How to Buy a Classic Car

Name another tangible object that you can use every day, provides endless amounts of enjoyment, will take you almost anywhere you want to go and will increase in value as the years go by? Classic cars, of course.

There’s nothing like jumping in an old car and hitting the road. It’s a thrilling experience that just can’t be beat. When you’re driving down the road in an old car, other motorists wave, kids smile and everyone else you encounter during your journey will all have heartwarming tales to tell about their favorite old car, even if it wasn’t the same as yours.

But the best thing about owning an old car is the connection with the machine that you develop when you’re behind the wheel. Unlike new cars with their black plastic interiors and look-alike boring shapes, old cars have distinct characteristics about them that make them so endearing. You feel connected to the road instead of being isolated from it; your arms feel like they’re an extension of the steering; and from the seat of your pants you’ll reveal in their characteristic ride and handling traits. All of which add up to a truly fun experience packed with visceral exhilaration.

Driving along you’ll be dazzled by the bright chrome and colorful metalwork or inviting wood trim of their decorative dashboards, and enjoy looking at the attractive instruments with their unique fonts and matchless shapes. Crank open the little vent window and let some air in, or drop the top for a truly energizing ride. Best of all, old cars are colorful, with interiors and exteriors decked out in some of the brightest and most striking shades ever seen, all of which will have a positive effect on your state of mind. Simply put, old cars will captivate you in a way that no other machine ever can.

To help you take part in the old car experience and assist you in finding the collector car that you always dreamed of owning and driving, the following outline will surely help you get started and put you on the right track. Good luck, and enjoy!

Which cars will increase in value?

The saying goes, if a car was popular when it was new then it will be popular when it’s old. In just about every single case, that is absolutely true. But that saying has absolutely no bearing on a car’s future value. While many experts are able to give a ballpark figure on a variety of cars’ future values, no one can truly predict how high any car’s value may one day reach, but an educated guess can be made. An estimate is based on several key principles, some of which cause certain automobiles to be more desirable and valuable than comparable models.

Those principles are: limited production, fine craftsmanship, exceptional engineering, outstanding design, striking styling, high-performance engines or a competition pedigree. If a car has one or more of these attributes, then more than likely it will be highly regarded by enthusiasts and collectors alike, which means it will become a desirable collectible and its value will continue to increase.

Odd as it may seem, age or rarity has little effect on a car’s worth. There are many mass produced muscle cars from the 1960s and early ‘70s that are worth much more than a 1930’s Full Classic automobile. And there are many mass produced sports cars that are worth more than a V-16 Cadillac or coachbuilt Packard, or a finely crafted Pierce-Arrow or vintage Rolls-Royce. The reason for this is due mainly to the age of the current crop of buyers and collectors that are the majority players in today’s collector car marketplace. Because these enthusiasts came of age from the late 1950s through the early 1970s, they desire to own the cars of their youth. They want the cars that they lusted after when they were young, yet couldn’t afford. But now they have the financial resources to buy them, and that’s what they are doing, hence the values of those cars are climbing due to this increased demand. Nostalgia is a powerful force, and it effects the value of many things, old cars included.

There are many car enthusiasts who will want to relive their youth by owning the same type of car that their parents drove them to school in, regardless what brand or type of car that may be, whether it’s a four-door sedan, nine-passenger station wagon or boxy minivan. And as odd as it may seem, the first wave of minivans will certainly be highly collectible one day for the simple reason that not only were they incredibly popular when they first came on the market, but because they were well trashed by kids and cargo. As a result few if any were preserved or even well taken care of, thus most were sent to the salvage yard at the end of their useful life, making decent original ones quite rare today.

Take for instance the generation that grew up in the 1980s. Soon they will start to collect those cars that were hot when they were in high school, focusing on 1980s cars such as turbocharged Buick GN and GNX models, 1982-’92 Camaros and Firebirds, Formulas and Trans Ams, 5.0 Mustangs, Corvette ZR1s, Mercedes-Benz SL convertibles, Nissan Z cars, and all the once frowned upon front engine Porsche such as the 924, 944 and 928. In fact, this trend has already begun with certain high performance models, such as BMW’s now highly coveted first-generation M3.

This same principle can be applied to all generations, including those who came of age in the 1990s. So that means that they will be collecting Acura, Infiniti and Lexus automobiles, as well as certain Mazdas and Nissans, and even the Subaru SVX and older turbocharged Toyota Supra. Like the cars of old, the rarer the model, and the more horsepower it has along with the most options, will be the one that becomes most valuable.

For inspiration on which cars to buy just take a look back at which models were popular back in the day, and the easiest way to do that is to look through old car magazines. As stated earlier, what was hot when new will be hot again when it’s old, so start searching now. Just make certain that the car you are interested in buying is a rust-free solid example, in original, factory-correct condition and hasn’t been modified or customized. There’s no question that in a few years time, you will be able to sell it for more than you paid for it, just so long as you maintain it properly and keep it original. How much more it will increase in value is anyone’s guess, but in time everything old goes up in value and becomes collectible, even cars built in the 1980s, ’90s and beyond.

What is a Classic Car?

When it comes to collector cars, you have several different types to choose from. When most people talk about old cars, the most common word used is classic, or antique, even though those names may not be correct for that particular car.

There are mainly two types of classic cars: classic cars and Full Classics (that’s classic with a capital C), muscle cars, pony cars, high-performance cars, sports cars, GT cars, brass-era cars, and cars that are simple referred to as special interest automobiles. Here are the differences.

Sports Cars

Years ago the general consensus was that a sports car was a two-seat convertible, mainly of European origin. But times have changed, and with that sports car designs. In the traditional sense, when the term sports car is mentioned, it usually refers to makes such as Alfa Romeo, Austin-Healey, Ferrari, Fiat, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Lotus, Maserati, MG, Porsche, Sunbeam and Triumph. Historically those have been the most popular brands. Other lesser known sports car makes include Abarth, AC, Alpine, Bristol, Daimler, DeTomaso, Doretti, Iso, Jensen, Jensen-Healey, Lancia, Matra, Morgan and TVR, as well as many others. And let’s not forget that both Volvo and Saab built a sports car model, too.

When it comes to American-made sports cars, the most well known model is Chevrolet’s Corvette, although many people wrongly consider Corvettes to be muscle cars, which they are not. However there are other American sports cars, such as the Crosley Hot Shot, Kaiser Darrin, Nash-Healey and, of course, the Dodge Viper and the Ford GT.

The most popular sports car from Japan is Mazda’s Miata, but other manufacturers include Datsun/Nissan, Honda and Toyota, all of whom have built two-seat convertible sports cars, too.

