Buying a classic car is a major purchase that you will enjoy for yours to come, so it requires considerable planning.  When planning to buy a classic car, you need to do considerable planning and be prepared to take you’re your time.  First and foremost, do not be hasty and jump into a purchase.  Plan and do your homework.  Wait until you locate the right car for your needs.  Trust me that it will be there in time. 

To help with your planning and condition assessment needs, we created “SPINDY’S C.L.A.S.S.I.C.  C.A.R. MODEL”. This will help you with the car buying process.   Below we have listed the key factors you need to consider when planning to purchase a classic car

As you go through our model, we will share key questions you should ask yourself, key considerations, and some of our own experiences in classic car buying. 

Develop a plan (C.L.A.S.S.I.C.):

1)Calculate your Budget
2)List the Vehicle(s) and model(s) you are considering
3)Assess the Purpose of the vehicle and value
4)Select the Type of vehicle you want
5)Search for your potential vehicle
6)Inspect your potential vehicle
7)Close the deal

Determine the vehicle condition (C.A.R.):

A)Checklist:  Assessment of condition using our checklist
B)Analyze Drivability:  Test drive the vehicle and assess the vehicle’s drivability
C)Rust :  How and where to look for Rust

The following will provide you more detail around each of the above steps.



Plan and determine your budget by considering the following questions:

Will you be paying cash?
Do you plan to finance?
How much of a down payment do you have if financing?
Have you been or can you get pre-approved?

If you are like us and the average person, you will probably have a limited budget.  We keep hoping those winning lotto numbers will come up so our buying power is unlimited, but no luck yet.  There are many institutions that specialize in classic car loans, so it is important to investigate and find the best rate possible.  However, we do not recommend financing a classic car.  This is a luxury item and the motto we follow is “if we cannot afford to pay cash for it, we can’t afford it”. 


List out your vehicle(s) of interest and consider the following questions:

What options do I want on the vehicle?
Do I want a coupe or a convertible?
Big block or small block?

Now that you have determined your budget, it is time to select the vehicle make, model and option you are looking for.  If you are like us, you may have an extensive list of classics cars you would like to purchase – what we call our “wish list”.  Having such a list allows us to look at various models that fit within our current budget and does not limit our search to just one particular model.  You may want to create your own “wish list” for this purchase and your future collection.  We are always moving cars in and out of our personal inventory and like to own several.  Some folks may just want that one particular car to relive their childhood. 

Once you have determined what vehicle it is that you are looking for, you now need to decide what options you want on the vehicle.  Make a list and note what options you just can’t live without and which ones are “nice-to-haves”.  For example, my wife can’t drive one unless it has power steering and power brakes, so those options are required.  My requirement is a manual transmission (which my wife can't drive), so we have both.  Keep in mind too that many of the options increase the value of the vehicle, so the cost will be higher.  A 1969 Chevy Camaro big block with a 4 speed will be much more expensive that a 1969 Chevy Camaro small block automatic.

If you are not sure what kind of vehicle or options you want, go to local car shows and cruise-ins and study the cars.  See what strikes you.  Lots of car clubs go to these shows.  Talk with the club members and even consider joining a club.  Car guys always enjoy talking cars and are always willing to give a “newbe” information and will always have good tips to help you.


Assess the purpose of the vehicle you want to purpose and consider the following questions:

Is the vehicle for fun or investment?
Do you plan to use the car for show?
Will the car be a driver?
Do you have a place to store and protect your car?

People buy classic vehicles for a variety of reasons.  I know people who have bought low mileage trailer queens and have never driven them.  Many of these types of cars are normally for the higher end car shows (if they are even shown) and for investment.  Most people we know buy something they want to appreciate and drive while also watching the value go up.  The cars we buy we drive, but limit the mileage to about 500 miles or less annually and may do a show or two a year.  That allows us to drive them for short cruises when we want to while keeping the mileage low and keeping the value stable and in many cases, watch the value increase significantly.  This is just what we do and you will certainly find the right use for yours. 

Point is you need to know how you plan to use the vehicle and what options you want from the previous section.  Having this information and knowing your budget will help you assess value.  You can purchase a N.A.D.A. Guide or use their online website for free which is what we do.  You need to determine the book value of the make and model you are considering.  There will be a price range form a “project car” to a “show car”.  The numbers you get from the guide will aid you in your search.

