Tips For A Beginner To Buying A Classic Car

Taking the plunge and purchasing that classic car you have always dreamt of owning is rather like inviting someone to join your family.

It helps if they are of good character, you like them and enjoy spending time with them.  And if they can earn their keep, so much the better.

They probably won’t, of course. It’s true that some classics have proved to be excellent investments; had you bought an Aston Martin DB5 25 years ago, you’d have seen its value increase almost tenfold.

However, as with property, shares or gold, the best time to buy is when a car is undervalued or price rises may be expected, and that demands both extensive knowledge and foresight.

In any case, buying a classic car for speculative reasons is like buying a beautiful painting and keeping it in a bank vault.  Cars are designed to move, and they deteriorate if they don’t.

Driving a classic – and maintaining it in a fit state to be driven (keeping it in classic car storage, for example) – are the chief pleasures of ownership.

Nevertheless it’s all too easy to be seduced by the prospect of low-cost home maintenance, relatively cheap insurance and zero Vehicle Excise Duty on ‘Historic’ vehicles (those built before 1973 or, from this April, 1974).

So before you take the plunge, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

The most obvious is what sort of car you want, yet more important is what you want to do with it.  Romantic weekends will be few and far between if you buy something scary, uncomfortable or unreliable.

Family excursions are impossible in a sporty two-seater and the pleasures of summer motoring in a convertible are soon forgotten in the 50 colder, wetter weeks of the year.  If you only aspire to occasional drives, you might be better served by classic car hire.

All-year round use is also much harder if the car requires frequent maintenance.  Older cars demand more attention but even a 1960s classic will need servicing every few thousand miles.  If that matches your annual mileage it shouldn’t be too excessive, but bear in mind that a V12 engine will always be more expensive to service than a four-cylinder, and that obtaining essential parts for rare or exotic machines can be costly and time-consuming.

How handy are you with a set of spanners?

If the answer is ‘not at all’, a basic car maintenance course will pay dividends; taking the car to a specialist for an annual service and MOT is one thing (and acceptable); paying someone £30 per hour to adjust the ignition timing every few months is quite another.

Access to a dry, secure and reasonably accessible garage is almost essential, and not merely as a space in which to tinker and to store an accumulation of spare parts; on-street parking is tough on classics and many insurers will expect them to be garaged at night.

If you don’t have domestic facilities, the best option is to use secure car storage, depending on location.  They can offer a purpose built, easily accessible and condensation-free facility; they know just how vital finding the right storage for your classic car is.

Here at Classic Car Storage North East, we offer both short and long-term contracts, and our facility has the added bonus of being monitored by a 24 hour CCTV system.  This provides permanent on-site management and as a family-run business with a huge focus on customer satisfaction, we ensure you can feel 100% confident that our storage facility is the one for you.

Another cost of ownership you simply cannot miss out is car insurance; with an annual mileage limit (say 4,000-6,000 miles) the premium on a popular classic car will typically be a few hundred pounds.

An ‘agreed value’ policy is a good idea, so if the worst happens the payout will reflect the car’s value as a classic, rather than scrap metal; you may obtain a valuation from the appropriate owners’ club, based on a written description and photographs.  When quoted in club classified ads, this can be a useful guide to a car’s condition.

Having satisfied the practical and financial preconditions of ownership, your serious homework begins.  Check the price guides in classic car magazines to see what you might realistically afford.

Read as much as you possibly can about the car you’re interested in, until you understand their strengths and weaknesses; models evolve during their period of manufacture and later versions might be significantly more (or less) desirable than the first.

Originality commands a premium and any alterations should be reversible, but few cars survive for 40-plus years in showroom specification and many will have benefited from well-known modifications to mitigate period flaws or improve reliability.  Most will have been converted to run on unleaded petrol, for example, and some will have been fitted with electronic ignition, although such conveniences are less serviceable than their mechanical predecessors.

As your preferences narrow, join the relevant owners’ club; read the club’s magazine, attend club gatherings and speak to experienced owners.  Being enthusiasts by definition, they are invariably keen to encourage new blood and pass on useful knowledge.

For the same reasons, an owners’ club is usually the best source of cars for sale at realistic prices.  Auctions might be cheaper, dealers more expensive, but in all cases knowledge is power, and everything you have learned will help you assess a car’s desirability.

That said, it can do no harm to be accompanied by a genuinely knowledgeable friend or acquaintance from the club.  Modern used-car inspection services are not helpful where classics are concerned.

A proper test drive is vital; a passenger ride is much less than ideal but without insurance it might be your only option.  Prior research should prepare you to look out for model-specific problems or worrisome noises, and the more cars you examine the more you will be able to distinguish the usual rattles from the sounds of a worn engine or suspension.

Some faults may be remedied relatively easily but significant rust suggests the whole car has been poorly maintained; alarm bells should certainly sound if you find a freshly restored car with shiny exterior paint and moss on the inside of the windows.  Missing trim is another no-no; some items are hard to source even for models otherwise well served by spares suppliers and re-manufacturers.

Whatever you do, take your time and resist the temptation to buy the first car you see.  In the long-nurtured eagerness to obtain a dream machine, this common advice is often ignored.  However, in the world of classic cars you may be certain of two things: you will eventually find a better example, and it will be worth waiting for.

Five great classics you should consider

1.  Ford Anglia

This British car, designed and manufactured by Ford, was in production from 1939 until 1967, before being replaced by the Ford Escort.

Firstly produced not long after Britain declared war on Germany, the Anglia was predominantly black and was aimed at the cheaper end of the car market.

A beautiful piece of British engineering.

2.  Morris Minor

The classic Morris Minor has been described as ‘typically British’ and as a ‘British icon’.  These are fantastic accolades for anything and anyone to be on the receiving end of.

Originally only available as a two-door saloon, the Minor range was subsequently expanded to include a four-door saloon in 1950.  Various other versions were introduced in the following years.

3.  Volkswagen Beetle

This VW – officially called the Volkswagen Type 1, unofficially known as the Volkswagen Bug – was first produced in 1938.

The need for this type of car was actually formulated by none other than Adolf Hitler, who wished for a nice, simple, cheap car to be mass produced for the road network of Germany.

With over 20 million of these manufactured worldwide, the Beetle is the most-manufactured car of a single-design platform.

4.  Ford Mustang

This car was introduced to the public in New York in the April of 1964, and it was the most successful car Ford had produced for many years.

After undergoing a lot of ‘surgery’, the Mustang is now into its fifth generation of design, and it is still seen as the inspiration behind other cars, such as the Toyota Celica and Ford Capri.

5.  Jaguar E-Type

In recent years, this Jaguar has featured in some of the most prestigious car lists imaginable, coming first in both of the following lists – ‘Top Sports Cars of the 1960s’ and ‘100 Most Beautiful Cars’.

Very big accolades to receive!

With a combination of good looks, high performance and competitive pricing, the E-Type really is an icon of 1960s motoring.

Remember, when you decide which car you want to purchase, you need to be sure you have somewhere to store your car.  The best, most appropriate place to do that – if you don’t have your own – would be a specified classic car storage facility.

If you have any questions you would like answering on classic cars or car storage facilities, feel free to contact us and we will endeavour to provide a solution for you.

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