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How to buy a cracking classic

How to buy a cracking classic Published: 11th Feb 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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If you always wanted a classic but didn’t know how best to go about it then all you need is here!

Age concern

How old do you want your classic to be? For younger fans an MGB is something that belongs in the London-Brighton run! There’s no doubt that there’s gaining interest in modern classics from the 90s and New Millennium as they offer new car performance, safety and conveniences. Other bonuses include better build and rust proofing meaning if you buy a good one you may never need to restore. Classics from the 60s and 70s feel like from another world but boast genuine style and character making them the most popular picks. Post war and 50’s cars many would now regard as vintage and – with certain exceptions – the older the vehicle the harder it is to keep on the road. Don’t buy any classic without an inkling of what they are like to drive.

Spot the rot – it’s bound to be there…

It has always been said that you can replace the mechcanicals 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, http:// 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 on anything over 20 years old.
  • 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 and so on. Filler work is commonly found here which is where that small magnet comes in extremely handy. Has a recent respray (full or part) been carried out for no other reason than to gloss over any ills?

Where to find that dream buy

Private sales

This type of sale is still the most popular way to buy classics, although unlike with a modern, it doesn’t mean you necessarily enjoy 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. 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; as it will be meaningless. Your only legal protection is if the vehicle was advertised dishonestly.


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 as well because the vehicle must be described with accuracy, although no warranty will be given. Bear in mind that at classic auctions, the vehicles will remain static and are not started up or run so you need to have a good grasp of cars, a gut feeling and, to be perfectly honest, a lucky streak…

The trade

There’s nothing more enticing than walking into a showroom and drooling over all those lovelies ready to be driven away. Good dealers, and most are, will have the best stock or can obtain your dream car if you give them time. Often as not the cars will come prepped and with a fresh MoT. On the other hand, not all traders provide official written warranties, especially on older classics where it is more of a “Gentlemens’ agreement”. Don’t automatically think that a dealer is any dearer than other buying avenues.

Picking a project?

Buying a project classic can be a risky business; it depends whether you look upon a glass as being half empty or half full. On the one hand, the vehicle, which will invariably be a non runner, is an unknown quantity and down to you to complete it. But on the other you can bag a bargain. You need to have your wits when buying a total basket case and weigh up all the pros and cons. As for a budget, you can expect to well exceed it so don’t pay over the odds for what is a box of bits. The real bargains are part projects where the owner has embarked upon a restoration with all the best intentions, but for a variety of reasons has lost interest. Usually, a fair bit of work and money has already been lavished on the vehicle and these projects are sold at a loss. It’s vital that any project comes with its V5 as re-registering the vehicle may result in a ‘Q’ registration.

Avoiding a worrying nervous breakdown

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. 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 have a well charged mobile phone although most classic motor insurance policies include breakdown cover. Older vehicles also require different lubricants, compared to moderns; set aside some space and budget for engine and transmission oils, for top-up purposes.

Driving standards

If you are a new driver or are familiar with only modern motors, considering some kind of advanced tuition is very wise. While piloting a golden oldie isn’t different, the rawer driving experience will make you much more appreciative of speed and might prompt you to drive more selfprotectively, considerately and cautiously, exercising much better observation and greater anticipation. You will also feel more sensitivity to road conditions, plus more judicious and mechanically-sympathetic use of the controls – but that’s a good thing whatever car you drive! A no-pressure assessment of your driving, by one of the numerous established road safety organisations, including RoSPA and the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists), or an owners club could be beneficial for both novices and the more experienced motorist alike.

After care shouldn’t be an afterthought

While modern vehicles can tolerate long service intervals, classics require far more frequent and detailed maintenance, including regular adjustments and fluid changes. Every classic will require a degree of attention and even maintaining it in good condition is not easy, because older cars will deteriorate faster than their newer counterparts, particularly if left outdoors, unused. 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 chrome works demand habitual regular waxing, to retain their sparkle and ward off tarnishing.

Undertaking major repairs at the side of the road tends to be neither practical, nor safe these days. DIY repairs will save bundles of cash but workshop supplies must be looked upon as an investment (see separate feature in this issue-ed). Cheap tools tend to be a false economy and can make a task even harder to complete and in some cases can be unsafe to use. 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. 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 safely.

Now that dream classic car is yours, what else should you do?

Consider how well an older car fits into your everyday life. If any alterations are required, plan carefully to avoid 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 quite rightly a vital retro-fit. If you have a young family, remember children aged under three cannot travel in a car legally without belts. 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. Everybody loves classic cars including lowlife so fit some sort of anti-theft deterrent as soon as possible .

Our ten top tips

1. Keep your excitement and emotions under control and treat it as you would any used car purchase

2. Don’t buy the first one you see – check out a few examples of the car(s) that you are considering to set a benchmark

3. Find out the car’s authenticity, characteristics and foibles first by consulting a specialist or an owners’ club

4. A service history on a modern classic is paramount, and highly useful on an older car, too

5. There’s an old adage that says that nice people sell nice cars and it’s something you should remember

6. First impressions count. Does it float your boat, tick all the right boxes, give out all the right signals?

7. Always hear the engine start from stone cold so you can hear undue noises which usually reduce when warmed up

8. Have an engine compression test carried out if the vendor is agreeable; that’s a plus point on the cars and seller’s integrity

9. So long as you are properly insured, have a brisk and lengthy test drive under varying loads and speeds

10. Finally, even if the classic is the one you’ve yearned for checks out okay‚ did you actually like it? This is most important…


Classic Motoring

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