Muscle Cars

The true meaning of the term muscle car, indicates a 1964 to 1974-built intermediate-size American car fitted with the largest and most powerful V-8 engine offered by the company. While several mid-size cars with big V-8s had been built back in the 1950s, with a few dating as far back to the late 1930s, the term didn’t come into vogue until Pontiac introduced the GTO for the 1964 model year.

Those cars considered to be true muscle cars are:
Buick: GS, or Gran Sport
Chevrolet Chevelle SS
Dodge: Charger, Coronet Super Bee, Daytona
Oldsmobile 4-4-2
Plymouth: GTX, Road Runner, Superbird
Pontiac GTO

Pony Cars

Essentially, pony cars are muscle cars but they are not based on the intermediate-size chassis. In fact, all pony cars have unitized bodies with separate sub-frames, usually up front, which the suspension and engine are bolted to. But under the hood they are fitted with the same high-horsepower V-8s found in muscle cars. While muscle cars have roomier rear seats, pony cars are considerably more compact in size, thus legroom in the rear is noticeably less; in the case of AMC‘s AMX, there are no rear seats.

Those cars considered to be pony cars are:
AMC: AMX and Javelin
Chevrolet Camaro
Dodge Challenger
Ford Mustang
Mercury Cougar
Plymouth: Barracuda and ‘Cuda
Pontiac: Firebird, Formula and Trans Am

High Performance Cars

This is a catch-all category for cars with a high power-to-weight ratio. Nearly all models listed are based on the full-size body platform. The most popular full-size performance models are:

AMC: Rambler, Rebel
Buick: Wildcat, Riviera GS
Chevrolet: Impala SS, 409-powered Bel Air and Impala
Chrysler: C-300, 300C, 300D, 300E, 300F, 300G, 300H, 300L
Dodge: D500 and any Max Wedge model
Ford: Fairlane GT, Galaxie 500XL
Hudson: Hornet or Wasp with Twin-H option
Mercury: Marauder, Montego GT, Torino GT, X-100
Plymouth: Fury and models with Max Wedge option
Pontiac: Bonneville, Catalina and Ventura with 421 or 455
Oldsmobile: J2-optioned 88 and 98 models
Studebaker: Avanti R2 supercharged

Then there are the high-performance cars that were built upon a chassis whose wheelbase is smaller than that of the muscle car’s intermediate-size chassis.

AMC: Rambler, Scrambler, Hornet SC390
Buick: 1961-‘63 Skylark with turbo or 215-cu.in. aluminum V-8
Chevrolet: Nova SS, Z16, Chevy II SS, Corvair Monza,
Cosworth Vega, Monza GT
Dodge Dart GT
Ford Falcon Sprint with 289-cu.in. V-8
Mercury Comet with 289-cu.in. V-8
Oldsmobile: 1961-‘63 F-85/Jetfire with turbo or 215-cu.in. aluminum V-8
Pontiac: 1961-‘63 Tempest or Le Mans with turbo or 215-cu.in. aluminum V-8
Studebaker: Lark R2 supercharged

Full Classics

The term Full Classic is a registered trademark of the Classic Car Club of America, which signifies specific cars – mainly built between 1925 and 1948 – that meet the club’s criteria of what constitutes a true Classic automobile. When the word classic is spelled with a capital “C”, that references a Full Classic automobile. When classic is spelled with a lower case “c”, that’s a generic reference to a non-Full Classic, which simply implies any old car that is at least 25 years old.

The major manufacturers are: Alfa-Romeo, Auburn, Bentley, Bugatti, Cadillac, Cord, Delage, Delahaye, Duesenberg, Lincoln, Locomobile, Mercer, Mercedes-Benz, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Rolls-Royce and Voisin. There are many others, including certain Buicks and MG models, so please visit the CCCA club website for more details regarding Full Classic automobiles at: www.ccca.org

Brass Cars

From 1900 to 1915, a large percentage of automobiles were constructed using lots of brass, hence the reference to these cars as being “brass-era” automobiles. This soft metal plating was applied mainly to the radiator shell, headlamps, the metal trim around the instruments, and other trim components.

GT Cars

A European-derived term that describes sporty, high-performance cars that seat four-passengers, thus they are slightly larger in size compared to sports cars. GT cars are usually more expensive, mainly due to their lower production numbers and construction using better quality materials.

Special Interest Automobiles

A catch-all category for cars that don’t fit a specific description. Usually references mass-produced automobiles that have some sort of attribute, such as a big engine, special styling or limited availability, which makes them more desirable as time passes.

Antique or Vintage Cars

There is no specific year or type of car that falls into this category. Back in the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, the term “antique” referred to any car that was built prior to World War II, but that changed as new terms and designations were created to correctly categorize all the different types of old cars now considered collectible.

Today, the word “vintage” is identified with collector-type trucks, motorcycles and old racing cars, but rarely for production-based automobiles. However, in England and other European countries, many old cars are still referred to as vintage.

What and how to inspect before you buy One of the single most important things you must do before you take that big step and buy a collector car is to have it inspected by someone who really knows not only old cars but the particular make and model that you are considering. Through the years there have been many cases involving collector cars that were bought which did not represent the condition that the seller said it was in. Some of the cars had prior accident damage, others were heavily rusted to the point that they were unsafe to drive, and many others didn’t have the type of engine or transmission that they were originally built with. So to avoid getting stuck with a lemon, have your potential purchase inspected closely before you hand over any money.

If you planned to buy a house there’s no question that you would spend $500 to $1,000 having that house inspected to learn of any faults. Discovering problems before you buy allows you to renegotiate the price, or walk away. You should do the same prior to the purchase of any collector car or truck. Hire a licensed appraiser to give the vehicle a thorough inspection. The several hundred-dollar fee you’ll be charged just may be the best money you will ever spend buying a car, especially if it saves you the trouble and expense of buying a dolled-up piece of junk that may be worthless.

If you’re the type of enthusiast who would rather do the pre-purchase inspection yourself there are a few things that you can do to avoid any possibility of buying a lemon.

A few days before you go to look at the car, call the seller and ask him not to start or use the car for at least one full day prior to your arrival. This will allow you to experience firsthand just how well the car starts when it’s cold, thus revealing any carburetor and/or choke troubles. You will also be able to see just how well the transmission shifts when it too isn’t fully warmed up. And don’t forget to check the oil for any noticeable contaminants that have risen to the surface of the pan while the car sat idle overnight.

While the car’s mechanical condition is important, especially if it’s a drive-it-now purchase and not a restoration project, most mechanical issues, aside from a major engine or transmission rebuild, can usually be easily corrected without spending a fortune. It’s the condition of the car’s body that should be your primary concern.
Before you start looking at the body up close, stand back about twenty feet and slowly walk around the car.

