Classic car buying begins with a decision from the heart for most but can be a minefield to navigate and get through without being ripped off. In most cases buyers need to be careful and should always consult an expert who can guarantee the car as being the real deal.
If considering a classic vehicle read as many books and get involved with online forum boards to expand your knowledge, but if looking for an investment or spending serious money on an original, I will recommend joining the relevant car club and finding an expert who can assist in inspecting the vehicle with you. Here are a few tips that can help in getting the right vehicle parts;
- Join car communities – In every town, you’ll find a community of car obsessives. It might be an Aston Martin club, a Jaguar meetup or a more general classic car society. Get involved with these groups and share your project with them. They’ll be the first to come across spare parts in the local area. Let them know what you’re working on and they’ll keep their eye out for you. In return, you can do the same for them on your search.
- Local garage – Your local mechanic deals with cars day in, day out, They will regularly replace parts and take old ones out. Some of them keep a useful collection of spare parts on site and they’ll be willing to sell to you. The best options here are the independent mechanics and dealers. Again, they’re often friendly enough to keep their eye out for you. Let them know about your project and they may offer a helping hand.
- Swap meets – Car communities regularly get together to exchange car parts and advice. Search for the next big meetup in your local area and head down. Sellers will set up their stall, much like a flea market, and you can browse their goods. If there’s one place you’ll find rare parts, it’s here! Again, get chatting to the sellers and you’ll unlock all sorts of valuable advice.
- Online – There are lots of resources online for spare car parts. First of all hunt down dealers that specialize in used car parts. You’ll often find what you’re looking for in their database and you can buy right then and there. Another option is to scour the various bidding sites online. The likes of eBay and Autotrader often host rare parts privately. Finally, join online forums for car fanatics.
- Scrap yards – If none of the above has worked out, it may be time to hit the scrap yards. It’s simply a case of wading through the junk yard to find what you’re looking for. You may have to pay the owner a small fee for the privilege. You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled here, and you won’t always find what you’re looking for.
SIGHTING PROBLEMATIC CAR PARTS AT A GLANCE
More simple discrepancies to spot can be period or model incorrect items. Common ones can include wheels that are not the original design or size, the carburetor may have been changed for a bigger one or a spoiler has been added for aesthetic reasons among others. Replacing or removing these might not be a big issue, but it will be an added expense and fitting non-standard body parts will require a trip to the panel shop.
The catch phrase often heard when a seller justifies a classic’s higher than normal price is that it’s ‘matching numbers’. This is when the compliance plate on the car matches the stamped chassis and engine numbers. These items would have been originally assigned to the car when it left the factory. But if for instance the original engine broke its bottom end and the same type of engine with different numbers was installed, the car is no longer ‘matching numbers’, and this can significantly reduce the asking price.
Typically a car known to have a weak engine or that is commonly used for track work should be approached with caution if wanting to buy a numbers matching car. In the decades of its life there’s a good chance the engine would have blown and the cheapest course of action is to source a good engine from a wrecked car rather than rebuild the blown one. In some cases the owner may have kept the original, but you’d have to be lucky.
Some classics can also be models with the lower output motor, such as a six-cylinder, but somewhere along the line more power was wanted and a V8 may have been installed – there’s even been cases of it going the other way around.
CHECKING THE NUMBERS
The older the car the harder it can be to check the numbers because records are usually thin. If there’s original paperwork, that’s a good start and it should have a record of the VIN, chassis and engine numbers, and possibly items such as the gearbox and other options which we’ll cover later.
Vehicles sold in Australia for road registration will have a compliance plate mounted in the engine bay with a record of the VIN, chassis and engine number. Using this as a guide, check the engine number on the block and the number stamped onto the vehicle’s chassis. If they don’t match then something is wrong.