New Classic Car Owner FAQ
Owning a Classic car is an epic story of trial and tribulation. Very few ownership stories end with profits being made monetarily, but rich rewards come from the experiences working and driving these great cars. While I was purchasing my first classic car, there were no websites available or anyone in my circle of friends that knew much about buying these 25 plus year old cars. Because of this I found unexpected problems that could have been easily caught if I knew what basic problems to look for.
This New Classic Car Owner FAQ is here to help mainly Falcon owners, but can be extended in scope to help everyone looking to buy a classic car (with "classic" being defined as a 25 plus year old car). A lot of people get wrapped up in the idea of having a classic car, or see one that they NEED to own, and make the mistake of throwing caution to the wind.
This FAQ should also help answer many of the repeated questions I receive via email. As much as I enjoy helping fellow car enthusiasts, encapsulating some common answers to common questions should help us all, and surprisingly much of this information isn't located in one spot on the internet where it can be easily found.
However, the main point of this FAQ is to help calm the desires, and delicately crash those of us who have fallen head over heels in love with a classic car to Mother Earth (it's for your own good, trust me)....
First things first - let us start at the beginning, you are in the market for a classic car or are about to acquire one. Either a classic car has fallen into your lap, or you were SOMEWHERE and up drove this "I don't know what it was but it was a/the (choice of adjectives) car". It was love at first sight, and now you have figured out what it is and you want one... bad. If you have inherited your Falcon or acquiring it was what I'd like to call 'an act of God', please continue onto section 3. If not, READ BELOW!!!
Lesson 1: If you find the car you want, do NOT be afraid to WALK AWAY. There will ALWAYS be another car! Your mission, your goal, is to get the car of your dreams in the best condition you can afford. I know it's hard, and you might have to search further than you planned, but you will THANK me later. Remember, time is on the buyer's side.
Lesson 2: Education is key! Use the internet and Classic Car magazines to get a feel for how much the car you want costs. Look for trends; what are popular options that drive the prices up? What options are available for your car? What year do you want? What are the differences between the models of your car? Maybe you'll find the previous year of the car you saw is more your style....
III. Car Examining Checklist
When you find the car you want, you need to check a number of important factors before laying down the cash for it. Remember, these cars are over 30 years old! Even with 'ground up restorations' and 'everything replaced' ads, there are always things that won't be the same as when the car was new.
Word of advice, mechanical problems are 80% easier to fix than body problems. If you have previous experience doing automotive bodywork, of course this changes the percentage, but for most of us starting out bodywork and painting takes space, expensive equipment, extensive amounts of time, and patience. Bodywork also requires aftermarket, NOS (New Obsolete Stock), and replacement parts from other original cars in order to fix your car. Picking up the magazines from the numerous parts suppliers available to our hobby pale in comparison to endless swap meet hunting, eBay searches, and phone calls to unknown junkyards asking if they have your car with the rare part you need.
Another word of advice, in your heart of hearts, you REALLY want this car, don't you - the sooner you get it the better? Be honest with yourself here. If you feel this way, and yes it's fine to, bring along an impartial friend. A friend with automotive or classic car background is ideal. Use him/her as an anchor to reality. Make sure to buy him/her their favorite beverage if you do or don't get the car. Either way your friend will save you money in the long run by helping you buy the right car.
Here are a few pointers when looking at a classic car:
1.) Start by taking a look around the car, ask the owner about the car's history while you look. Look at the paint - is it shiny? Wavy? All the same color? Do you see bubbles? Rust? Cracks? Peeling?
2.) Ask if the owner has any receipts of work completed.
3.) How does the glass look? Any cracks?
4.) Look at the chrome and stainless. Are there pits, scrapes, or dull spots? Especially pay attention to large Chrome and stainless pieces without logos. These parts are usually the ones that aren't reproduced by companies yet, especially if the car being viewed is not a "household name" car.
5.) Look at the body lines of the car - are the straight? Do they get bigger or smaller as you trace along them? In convertibles, MAKE SURE the body line where the door meets the rear quarter panel is continually the same thickness. If the doors stick, or this body line is not totally of equal measure throughout, DO NOT BUY THE CAR! This body line is showing you the car is literally BENDING IN HALF!
6.) Check the tires for wear. Uneven tire wear - balding on the sides or in the middle - could indicate the need for a front-end alignment or a more costly repair to a suspension component.
7.) Look under the car - what do the floorboards look like? Is there rust? Are there holes? If the car is a unibody car, pay special attention to the sub frame rails. The sub frame, especially around the spring perches, can be a costly repair.
8.) Check the front floorboards by the pedals - is the floor wet? How about the passenger side? This can be caused by a leaky cowl, or a leaky heater core.
9.) Check the trunk - don't be afraid to lift the floor mat - there can be VERY nasty things being hidden under there.