You’ll be amazed as to what you’ll see from standing back at a distance. Take note on how reflections appear down the side of the car’s body; if reflections are wavy or distorted, that’s the sign that major bodywork (bad bodywork,  that is) has been performed. Check all the door and panel gaps for uniform spacing, and note how well the doors appear when closed. If they protrude from the bottom, or if they don’t align with the adjoining panels then something’s amiss. Also check to see if the doors sag when opened.

Inspect closely the top of the rear quarter panels. On muscle cars, where reproduction quarter panels are readily available, these panels are many times put on incorrectly. Inexperienced body men will sometimes use rivets to bond the panels on, then cover the rivets with a thick layer of body filler. And, it’s not unheard of to find replacement quarter panels installed on top of the old panels. A quick look from inside the trunk will reveal how the quarter panels were really installed. If this is the case with the car you’re looking to buy either have the seller take off several thousand dollars (because that’s how much it’s going to cost you to redo the installation correctly) or find another car to buy. It’s installations such as these that can render a car almost worthless.

Look closely at the exterior paint finish and inspect it for crazing (small cracks), bubbles or sanding marks, all of which are signs of poor preparation. Look for signs of overspray where the painted surface meets the trim and windshield surround – another telltale sign of sloppy painting and preparation. Most importantly, never, never, never buy a car in the dark or while it’s raining. The lack of light and a coating of water will mask nearly all its flaws and other noticeable problems.

Where to Buy a Collector Car

When you are finally ready to buy that old car or truck you’ve always dreamed of, there are several ways for you to go about finding it. From magazines to the internet, from dealers to car shows, the options are many.

Let’s start with the ultimate source for old cars, Hemmings Motor News. What began in 1954 as a small newsletter has grown into the world’s largest publication devoted to old cars and trucks, plus motor homes and motorcycles, too. Published monthly from a century-old machine shop in Bennington, Vermont, Hemmings Motor News is referred to as “the bible” because its 500-plus pages are filled with cars for sale classified ads, plus new and used parts, and advertising from companies specializing in collector car insurance, transportation, engine building, restoration, tools and supplies, books and literature, and appraisers and brokers, plus the largest listing of car shows and auctions found anywhere. If anyone is involved in the collector-car hobby, they either read or advertise in Hemmings Motor News.

On average, there are probably close to 10,000 collector vehicles listed for sale in Hemmings Motor News every month, some being sold by individuals, others by dealers. For just $6 you can purchase a copy of Hemmings Motor News on select newsstands and bookstores, with the most popular store being Barnes & Noble. Or you can visit their website at www.hemmings.com and order a single copy or a one-year 12-issue subscription for $31.95. And while you’re online, you can browse the thousands of classified ads, too. Without question Hemmings Motor News is the absolute very best place for you to find the old car you’re always wanted, and the parts to restore it and keep it going.

There are other websites devoted to old cars than just Hemmings, so take some time and browse around. Some specialize in high end exotic sports cars while others focus mainly on muscle cars, others British or Italian automobiles. One very popular site for those looking to buy a project is Bring-A-Trailer.com, another is TheOldCarProject.com with hundreds of car-for-sale listings posted by owners and dealers.

On-line auction sites such as eBay are a popular method to buying old cars, but the downside here is that you have to buy the car without inspecting it in person as it’s an auction site. There are several noteworthy measures in place to prevent buyers from being taken, such as a seller’s rating system, but it does happen on occasion, so make sure you know what you are buying before hitting that “buy now” button.

Speaking of auctions, live auctions where you bid in person are another excellent resource to buy old cars, and to sell them, too. There are many auctions held throughout the country, big and small, each catering to a different type of buyer. The big auction companies are Barrett-Jackson, RM Auctions, Gooding & Company, Mecum, Leake, Russo and Steele, Bonhams & Butterfields, Silver Auctions and Worldwide. The most popular smaller auction houses are Auctions America, Mid America, Tom Mack, Vacari, and VanDerBrink. But keep in mind that cars sold at auction are sold as-is without any warranties or guarantees, and all sales are final. Also, there’s a buyer’s premium that has to be paid too, and in some cases it’s as high as 10% of the purchase price. So if you are the successful bidder on a car for $10,000, the total price that you will have to pay will be $11,000; or $10,800 with an 8% buyer’s premium.

Of course the best place to discover when and where these auctions are being held is Hemmings Motor News, with its extensive listings of national and regional auctions, but also each of the auction companies listed above have their own websites that list not only their upcoming auctions but a thorough listing of the vehicles that have been consigned to that particular auction.

For those buyers who prefer the comfort of getting a warranty with the car they buy, consider going to a car dealer that specializes in collector cars. If the dealer doesn’t have the car you want, they may be able to locate for you exactly the car that you are looking for.

Another option is your local newspaper or Pennysaver. Due to the growth of the internet, classified ads in newspapers and magazines are not what they used to be, and almost non-existent in some cases, but it always pays to look because you just never know what you’ll find listed for sale.

Car corrals are excellent hands-on places for you to inspect cars for sale up close, sit inside them, hear their engines run and talk to the owners. Car corrals can be found at most car shows, with the largest being the Hershey Fall Meet that’s put on by the Antique Automobile Club of America every October in Hershey, Pennsylvania. On average there are about 1,500 collector cars and trucks on display for sale in the Hershey car corral. For more information about Hershey, as well as the AACA, visit their website at www.aaca.org.

Other significant car corrals to consider visiting are the Carlisle events held throughout the year in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Autofair, held each spring and fall at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. There are many more worthwhile car corrals throughout the country, such as the Pate Swap Meet outside of Dallas, Texas; one in Moultrie, Georgia; another in Turlock, California; Iola in Wisconsin; Springfield in Ohio; and the Portland Swap Meet in Oregon.

Speaking of clubs, consider joining not only the AACA, which is the world’s largest car club devoted to old cars, but make-specific clubs, too. For instance, if you are seeking to buy an old Pontiac, then join the Pontiac-Oakland Club International, or the International Studebaker Driver’s Club if it’s a Studebaker you want. There are clubs for every single brand and model car ever made, and once you’re a member you will receive their club magazine – or gain access to their members-only website – where you will find numerous listings of cars for sale.

Last but not least, yet perhaps the single most effect way to find the kind car you want is to place a wanted ad.

Again, the best and most effective publication to place such an would be Hemmings Motor News. Because so many car owners are unemployed today or are on a fixed income because they are retired, they can’t afford to place an ad, but will respond to a wanted ad if they have that car that someone else wants. Sometimes it’s more cost effective to spend $25 on a wanted ad, this way you can make your dream car come to you instead of waiting for it to come up for sale and thus having to compete with other buyers to get it. In most cases, with a wanted ad, you will get a better deal because the seller will take comfort in knowing that his beloved old car is going to someone who has the same passion for that car as he does.

