As summer officially commences this week, we send our deepest sympathies to those of you melting in the sweltering heat while sitting in traffic. Though air conditioning can be pleasant, any real auto fan knows that your stuffy sedan will never truly replace the joys of a classic ride.
We spoke with Legendary Motorcar Company (LMC) president and cohost of SPEED’s Dream Car Garage Peter Klutt, whose company actively purchases and refurbishes some of the most iconic classic vehicles ever built, for pro advice on the essential facts everyone should know before attempting to purchase and fix up a classic.
“Number one, I want to make sure that if I’m buying a ’67 435-horse Corvette or a Shelby or a Camaro, a Ferrari or a Gullwing, that the car truly is what the guy says it is.”
- This is more important when purchasing an American car than a European because of the interchangeability of engines and rebodying in classic muscle cars.
- The goal is to know with certainty that what you’re buying is the same as what left the factory.
What to check for before buying:
- Paperwork which lists key details:
- original purchase receipt and factory papers
- ownership record (list of past owners and transactions)
- any past appraisals
- prior body work and original paint sheets
- original window sticks
- “Fingerprints” (Most American classic cars can be matched to records that manufacturers still hold today.)
- cost, variance in color and extent of any paint jobs since the original purchase (A $5000 DIY sand and paint may not have treated rust or body damage that a complete $20-50K strip-down procedure could have caught.)
- significant work (e.g. a car was built with a manual transmission and now has an automatic) which would reduce the value of the vehicle
- complete historic record (An incomplete record could lead to overpaying for a “good find” or lead to more expensive repairs down the road.)
- Engine & Transmission Numbers
- serial numbers on the manufacturer’s papers should match the ones on the car’s engine and transmission (a mechanic can help you locate this)
Quality & Condition
“The more originally correct the car is, the more valuable it is. Then it comes down to the quality of a restoration. A guy can do it as a labor of love and spend thousands of hours doing it. Or he’s paid someone a lot of money, and he’s probably not going to get the money back on it. I’ve seen guys spend $200,000 restoring a car worth $20,000 at most.”
- Question whether it is worth overpaying to restore
- Unless something is for sentimental value (your dad’s car, place you first got laid, etc.) then it is usually not worth restoring yourself unless it’s in perfect condition.
- Evaluate damage
- 90 to 95% of all cracks, bumps and dents will require you to take it in to be replaced or repaired
- Damage almost always throws DIY out of the equation
- Trust your instincts
- A $5,000 Shelby that looks great on the outside but without original documentation could be a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, the saying “It looks too good to be true” does apply to cars, especially to classics without records.
The best piece of buying advice Klutt can offer is, “Buy either the best car available, or the best car you can afford.” Despite your urge to collect that slightly rusted ’69 Camaro just itching to be bought for a couple grand down the street, you should either save up until you can afford something better or borrow and buy a perfectly good refurbished one from a classic dealer for as low as $25,000.
We understand your insatiable demand for getting dirty in the garage, but you could end up buying somebody else’s restoration gone wrong and spending triple or quadruple that price, along with a few years of your life (if you’re lucky). It’s better to wait until you can afford a professionally restored classic without the headache.
If you want some inspiration or to see what’s available, check out www.legendarymotorcar.com or your local auction house.