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Buying A Classic

Buying A Classic Published: 25th Nov 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buying A Classic
Buying A Classic
Buying A Classic
Buying A Classic
Buying A Classic
Buying A Classic
Buying A Classic
Buying A Classic
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Owning a classic might be the realisation of a dream, but our old car expert Rob Marshall shares realistic advice and experience on what newcomers should expect after making their first classic purchase...

Today’s set of wheels has made our lives oh-so easy. Technology permits even an ordinary repmobile to start in all weathers at the flick of a key (and sometimes a flash button), stop on a six pence, accelerate faster than a supercar of 30 years ago and yet cover many thousands of miles reliably and safely with sneering ease and without reducing their occupants to gibbering wrecks. Therefore, newcomers to the classic car scene can be met with a real culture shock…

If you researched your hearts’ desire purchase in-depth, including contacting the appropriate owners’ club and poring over the classic car press, you would be better prepared, in contrast with making an ill-judged, late-night online auction bid, after quaffing a few too many pints, just because the romantic ideology of old car ownership seemed to be a good idea at the time. But we’ve all done it!


About a decade ago, I gave a lift to a fellow student (who works today in the upper echelons of Auto Express magazine) in my Triumph Dolomite. I recall my passenger exclaiming how ‘fast’ 50mph felt. While I do not consider the venerable Triumph as a particularly unrefined car, his perception was based upon a motoring experience of predominantly modern machinery, where the ABS, EBD, Auto-Brake et al, all take over, to try and prevent any consequence of a fault-prone human’s errors.

Older classic cars offer little such protection. Yet, to call them unsafe is, at worst, ignorant; at best, over-simplistic. While piloting a classic will make you more appreciative of speed, the rawer driving experience might prompt you to drive more self-protectively, considerately and cautiously. Many of the associated techniques are encouraged by advanced driving and safety organisations, which embrace much better observation, greater anticipation, more sensitivity to road conditions, plus more judicious and mechanically-sympathetic use of the controls. In any case, a no-pressure assessment of your driving, by one of the numerous established road safety organisations, including RoSPA and the IAM, could be greatly beneficial for both novices and the more experienced motorist alike. If you are a new driver and are familiar with only modern motors, consider some kind of advanced tuition as almost mandatory, if you plan to drive a classic all yearround. Should loved ones struggle to find you an ideal Christmas present, contemplate that a day of fun at a skid-pan might prepare you to react correctly, should your classic ever lose grip.


Consider how well an older car fits into your everyday life. If any modifications are required, plan them carefully to avoid damaging the vehicle and prejudicing its identity (and value). While you do not have to wear seat belts, if they were not present when the car was new, many people consider them to be a vital retro-fit. If belts are fitted, they must be in good order. If you have a family, consider that children aged under three cannot travel in a car legally without seat belts, because it is impossible to tether a child restraint securely.

Older kids can be transported unrestrained in a car without belts but, if any are fitted, their use becomes mandatory, in conjunction with a child seat, if appropriate.

Many newcomers play safe and buy a running classic, rather than tackle a full-scale restoration project and that’s sensible. However, even maintaining good condition is not easy, because older cars will deteriorate faster than their newer counterparts, particularly if left outdoors, unused, for long periods of time. Water and damp tend to fester in hidden nooks and crannies, causing both rot and corrosion. Even if driven regularly, classic bodywork tends not to be as resilient as that of modern cars so regular corrosion inspections are essential, while paint and chromiumplated trim demand habitual layers of wax, to retain their sparkle.

While classic cars cannot be controlled remotely from the comfort of a computer hacker’s armchair, they remain vulnerable to theft and damage, making off-road parking essential, ideally in a location that is both under-cover and well-ventilated.


While it is a myth to think that every classic journey will be punctuated by a breakdown, it is wise to carry certain emergency supplies. While the exact contents of your ‘kit’ depends on the vehicle, a good selection of spanners, screwdrivers, sockets, a warning triangle, wheel brace, jack, torch and multimeter will cover most situations, along with a few handy spares, such as water hose repair tape, a set of ignition points, a condenser, spark plugs, fan belt and a set of ignition leads, as well as several sets of disposable gloves – oh and always a well charged mobile phone. Yet, most classic motor insurance policies include breakdown cover. Older vehicles also require different lubricants, compared to moderns; set aside some space for extra bottles of engine and transmission oils, for top-up purposes.


Much of what you require postpurchase depends on which tasks you are most comfortable with tackling at home. Every classic will require a degree of attention but consider that undertaking major repairs at the side of the road tends to be neither practical, nor safe. DIY repairs will save bundles of cash but workshop supplies must be looked upon as an investment. Cheap tools tend to be a false economy and can make a task even harder to complete, in some cases. A basic toolkit should be a more comprehensive version of the aforementioned emergency supplies but must include a decent jack and axle stands, at least. If you entrust more comprehensive repairs to specialists, including bodywork and mechanical overhauls, there is no need to buy and store special equipment, such as welders, or engine cranes.

Extra items, to make working on your car more hygienic and comfortable, are well worth considering. Overalls, gloves, kneelers and creeper boards are useful but be aware that not only will your tools require secure and dry storage but your classic’s paperwork must also be kept safe and up-to-date. Retaining records of parts and work completed is essential, to preserve your classic’s history, as well as being a useful reference. Finding extra space to stash autojumble/online bargain purchases safely is always useful, although certain bulky and delicate parts (such as panels) can be very tricky to hoard.


Ultimately, the most important thing is to acquire knowledge about what your particular car requires to keep it both safe and in good condition, which is an ongoing process. While modern vehicles can tolerate biennial/20,000-miles service intervals, classics require far more frequent and detailed maintenance, including regular adjustments and fluid changes. Although special tools for older cars are inexpensive, grease guns for example, some types might require bespoke equipment, such as diagnostic software on newer models. Either procure them, or enquire if they can be borrowed, from clubs, or fellow enthusiasts.

Finally, classic car ownership is an enjoyable long-term hobby. Do not think that a fully-equipped workshop is essential to the experience but consider that treating a classic car like a modern one is unlikely to have a happy ending. As your knowledge builds, the equipment you acquire to maintain and service your car is likely to grow, as will your ultimate enjoyment.


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