American Car Bargains for less than $10,000

Forget all the hype you see on television during the collector-car auctions, you don’t need to spend $100,000 or more to get a worthwhile old car, or even a significant one. You don’t even need to spend $50,000. In fact, for a mere $10,000 – or less – there’s a rather sizeable selection of noteworthy old cars that you will absolutely be proud to own, and that are a whole lot of fun to drive. Although all of these cars were produced from the Sixties through the early Eighties, all will continue to increase in value in the coming years. Some of the more popular models, which should be relatively easy to find and in decent, running shape are:

American Motors
Lots of variety to choose from here, including hardtops, sedans, convertibles and performance models, and all are highly distinctive and a lot rarer when compared to those models from Chrysler, Ford and GM. Gremlins are cute and Pacers are just plain fun to look at and drive. Ramblers are plain and simple yet very affordable but if it’s performance you want then consider a Javelin. You may even be able to find the more desirable and expensive two-seat AMX in need of restoration.

Buick
One of the best styled and most individualistic model lines that GM ever produced was the Riviera. The later boattail models of 1971-’73 are the most affordable, although you can still find earlier 1966-’70 models in need of some restoration. Skylarks, depending on which engine they were equipped with, can be found in this price range, especially the compact 1961-’63 models and V-6-powered 1964 models. Some turbo-charged Regals from the early ’80s are significant models to own as well. And let’s not forget that some Wildcats and LeSabres from the later ’60s-’70s fall into this price range, too.

Cadillac
Coupe de Villes from the late ‘60s through the early ‘80s offer upscale style and quality at reasonable prices, and with a whole lot of power. If it’s the chiseled lines of the Eldorado that you prefer, then consider the early ‘70s models which can be easily found. And the smaller, box-like Seville of the mid-to-late-’70s is quickly becoming much sought after thanks to its compact size and reassuring road manners.

Chevrolet
As expected from Chevrolet there are plenty of models to choose from. First and foremost there’s the Corvair; simple, dependable and stylish, and backed by a cheap and plentiful parts supply. Several different later ‘60s and ‘70s model Bel Airs, Impalas, Biscaynes and Caprices can be bought, as well as certain Corvette models such as the 1975-’77 Stingrays and 1984-’86 fourth-generation Corvette models. And if you search hard enough you may even find an early ’50s model 210 sedan.

Dodge
Polaras and Darts are the affordable models, but because their production spans for some twenty years there are plenty of models to choose from. The 1963-‘66 Darts are quite unique in their styling and can even be found in this price range with V-8 power. For later ’70s cars consider the Magnum GT, but if you’re the handy type you can even find a ‘70s-era Demon, post-1970 Charger or 1973-’74 Challenger for under $10,000. There are also the K-cars of the 1980s, such as the Aries convertibles. They are quite affordable, although not very collectible; buy one for the fun, top-down driving experience that it provides.

Ford
You can still find the ever stylish 1963-’66 Thunderbirds for under $10,000, while the 1967-’69 models, which are fast becoming quite collectible, offer distinctive upscale motoring that is quite different. Some early ‘60s model Falcons fall into this price range too, but if it’s a Mustang you crave perhaps the only models you’ll find are the 1978-’93 Fox-chassis models, which actually are fast becoming highly sought after, too. Early ‘60s Rancheros are resting quietly below the radar while the ‘67 Fairlane GTA hardtop offers great classic value with a powerful punch. If you prefer antique cars, many 1928-‘31 Model A Fords can be bought; they are easy and fun to drive, and almost every part is available brand new.

Lincoln
Continental Mark IIIs of the late ‘60s offer excellent value for the money backed by a truly soft, comfortable ride. The late Mark IV and Vs from the Seventies are great affordable luxury cars to own too, especially if you don’t have a lot of money to spend. And some of the earlier Lincolns, from the late 1940s through to the mid-’50s, especially in four-door sedan form, can still be bought in running condition in this price range.

Oldsmobile
Any 1968-‘72 Cutlass is worth owning and quite collectible, yet still can be found for under $10,000. The large front-wheel drive Toronado makes a great cruiser; although the earlier the model the more desirable and expensive they are. If it’s an older model you prefer, then consider the early-to-mid-’60s Dynamic 88, Delmont and Starfire sedans. Early ‘60s F-85 models powered by the all aluminum 215-cu.in. V-8 will be highly desirable in the not too distant future.

Plymouth
If you can’t afford the ever trendy ‘Cuda, consider instead the full-size Fury; they pack a load of power with plenty of comfort. Some of the early to mid ‘60s Barracudas are still available in this price range, but not for long thanks to an ever growing supply of reproduction parts which will make them viable restoration candidates. Other models to consider are the early ‘60s Valiant, Belvedere, Fury, Savoy and Satellite. But if it’s a Road Runner or GTX you want, the only models for under $10,000 are the 1971-’74 models. Another future collectible Plymouth that is gaining in desirability and value is the Duster, with the most affordable model being the six-cylinder versions, although you may even be able to find one with the 318-cu.in. small-block V-8.

Pontiac
Identical to the ever popular GTO, the Le Mans and Tempest models are excellent alternatives if you’re on a budget. There are tons of new aftermarket parts available for these GM A-body cars, which makes restoring one a breeze. About the only older Firebird/Trans Am models in the under $10,000 category are the 1982-’92 models. But if you prefer full-size cars, then consider any of the Bonneville, Catalina, Grand Prix and Ventura hardtops and sedans that were offered throughout the 1960s and ’70s. All have that distinctive Pontiac styling, plenty of power, stylish dashboards and excellent reliability.

Studebaker
Of all the independent auto manufacturers, Studebakers are not only one of the most distinctive but also one of the most affordable. Due to their large club support, parts supply isn’t an issue as there are many new parts still available for these cars. Perhaps the most affordable, with its individualistic shape, is the 1959-‘61 Lark. Later Larks, with their more modern but plainer styling are even more affordable, and easier to find. Earlier models, like a late 1940s Champion or ’50s-era Starlite coupe can still be found for under $10,000, needing a bit of restoration work, of course.

Was this car repainted?

How can you tell if the car that you want to buy has been repainted and why should you care? Well, original cars are not only more desirable but they are worth more in terms of value, so it’s good to know what to look for when inspecting a so-called original car prior to its purchase.

Before you inspect the car up close, stand back about 20 feet and look carefully down the side of the body. Note how the light falls on the body panels – if the reflections appear crooked and out of line, then more than likely some major bodywork – albeit poorly – had been done. And check if all the color matches; each panel should match the adjoining panel. Also look at the spacing between each tire and its surrounding fenders – both sides of the car must be identical.

Now let’s get up close and personal.