Now look at auction sites (ebay, Barrett-Jackson, Mecum) just to find out what the market is really bringing on these cars.  Yes, you will see a range in prices, but this will give you a good indication of what the current market is bringing on these cars.  Classic vehicles are like Alaskan King Crab – it’s market price driven and it is always changing. 

The most important point to bring away here is to do the research and determine what the current market selling price is of the vehicle you are interested in.  This will help you when it is time to search for the car and that final negotiation to close the deal.

Remember:  Asking price and selling price are different.  Just because someone is asking a certain price for a vehicle does not mean similar cars are selling at that price.  Another key factor is storage.  Make sure you have considered how you will store and keep the vehicle, especially if you decide to restore one yourself.


Determine the type of vehicle you want by considering the following questions:

Are you looking for a restored car?
If restored, do you want a frame-on, frame-off or rotisserie restoration?
Do you want a project car?
What is your mechanical aptitude if considering a project car?
Are parts available for the model I am considering?

Now that you have assessed the vehicle’s value and purpose, this will help you determine what type of car fits in with your budget.  This might be a low-end and older frame-on restoration which will be less costly than a completely new frame-off restoration.   This section actually ties in with the section above and can be done concurrently.

Maybe you are mechanically inclined and you want a project car.  If that is the case, you can get a great deal on a classic.  If you do, just consider your mechanical aptitude.  Can you work on engines and transmissions?  Do you know how to do rust repair and body work?  If you know engines but not body work, then you would want to search for a car with a solid body and minor to no rust.  That will limit the work that has to be done.  If you have to have a shop do it, the hourly labor rates will add up quickly.  If you have no mechanical abilities, then you probably want to look for a car that is restored.

Also consider parts.  If you are planning to do it yourself, how readily available are parts for the model you are considering?   Some vehicles you will find plenty of retailers that sell reproduction parts for popular models.  You can even find original parts for many models if you want to restore using all original parts.  Again, a lot depends on the vehicle.  Most have aftermarket parts available where others it may be very hard to find parts. 

In summary, it may be difficult to determine how much you will have to put into a car.  All the people we know that have done a restoration themselves have told us to determine the budget and once you have it, multiply it by three.  That is reality.  For many that do this, it is the fun of the labor and turning a project into a fresh, showroom quality car.  We prefer to buy a classic vehicle that has been fully restored because of limited time and changing aroundour classic inventory.


Plan how you will to locate your vehicle by considering the following questions:

Do I plan to limit my search locally or plan to go nationally?
Do I want to buy from a private party, broker, dealer or auction house?

As you conduct your search, you have a realm of possibilities.  If you want to look locally in your own backyard so you can inspect the vehicle in person, that’s perfectly fine.  Just be patient as your search market will be very limited and it may take time.  Keep an eye on your local classified ads and go to some local car shows on the weekend.  Many of the shows and cruise-ins have people looking to sell.  For instance, if you are looking for a vintage Mustang, I know the Mustang club has a couple of “Mustang only” shows in our area.  Same for other models depending on where you live.

If you are willing to look nationally which many do including us, look at the classified as well as the online sites.  For example, ebay, Craigslist, Hemmings, Auto Trader and various forums are all valuable sites to help you locate a classic vehicle nationally. also list’s out all classifieds and is another good site.  Bottom line is that there is an unlimited number of on-line specialty sites where people advertise their vehicles for sale.  When looking for a car nationally, remember to consider transportation costs.  Check with local shipping companies to get estimates of how much it will cost to ship a car from the sellers location to yours.

When you find a vehicle, call the owner and make initial contact.  Prepare a question sheet as a guide before you call.  It is always good to have a list of questions to go through.  We have encountered all kinds of sellers, but mostly good folks.  When making a call on a vehicle, you can judge a lot by how an owner communicates with you.  Are they open, personable, and willing to share information?  . . . or are they giving short answers and seem to be closed off?  With the latter, we normally scratch their vehicle off our list immediately.  When it is difficult to get detailed answers about the vehicle, that is usually a warning sign.

