The Guide to Buying A Classic Car

June 14, 2021

Buying your first classic car is exciting! It can also be overwhelming. It’s important to know exactly what you’re buying and if it is valued correctly.

  1. Know the difference between original and restored.
  2. Get as much information about the car as possible.
  3. Buy according to your needs.
  4. Watch out for rust.
  5. Consult with an expert.
  6. The bottom line.

Know The Difference Between Original and Restored

Many classic car listings will say something to the effect of “everything on the car is original”. The key note to make here is whether the car is original looking or actually consisting of the same exact parts it was assembled with at the factory. There is a big difference between looking original and actually being original and many people do not specify this detail simply because they may not know the weight that it carries.

All Original

Also known as “numbers matching” or a “survivor", vehicles that are truly original are extremely rare. When a vehicle is completely original it means that no part has been replaced or restored. The vehicle is assembled exactly as it was when it originally left the showroom. Of course, the condition of the vehicle may not be as pristine as it once was, but as long as the vehicle is still assembled with the same numbers matching components then it would qualify as a truly original classic.


What most sellers mean when they say their classic is original is its actually restored. Looking original and actually being original are two very different things. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a restored classic. In fact, many people prefer it because restored vehicles are often in far better condition compared to their original counterparts. A restored classic looks like it just left the showroom floor, literally. When a vehicle is restored it often has updated components to make it look and run like new such as new paint, a rebuilt engine, newer ignition system, and so on. The price of a restored vehicle varies and depending on the vehicle and how accurate the restoration is, the price can get pretty high. Then again, so can the price of truly original numbers matching vehicle.

Get As Much Information About The Car As Possible

Whether you are purchasing a survivor or a restored classic, it is important to get as much information about the car’s history as possible. This includes where it came from, how many owners it has been through and what work has been done on the vehicle during its lifetime including anything cosmetic as well as mechanical and what shop(s) did the work. That last point is especially true for a classic car that has been restored. If you are thinking about purchasing a freshly restored classic then try to find out from the owner what shop did the restoration and ask if you can see the invoices. The invoices should show exactly what was done to the vehicle and what parts were used. This is useful in two situations. First, if you are able to find out what shop did the restoration then you can do some research to find out if that shop is reputable or not. Unfortunately, there are a lot of shops that do restorations but the quality of the job is not great. So it is important to do the research before making the purchase to avoid overpaying for a car this isn’t really what is being advertised. Second, if you end up purchasing the vehicle, then having the invoices makes it easier in the event that you need to replace a part. Odds are that part is on the invoice for the restoration and you’ll know what you need to buy.

Buy According to Your Needs

Before making your first classic car purchase, it is important to know what you will be using the vehicle for. If you’re looking for a cruiser that you can take out at any time and drive around town in then you may not want a prize-winning show quality vehicle. On the other hand, if you do want a vehicle that you can take to car shows and win then expect to pay on the higher end pf the spectrum for a more newly restored classic. Is it possible to have both? Yes! However, be aware that the nicer the vehicle is, the more expensive it is to repair. A show-winning paint job is more expensive to repair than a chip in an average paint job.

Now, what if you want a classic car with a lot of power? Better known as a muscle car, the most important thing to consider in this scenario is what you will be using the car for. Hot rods are not the car to use for a long drive through the countryside. They run hot and can be a bit temperamental, but muscle cars can still be enjoyed on short drives around town.

Another important point to consider when purchasing a muscle car is who built he engine and who did the rest of the mechanical work. Just like a restoration, you’ll want to do your research on who did the performance work and make sure that it was done correctly before paying a hefty price tag.

Watch Out for Rust

When it comes to classic cars, rust is inevitable. These cars are upwards of 60 years old so it is reasonable to find a couple rust bubbles here and there. The real problem arrises when the rust progresses and holes start to form. Once holes have formed the structural integrity of the affected piece is compromised. The most common areas for rust on a classic is along the rocker panel and the floor pan. Both can be replaced, but the floor pans are particularly expensive to replace so be sure to get underneath the car and check in both of these places for any large areas of rust.

Consult With An Expert

If you have a trusted classic car specialist near you, try reaching out and asking if you can send them the photos of the car and the listing details and have them evaluate the car before you make the purchase. We often do this for our customers because we’ve been in the industry over 30 years and can confidently tell you if you’re getting a good deal or not. We can also tell you what to specifically look for in the vehicle that you are considering.

The Bottom Line

Investing in your first classic car is an exciting thing! Just do your research and be sure that the vehicle you are considering is truly what is being advertised. If you’re ever unsure, you can send us some photos along with the listing details and we’d be happy to help you out!

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