Look closely at the paint. Cars that still wear their original, factory-applied paint will show no irregularities in the surface of the paint. This is because when a mass- produced car body is painted at the factory, it remains untouched; there is no buffing or polishing done to it. But if you can see a pattern of scratches, sanding marks, tiny pin holes or swirl mark present, then that’s a sure sign that that area at the very least had been repainted.
Inspect thoroughly all the trim, such as the door handles and locks, windshield surround, headlamp and taillamp bezels, bodyside moldings and side window trim for overspray. The presence of overspray, which is the result of an area being covered in paint that shouldn’t have been painted, is a clear indication of the body having been repainted. Look under the weatherstripping; if the metal lip that the weatherstripping sits on is a different color, then you know that the car had been repainted. And inspect the door jambs too, especially around the hinges, for any signs of overspray.

When a car body is painted at the factory it is done so prior to the installation of any trim, emblems, moldings or windows, so there should not be any signs of paint on any of these parts. Not even a single spec. Then get on the ground and shine a flashlight onto the underside for overspray there as well; look especially close at the gas tank as its large size usually attracts at least some specks of paint, as well as overspray on the fuel and brake lines. Open the hood and trunk lid too. Inside the engine compartment, where the lip of the fender attaches to the body, the paint there should not only be the same color but have the same intensity and glossiness too. If there‘s a hard edge present, then that’s a tell-tale sign that that area had been covered with tape, which means the outer body panel has been repainted.

But without question the best area to check is the front of the car, especially the valance panel, which is the body panel below the grille. As expected in this area of the body, because it’s so susceptible to being constantly hit with all sorts of road grime, gravel and rocks, there should be literally hundreds of very small scratches and paint chips. If no such blemishes are present, then that’s a clear sign that the body – at least that area of the car – has been refinished.

Now, with that said, just because a car has been repainted doesn’t mean that you should avoid buying it. There are many good reasons why cars are repainted, with the major one being that the owner simply wanted his car to look perfect and new. Some owners like to show their cars in various car shows, concours and club events and maintain a flawless exterior so they can win awards. Other reasons were because the factory-applied paint simply failed.

Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, when auto manufacturers had to meet the ever increasing environmental standards for clean air, paint formulas were constantly changing in order to reduce the release of toxic chemicals into the air during the drying process. As a result of these new formulas, problems arose, with the major one being that on some cars the paint would literally flake off; other problems resulted in the paint quickly fading and looking dull. And it’s for no other reasons that cars from those eras had to be repainted. Sometimes cars get repainted because it’s just a simple matter of aesthetics.

Rust-Free Restoration Projects

Once you decide which make and model car you are going to buy, if a restoration project is what you’re seeking then consider buying a rust-free car from an area of the country where cars are known not to rust, or at least rust badly. When the foundation of your restoration project is a structurally solid car, it will reduce the time for you to complete the project, save a whole lot of money on rust repair and, most importantly, make that car much more authentic and valuable because it retains its original body panels.

If you find a solid rust-free car keep in mind that it doesn’t have to run or even have an engine to be considered a viable restoration candidate. As long as its body is basically free of rust and any rotted or fatigued metal, that’s all that really matters; don’t be alarmed by a sun-baked interior that’s all cracked because all interior soft parts can easily be replaced.

Another significant reason for buying a car with a rust-free body is that it greatly reduces the overall cost of the restoration because you will not have to buy replacement body panels costing several thousand dollars, and you will not have to pay several thousand more dollars to have those panels fitted and welded in place along with other metal work repair most likely needed.

Unlike cars that reside in cold climate areas where it snows and salt is used on the roads to melt that snow, thus causing the underside of cars and their bodies to rust, your best bet is to find a car in a dry climate as the low humidity levels there do not adversely affect a car’s steel metal structure. Those dry areas of the country are mainly throughout the Southwest, inland California and the rest of the West Coast, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma and inland Texas. Even certain areas of Wyoming, Montana and Arkansas are loaded with rust-free cars, including lower British Columbia and Alberta  provinces, too.

If you live on the East Coast and find a rust-free car for sale for a mere $900, but that car just so happens to reside West of the Rockies, in the long run it will be far cheaper for you to have that car shipped across the country than to have rust repair work done to an East Coast car loaded with rust. Keep in mind that average labor costs alone will run anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 (or more depending on the car and how extensive the rust damage is) to have most metal panels replaced, plus the cost to buy all the replacement panels needed. All told, depending on the condition of the body and the amount of work involved, it can easily cost close to $10,000, and sometimes a whole more, to rebuild a car’s body correctly, accurately and professionally. The more complex the body structure, such as that found on Austin-Healey 100 or 3000 models, the greater the expense.

However, if you spent $1,500 to have a car transported across the country and all its body needed was a power wash, some paint stripping and minor metalwork before it’s ready to be primed and painted, the money saved will be significant. More noteworthy will be the fact that the solid-body car from the West will be more original and desirable when its restoration is completed because it will retain the same body panels, various metal components and installation and welding methods that it was originally assembled at the factory with. And that will make it much more authentic.

While most cars that have been sitting outside in the harsh Western sun have cracked dashtops, dried out upholstery and weatherstripping and heavily oxidized paint, none of those issues matter because if you are going to restore the car then those components are going to be replaced or refinished anyway. Another plus that cars from dry climates have is that their fasteners are not rusted in place, or frozen to the point where they have to be torched in order to be removed, which makes taking everything apart easy and a whole lot less time consuming.

High Quality Unrestored Originals

When it comes to original cars versus restored cars, savvy enthusiasts and collectors are all too well aware of the many positive attributes that originality has over restoration, and just how much more authentic unrestored original cars really are. When you think about it, as soon as a car is taken apart, stripped down and restored with all new parts, its entire past is wiped away, never to be brought back again. You simply cannot restore a car’s history, because once it’s gone it’s gone forever.

Like old buildings and houses, boats, planes and trains, old cars are our heritage, and our country’s sole window into our automotive manufacturing history. They are a tangible means for us to look back into the way cars used to be designed, engineered and assembled. Through close scrutiny of their untouched bodies we can discover each era’s exact methods used to build them. We are able to see the proper position of brackets, placement of clamps and cables, the way wood was cut, the stitching of the upholstery, and how its various components were painted and in what colors and level of gloss.

But just what is an original car? Well, it’s just that, original. Everything on the car is just as it was the moment it rolled off the assembly line. Nothing has been replaced, repainted, rebuilt or replated. Nothing.

For a column that I wrote several years ago in Hemmings Classic Car magazine, I stated: “Just because a car has never been restored, yet has been repainted, that doesn’t qualify it as being original. Unrestored, yes, but certainly not original. Simply put, if a car’s seats have been reupholstered, then the car is no longer original. If the engine and surrounding compartment has been repainted and detailed, then the car is no longer original. If the frame and undercarriage have been undercoated, then the car is no longer original. And, most importantly, if a car has been completely repainted, then that car is without question not original.

