PROMOTED: how to buy a classic car

| 9 Oct 2017

Flicking through C&SC each month invariably reveals a huge variety of cars for sale, with ads for everything from a Fiat 500 to a Ferrari 500 Superfast. Of course, if you’re in the market for your next classic you probably already have a fairly good idea of the type of thing that you’d like, but if you’re new to historic vehicles or merely searching for advice, we have compiled a few words of wisdom.

Many pundits today talk about investment potential, but to make the most of ownership we reckon that, above all else, any purchase should be a car that you’d love to drive and cherish – at least for the foreseeable future. Your choice of classic may well be influenced by nostalgia (how many of us hanker after a model that was frustratingly out of reach during our youth?) but whatever the appeal, remember that if you buy the right car you’ll derive far more pleasure from it – and vice versa. It’s all very fine setting your sights on that low-slung Lamborghini, but if you struggle to climb in and out it might not be the one for you. Equally, a pre-war Bentley may look the business, but it’s unlikely to appreciate the London rush hour - and that’s before considering the single-figure fuel consumption…

The answer, of course, is to learn as much as you can about your chosen make or model, and this in itself can be a hugely rewarding experience. Sift through books, dealer ads and classifieds (you’ll find a huge selection in C&SC each month, as well as on our website), scour the web and contact the owners’ club or a marque expert about what to look out for and what to avoid. While you’re asking questions, it’s also worth establishing what the typical running costs might be: perennial favourites such as MGs and Triumphs can be remarkably cheap to own, but more exotic marques such as Aston Martin and Maserati can seem eye-wateringly expensive to the uninitiated.

Whether you’ve set your sights on an Enzo or an E-type, by doing your homework you’ll gather a much clearer idea as to whether you can afford your chosen classic. Signing up for auction house newsletters and scrolling through the lots at recent and forthcoming sales will give you a realistic idea of current values, and remember that C&SC also publishes invaluable auction reports and market information as well as a detailed Buyers’ Guide each month. It’s also worth talking to a specialist such as JBR Capital, which can create a finance package to suit your needs.

Bear in mind that the initial purchase won’t be the only expense: by their very nature, classics tend to be high maintenance. A rough example may be a fraction of the price of a similar car that’s been treated to a nut-and-bolt restoration, but it will invariably need considerable investment to bring it up to similar condition and so may prove costlier in the long run - especially if you’re not a hands-on owner or it’s particularly exotic. By way of an example, rebuilding a typical Ferrari V12 might swallow up 300 hours’ labour, which won’t come cheap - although in our experience the end result will definitely be worth it.

Having established that your dream car is within reach, the next step is actually finding one. The market for ultra-low-mileage classics in exceptional condition is particularly strong at present (a 15,000-mile 1985 BMW M635CSi made a staggering £100,000 at auction in 2017, for example) and that has perhaps led to a greater number of such cars being offered for sale, but whether you favour originality, concours restorations or beautifully patinated old warhorses, don’t rush out and buy the first example you see. Unless you’re after an extremely rare vehicle or a very specific model, we would always recommend viewing several cars before settling on one to buy. Persistence usually pays off and, again, clubs and marque specialists can be very useful in helping you to find vehicles that might not be advertised on the open market.

Regular readers of C&SC will know, of course, that there is a huge auction scene in the classic car world, with hundreds of sales taking place around the globe every year. Vehicles and venues encompass everything from the glitzy multi-million-pound extravaganzas at Pebble Beach, Monaco and Goodwood to unglamourous industrial units, but whether you’re after a Bugatti Type 35 or an Austin-Healey 3000, these can be an excellent hunting ground. The same advice about studying the market applies, and we would add that the most important rule is to set an upper limit that you’re prepared to pay - and then stick to it. If ‘your’ car bids beyond that figure, be prepared to walk away. That said, bargains can be had at auction, especially if the car is offered without reserve, but remember that the vehicles are sold as seen, and that you’ll be expected to pay the full amount (plus commission) before you’re handed the keys – so plan your finances beforehand.

Compared to an auction, private sellers and dealers can sometimes be optimistic with their asking prices, so don’t be afraid to haggle. Bear in mind, however, that although you might end up paying more, you’ll have the opportunity to give the car a more thorough appraisal as well as a test drive, so it might be worth the additional expense. Of course, if you’re not sure of your ability to assess your chosen make and model, we would strongly recommend a professional inspection by a marque specialist. Such a service typically costs a few hundred pounds, but can potentially save thousands.

In fact, although there are pitfalls to acquiring an old car, with care you should be able to avoid them and possibly enjoy a degree of financial reward. According to Paul Michaels, chairman of London-based Hexagon Classics, with some rare exceptions the steep rise in values witnessed during the past decade stabilised last year, but cars such as the Alfa Romeo Spider, the Jaguar E-type V12 roadster, the ’80s Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the Porsche 993 still climbed by an impressive 10-15% in 2016. The Mini Cooper ‘S’, Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona, Porsche 928 S4, Lancia Integrale Evo and BMW E46 M3, meanwhile, have all enjoyed growth of 5-10% this year, so there are still gains to be made. As we said at the beginning, we would never recommend buying an old car purely as an investment, but it need not be a one-way ticket to bankruptcy.

If we’ve piqued your interest in acquiring the classic of your dreams, finance specialist JBR Capital can offer a bespoke package tailored to your requirements. Call one of its experts today on 020 3355 0035 to explore your options, and in the meantime, happy hunting and good luck.