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How to Buy It

Speed demon: How to buy a classic car

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Alexy Van Kimmenade was just 12 years old when he went to an auction in Cornwall in the south west of England, expecting to buy a lawn mower to cut the grass at his family’s estate.

Instead he fell in love with a red 1972 Triumph Spitfire 1300 he spotted on the block.  

Van Kimmenade begged his mother for a five-year advance on his pocket money to cover the £980 ($1,615) price tag; she gave in. The son of a “petrol head” who first got behind the wheel at the age of eight when someone let him drive across a field, Van Kimmenade had to wait four years to legally drive the car.

“My perfect day is a Sunday putting the roof down, hitting the road and going for a nice long drive,” Van Kimmenade said. “I don’t care about the badge on the front of the car. I like the way the leather smells and how the car handles. With a classic, you are part of the car.”

Indeed, cruising around town in an antique convertible with the wind blowing through your hair affords pseudo-celebrity status — and much more. Memberships of vintage car clubs that include access to cigar lounges and weekend sailing trips are just a few of those perks.

If you’ve always dreamed of owning your own vintage auto, or even a few, you’ve got plenty of options for getting your own piece of automotive history.  

How much it costs

In the world of classic automobiles, a variety of factors contribute to value, including condition, provenance and rarity.

Cars that qualify in all of the above fetch record-breaking prices. Last year, a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4s NART Spider sold in California for $27.5m, the most ever paid for a Ferrari at auction. It was one of only ten of the race cars built and appeared in the movie The Thomas Crown Affair.

Car-lover's dream

A 1987 Morgan Plus Four at Rock, Cornwall is part of Alexy Van Kimmenade's collection. (Alexy Van Kimmenade)

Despite price hikes, finding a reasonable deal has become increasingly easy for novice collectors for all sorts of types of cars. Right now, MGB Roadsters, Morris Minor Travellers and American Muscle cars retail for below £10,000 ($16,481), said Van Kemmenade who now owns a classic vehicle brokerage company, Bespoke Traders, in England.

Following trends is important because it could mean snapping up a future classic that might become a golden investment down the road. Fifteen years ago, vintage Japanese vehicles like the Datsun 240Z sold for just £2,000 ($3,296), now it’s difficult to find a good one for under £20,000 ($32,962) because they are increasingly difficult to find in good condition. Some of the best information about buying and selling trends can be found at www.motortrend.com.

These days, Mark Boldry, manager of the Classic Car Clinic in Queensland, Australia, said you’ll find Austin Metros for around £600 ($989), but he anticipates this price tag will rise since interest in the cars has begin to spike.

Keep in mind, too, that your dream car may have been previously owned by Elvis, but it will require regular maintenance, maybe even complete restoration, and meticulous storage grounds — think ventilated plastic bubble or climate-controlled garage.

Where to shop

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, then you must decide where to buy.

Many newbies turn to eBay Motors to help them research not only a potential purchase but also inform themselves about some of the idiosyncrasies of different models and compare market values.

Don’t lock yourself to one site though; check prices across several classifieds like www.hemmings.com, www.autoscout.com and www.autotempest.com. Doing so will prepare you for bargaining or competing on the auction floor if you don’t buy online.

If you decide to buy privately, make sure to thoroughly investigate the car’s history by reviewing the documents that should accompany the car, which Van Kimmenade said can be more important than the seller’s history. If the documentation is unavailable, Van Kimmenade said you may have to trace it back to previous owners.

If you don’t feel comfortable navigating the private market, the auction scene might offer you more security. Peter Haynes, communications manager for RM Auctions, believes auctions are the most transparent way of buying a car. Most auction houses want to protect their reputation, so they do their research and provide maintenance and other records, as well as condition reports.

“When they put the car’s description in the catalogue, for example, they will be sure the information is correct, or else they will get in trouble for misrepresentation, so there’s a lot of checking,” Haynes said.

Some of the most reputable houses include the American Barrett-Jackson based in Scottsdale, Arizona and Gooding & Company based in Santa Monica, California in the US, as well as the international RM Auctions in Europe and the US. Each hosts a schedule of auctions, some held around the globe in high-class facilities overlooking the sea.

Car shows worldwide are good places to strike up conversation with seasoned collectors and sneak a peek under the bonnet of hundreds of models. Many events culminate in an auction day, should you spot something you like.

The fine print of ownership

During inspection, be on alert for mechanical issues. Rust is any collector’s worst nightmare. If a car has had a major collision, it is likely to have issues later if it was not repaired correctly.

In Australia, Boldry said to watch out for “bush engineering” where mechanics swap in replacement parts from foreign vehicles that might not fit your car appropriately.

You may want to considering hiring a classic car inspector who charges around $400AUD ($362) to examine the car’s mechanical condition (including the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension and steering) and the body work. Classic cars should be serviced every six months or 500 miles, Boldry said.

Not many banks will offer loans for classic cars. Many collectors turn to a home equity loan or special institutions that offer long-term loans for classic autos. Insurance for classics is usually 30% cheaper than everyday car insurance because classics are typically driven less.

Boldry recommends keeping your pride and joy out of the sun and away from vermin in a well-ventilated area. Some owners purchase Carcoon: an inflatable bubble that circulates air. Prices start at £305.36 ($503.26).

Car culture club

Club Sportiva's Silicon Valley location holds car events--and poker--for members. (Club Sportiva)

How to share it

There are a wide variety of ways to get the experience of car ownership before you buy. While many companies like the international Classic Car Hire will gladly rent you a Jaguar E-type at 395 euros ($545) a day, joining a club provides more consistent benefits.

For a one-time £500 ($824) joining fee, the Classic Car Club branch in London  offers membership packages for between £2,500 ($4,159) and £5,000 ($8,318), which gets you 15 to 40 days driving anything from an Aston Martin to a Fiat 500 with no mileage restrictions.

With four locations around California, Club Sportiva, offers members a variety of sharing options in addition to rentals and tours for primarily exotic and some classic cars. One option allows a member to select a dollar amount they’d like to invest in a new car, the club purchases it and the investor receives a 6.25% return and complimentary driving days and miles. The club also absorbs liability, maintenance and storage costs.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have, if you buy something a little bit old or a little bit eccentric and you have that passion, that’s what matters,” Van Kimmenade said.

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