Notice I said, “has been completely repainted.” A car can still be considered original if it’s had just one door repainted, or perhaps the trunk lid was resprayed or maybe just the lower portion of the quarter panel. If the large majority of the factory-applied paint remains on the car, and that paint is still in good condition without having deteriorated or faded beyond what the color originally was, then that car is looked upon as being a well-preserved original.

“If the exterior paint on an old car or truck is not only still present but in fairly fine condition, it automatically makes those vehicles much more sought-after than similar vehicles that have been repainted; original paint also proves that it has never been in a crash or suffered major body damage. Unfortunately many folks can’t tell if a car has been repainted, leaving them to trust the seller. In fact, in many cases, sellers, including dealers and auction houses themselves, don’t always know if a vehicle has been repainted. But if the paint looks original then sellers will try to sell that vehicle as such, all in the hope of making a higher profit.

This is just another clear cut case of hiring a knowledgeable expert to appraise the car you want to buy to ensure that it’s truly authentic.

How to Evaluate a Car’s Condition

The one thing that every owner of an old car wants to know is how much their car is worth. But truth be told, it’s basically impossible for anyone to provide a honest assessment without thoroughly inspecting the car firsthand.

Ask any appraiser and they will tell you that a thorough, up-close inspection is a must in order to ascertain a car’s true condition. By seeing all the car’s flaws, as well as what’s right and what’s wrong, only then will the appraiser be able to provide an honest value. Looking at photos or taking a description over the phone just doesn’t work.

Car appraisal is not an exact science, and that’s simply because each and every car is completely different. Cars are like humans; no two are exactly alike, each has its own DNA. Sure they may be the same model and color and have the identical interior and engine/transmission combination, but there are so many more important and unique features that set identical looking cars apart from each other, all of which when combined can greatly effect a car’s value.

Apart from an automobile’s visible qualities, such as the year of its production, make and model, as well as which engine and transmission it has and desirable options such as air conditioning, stereo, or all the power assist options, its condition inside and out is what really makes one particular car worth far more – or less – than a similar looking and equipped model.

Cars that have their original, factory-installed body panels and floor and trunk pans are worth considerably more than cars that have had many of their body panels replaced. If those original panels are rusted and damaged, then that will reduce the car’s value. If those rusted metal sections have not been repaired correctly, with the same type of welds that they were originally assembled with, then that too will lower its value. As for reproduction body panels, they come in varying quality, so only use the best, most accurate examples available. But they too must be installed in the exact manner in which the original body panels were installed if the car’s restoration is going to be considered correct.

The quality of the exterior paint is another main issue that greatly affects a car’s worth. Paint that has a deep luster and is ultra smooth without any traces of orange peel adds value to a car’s overall assessment; conversely, thickly applied enamel with noticeable roughness and runs reduces value. New paint that’s been applied to a body with tape-covered trim and has overspray everywhere can’t compare to a car that has had its exterior completely disassembled and stripped down to bare metal prior to refinishing.

The biggest debate going on today regards the use of a clear topcoat. Many serious owners and hardcore collectors feel that a classic car refinished with basecoat/clearcoat is akin to a custom car because manufacturers never top-coated their cars with clear urethane. Unlike a single-stage urethane, clear can make the paint look like thick plastic with very little depth in the final finish if it’s not applied correctly. This is the type of look that purists do not want, thus many feel reduces a car’s value. Yet others like the added protection that the clear topcoat provides. So this argument can go both ways.

On the flip-side, unrestored cars that are still covered in their factory-applied paint, especially if that paint is in very good condition, will be valued at a substantially higher amount than a similar car with perfectly applied new paint due to the rarity of cars with original paint remaining. More collectors and enthusiasts are finally starting to realize just how special original-paint old cars are, and how few have survived, thus they are willing to pay a premium to have one added to their collection.


Is the trim on the car in perfect shape or is it weather-worn?

If the bumpers have been rechromed does the new plating have a perfect reflective finish or does it look like it’s been sprayed on? Quality chrome plating costs money, and stands visually apart from cheap plating, which usually has a semi-dull, almost brushed appearance.

Has the old, cracked weatherstripping been replaced? Is the new carpet a singular molded piece as original or is it the cheaper type of multiple flat pieces sewn together? Is the headliner original or has it too been replaced, and does the replacement headliner feature the correct pattern of perforations? Same goes for the door panels and seat upholstery. Original fabric without small rips adds more value to a car than new reproduction upholstery does, but only if the seat cushions below still hold their shape and there aren’t any stains or noticeable blemishes.

Of course, past accident damage greatly affects car values, too. Original matching-numbers engines, as well as transmissions and even carburetors, add greatly to a car’s worth and appeal, unlike replacement engines which can reduce a car’s value by 20% or more.

These are just some of the main issues that can cause one car to be more valuable than its identical twin. While price guides will get you a ballpark price, for a true assessment of your car’s value it’s best to hire a professional appraiser; not only if you’re interested in selling but also when you’re buying or insuring one.

In the end, the real barometer that will tell you how much your car is worth is what someone else is willing to pay for it.

Why Cars From the 1950s Are so Desirable

More than any other decade of automobile production, the cars that were produced during the 1950s are the most admired by both the general public and serious enthusiasts alike. They attract enormous attention wherever they’re shown, a very positive kind of attention that is always kindhearted and complimentary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Chevrolet or a Ford, Dodge or AMC, Studebaker or Oldsmobile, every make and model has distinctive traits that everyone, old or young, finds attractive in an endearing way.

Colorful objects make people cheerful, which is why the exterior color combinations employed by Detroit back in the 1950s make people gravitate towards these stylish leviathans, regardless if it’s at a posh concours, regional car show or local cruise night. Pink and black, aqua and white, yellow and gray, or two-tone green, the colorful cars from the Fifties are a welcoming mosaic of all that was good with the world back when. The colors were bright, bold and brash, and instilled a confident happiness with their owners that few cars ever did before or since.
Of course their sizeable figures and distinguishing shapes made for the most outrageous designs the world has ever seen regular production automobiles clothed with. From their imposing grilles and monster bumpers to their wraparound windshields and highly defined fender outlines that flow all the way back to those mind-boggling tailfins adorned with multiple taillamps, all these individual design elements combined help form the creation of highly stylized rolling sculpture. Add endless amounts of decorative moldings and trim awash in blinding chrome plating and a more flamboyant automotive style just can’t be matched.

Restoring a car from the Fifties is a fairly straightforward exercise, especially those cars from Ford, General Motors, Lincoln-Mercury and Studebaker with their stout, separate frames.  Even unitized-constructed cars from the Fifties are easier to rebuild than a car produced during the later Sixties, Seventies and beyond because the older metal used to form body panels was far thicker. This makes it more forgiving to weld, shape and perform bodywork on because the panels don’t easily flex like they do with the later, thinner body panels.

