Ask Petrolicious: How Can I Drive A Classic Car On A Budget?
Many of your “Ask Petrolicious” submissions have something to do with purchasing a classic…on a budget. I’m sure you don’t need us to remind you that many classics aren’t nearly as affordable as they once were, but that’s not to say they’re all out of reach. Despite the market’s current upwards trend, there are an ample number of desirable classics readily available for nearly every budget.
Now, I could list a number of inexpensive cars as recommendations, but considering our international readership, that’d be a bit pointless, wouldn’t it? After all, an enthusiast in Japan will have significantly different options than someone in the United Kingdom, Germany, or the United States. Just think, America is so vast that classic car options change drastically from state to state, region to region—I’m looking at you, rust belt.
So, instead of telling you to go buy _______ classic car, let’s talk about what you should be considering before you set your sights on a target car—namely, how to go about finding the right classic for you.
What’s your budget?
One thing to remember, for every budget, is to do just that: budget. Now, there isn’t some magical formula or percentage you should have in reserve, but if you’ve got $5,000 saved up for a classic, expending every George Washington on the initial purchase cost might not be the best move because classics tend to need more than oil changes and petrol top-offs—not to mention insurance, registration, etc.
For example, my first classic was a 1973 Datsun 620—if you can consider that a classic. I had $5,000 saved up for a secondary car—note: I wasn’t relying on the pickup to get to-and-from work. With that $5,000, I searched for a couple months (note: don’t be in a rush) to find a bondo-filled mess of a 40-year-old work-truck that leaked all the fluids but, and here’s the selling point: it ran beautifully. Ok, perhaps it didn’t run beautifully, but it ran well enough that I could actually enjoy driving it while fixing little things along the way.
I took that glorious J-tin hauler home for just $2,600! Which meant, I had $2,400 in reserve specifically set aside for the truck—and, boy, am I glad I had that extra cash! New gaskets, installed a radio and speakers (got to have some tunes), new tires and wheels…all new fluids that found their way onto the parking lot surface overnight, new alternator, new water pump, and a new radiator and cooling fan within the first couple months of blissful wrench-spinning ownership.
Can you plan your purchase?
There are a few routes I commonly see with budget classic car buys. The first: Buy the nicest example you can afford. This, however, either might not be possible on your budget or mean spending your entire budget up front and, as previously mentioned, could quickly turn your newly beloved classic from a dream come true into an expensive garage ornament. That said, the more you spend up front, the better the car, right? That’s the way we all hope it works out, anyway.
The second: Buy something with “good bones”. This is for the foolish brave enthusiast who wants to tackle an entire ground-up restoration. Oftentimes, this is the most expensive route in the long haul. Yet, if you’re on a budget, this could be the least amount of money up front. For example, I couldn’t afford to buy a fully restored Alfa Romeo Stepnose and the examples listed as “good drivers” were far rougher than its Craigslist ad confessed. So, I went about searching for a clean and (mostly) complete rolling shell.
The initial cost was very inexpensive and it’ll allow me to slowly put money into the car over time. The downside: I can’t enjoy the car now. Right now it’s on the back burner due the Datsun project, and even when I start funneling cash towards the Alfa, it’ll be years before I’ll drive it. For someone eager to enjoy the vintage driving experience, this route probably isn’t right for you.
The last option, and honestly best overall move, is to buy something inexpensive that runs well but perhaps has everything else wrong with it. This is the route I took with my first classic—the aforementioned Datsun. The body was complete with no major rust. The interior was cheaply reupholstered but looked decent enough. The frame and underpinnings were straight and clean. So, I bought the truck because it was reliable enough to drive around town, inexpensive and cheap to maintain, and was well within my budget—it just wasn’t the prettiest thing to gaze upon.
The expensive, nicest one you can afford commands the most up front. The rolling shell restoration candidate is initially inexpensive, but takes time and relies on lots of money to complete. The decent driver (mechanically sound) but beat up body allows you to enjoy the project, sort of the “fixer-upper” option.
Choosing which route is entirely up to you and your budget.