Just plan to be patient and although it may be hard to do, don’t give into temptation.  Stick to your budget and the vehicle you want.  You’ve done your homework and you know what the current market is bringing on the vehicle you are interested in, so don’t overpay.   I have seen a lot of vehicle listed at high book and higher than what a similar car is selling for and the owner won’t budge on price.  That is fine, just pass on the deal and keep their number.  Chances are if they are still have the vehicle for sale a month or two later, they are more willing to negotiate.  It took us two years to find the "right" 1970 Chevelle SS we wanted that met with our requirements, and that was searching nationally.  Sure there were others available before the one we purchased, but we bought within our budget and did not give in to temptation.  We ended up with a correctly coded and documented car.

Important Note: 
There are many scams on-line and most of the scammers are out of the country.  If you see that 1967 Corvette Big Block for $6,700, rest assured it is a scam.  Use common sense and say to yourself “if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is”.  These scammers usually communicate through email only and will ask for personal information.  They never provide a phone number or if they do, it is not a valid number.  Just use your smarts and common sense.  NEVER provide your personal information.


Plan to have the vehicle inspected and ask yourself the following questions:

Can I inspect the vehicle myself?
Do I have a mechanic that can inspect the vehicle?
Have I identified an inspection company that can do an inspection for me?

At this point of the process, you have gone through all of the previous steps and found the vehicle you are interested in.  You have yet to negotiate a price, but you know the vehicle is within your budget.  Now it is time to inspect the vehicle.  Never, and we mean NEVER, purchase a vehicle without inspecting it first or having it inspected by a professional inspection company.  You never buy a vehicle completely unseen. 

We had a buddy who bought a 1950’s Belaire on ebay for $6,000.  It was purchased site unseen going by the owners word and there were many conversations with the owner before sending payment.  Once the vehicle arrived from the transport company, it was nothing like described and the pictures were not representative of the vehicle.  Upon contact to the seller, he simply said “you bought and paid for it, so it’s your problem” and hung up on him.  Luckily he was able to find an immediate buyer and sold it for $3,000 by describing it properly, but it was an expensive lesson.

If you are able to inspect the vehicle yourself, that is always best.  Depending on your knowledge, it is always good to have a reliable resource with you to go through it and inspect it like a mechanic.  If the car is out of state, consider the distance and if you are willing to travel to inspect it.  Doing so takes a lot of your time and expenses for travel.  We recommend using an inspection company that specializes in automotive inspections and assessments.  There are many of them out there that have people in all the major cities, so search on-line for a couple and look at their sites.  Determine what the cost is for the inspection, what type of report and photos will be provided, and do they perform a value assessment of the vehicle. 

This should go without saying, but if the current owner is not willing to allow you or a third party to inspect the vehicle, walk away.  For most owners that have no problems with inspections, make sure to cover all your questions with them over the phone first.  It will be important to have those answers to see how they measure up to the inspection.  That will tell you if the seller was honest and if everything matches their description of the vehicle, you can be rest assured that they are being up front and honest with you.  Most are, but you need to protect yourself and not become a victim of the few bad apples that are out there. 

We normally try to inspect our potential vehicles in person, but there are times we have hired inspection companies to inspect for us.  It is well worth the $300-$500 investment of an inspection than to get a $30,000 lemon.  We have experienced the best and the worst of vehicle inspections.  We purchased a Hurst Olds out of Pittsburg and used an inspection company.  The car was better than described and if we decided to pass on it, the inspector was interested in it.  We had an inspection company perform an inspection in a Camaro for us in Florida.  The Camaro was not at all represented correctly and that inspection led to a police investigation by the Florida State Highway Patrol that broke up a stolen automobile ring.  We were very pleased with the inspection companies thoroughness on this one and their keen eye knowing something fishy was going on. 

Point to be taken from this is this and we can’t say it enough:  NEVER purchase a car unseen and that has not been inspected.  Perform the due diligence to inspect the vehicle or have it inspected.  Do your research if using an inspection company.  Find the one that works for you and always check their record using the Better Business Bureau.  We always do.

