher its price tag. The only exception is when there's a "Day Two" upgrade, which means that vintage aftermarket parts were installed in place of the original ones, i.e., a 1969 Chevelle had day two modifications to Jardine headers and Anson slotted mags. The value might be retained if the original parts were kept and are included in the package.

 

A higher upfront price is usually better as long as the classic's engine and parts are still in good shape. Getting a $20,000 car in good condition is wiser than getting a clunker at $7,000 that needs about $15,000 worth of work.

 

When determining a classic's actual value, you'll need to take a look at the car's engine, the suspension, trims, glass condition, seats, dashboard, brakes, transmission and steering.

 

2. Engine

 

A muscle car is characterized by a big, powerful engine cranking out impressive amounts of horsepower inside a small to medium-sized automobile. It can accelerate quickly and maintain a phenomenal top speed.

 

Each classic car will have a different engine, but what they may have in common is the 8-cylinder motor that can guzzle fuel like there's no tomorrow.

 

In your search for the right classic you'll find that the engines are often rebuilt, new crate or reconditioned. New crate engines are naturally aspirated and designed to provide power without the issues that come with older engines.

 

Some of the well-known engines include the Chrysler 426 Hemi, a 450HP beast that powered many classic Challengers, Darts and Chargers; the Ford 351 Cleveland, Ford's answer to GM and Chrysler's Pony engines and the Chevrolet 454, a staple in many popular classics, including the Nova, Malibu, Chevelle and the Camaro.

 

Image Source: @mychevy_73

 

You'll also find that carburetors are often swapped out with bigger and better ones. This gives the car better fuel efficiency and improved performance. Aftermarket parts such as cold air intakes and exhaust systems can add more HP but decrease the muscle's overall value.

 

What's a classic without the throaty, rumbling noise that makes a true believer out of any car enthusiast? A well-maintained classic should be able to produce that primal roar without any strange sounds in the mix. Keep an ear out for knocking or clicking noise, which indicate a major engine problem in the motor mount, rod or heads. Engines that sputter or sound like they're gasping for air indicates an exhaust system leak. Other troubling signs include constantly backfiring or producing strange noises as the key is turned and when the engine is running.

 

If you are buying then it's in your best interest to purchase a compressor first, which opens up air tools and painting possibilities. You can get a good-sized compressor for approximately $300, while spray guns and air tools are available for cheap at any hardware store.

 

Image Source: @musclecarengine

 

Those who are thinking of buying a classic as an investment should number-match the engine before handing in the money. Check the engine for a six-digit stamp that shows the classic's VIN, and do the same for the rear axle and transmission. If it's a match, then you can be sure you're getting your money's worth.

 

3. Gearbox

 

Classic’s with manual transmission are becoming rare in this world of automatic vehicles. Manufacturers have made automatic transmission to make urban driving more enjoyable, but true piston heads will beg to differ. There's something to be said about downshifting when approaching a tight corner, then suddenly changing gears as you come out of that turn.

 

AT will be more difficult and expensive to repair as they're considerably more complicated than MT. Moreover, car transmission in itself is made up of many different parts, so you'll need to be thorough and inspect the box carefully.

 

Image Source: @oldschoolmusclecars

 

You'll need a checklist of the following- hydraulics, electrical system and the mechanics to see what needs to be replaced and others. For an informed decision, bring along a professional to see whether a particular car is a good buy or not.

 

4. Suspension And Brakes

 

A true classic is one that has original stock parts and is still drivable. As per the name, muscle cars will have too much horsepower for their own good, i.e., when taking corners and accelerating in relation to their weight and size.

 

As a rule of thumb, if you're in it as an investment, choose a classic that has all its original stock parts still intact. On the other hand, if you're planning to drive it, modify and update your car for maximum enjoyment and safety. We'd recommend an entry level brake and suspension upgrade to make handling more manageable and increase the vehicle's lifespan.

 

It's perfectly acceptable for classics to have these upgrades to be able to navigate today's roads. Left alone, classic cars can be sloppy, heavy and stubborn, especially on the brakes and handling.

