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Buying A Classic Or Performance Car

Aug 27, 2008
You've probably been dreaming about it for years. You've probably noticed this model of car when driving your own and pointed it out to your bemused passenger. For a while now it's probably been in the back of your mind on every sunny day. And now for one reason or another you feel close to finally making the decision. You're probably very excited... and maybe a little scared...

What follows is some common advice to help make sure that the love affair you are about to embark on is as pleasurable as possible, and help you avoid some of the disaster stories associated with classic and performance car ownership.

When to buy

Most people agree Autumn or Winter is the wisest time to shop for an classic or performance car. Many people will hold onto their cars during the summer to get the last season of enjoyment out of it before letting go. In addition a lot of would-be owners don't think about their dream until the sun starts to shine again. So at this time of year it is generally a buyer's market, offering the best bargains.

Choosing the right car for you

Before you dive into shopping for your dream car, it's worth stepping back an giving some careful thought to what you want from your car.

Do you want:

- A restoration project? Often people find this approach far more expensive than simply buying a car in good condition to start with. It also can take considerably longer than you expect, but if you are a skilled mechanic with plenty of time on your hands, you just may want to take it on.

- A good runner that you can tinker with in your spare time and gradually improve? Make sure you have a good set of tools and lots of spare time - you may be tinkering more than you anticipated.

- An everday car? There are many classic and performance cars that are suitable for everyday use, but you may want to carefully consider fuel efficiency, safety and all weather use before you commit.

- A Sunday/Summer driver? Reliability and easy upkeep are probably your primary concerns. Plus pose factor of course!

- An investment opportunity? I personally wouldn't bet on it. However a large number of classic and performance cars won't depreciate significantly, so you're still better off.

- A show winner? Glory could be yours! Or not.

You probably have a marque and model in mind, but if not, you can inspire yourself by attending car shows, reading car magazines, or simply surfing the web. Popular cars tend to be a good choice for first-timers, usually they are plentiful and it's easy to find information, parts and help. Coltmans also offers a wealth of information on a wide range of popular classic and performance cars, including high quality buyer's guides - why not choose a few see what takes your fancy.

Where to look

There are many, many places to find a classic car. These include online and physical auction, dealers, classified ads in magazines, owners clubs and of course a plethora of websites. My recommendation: start with Google!

What to look for

Once you've chosen the make and model of your dream car - make sure you do your research. Why not get hold of a Coltmans Buyers Guide, which cover everything potential owners need to know, including: history, model details, specs and stats, detailed buying tips and a price guide.

Obviously a big consideration is price - but working out how much you should pay can be difficult. Publications such as Parker's can provide clear guidelines for modern cars, but for classics you will have to do a little more research. The following make good sources of pricing information :

- Classifieds sections in magazines for typical prices

- Recommended valuations by car owners clubs

- Similar sold items on Ebay

- Search the web!

It's a cliché, but when it comes to buying a classic or performance car you get what you pay for.

Preparing to go and see it

So, you've found something you're interested in. Typically you'll start the process with a phone call and a list of questions. It's important that you get the right information at this stage so you don't waste time and disappoint yourself. You are trying to establish:

- The authenticity of the seller (if a private sale)

How long have you owned the car? Why are you selling? Be suspicious about people selling 'for a friend', or those that want to meet you away from there home or work address.

- The condition of the vehicle

How many owners? Any problems? Any repairs needed?

- The terms of the sale

Roughly how much are you asking for? Don't reveal your budget at this stage.

If it sounds good, ask to arrange a viewing and a test drive. You may want to arrange for a mechanic, vehicle inspector or knowledgeable friend to go with you. If you do plan to bring somebody along, let the seller know now so they are not surprised when you arrive.

Prepare a checklist (available in each Coltmans Buyers Guide) and print it out. Take this with you and keep your maximum budget and must-have requirements clear in your mind.

Viewings and test drives

You'll find yourself looking for the car from up the street. And when you do see it (assuming it's not a wreck) it can be quite an emotional experience. Like Christmas morning as a child. STOP. Calm down. Steel yourself the realisation that you are about to part with cold, hard cash. Remember that this isn't the only one out there, and that its worth getting what you really want.

So introductions are over its time to get on with it. My recommendation would be to focus first on three key things:

1. Condition

2. Condition

3. Condition

Alright I know that's only one. The point is that it can be very easy to forgive lots of fault in a beautiful car. You need to keep your standards realistic relative to your budget, but typically skimping here will end up costing you more in the long run. If you choose a car that is in poor condition, it is likely that it has not be well maintained and may be needing a lot more than just a polish.

Remember however that a regularly used car kept in good condition (including regular servicing) is likely to be a more reliable motor that one that sits motionless for most of the year. Also bear in mind that a classic car could be 30 or more years old, and it highly likely a car of that age will have some faults. Don't let that put you off - with classics it's not about finding a perfect vehicle - it's about deciding what you can live with and what you can't.

Go through your checklist and don't be afraid to ask challenging or basic questions. Try to ask for facts rather than opinions, and don't be rushed or intimidated into hurrying your inspection. Review all documentation in detail, but remember that older classic cars may not have a slightly sketchier history after lots of owners.

A test drive is very, very important, but is also a dangerous time when you can easily fall in love with a car. Often in a private sale, the owner will not let you drive without demonstrating you have adequate insurance. I have bought several cars after being a passenger during a test drive. Just watch the driver carefully for any strange behaviour which might be he is compensating for a poor car. On the drive keep all your senses open to any unusual noises, vibrations or movements and check instrumentation is working properly. Once again don't be afraid to ask about anything that makes you curious. Above all try to imagine if the car was yours - how does it make you feel? Should be pretty damn spectacular....

Closing the deal

Assuming the test drive went well, you may well be ready to make an offer. I don't intend to teach negotiation in this article, but it might help to remember a few basic things:

- There is always room to haggle and it's always worth making a low offer

Remember it is very, very unlikely this car is a one-off - you can find another one somewhere else

- Know your limits. If you spend too much you may not be able to maintain your car

- Above all - use your HEAD - but not too much - buying a beautiful car can be a very special experience.

Taking it home
Just a few things that you should bear in mind.

1. Insurance. Make should you find out what the insurance is likely to be in advance and include it in your budgeting. Then make sure you remember to take it out before you drive home!

2. Storage. Storing a classic car will help preserve its condition and its value. A garage is obviously ideal - don't forget you may be able to rent a garage even if you don't have one on your property. If no garage is available consider an outdoor cover. Make sure it is breathable and waterproof.

3. Be prepared! Classic and performance cars can often be very expensive to maintain. Ensure you have budgeted for this. There is no point owning your dream car if you can't afford to keep it running.

Finally... good luck and enjoy!
About the Author
Gareth Coltman is the CEO and Editor of Coltmans. Coltmans provides buying and ownership advice covering both classic and performance cars, including premium buyers guides. Visit Coltmans.com for advice on buying your classic or performance car.
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