Important Note:
Unless you are specialized, we recommend you have a mechanic or inspection company do the inspection.  They can normally determine if the vehicle has been in an accident, has had rust repair, whether the engine is original to the car or a replacement block among other things.  They can normally check to determine if the vehicle has been reported stolen.  Unless you have the ability to perform these checks, hire a third party inspection company.  They can save you a costly mistake.


It is time to close the deal, but only after you have determined the vehicle condition using our C.A.R. model or similar version of our model.   Once you have done so, consider the following questions:

Am I prepared to make an offer?
If so, have I determined my top dollar price for the vehicle?
Have I determined my offer price?

At this point you are ready to negotiate the deal.  You know what you want, you know the market and book value, and you have the inspection report and possibly an appraised value of the vehicle you are considering.  To arrive at this point, it is important to follow all steps noted above and do not skip any.  If the car has been sold by the time you are ready to make an offer, then is was not meant to be and we are a firm believer that all things happen for a reason and always work out for the best.

If you are prepared to make an offer on the vehicle, determine what price you want to go in with.  Do not go in with your top dollar, determine a fair market price that is within your budget, that is below the top dollar price you are willing to pay, and is a reasonable starting price to offer.   Make sure too that it is an offer you feel comfortable with.  You need to have negotiating room to work with the seller as it is likely they may counter your offer unless they state they say the price is firm.  Be prepared to counter multiple times.  Within minutes, you will hopefully be able to negotiate a price that both you and the seller are comfortable with. 

Note key things that need to be addressed and factor that into your offer.  For example, if the car is in dire need of new tires, that is a safety issue and you will need to purchase tires unless the seller is willing to do that for you.  Consider such items when you formulate your offer and point these items out to the seller when you present the offer.

This is why your offer price should be less than the top dollar you are willing to pay is which is less than or equal to your total budget (Offer Price < Your Top Dollar Price </= Your Budget).  Beware of going in with a lowball offer.  Many people present lowball offers and if ridiculous, you risk turning off the seller and they could cease negotiations.  That is why it is critical for your offer to be reasonable and something you are comfortable with.

My best advice here is relationship building.  From the moment we make initial contact with a seller, we start building a relationship with them.  During the course of the sale, we typically have several conversations and/or interactions with the seller.  Building a relationship and finding other things in common with the seller (depending on your conversations) can be very helpful when and if you get to the point of making an offer.   In Fact, we are still in contact with many sellers and purchasers of vehicles from years ago because we built a relationship with them.  We continued to keep in touch even after the sale.

Important Notes:
In the end, if you can’t agree on a price, remember that the vehicle is a luxury item.  You don’t have to have it and at any point during this process, be prepared to walk away if you are uncomfortable.   If the owner will not share service records or restoration receipts, that is a warning sign and you need to walk away at that point and should not even get to the negotiation process.

If you purchase a vehicle out of state, be prepared to drive the car back or to have a transport company pick it up and deliver it to you.  Factor transportation costs as part of your budget and make sure these costs combined with the price of the vehicle do not exceed your budget.  Search on-line for transport companies and check prices.  The cost will be more for an enclosed transport versus an open transport.  There are also individuals that do transport that may be less expensive.

You should also investigate insurance costs.  Classic Car insurance has mileage and year limitations, but the annual cost is very reasonable.
Make sure the car has a clear title and always be sure to get a signed Bill of Sale from the seller with the VIN number that shows it was sold to you.

USING THE C.A.R. MODEL TO ASSESS VEHICLE CONDITION:  ==> Click here to access the Checklist

This needs to be done during the C.L.A.S.S.I.C. Planning process and will be critical for negotiating the deal when and if you make it to that point.  These checklists will cover a multitude of detailed items that we did not cover in the planning process. 

NOTE:  You can also leverage these checklists when using "SPINDY’S F.O.R.S.A.L.E. MODEL" when selling a Classic Car.

Use section 1 of our checklist to thoroughly go through the functions of the vehicle.  This checklist will help guide you through the inspection process when you inspect yourself. 

Use section 2 of our checklist to test drive and perform a road test of the vehicle.   This portion of the checklist is designed to help you assess performance of the vehicle as well drivability.

Using section 3 of our checklist, go through the typical rust areas of a vehicle.  This portion of the checklist is a visual that shows you the typical areas for rust and shows you how to check for rust.

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