Classic cars. One man’s idea of perfection is another man’s nightmare. At Great Escape we often get asked about what are the best classic cars to buy. The answer is different for everyone, but there are some useful tips that will help stop you being one of those people who buys in haste and repents at leisure. Which is very, very easy to do with classic cars. If you’re one of the many people dabbling in classic car buying for the first time who’s not too bothered what you buy as long as it’s old and classic, here is a list of things to consider.
1. Choose your style
Whether you want a coupe, convertible, saloon or estate will depend on what interests you and how you plan to use it. Family cars like Morris Minors and Ford Cortinas are great for weekend trips – but will your kids want to come? A convertible is perfect for sunny weather but will you tire of never being able to put the roof down in an English summer? Classic cars are as much about the head as the heart – what may seem perfect at first glance may not be ideal in practice.
2. Shortlist cars & get to know them
Make a list of the cars that interest you and research them. Go to owners’ club meetings, join the forums. Find out what it is actually like to live with the cars. For instance, Triumph Stags are great cars and very popular but they have an odd driving position (for some) and the roof operation is not simple. Can you live with that? Of course you can hire many of the most popular classic cars from companies like Great Escape. This is not just a plug but genuinely sensible advice – a day or weekend in a classic car will quickly tell you if you can live with it. And most hirers will also provide helpful advice.
3. Consider how you will use the car
What do you want the car for? Sunday scenic drives or trans-continental touring? Some cars are brilliant over short distances, others excel over the long distance. This is the case for example with Austin Healeys and Mercedes SLs. The Austin is cramped, heavy to drive and bumpy – good fun for the day, less so fot a long trip. Conversely the SL reveals its strengths more slowly – it is relaxed and serene and ideally suited for long distances.
4. Be practical
Lamborghinis and Ferraris are wonderful cars. For people with deep pockets and patience. When you choose a car check the cost and availability of parts and ease of maintenance. There is a reason why MGBs are so popular and the same reason why Jensen-Healeys are less so. The Healey may be arguably the better car but it is more complicated, more expensive as a result to repair and parts availability is much less, well, available. Popular cars like MGs, Jaguars, Morris and Triumphs are very well served with quality parts. Other makes are more variable. This often overlooked fact can be the difference between loving and loathing your classic – your Triumph may break down just as much as your Healey but when it does you can fix it easily and quickly. You may end up compromising on the car you really want to buy one you can actually live with.
5. Know how to fix it or know someone who does
If you’re not handy with a set of spanners you need someone who is. Before you buy a classic find one or two local garages that you can trust to work on it. Forums and owners’ clubs can help here. It is critical to find a garage that is honest and knowledgeable – otherwise you’ll pay twice to repair someone’s bodged repair. I know from bitter experience how hard it is to find a decent garage, even when using so-called specialists. Most garages are happy to take your money – less willing to tell you they’re not sure how to fix the problem.
6. Know what you’re looking at
If you’ve researched your shortlist you’ll have a good idea of what to look for when checking cars for sale. Very few cars for sale are as good as the vendor says they are or thinks they are. The capacity for bodging in the classic car world is almost limitless. If you don’t know cars take someone who does. They will spot rot, paint problems, welding issues, mechanical bodges and so on. Do not be put off by this – everything can be repaired provided the purchase price is right. For example, few classic cars are free of filler – don’t expect otherwise but pay accordingly for what you see. Do not rely on a full MOT as proof of a car’s quality – check the advisories and, if possible, speak to the garage who did the MOT. The test gives plenty of room for discretion and a pass in one garage may not be a pass elsewhere. Before you arrange to see any car ask the seller a set of clear questions by phone or email that will help you decide if it’s the one for you.
7. Check the history
If you know what typically goes wrong with the car you want check the history to see if it has been addressed. For example, nobody buys a MGF that hasn’t had the head gasket sorted or a Triumph Stag that hasn’t had an engine rebuild or head gasket upgrade. If possible talk to previous owners. Talk to the garage that did the work. Ask the current owner direct questions – why are they selling? Does the answer sound valid?
8. What condition car do you want?
Be clear when you start looking what you can afford and what condition of car you want. If you want concours, expect to pay for it. If you want a useable classic be realistic about what it will cost. Often people make the mistake of expecting a concours car for average money – it will never happen. Be fair on the seller and yourself – sellers aren’t stupid, they usually price to sell.
9. Don’t be romanced by low mileage
A minuscule mileage is the Holy Grail for many. This is a red herring. While it is nice to own a low mileage car it means nothing and should not command a premium. Buy a car purely on condition. A low mileage car may have sat around for ages in a garage which is bad news for components and electrics. A well used or, more importantly, regularly used car will have received more regular maintenance and probably more replacement parts. Any reliability problems on a well used car will already have been sorted – provided there is a thick history file to demonstrate this. When we buy cars for the Great Escape fleet we look for regular use. But even then we find it takes a year to make a car reliable because of the demands we put on them and the standards we set ourselves.
10. Enjoy it
Researching the right car and finding it is part of the fun. Don’t shortcut the process by heading out and looking at cars. Take time to learn about the car you want. It will be more fun and save you time and money.
11. Buy it
If you have always wanted a classic car, get on and buy it. Too many buyers seem to get stuck at the research stage. Whatever you’ve heard, a well-bought classic car is more fun than anything it costs to keep it going, which with care should be not a lot. Even if you rarely use it the days when you do will be amongst the most memorable.
To ‘try before you buy’ call Great Escape on 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. We have a fleet of 60 classics cars for hire.