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How to Buy a Classic

How to Buy a Classic Published: 3rd May 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

How to Buy a Classic
How to Buy a Classic
How to Buy a Classic
How to Buy a Classic
How to Buy a Classic
How to Buy a Classic
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How to get more classic car for your money

Whether it’s your first classic or you fancy a change, there’s no better time to buy. Yes, we know you’ve all heard that old line before but, experts insist, this time it really is true. For the variety of factors – including the dreaded Brexit – the market has been in a state of flux and this has caused values to stagnate or even fall. However, unless you’re an investor rather than a true enthusiast it’s nothing to worry about – indeed, it’s something you can take advantage of. This feature is a fastback guide to getting the best classic for your money with tips from top experts together with a selection of wise buys for 2019.

Is it in the groove when on the move?

  • Is the oil pressure healthy and does the warning light extinguish quickly upon start up and not illuminate at low speeds?
  • On the move, is there a rumbling sound suggesting worn crankshaft and bearings? Lighter tapping in the area of the top end is normally tappets/camshaft wear and timing gear
  • Have a compression test carried out if the vendor is agreeable; that’s a plus point in both favours
  • Certain noises are a characteristic on many classics, especially transmissions. Is the gear change quality okay, do any gears jump out on the over run (i.e. a closed throttle)? If automatic, does it change gear smoothly without jerks or undue delay and is the fluid clean and doesn’t smell sour or burnt?
  • See that the vehicle has an even stance without listing or sagging (usually at the rear) which suggests worn or broken suspension springs. Have new parts been fitted recently?
  • Press down firmly on each corner to check if the body moves up and down; it should be no more than twice. When on a test drive, is the suspension okay with no undue clonks, creaks, crashes and so on?
  • It depends on the vehicle in question, but overall is it responsive, precise without undue slack and no wandering or crabbing?
  • Does the vehicle pull to one side, which can be due to many things from poor steering alignment to a broken or buckled chassis?
  • Brakes must pull up the vehicle squarely and progressively suggesting a well serviced and adjusted set up. Juddering usually points to worn drums or discs but can also be due to a long lay up. If possible, remove the wheels to check visually. The fluid should be clean

Better belt up

When buying a classic car we all take extra care that we are buying a car that is mechanically and bodily sound – or at least it is within our budget and if not in tip top condition, we know these items will need attending to if not immediately at least sometime in the future.

One item often over looked is the Seat Belts says Stuart Quick of Reflex Safety Systems. Pre 1965 cars are unlikely to have any seat belts at all unless the were installed retrospectively however from that date all cars sold in the UK must have seat belts fitted. Now, if any classic car has seat belts fitted, are you sure they are going to save your or a member of your families life in the event of an accident?

After all, they could be 30-40 even 50 years old. offers a full seat belt service from design, manufacture, seat belt refurbishment and fitting. Plus your existing seat belts can be stripped checked over and even remanufactured to original standards if their originality is important to you.

Spot the rot

It has always been said that you can replace the mechanicals but not the body and this advice still holds true to this day

• First find where the rot usually lies. Have a word with an owners’ club or specialist to discover the most prone areas. And check out our comprehensive buying guides (they are on the web, for top expert advice, as well.

• The most important areas relate to the vehicle’s structure such as the chassis, inner panels (wings and sills), box sections, suspension and steering attachment points, floorpans, crossmembers and bulkheads. It’s most likely that past repairs have been carried out.

• Look closely at those recent repairs and be very suspicious of fresh, thick underseal which may be masking bad rot or rotten welding. A crafty tool worth having about you is a small magnet to check for deft filler bodges.

• More cosmetic than serious, but still expensive to rectify, is rot on non structural places such as wings, wheel arches, outer sills, boot, bonnet, doors etc. Filler work is common here which is where that small magnet comes in handy again! Has a recent respray (full or part) been carried out to gloss over any ills?

Deal or no deal

What’s the best way to buy your dream classic?


These sales are still the most popular way to buy classics, although unlike with a modern, it doesn’t mean you necessarily get cheaper prices when compared to a dealer. On the other hand, you (hopefully) will meet the current owner and as a result gain a better history and thus ‘feel’ of the vehicle. Remember our earlier advice; the seller’s demure can indicate whether the vehicle is honest or not. No warranties are given by a private sale and be wary if one is implied; it will be meaningless. Your only legal protection is whether the vehicle was described dishonestly in any advertisements


Classic auctions are becoming increasingly popular with private buyers and you can certainly get a good deal by standing shoulder to shoulder with dealers and outbidding them. You have more consumer protection at an auction than buying privately because the vehicle must be described with accuracy, although no warranty will be given. Bear in mind that, unlike conventional auctions, the vehicles remain static and are not started up or run so you need to have a good grasp of cars, a gut feeling and a lucky streak if you want to come out on top…

The trade

There’s nothing more enticing than going into a showroom and drooling over all those lovelies ready to be driven away. Good dealers, and most are, will have top notch stock or can obtain your dream vehicle if you give them time. Often as not the sold cars will come fully prepped and refurbished with a fresh MoT. On the other hand, not all traders provide written warranties; it is more what’s termed as “Gentlemens’ agreement”. Don’t automatically think that a dealer is any dearer than the other buying avenues either because the classic market can be a surprisingly level playing field!

A good buy or good-bye?

1. Keep your justified excitement and emotions under tight control and treat a classic as you would any used car purchase

2. Gift horses apart, refrain from buying the first one you see – check out a few examples of the car(s) that you are considering to set a benchmark instead

3. Find out the car’s, authenticity, characteristics and foibles first by consulting a specialist or an owners’ club, the latter who are only too glad to help and perhaps check a vehicle over for you

4. A service history on a modern classic is paramount, although it’s a bit much to expect on an old MGB. But if it has one, then so much the better

5. There’s an old adage that says that nice people sell nice cars and it’s one we hold dearly. If the vendor seems combative, too much of an Arthur Daley or bit too wheelerdealer slick, does it start alarm bells? You can usually tell an honest sort of person from the off. By the same token, their place of residence can signify a lot, too. A run down joint can mean tight funds and the car may have been treated in the same vein

6. First impressions count an immense deal. Does it float your boat, tick all the right boxes, give out all the right signals? A gut feeling is always a factor you can rely on. If something doesn’t ring true and there’s doubt in your mind, walk away and start again

7. Always hear the engine start from stone cold (did it start promptly?) so you can hear undue noises which reduce when warmed up. Ensure all the dash warning lights illuminate/extinguish when they should

8. So long as you are insured, have a brisk and lengthy test drive under varying loads and speeds; a quick gallop round the block simply isn’t enough and if you feel the car is too removed from your normal standards to appraise it, have an expert test it as well

9. Little details count a lot. For example, a clean, dry but not tarted up engine bay and interior, a presentable boot and fuel filler flap (an often missed area), all points to considerate ownership as do a nice set of tyres all of the same make…

10. Finally, even if the vehicle of your dreams checks out okay‚ did you actually like it? If you are having second thoughts have a rethink

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