I get asked this a lot... "What's the best way to buy a classic car?". There is a tired old saying, "buy the best car you can", and honestly I think it used to mean, the shiniest, most restored one which for a lot of people is the wrong car. The truth is its not a simple question, its worthy of a book in fact. But it is possible to get to general principles and at least share a broad sense of how to go about it.
Classic cars are taking on a different place in mainstream thinking and media. Jay Leno's Garage, articles almost weekly on $20 Million Ferraris sold at glamorous auctions. In the minds of many people they have become an asset class, along with real estate, fine art, wine and so on. That's not what I am talking about, and certainly not what my customers are about. We are all about an old storied car that we love. So first principle is find something you love and will enjoy. Unlike an oil painting or a mutual fund you use and experience your car.
Find something you can afford. You will feel pressure to stretch your budget, to get more than is comfortable. Don't do that, get something that's not going to worry you financially. All old cars are cool and you can enjoy the journey in a car that costs $3500 maybe even more than one that costs $3,000,000. There is tremendous value and enjoyment in a Plymouth Coupe, and MGB GT, as there is in a Jaguar E-Type. Whatever your budget range stay within it so your car is a source of joy not stress.
Decide the kind of journey you want to go on. Do you want the best possible car, and just focus on caring for it, do you want something you can improve and personalize, or do you want a project that challenges and fulfills in the way only a deep restoration can.
Take your time. Shopping is at least half the fun and the people and places you will meet along the way can be pretty cool. But most important you will learn a lot; what's out there, what you like and don't like. The car above was parked by a winery with a for sale sign on it. It was a great deal!
Be open minded, you might make a discovery you did not count on. Again old cars of all kinds are involving to drive, full of character and charm and they all do time travel. You might set out to buy a Mustang and come home with an old Volvo, you might be a Triumph buyer at the beginning and a Lotus owner at the end. Again, the car above at the winery was bought by a Mopar guy, not by a quirky french car enthusiast.
Resources - Go to car shows, troll Craigs list, visit www.Hemmings.com and so on. But also look at the specialists. Some of my favorites across a range of budgets are..
http://www.classicshowcase.com http://www.leftcoastclassics.com http://euroclassixcars.com www.fantasyjunction.com
So have fun shopping and if you need a car evaluated, let us know.
It's a 1939 SS 100 from the pre-Jaguar era. The name "Jaguar" was given to the car with its introduction in 1936, but the company was not named Jaguar until after WW II, when the initials "SS" were evocative of a lot less savory image than this car. This car came to the shop in its fully restored condition about three years ago. The owner, who lives in San Francisco, uses the car periodically to run a rally here or there and has put about 6500 mi. on it since its restoration. He brings it in for regular maintenance and whenever anything happens that needs repair. One repair that has come up arose from his being forced to hit the brakes suddenly to avoid a collision with a car that came suddenly from a side street. This sudden stop caused his tie rod link to bend severely and I deemed it unsafe for reuse if it was straightened. We made a new tube with appropriate threads in each end, set toe-in and he was back on the road.
There is a type of customer who wants their classic to be as usable as a modern car. They want to cruise on a freeway, stop on a dime and make very few concessions to the cars age. It is entirely possible to do that without too much compromise of a car's character (to be clear there is always compromise when you modify something). This car has been in this family for 25 years, I have put a 5 speed transmission, a triple Webber carbs setup, and much more. The car now produces more usable power, and lopes at freeway speeds effortlessly. It was just in the shop to have aging motor mounts replaced and after untold miles the rear suspension rebuilt.