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Courting The Right Vehicle For Your Next Project

Courting the Right Vehicle for Your Next Project

By: Ken Strong

As any car enthusiast knows, classics can provide enjoyment in many different ways. Some owners like to drive the car the way it is and get enjoyment from the nostalgia of its originality. They even find the imperfections endearing. Some glean enjoyment from working on their car. It won’t be uncommon to find this owner’s car in a never-ending state of repair.

Then there are the owners who like to engage in complete restorations or custom builds. In this group there are 2 categories: The Drivers and the Show-ers. Some restore to drive and enjoy their cars on the open road. Others follow an obsession to polish every nut and bolt until the car meets or exceeds its condition on the day it rolled off the assembly line. These cars will rarely get driven, but will be enjoyed visually, like a work of art.

My point in highlighting these different types of classic owners is to encourage you to DEFINE THE PURPOSE of your classic from the very beginning. Will it be a daily driver, weekend cruiser, fun restoration project, a serious custom job, or a concourse restoration that will compete for “Best of Show” at many events throughout the year?

Failure to define your purpose will lead to frustration down the road if you try to make your car into something it is not. Pick a goal and stick with it, and realize that changing your mind about the direction you will take could end up being very costly in terms of money effort and tears.

The Pursuit

Now that you’ve defined what you want to accomplish, it’s time to choose a vehicle.

Just like marriage, the first step in any good love affair with a classic car starts with the pursuit. I remember as a kid that my dad was always on the lookout for his next classic car. I am now much the same way.

Over the years we have had several classics (mostly Fords). I was not much of a ladies man growing up, but I found an outlet for my romantic passion with cars. I courted and “married” more classics than Liz Taylor had husbands (true story!).

My favorite Saturday morning ritual with my Dad usually consisted of cracking open the local classifieds and circling every car that was of interest. We would then call the owners and try to arrange an inspection. If we ever got to drive the car, it was an added bonus. The special cars that particularly enamored us would sometimes even come home with us (for the right price).

While this was a fun activity, my dad and I did get burned a few times because we hadn’t quite learned the importance of the following proverb: “During courtship: keep your eyes wide open, but after marriage keep them half-shut”

The lesson here is that you should never buy a car just because it is the model you have always wanted, or because it just looks “cool”. Take the time before you buy to do your homework:

  • Look at the body in different types of light. Take note of any “undisclosed” problems lying under the surface.
  • Check for rust in inconspicuous places (like the floor boards and trunk) that may not be visible on first inspection.
  • Look for signs of shoddy workmanship from previous repairs or restorations (overspray, bondo rust patches, bailing wire / duct tape, etc…)
  • Drive it (if at all possible) and take note of any mechanical issues that may require attention
  • Don’t be afraid to have it inspected by a mechanic if you are unsure about what to look for.
  • Look for missing pieces (trim, door panels, etc…) any parts that need to be replaced is money that will add up.
  • Be wary of the seller who says: “It’s all there” when “there” is in boxes and on shelves. You can still buy the car that is in pieces, but take the time to look through the boxes to determine just what is there, and price your offer accordingly.

Do your homework to be sure you know what you are getting in to. However, once you are sure it is love (and not lust), you should accept the car for what it is, and go to work. Just like a successful marriage, your car will require a lot of love, patience and understanding.

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