The Positives and Negatives of Buying at a Classic Car Auction

It’s an automotive enthusiast’s dream. Head to an auction that features a list of classic cars, the type that had you gazing at the poster on the wall for hours. Up for grabs is a Lamborghini Countach, perhaps a Tucker Torpedo, maybe even a classic Ford Model T.

Niggling away is a question or two. How good will the car be? Why is it being sold? Let’s have a look at some of the ups and downs of buying such a machine at an auction.

One immediate positive is that the prospective buyer MAY be the only person looking for a certain car listed. Sure, this easily can be a negative if everyone’s after a Ford Falcon GTHO with three hundred miles on the odometer but if it’s something like a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air in reasonable condition, there’s a better chance of not so many eyes being on it.

Many classic cars come with paperwork. This describes the history of the car from the day it was sold at a dealership, its service history in detail, any restoration work, and the canny owner will have had this done by specialists. As a result, the car should be in as close to showroom condition as possible and with as little to spend on top of the final purchase price.

Reputable auction houses help behind the scenes by doing their best in ensuring a seller is not selling a dud. As an accepted rule, sellers via reputable auction houses are either known to the auction company through previous transactions, have been thoroughly vetted by investigation, or are a known vehicle investor.

The classic car family is a solid and tightly knit network. One particular American gent has made a living from buying and restoring classic cars then selling them at auction. This, as a result, has had him build a great network of people to call for advice and for assistance when required. If car XYZ is missing part LMN then a phone call or email generally has someone somewhere saying “yes, I can help”. This results in being able to source a genuine part, just like Rare Spares offers as a service.

However not all diamonds are polished. Although a good auction house will inspect the cars being offered for sale, sometimes human error creeps in and a car listed as 100% genuine may have parts that were hastily cobbled together from less than reputable sources to have it ready in time for sale. Thankfully these happenings are as rare as they can be.

Cost at an auction is always the big question. Again, most reputable auction houses will be able to price the car to the market value. There will be a reserve, a minimum asking price, but sometimes that can work against buyers that feel the market is asking too much, or, conversely, can see the expected asking price soar way beyond expectations, leaving buyers frustrated with what could be seen as artificially inflating the value and therefore affecting similar vehicles negatively.

Having a good knowledge of cars and the industry certainly won’t be seen as a bad thing. Not all rare cars are desirable and not all classic cars are expensive, so being able to research, shop around for the relative sales price of a car being eyed off will assist when you’re ready to buy. That way, at an auction and knowing what you’re prepared to spend will assist especially if there’s a choice of the car you’re aiming to purchase.

Finally, an easily overlooked item: what are you, as a new buyer, going to do with the car itself? Some people are in an envious position to be able to store cars in a properly maintained environment and keep them as an investment. However if you’re looking to be a driver of the car, let’s say a Porsche 356 Speedster, what about: parts, fuel, insurance, the actual drivability of the car? Some classic car owners bring them out for car shows, perhaps a drive day at their local race track, and unfortunately too many are driven there and are trucked away with mechanical issues that weren’t obvious when bought.

To use that well worn phrase, however, “at the end of the day” it shouldn’t be forgotten that a buyer of a classic car does so because they’ll ultimately wish to be happy, proud, satisfied, with their purchase. After all, that’s what Rare Spares aims for with our range of parts for Australian classic cars. 

Let us know your thoughts on what you look for in a classic car and perhaps the good & the bad you’ve experienced at an auction.

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