10.) Bring along a small refrigerator magnet and place it gently (as not to scratch the paint) along various body panels (lower door, front fender, etc.). If there is any plastic body filler the magnet will not stay in place, indicating the vehicle has been involved in an accident
11.) Check the radiator fluid. If it is foamy or has oil droplets in it, there is a good chance the car has a defective head gasket (coolant and oil are mixing together) / or worse, a cracked block or head
12.) Before driving, LOOK for soot, water, and oil in the tailpipe, Oil and antifreeze on the engine, spots of fluid under the car, and with the engine running, loose parts or moving parts not moving correctly (read loose belts and pulleys)
Now take it for a spin! While driving:
1.) LISTEN for squeaks, groans, and rug-rug noises.
2.) FEEL for loose steering, bad/worn suspension, strange road behavior.
3.) Make sure to steer hard into some corners. Brake hard and accelerate quickly to get a feel of the car under emergency conditions.
4.) When you accelerate hard, using your rear view mirror, look for blue or white smoke, or look for blue smoke when coasting down a hill, then hit the accelerator and see if a plume of smoke appears.
IV. Car Delivery
For cars that are located far from your home, or cars that cannot reach your home under their own power, there are several companies that transport classic and unrestored cars. Several transport companies contact information can be found on-line, in car magazines, or through local classic car clubs. Make sure to shop around for the best deals you can, and balance the cheapest price with convenience and transporter's reputation (if available). A few points:
1.) Covered transportation is supplied by several companies, but it will cost more than uncovered.
2.) Vehicles that cannot be moved under their own power can be transported, but are more expensive to transport.
3.) Be prepared for a wait of up to several weeks to get your car transported. Transporters have to plan a circuit to pick up as many cars as possible. Your car has to fit in the route. Just be patient and check with the transporters on arrival times.
For cars that can be transported, either by others or by yourself, here are a few things to pack for the trip:
1.) 2 Quarts Oil
2.) Gallon of gasoline
3.) Rotor, cap, points
4.) Fuel pump
5.) 1 gallon water
6.) Toolkit with screwdrivers, pliers, vice grips, socket set
7.) 12v Tire pump
8.) Battery (if you can)
V. Must Have Literature
1.) A SHOP MANUAL FOR YOUR CAR!!!!! This is a collection of the original instructions on working on your car that dealer mechanics used. This manual will allow you to disassemble and reassemble your car. It also holds diagrams and part numbers to compare with what is on your car.
2.) Check local book stores and online book stores like Amazon.com. From performance to inspirational pictures of your car, check out these sources for literature.
3.) Falcon! The New Sized Ford! By Ray Miller. For Falcon owners, great book covering American Falcons 1960- 1970. Gives detailed information on production numbers, optional equipment, performance stats, etc. You can get this book from places like the Falcon Club of America's store.
4.) How to Build a Small Block Ford. For Ford owners, explains how to remove engine and how to inspect for repair as well as wear and recondition. Covers all years and models of 221, 260, 289, 289HP, 302, and 351 engines. 158 pages, 567 illustrations.
VI. Buying Parts
Best bet is if you're classic car is a "household name" (Corvette, Camaro, Mustang, Thunderbird) parts are readily available. However, for those of us who are proud owners of less conspicuous cars (Edsel, Tucker, Lark) parts availability can be found in several places:
1.) Try Magazines such as Hemmings Motor News, and Collector Car Trader Online. These publications are stuffed with ads from private and public businesses selling parts for all kinds of cars.
2.) Swap Meets are another great source for parts and contacts. Visits can be hit and miss, and buyer beware! However, do your homework and amazing deals can be found!
3.) With the .com boom, many 'brick and mortar' businesses now have web sites to sell directly to car enthusiasts. Use Internet search engines like Google to search for parts suppliers.
VII. Online Literature
On the subject of the internet, use the search engines like Google to find great information on your car. A lot of car enthusiasts and companies have set up websites passing on valuable information to help you in your restoration.
VIII. Online Support
Many sites also have contact information to reach the authors. Email is a great tool - USE IT!
The next great source of information is Newsgroups. Newsgroups are email addresses that many people can send mail to, and the accumulated mail is released to all members, allowing a virtual discussion between all members.
THE Ford Falcon Newsgroup is TFFN, and I suggest all Falcon owners join.
There are several newsgroups for several different types of cars. Search online to find ones to help you.
IX. Local Support
For most types of cars there is a car club or hobbyists that can help you if you purchase, maintenance, and restoration of your car. Networking is key for classic car folks. When you buy the car, ask the owner if they have any magazines, catalogs, or leads to local clubs of people who have dealt with the car.
With the advent of the internet, people thousands of miles away are just a click away. Don't underestimate the power of the internet - most of us are out here to help!
Mike in Chicago