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Cars We Remember: 7 tips for searching and buying your first collector car

Greg Zyla
More Content Now
Mecum Auctions offer collector cars and much more at its auctions, which usually run from two to 10 days and are available to view live on YouTube. You can register to bid by phone or online so you don't have to be there in person. Many of the cars sold are no reserve and never make it to the major televised shows, offering excellent values. Barrett-Jackson is similar.

Q: Greg I really appreciate the work you put into your feature articles as I look forward to them every week in our daily newspaper. I’d like to know your opinions of buying collector cars online, and if you have ever done so. How about some tips for a baby boomer like me looking to buy his first collector car?

Joe from Danville, Pennyslvanvia

A: Joe, thanks for your very kind words. I have purchased two cars online, one a 1959 Edsel and second a 1980 AMC Concord and both turned out to be exactly as advertised.

As for tips on buying a collector car, today there are many unscrupulous sellers in this business because there are so many people that want to get involved in the hobby. And, unlike professionals who have bought and sold collector cars for years, the first time buyers (like you) are open to getting snookered if they don’t know what to look for. So, here’s my advice to help you look for your initial collector car buy.

1: Try and buy the car “in person.” The closer to home you buy your dream car allows the option of checking the vehicle close up and personal. Regardless of where one lives, there are usually many collector cars for sale at your area car shows or from owners that advertise in the newspapers and magazines. So, my first advice is buy a car you can see and drive before laying out your money.

2. What if I don’t know anything about cars?: That’s why this second recommendation is so important. Make sure you take a certified mechanic with you or contact someone in the area of the car you are buying that will go and check everything out. If you buy from another state and can’t make the trip it’s not difficult to pin down an independent mechanic that will gladly look over a car for as little as $100 or so. Check out the pros in the area where the car is, (internet) give them a call, and start that process in motion. It’s a safety step I highly recommend as my Edsel was checked out by a person/friend in South Carolina where it was located, far from my home in Pennsylvania.

3. Buying a car from a magazine ad or eBay Motors: Thousands of cars change hands each year in this manner. Doing so in this manner is where some of the biggest mistakes occur with a first timer. The reason is because in your excitement for buying the collector car you desire, your emotions will start to overrule logic. That car you are buying from pictures may not be what you thought it was when delivered. That’s why I reemphasize recommendation No. 2.

4. Buying a car from Mecum Auctions or Barrett-Jackson: With the Kissimmee, Florida, Mecum Auction going on as I write this column, I highly recommend either of these fine auction houses to handle your transaction and then ship your purchase if you are a phone bidder. And, with many consumers signing up for phone or online bidding, everything is right in front of you and covered live on YouTube as it happens. Most important from what I’ve seen from the Mecum Kissimmee auction from Jan. 2 to 12, were the outstanding buys that sold for sometimes less than a vehicle’s value. The “no reserve” cars and trucks were many, which means they were being sold regardless of bid.

5. Learn about the car you want to buy: If you plan to buy, say, a Chevelle SS, do your homework. Numbers like 138, 325-360-375 and Yenko or Nickey mean something to serious Chevelle buyers. The 138 is a part of the VIN and identifier as a real SS; 325-360-375 were horsepower ratings in 1966 only; while Yenko and Nickey were early COPO builders. If it was a 1967 Dart 440 GTS, the non-factory installed but fully warranted 440-V8 came from Norm Kraus of Grand Spaulding Dodge, a noted early muscle car MOPAR dealer. The more you know, the better.

6. Negotiate or barter: Don’t just go ahead and pay the asking price. Just because a seller is asking $15,000 for a 1969 Javelin SST doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate or barter. Unlike an auction, the seller expects the buyer to negotiate so don’t make the mistake of paying the asking price. Many ads even include the word “asking,” which means there’s wiggle room in there. Barter? Why not. The seller may want your antique Gottlieb or Williams pinball machine.

7. The magnet: A simple 50-cent magnet won’t attach itself to non-metal surfaces, like Bondo filler. However, Bondo is a useful and quick fix for small rust spots on fenders, trunks, hoods and quarter panels. A little Bondo won’t hurt any classic that might need a bit of attention, but beware when the magnet won’t attach to the entire trunk lid! (That happened to me when I went to see what looked like a beautiful ’67 Camaro.)

There you have it Joe. Seven tips to assist in your search for your first collector car. Thanks again for reading my columns and if you buy your dream car, bring it to this year’s Bloomsburg Nationals right around the corner from Danville. Stop over to my booth and say hello as, God willing, I’ll be there Aug. 7 and Aug. 8.

Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and Gannett Co. Inc. Contact him at greg@gregzyla.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.