Many people who have never purchased a vintage car before are now considering getting into the marketplace. The massive media coverage of vehicle auctions has alerted the public to the fact that vintage cars are a realistic investment.
Historically significant cars are always going to be the best investment, provided you buy them at a fair price. Prices can vary from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand based on the original package or options on the car. A 1959 Cadillac ElDorado Convertible may fetch $125,000.00 while a '59 Cadillac Series 62 can be purchased for under $10k.
So you have found a car you think will be a good investment. But how do you make sure you are getting what you pay for? When we do third party appraisals of vehicles there are some very specific things we look at. Here are a few of them listed below. Some of the items may seem like just good common sense, others are things perhaps you haven't thought of.
MOST importantly DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
Before you go into the field to look at a possible buy make sure you have found out what the available options were and have a cheat sheet of option codes, data or cowl tag codes, etc. Also, make sure you have found out where the alternate locations are for the VIN code. Most cars have the VIN code in more than one location, and you will want to check all of the to make sure they match.
Then move onto the engine and components. Refer to your cheat sheet and check the engine codes, transmission codes and rear axel tag or codes. Make sure they are all correct for the vehicle. This might require some crawling around so wear something appropriate. Many components have date codes. This is important as well. Write down everything, both the number and its location on the car. You can then go back to your resources and check the vehicle out further. For instance on a recent Cobra Jet equipped car appraisal we had to verify that all of the date coded components were dated within 6 weeks of each other. This let us know what had and had not been changed or perhaps swapped from another vehicle.
Of course you will want to do a basic mechanical check. Check all fluids for contamiation. Crank the car and let it run for a while to see if anything leaks. If the owner/salesman keeps turning it off, that isn't a good sign.
Now to the body. Look at all the seams where the body panels meet. They should be even. Uneven seems could just be a misaligned panel from age, but they could also be a sign of prior wreck repair. A misaligned panel is a good indication you should look deeper in that area. Check for paint overspray in unseen places like behind fenders, in wheel wells, on the floor pans. This can key you in to less than professional re-paints. Don't forget the magnet test. We like to use the soft magnets you get from the office supply store that are supposed to be attached to business cards. That way you can check for body filler and not harm the paint.
Take lots of photos, make sure you get all the numbers incase you mis-copy something. Digital photos are free and they will make a big difference when you are going over your notes later.
Finally, get all the history you can on the car. Previous owners, their phone numbers or contact info if possible. If someone doesn't want to tell you this (if they know it) then it isn't a good sign.
When you get home, go to the best resource for the type of car you are looking at. If a professional report service such as Marti or PHS is available, then that is ALWAYS a wise investment. A PHS report recently told us that a GTO parts car we had was actually one of only 310 Ram Air 455HO 4 speeds built that year.
The important thing is to know your own limits. If you are making a large purchase, don' t be afraid to spend a few dollars up front to make sure you are getting what you are paying for. Third party appraisal services are often a good investment as long as they are reputable. Let someone who does this every day be your professional assistant in the process. It is better to find out what might not be right before you write the check.