Basic design equals basic construction, which equals easy restoration. Built prior to all the governmental regulations which the late-Sixties cars started to become saddled with, cars of the Fifties go together almost as easy as a plastic model car kit. There are no exhaust systems with pre-heat pipes or expensive catalytic converters; there are no emissions controls so don’t expect to deal with any vacuum lines of sort; no engine electronics aside from a basic ignition coil, points and a resistor or two; uncomplicated wiring harnesses that are as basic as wiring a Christmas tree; and trim pieces that are held on with robust metal fasteners, not easy-to-break plastic clips.

The biggest problem when restoring cars from the Fifties is the weight of some of their components, more specifically the front bumper. Weighting in nearly as much as a four-cylinder engine, some bumper assemblies will require two or three people to remove it or reinstall it from the car. You can probably do it solo using a jack or two, but it will be a very cumbersome exercise, one that can hurt you badly if that hefty piece of thick steel whacks you in the head or smashes your hand. Yes, some model Fifties-era bumpers are to be taken seriously.

On a more positive note, working on a Fifties-car interior is an absolute joy. Besides having lots of space to work with and plenty of headroom so you don’t feel claustrophobic, everything is so easy to work on that you don’t need to be an engineer to figure out how things go together, or even come apart. All the parts were engineered in a simple, commonsense manner, and were constructed using substantial materials that usually won’t break if you tug at them too hard. There are no bulky door beams to get in your way of installing the window winding mechanisms and the door locks are easy to repair or replace. The instruments are easy to remove and can actually be taken apart to clean their faces so you won’t need an 84-page manual to show you how to put it all back together.

Suspension and brake systems too are so straightforward that even if you never got past Automotive Shop 101 in high school you can still rebuild everything using the simplest of hand tools. Best of all, practically every single mechanical and electrical part is available new, no matter which make or model car it is.

If you feel that you’ve been priced out of the market for a Fifties car, think again. There are many models still available at reasonable prices, although none will be a desirable convertible. While hardtops are always in demand, if you don’t have much money to spend look to buy a two-door sedan instead, or even one of the impressive station wagons. Four-door models are the cheapest of all, but don’t be so quick to discount them. Aside from having an extra pair of doors, they’re still embellished with that fabulous Fifties flare. The kind of character that only Fifties cars have.

Buy one, restore one, and relive those memorable days when life was simple, and driving was fun and relaxing. It’ll be a pleasurable experience that the whole family will enjoy.

Erroneous Beliefs and Other Misconceptions

If ever there’s an activity or business filled with false information, the collector car hobby is the crowned king. For years certain terms and descriptions have been wrongly used to either sell a car or to make a point of fact that are simply wrong. Like fables, new enthusiasts to the collector car hobby quickly adopt these falsehoods because they just don’t know any better. So let’s set some things straight.

The bigger the engine the greater the demand: Not everyone who owns a performance car wants a big-block V-8 under their hood. Small-block V-8s are lighter, so the car will handle better and steer easier. Sometimes a larger engine can be overstressed, which can make it less durable and overheat quicker. Also keep in mind that in today’s world, an engine that is more fuel efficient is more desirable, especially for those owners who plan to drive their old cars regularly.

Conversely, because most collector cars are rarely driven more than 2,000 miles annually, gas mileage is not an issue. Many car owners prefer the fun and excitement of driving an old with a big horsepower engine, and for them that’s the ideal type of car to buy. It’s a simple matter of buying what you want.

Value wise, the bigger and more powerful the engine the higher that particular car’s value will be. This is mainly so because, in nearly all cases, fewer of those models were originally made. Back when muscle cars were new, the highest horsepower engine option usually cost several hundred dollars extra, which even then was a lot of money to pay, so few buyers opted for those now-coveted engines. Thus it’s a simple case of today’s demand exceeding supply.

Convertibles are worth more: In most cases this may be true, because as the saying goes: “when the top goes down the price goes up.” However, not everyone in the market for a collector car wants a convertible. Many enthusiasts prefer the security and comfort of a fixed roof, be it a hardtop or sedan style. For those who enjoy spirited driving on curvy roads, a fixed-roof car handles far better because its body structure is much stiffer due to the attached roof, thus their chassis don’t flex as much as convertible bodies do. Nonetheless, convertibles are certainly worth more that their hardtop counterparts, and in some cases can be worth 50% or more in value, although the more usual amount is more like a 30-40% premium.

New paint makes a car more saleable: Sometimes cars are painted right before they’re put up for sale for the most obvious reason being that the seller wants to make it more saleable; in many cases this is true. However, some not so trusting sellers have a fresh coat of paint applied in order to hide rust or worse, accident damage. This is why the more knowledgeable buyers tend to be suspicious of car’s with new paint, and will have those cars thoroughly inspected by experts beforehand; some will avoid such deals completely just to be safe. Also be aware of cars that were originally a dark color that have been repainted white, or a similar light color, because the lighter the color the less body repairs or body filler will be noticeable. The darker the exterior color the easier it will be for you to see flaws in the bodywork.

Actually, it’s easier to sell a car that still wears its old original paint, regardless how worn, faded and scratched that paint may be, because buyers will be better able to see just how honest the condition of the car’s body panels really are, and if that body had any prior damage. In many cases, cars with their original paint will command a far higher price because unrestored original cars are fast becoming the most desirable type of collector cars to own.

100% Original – New Paint and Interior: Any major component that has been replaced or refinished renders a car a non-original. The car may be restored or rebuilt to original specifications, but it’s not original. Authentic original cars still wear the same paint the factory applied when it was first built, and upholstery, drivetrain and everything else, too. As soon as a car is repainted, or its interior or engine replaced, it’s no longer original. It may have had an original-type restoration, but it is not original. Like they say, it’s only original once. For a deeper explanation, see the Original Originals chapter.

Mint Condition:
The only man-made object that can be labeled “mint” is an uncirculated coin that has never been touched by human hands. Even cars that had just rolled off the assembly line cannot be considered mint because they had greasy handprints all over them. So don’t be fooled by this overused, mislabeled term.

In general, the term refers to a car that is in perfect condition; not necessarily original condition, but general overall condition. More than what it’s meant to mean, the term “mint condition” is generally used by amateurs new to the hobby who truly don’t know any better. Rarely, if ever, is it a term used by professionals and knowledgeable enthusiasts.

So when you see the term “mint condition” being used in a classified ad, don’t get your hopes up thinking that this may be a perfect car because nine times out of ten it will be anything but perfect.

One Owner:
Whether the seller’s name is on the title or not, if he’s the person selling the car but did not buy the car when it was brand new, then it’s not a one-owner car. Not that this really matters to many buyers, but we need to state the facts as they are. It’s not good to be mislead by a dealer or private seller into thinking otherwise.

