A Guide to Buying an Old Classic

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Classic cars come in all shapes and sizes, the beautiful thing about a classic is the variety – it could be a Ferrari Dino or British Leyland Marina, from something worth less than £500 to tens of millions, we all have our interpretation of what defines a classic.

The one common thread is age. Sure, you can call something a ‘modern classic’ or even a future classic, but for the true enthusiast, there has to be an age to it – something manufactured in 2016 can’t be a classic in the truest sense of the word.

Age brings about problems though – parts wear out, metal starts rusting, engines become unreliable … but knowing about these things beforehand is half the fun of ownership.

Planned Obsolescencesocial magazine-classic cars

When we talk about planned obsolescence, we mean that manufacturers know their product will have a limited shelf-life, that components will start breaking down and sooner or later, we’ll need to think about how we counter these problems – in the manufacturer’s ideal world, you’d go and buy another of their cars, or at the very least, buy parts to fix the car – that was a big part of their revenue strategy.

Of course, there is an argument that says certain cars will be inherently more reliable or last longer – even now, you’ll see classic Range Rovers, older Jaguars and early Aston’s still on the road with only minor running repairs, whereas vehicles like the Austin Metro, Morris Ital or early Fiats will have long faded away without serious attention. 

Choosing the right classic involves a number of factors, but nothing can really outweigh the one simple thing … personal taste. What makes an Austin Metro less of a classic than a Series 1 Land Rover? Theoretically, nothing.

Personal Preference

A quick internet search will throw up hundreds, thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of results for pretty much any car that takes your fancy, of course there are cars that nearly everyone recognises as a classic – ’69 Ford Mustang for example, but then there are those that only a select band of people could love – an Austin Maestro is another perfect example of this. On paper, they’re the same – have an age, a patina, engineering from a bygone era … the difference is that one was unpopular when it was actually made, never mind 30+ years later, and the prices (and spares) will reflect that.

From Rust to Riches

What should you be looking for when buying a classic?

Assumedly, you’ve already done your homework regarding the particular model you’re after, so that should help enormously when it comes to finding the right car, but as with all things old, a lifetime of use (and potential abuse) will have ramifications if you get it wrong.

You should also consider that particular models had their ‘quirks’ – the early ‘70’s Lancia Beta for example would fall into a rusty pile of dust at the merest hint of damp, the Aston Martin Lagonda was a fantastic and futuristic design piece but would eat its electrical system on an almost daily basis … early Rover V8 engines minced their way through oil pumps at an alarming rate … all of these classics had their problems that in today’s world, just wouldn’t be accepted.

Having said all of that, anyone of those three models would be a beautiful edition for any classic collector – just sort the problems before expecting any use.

The Checklist

So what should you be looking for when buying a classic? We obviously can’t get too detailed here, but here’s some points to consider:

  • Think about what it is you want from the vehicle. Daily transport? A show vehicle? Something to spend your evenings and weekends working on? Every aspect of ownership should be considered before making that purchase because it could have an impact on your enjoyment.
  • What is the spares situation like? For some of the more popular classics, pattern parts are available, and in many cases, you’ll find specialist engineering firms remanufacturing parts, but choose something a little more … off the wall, and buying the parts you need will consist of trawling through the internet for hours in the hope of finding even the most simplest of parts.
  • What is your budget? Buying the car (in most cases) is just the beginning – putting it right, keeping it running and roadworthy can soon put a large hole in any finances, even more so if it’s a popular classic – think of an early Mustang, Ferrari or Interceptor – they all command large prices and the parts reflect that.
  • Is there an alternative? If your plan is to make it a real-world useable classic for every day, you may find that specialist companies already manufacture a ‘new’ version of what you want. It’s becoming a popular business but be warned, these cars usually have a pricetag in the hundreds of thousands.

Owning a classic car can be an enjoyable, enlightening and even social experience, but get it wrong, and it could also be something that you (or your bank manager) regrets for a long time to come. Put in the research, don’t buy the first car that comes up (unless it’s an absolute steal) and just as in gambling or trading on the markets, only spend what you can afford to lose.





Giles Kirkland is a car tyres expert at Oponeo and a dedicated automotive writer. He enjoys attending motor shows, car-races (only as an audience member!) as well as reading and writing on everything motorization-related. He is especially interested in renovating vintage cars.

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