Entering the Classic Car Hobby: 5 Tips for the Beginner
June 12, 2015
A classic car in your driveway is a beautiful sight. It’s almost as beautiful as a classic car on the road. After watching hours of reality garage shows on the Discovery Channel and seeing the veteran gear-heads from your neighborhood rolling down the road in their sweet rides, maybe you’ve decided that it’s your turn. Now you just need to know how not to bite off more than you can chew. Here are a few tips for the inexperienced enthusiast when buying a first classic car:
1. Buy something that runs. It’s very easy to lose interest in a car that you can’t drive no matter how enthusiastic you were when you bought it. Project cars can take months, even years, to complete. With your first classic car, you won’t want to wait to get on the road, even if the car needs some restoring. Avoid cars that are missing major parts unless you already have those parts ready to go. You don’t want to end up wondering what you were thinking buying a car that just sits in your garage, just taking up space.
2. Know your limits. You might think a car that needs “just a little body work” or “a shot of paint” is no big deal, and you probably think you might actually get to it someday. The fact is that there are probably some things that you can’t do yourself, no matter how good you are at searching Google and YouTube for help. The endless removing and replacing of panels can get tiring very quickly if you’re not used to it. Look the car over carefully and be sure that 1) you’ll be able to do the work yourself, or 2) you have the budget to pay someone else to. A lot of repair shops will do a pre-purchase inspection for a nominal fee (often $50-100). If you’re not an expert yourself, we strongly recommend having the car brought to a mechanic to tell you exactly what you’re in for. And if the seller refuses to bring the car in (when you’re willing to pay for the inspection), that’s a major red flag and you should move on to another vehicle.
3. Be sure parts are available. A rare or unusual car can be tempting if it’s offered at a good price, but classic cars can require a lot of maintenance if you don’t want to get stranded on the side of a road somewhere. For your first classic car, we recommend getting something that’s easy to work on and that has parts readily accessible when you need them. Because you will. Cars that share parts across many platforms are a plus. For example, Ford small blocks share a lot of functional parts spanning 40+ years. If you pick up an old Falcon, chances are you’ll be using parts that would also work on a Mustang. (FYI, we think Falcons and Mustangs can be great entry level cars.)
4. Try to avoid aftermarket mods. A classic rookie mistake is to let yourself get distracted by a car that the seller claims has had a couple of grand worth of modifications already done to it. You may not want those particular mods. Also, they could have been installed incorrectly. Whatever the price of mods the seller has done, you could wind up paying even more to correct someone else’s mistakes. Unless the seller is someone you know and trust, it’s often better to stay “all original” with your first step into the classic car hobby.
5. Buy a car you like. Owning a classic car can be a love-hate relationship. There will be times when that’s your little baby sitting on four wheels in the garage. You’ll be so proud to own a classic car, and it will bring a smile to your face when you see it. Then there will be times when you swear the car is some kind of punishment, inflicted on you by the automotive gods. Having a car that you actually like will help you stay focused on finishing whatever restoration the car needs, be it mechanical or aesthetic. You’ll also enjoy the car more when you get to cruise your neighborhood streets.
Think you’re ready to buy a classic car? The car corral at the Pomona Swap Meet & Classic Car Show attracts thousands of classics every show. Come out and take a look for yourself. You can meet tons of other enthusiasts, most willing to offer their own advice and tips to anyone who will listen!