Don't expect "great deals" on classic cars

Martin Wimbley of Odin, Illinois stands with his

Martin Wimbley of Odin, Illinois stands with his 1971 Chrysler Hemi Cuda Convertible. (Credit: Chrysler Group LLC)

Travel deals

This weeks topic is the “great deal.” People call me all the time to ask me how they can get a great deal on a classic car. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that the answer is…you can’t. The best that you can hope for is to get a good deal on a great car. But I’ve also been doing this long enough to know that if I tell them that, they won’t believe me. So I find myself having to steer them through a conversation in which they come to this conclusion on their own.

Here’s a typical conversation:

Me: What do you like?

Them: I like 1963 Split Window Corvettes, and I’d like to get a great deal on one.

Me: But don’t you have a wife, two young kids and a dog that you spend weekends at the beach with? How are you going to fit them into the Corvette?

Them: I hadn’t thought about that.

Me: So if I could get you a 63 Split Window Vette at a great price, would it really be a deal if you stared at it in your garage every weekend?

Them: I guess not.

Me: How about a 1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible? You could fit the whole family in it with room for a few friends, and you could start tanning before you even get to the beach.

Them: But I don’t like those cars. They look like an “old man” car.

Me: So if I could get you a 61 Lincoln convertible at a great price, would it really be a deal if you didn’t like the way it looked and you didn’t enjoy driving it?

Them: I guess not.

Me: OK. What about a 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda? It’s sporty like the Corvette, and it can carry your whole family like the Lincoln.

Them: But that car would cost over $100,000. I’d have to sell my house.

Me: So even if I could get you a great price, it wouldn’t be a deal if you can’t afford it?

Them: I guess not.

Me: So what would I have to do to find you a car that would be a great deal?

Them: I guess you would have to find me something that I like, that I can use, and that I can afford. In other words, a great car at a fair price.

Me: Exactly.

If your love of the hobby comes from restoring cars with your own two hands, a great car could be almost anything that you would enjoy restoring.

Some people enjoy restoring cars and then selling them, hoping to make a few bucks. So a great car might be a restoration project that someone else sank a lot of money into, and then abandoned.

Still others don’t want to do any work. They simply enjoy driving the car, selling it, and going on to the next car. For them, a great car might be one that can be purchased at an attractive price, ensuring that they won’t lose money when it comes time to sell.

Then there are those who simply don’t care about the money, and to whom a great car is the car that they want at that moment…at any price. Most hobbyists do not fall into that category. But it’s fun to watch those who do, go to battle at a major auction when the car that is in their crosshairs finally goes on the block.

I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t like junk no matter how cheap it is. I also don’t see the point in paying more than fair market value for a car just because I want it. I enjoy a bit of “the chase,” and I pride myself on being able to see through the dirt. So I tend to gravitate towards nice solid, heavily documented, hopefully rare cars that have been out of sight, and out of care and maintenance for decades. They are usually covered in layers of grime, but in my minds eye I can see the day that it is back on the road. In almost every case it is more work than I anticipate, but I always end up with a great car.

As we can see, “great car” means different things to different people. It’s not very difficult to find a great car, whatever that means to you. It is however very difficult to get a great deal on a great car. After all, why would the seller of any great car offer it at a price that would be considered a great deal. We’ve all heard the saying “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The best that you can hope for is a fair deal on a great car. And if you can get a fair deal on a great car, you just got a great deal. I guess there is such a thing as a great deal after all.  

Email questions to Steve@SteveLinden.com

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