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Should I buy a classic car?

The question is simple; should you buy a classic car, or not? But the answer (unsurprisingly) is far more complex. What constitutes a classic car? What will you be using it for? What’s your budget? Why are you considering one? Will this be your sole means of transport?

For some people a classic car makes huge sense – while for others it would be nothing but a liability. Here’s how to work out whether buying a classic is likely to lead to tears of joy or tears of despair…

What is a classic car?

The parameters have shifted massively over the last few years, with some cars considered classics before they’ve barely gone out of production. Obvious candidates include the Mazda MX-5, Honda S2000, Porsche Boxster and a whole raft of other sportscars with enthusiastic owners’ clubs.

With a superb 1990s MX-5 or early Boxster, Audi TT or S2000 available for less money than a mint 1960s MGB, it’s no wonder interesting newer cars have such a following. They’re arguably more usable, more comfortable and better equipped – and generally safer too. To some they don’t have as much charisma, but if you want to enjoy the thrill of the open road they tick most (or even all) of the key boxes.

Turn up at a classic car show in something interesting made within the last 20 years and you’ll probably fit in fine. But for guaranteed acceptance within the classic car fraternity, you need to buy something built at least 40 years ago, with lots of chrome and the strength of a shopping trolley. Only you can work out whether something so old would fit into your life, but whether it’s your sole transport or just a weekend toy will probably be the deciding factor.

Why should I buy a classic car?

For most owners, a classic car isn’t merely transport; it’s about being different. That classic  might be something modern but unusual, or something much older so it’s automatically a rare sight. The social side is also a major draw; if you want to find new friends, joining a big owners’ club that’s very active can be just the ticket. There are hundreds of owners’ clubs in the UK, whatever your budget or taste in cars.

The financial aspect can be compelling too. Purchase prices of ordinary classics can be spectacularly low, while maintenance costs can often be slashed through the ready availability of cheap parts which are easy to fit on a DIY basis. Throw in cheap insurance plus free road tax for cars built before 1 January 1975 and the fiscal arguments are even more enticing.

So why wouldn’t I want a classic car?

The term ‘classic’ can really be swapped for ‘interesting’ in this context. Your classic will probably be interesting for one of two reasons; it’s either genuinely old or compromised in terms of practicality (such as being a two-seater convertible) – or maybe both. Either way, if you rack up lots of motorway miles and this is your only car, you might find its relative lack of usability pretty draining.

Also, all those savings made when buying, insuring and taxing your car may be swallowed up by the likely extra fuel and maintenance costs. Take on a 1960s saloon for year-round use and the rubbish heater, poor ventilation and punishing maintenance schedules might soon take their toll on your sanity, while the fuel costs might give your wallet a hernia. That’s why for most people, a classic car sits alongside something that can be used every day.

If you buy a classic built before the mid-1990s (or thereabouts), its rustproofing will probably be hopeless. As a result, if you don’t have a garage and you aim to buy something old, you’ll need to keep on top of any corrosion, because once rust takes a hold it can soon turn a good car into a basket case.

How do I buy a classic car?

The first thing to do is work out what sort of classic car you might want to buy (coupe, convertible, saloon, hatchback) and maybe the era that appeals the most. Most 1980s cars are getting rare now and if they’re desirable they’re generally getting valuable too. Anything older tends to need garaging if it’s not to rust away, which is why 1990s cars are perhaps the ones to home in on.

You can buy something like a Fiat Coupe, Mercedes SLK or Rover 800 coupe for surprisingly little, while if your pockets are deeper you could seek out a nice Bentley Turbo R, Lancia Integrale or TVR Griffith. Buy well, look after it and you’ll see it increase in value – which isn’t something you can say for that brand new motor purchased on a PCP.

However, if you’ve got the garage space and you’re thinking of buying a toy for occasional use, the world is your oyster. You’ve got your pick of eras (including pre-war), bodystyles and marques, so it’s a question of working out what best fits your circumstances and preferences.

Once you’ve put together a shortlist of models that might do the trick, get stuck into some online owners’ forums, join the relevant owners’ club and see what running costs are likely to be by looking at the maintenance requirements and getting an insurance quote or three. Then start looking at some examples of the models on your shortlist to get a feel for what makes a good one.

The best classic cars tend to change hands within the relevant owners’ club which is why membership is key. If you can buy privately you can usually save plenty compared with going to a dealer – more than enough to cover the cost of any likely repairs if you do your homework.

Also take a look through the online classifieds, such as and Before buying make sure that you know what you’re letting yourself in for; quiz owners, look for online buying guides (there are lots at then apply all of the rules that you’d stick to if you were buying a regular second-hand car (. Then once you’ve found the right car, get out there and have the time of your life.

Richard Dredge

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February 2016