However, there are many advantages to buying a one-owner car. In nearly all cases an original owner is a vigilant owner, and the reason he has kept his car for a long period of time is because he has had such a strong appreciation for it. As a result of his devotion to his car, more than likely he took care of that automobile far more attentively than a car that has had numerous owners. And that means that a one-owner car usually will be in better condition, has been maintained properly, and hasn’t been abused or messed with in any negative way.

One-owner cars thus tend to be better preserved and more original than cars that have had multiple owners. This why they are valued higher, thus expect to pay a premium for a one-owner car.

Cars That are Truly 100% Original For unexplained reasons there seems to be some real confusion as to what makes an original car original. Well, according to Webster’s definition of the word, original is: “An authentic work of art, literature, or the like, as distinguished from a copy or reproduction.”

The key word there, of course, is authentic, which in and of itself means, “Having an undisputed origin; genuine.”

Yet the definition of the word genuine sums it up best, “Actually possessing or produced by the alleged or apparent attribute, character, or source; not artificial.”

Now that we have a clear understanding of the meaning of the word original and its associated terminology, let’s apply it to old cars.

First and foremost, an original car is a vehicle that has been kept exactly the way it was when first built by its manufacturer – we’re not comparing its condition, only its state of originality. An original car, regardless of its age, make, model or country of origin, still wears all of the same parts that the factory workers bolted on to it when it rolled along the assembly line during its manufacture. This also implies that it still wears the paint that the factory painters sprayed onto its body; it still wears the upholstery, carpet, headliner and convertible top that the factory upholsterers stitched for it; it still wears its original chrome trim that the platers dipped in the vats of chromium; it still retains all of its original mechanical parts including engine, transmission, differential, suspension, brakes and electrical components. That’s original.

If a car is to be labeled “100% Original” then by all means it should be 100% original, and that includes having the same spare tire that was installed at the factory, the original spark plugs and ignition wires, the original generator or alternator, the original water pump and starter motor, the original wiper blades and wiper arms, and the original exhaust system. All the wearing items that get discarded during routine maintenance should be on the car for it to be legitimately labeled a “100% Original.” About the only components that original fanatics will agree to close their eyes to are wearables such as brake pads and shoes, tires and non-original batteries, because it’s nearly impossible to keep a battery alive for more than 10 years.

If a car has been completely restored to its factory-correct specifications using all of its original parts, then that car is not original. It’s a restored original.

If a car is unrestored apart from only a fresh coat of paint, that car also is not original. It’s a repainted original.

If a car is unrestored, but it’s wearing aftermarket wheels, has glued-on body side moldings and the windows are tinted, then that car obviously is not original either. It’s a modified original.

Point is, as soon as any one part is replaced, repainted or replated, a car’s originality becomes compromised. There are many different levels of originality, but in general, the more changes made to a car the less original it becomes, resulting in a reduction of desirability among collectors and enthusiasts along with lower values.

The Many Advantages of Buying a Rust-Free Car The simple fact is, the less rust a car has the cheaper it will be to restore. But more than reducing overall costs, a car that retains its original body panels is a more honest, authentic car, thus in most cases it will be worth more when it’s restored.

Starting with a vehicle that is structurally solid and in need of minimal rust repair will lessen the time it will take you to finish restoring it compared to restoring a car that needs to have a major portion of its body rebuilt.

Although it can be tempting to buy a rusted-out car because it can be bought for cheap money, you will avoid a lot of future problems and expense by buying a car that’s solid and complete instead. The potential project car doesn’t need to run, nor should it have shiny paint and a good interior, in fact, it doesn’t even need to have an engine or transmission, but what it should have is a solid steel structure inside and out, be void of any frame or body damage and have all its exterior and interior trim in place. Spending extra money up front for a better quality car will greatly reduce the overall cost of the restoration as you won’t have to spend thousands of dollars buying replacement body parts and patch panels, nor will you have to pay a hefty labor charge to have those new panels precisely fitted and welded in place because such metal work is a very time consuming, labor intensive job.

If you live in a region where the roads are salted throughout the winter you should seriously consider buying a project car from a dry area of the country, such as the West, Southwest or the high desert region of the Northwest due to the low humidity levels of those regions. Metal here doesn’t rust to such a severe state of deterioration as it does so quickly in the rest of the country; in some really dry areas the metal doesn’t rust at all.

If you live in upstate New York but that rust-free convertible you found for sale is in New Mexico, it will cost about $1,500 to $2,000 to have that car shipped on an open transporter directly to your front door in only about two to three weeks time. If instead for the same amount of money you purchased a local car that required lots of rust repair, and needed several replacement body panels such as a complete floor pan, inner and outer rocker panels, a trunk floor pan and a pair of quarter panels, all of which will cost between  $2,000 to $4,000 depending on the make and model car, plus another $3,000 to $10,000 to have those panels professionally installed, all too quickly that so-called local bargain will end up costing you approximately $5,000 to $14,000 or more.

More importantly, the rust-free car from the West will be far more original when its restoration is completed because it will retain the very same Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM) body panels. In addition, the welding techniques that it was first assembled at the factory with will render it a far more solid, more accurate and more authentic automobile, which in turn will make it considerably more valuable than a car that had to have reproduction parts installed.

On the flip side, if the rusted car you are seeking to buy locally is fairly rare and chances are slim to none that you will not likely find another one like it for sale in the foreseeable future, then you have no choice but to buy it and repair the rust damage as needed.

Another big advantage to buying a car from the West will be the ease and quickness of which it can be restored. Since little or no rust repair will be needed, in most cases all that will be required is a thorough cleaning prior to refinishing. Instead of having to deal with the laborious chores of cutting out rusted and damaged metal, trimming the new panels to fit, performing hours of check fits for proper alignment, slowing welding the panels in place so they don’t warp, then sealing those seams to replicate the way the factory originally assembled the body structure, all that will be required will be a good steam cleaning of the undercarriage. Once cleaned, the existing finish can then be removed before starting the refinishing process of applying primers, sealers and top coats of the final color.

An added bonus about rust-free Western cars is that all the nuts and bolts that hold everything together usually loosen with relative ease, which is completely opposite of Eastern cars whose fasteners are most always frozen solid due to heavy rusting. For some really particular enthusiasts and collectors, cars that don’t retain their original fasteners are not nearly desirable or valuable as those cars that have had new fasteners installed because the new bolts don’t have the same factory-correct markings on their head. This renders those cars with replacement fasteners considerably less authentic.

But there is a minor downside to Western cars: dry rotted weather-stripping and upholstery and cracked dash tops. If you‘re going for a concours-quality restoration all of these soft parts are going to be replaced anyway, so this really isn’t much of an issue.

So buy the best car you can find that has the least amount of rust, and the money you save restoring it can be put towards buying that other car that you always wanted to own.

 

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