 

Sub-frame connectors are different for every car and they are usually welded in during installation. Do an under car inspection and get cross-bracing as needed. This component strengthens the overall car frame and lends an extra hand in cornering as the rear suspension will be able to do its job properly.

 

5. Bodywork

 

Bodywork is one of the easier aspects to determine when you're buying a classic car. You can rely on your eyes to see whether the muscle you want to buy is in mint condition or significantly damaged. Expect a mint classic to have a higher price tag than a sub-par option, but for this you'll need to be sure that the seller isn't just pulling a scam.

 

To get more money for their cars, dishonest sellers resort to unscrupulous methods, which can include putting a new coat of paint, cleaning the suspension and patching rusty spots with body filler to make their classic look like new. Like all the other parts, you'll need to carefully inspect the bodywork for telltale signs and see if the price is really right.

 

It's perfectly understandable for older cars to have chipped or damaged body and paintwork. Even well-maintained classics will have that fade, some dinks and spots, as well as rust. It's best to keep these to a minimum, though. You wouldn't want a high-priced car that has layers of corrosion, but if your original plan is to restore an old rustbucket to its original polish, then be prepared to spend a great deal of time and money to make it a roadworthy vehicle.

 

Image Source: @classic__mechanic

 

In bodywork, you'll have to gauge how much work is needed to bring a classic as close to its original state. For this, you can get a showroom type for a large sum, or spend less and apply some elbow grease to make your muscle car presentable.

 

6. Interior

 

A classic's interior must be checked the same way as its bodywork. Some of the things to look for include damage, whether the parts are original and if there are any repairs that need to be done.

 

For the sake of authenticity, the original is the best. Therefore, do a quick-over on the emblems, dashboard, radio, badges and upholstery to make sure they come in with the muscle and are not factory original. Also, keep in mind that if you're planning to replace them somewhere down the line, you'll have to cough up a significant amount of money. It's better to spend on original interiors that are in good condition than needing to have them replaced later on.

 

Image Source: @classic__mechanic

 

If possible, take the car out and do the inspection under natural daylight. Take a close look at the paint and see if there are obvious dents. The panels should be uniform and not mismatched or misaligned. Any large welding marks will mean that a clip job was done, which isn't good. More than likely, the car has sustained severe damage at the front or the back and needed to be replaced.

 

7. Checking A Car's History

 

Classic car buyers should utilize all the resources available to them in order to come up with an informed decision. Thankfully, the internet and sites like Clasiq are here to help. Simply do a Google search on your preferred classic and read up on articles, comments and videos to supplement your knowledge on the model. Vehicle history reports can be acquired online via https://www.autocheck.com/vehiclehistory/?siteID=0 where you can also search by VIN or plate.

 

You can check past online auctions and see how much a particular make or model went for the last decade or so. The accumulated history and data should more or less give you an idea of how much you should actually pay for a well-maintained, well-conditioned vintage classic. From there, you can stick to the original plan or find another car that will suit your needs or preferences.

 

Image Source: @authenticautobody

 

If you’re visiting a dealer, wait for them to say something about their vehicle. You can bet that the car has a history that reveals potential problems, issues and whatnot.

 

You'll need the help of a professional inspector or a mechanic as your second set of eyes. This keeps the car's condition honest and ensures seller accuracy in terms of claims and description. More than that, the inspector will be your anchor to reality to make sure you don't blindly "fall in love" with a classic just because it's the exact color or interior you wanted. Novice buyers often make the mistake of getting excited and emotional over a purchase because it's their first time experience. When they take it home, that's when they realize that there's a huge amount of work needed to make it roadworthy or showroom type, and it ends as an overpriced toy in the garage.

 

If you don't have a professional mechanic or an auto inspector to accompany you, call a restoration shop and see if they specialize in the particular make and model of the car you're interested in. Here, you can be confident that the mechanic's verdict is trustworthy and reliable. More than that, the mechanic can also test the running condition of the vehicle and verify if the parts are original and in good shape.

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