What to look out for when buying your dream classic car

Sweet automotive dreams are made of this: Many car buffs long for the day when they can buy a classic set of four wheels as a status symbol or a hobby. Yet there are plenty of pitfalls along the way. Read on to find out how to tell the difference between a good deal and a dog. The beauty of many a shiny cherished car is often only skin deep.

The key issue for any prospective buyer is: How much do you want to spend? Iconic cars like the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “gullwing” from 1954, a vintage Porsche 911 or a Chevrolet Corvette will be out of reach for most people.
Affordable classics such as a nifty Fiat 124 Spider, which was built from 1976 to 1984, can be bought for around 13,000 euros ($15,500), according to Germany’s GTU testing agency, which carries out regular price checks on classic cars.
For limousine fans, a classic 114/W115 sedan (built from 1967 to 1976) like a 200 D can be had from 10,200 euros, says GTU expert Rolf Pfeiffer.
But it’s not all about the asking price.
Classic cars need to be insured, just like any other road vehicles, and taking care of them is more complicated than looking after a modern car.
Spare parts will also be needed from time to time.
Owners without a garage will probably want to rent a parking lot so that their cherished automotive object is not just parked in the street.
As a rule of thumb, most people who scrimp when buying a classic car end up paying what they have saved in repairs further down the road.
“It’s a good idea to take your time when choosing a model,” says Marcel Muehlich of the ACE car club.
Magazines and Internet articles can help, as can browsing cars on Internet selling platforms.
There are clubs for like-minded enthusiasts of many classic cars, says car expert Frank Reichert, who works for Germany’s ADAC motoring organisation.
There are three ways to acquire a classic — from a dealer, from a private seller or at auction.
A private buy may be cheaper in the short term, but sellers are not obliged to give a guarantee, which means they can deliberately withhold information about the true condition of the car, such as hidden rust or a botched engine rebuild.
There are bargains to be had at auction, although buyers will not usually have the chance to try out a car extensively before committing to buy.
There are also good times and bad times to buy certain models, and clever buyers invest in a counter-cyclical way — which means buying a drophead or an open-top sportster in winter, when many might shiver at the thought.
This advice applies mainly to the cheaper end of the market, since prices for really coveted classics are not subject to seasonal variations.
Using any classic car in winter can be a challenge, since they often lack creature comforts and powerful demisting equipment for steamed-up or frost-covered windscreens.
What’s more, only a few cars built 30 or more years a go have features like servo-assisted steering, halogen lamps and brake boosters.
Older models may not even have seatbelts.
Rust is a perennial problem with older cars since “the principle of monocoque bodywork [without a separate chassis] from the 1950s led to countless body cavities where moisture gets trapped and rust can develop,” Reichert says.
Sealing the hollow spaces using modern chemicals does not always provide a permanent solution.
A test drive is essential, and experts advise a detour to a local workshop or testing station where an expert can give the car a good once-over.
Haggling is a good idea, since most sellers will be willing to come down a little in price in order to secure a sale.
You should also ask if spare parts are included in the purchase price.
And there is one area where you could save money automatically: In a few countries, including Germany, classic cars benefit from lower road taxation and insurance rates. — dpa