Vintage cars; what to consider before buying one...

Things to consider before buying a vintage car.

It is so, so easy to get sucked in. All it takes is a wander around the paddock at your nearest classic car run, a few glimpses of old-school chrome and the whiff of well-used leather, or the smell of warm, aged oil (it’s a very distinctive smell) — you’re hooked. Classic car ownership is a bit like a drug; once you’ve tried it, it’s easy to become hooked, and you’ll always, always have the craving in your veins. Like drugs, it can also be catastrophically expensive…

Should you do it, though? Should you take the plunge and trade in your bland, diesel box with wheels for something a bit more fun, a lot more stylish? Something that Grace Kelly might have happily been seen in?

Yes, you should, but you really, really need to do your homework and make sure you go into classic car ownership with your eyes wide open. Go in with rose-tinted glasses already in place, and you’re on a hiding to nothing.

Now, there are certain benefits to owning a classic car. For a start, they’re cheap to import — anything that’s over 30 years old can be brought in for a flat Vehicle Registration Tax fee of just €200. And they’ll only cost you €56 a year for a tax disc.

Cheap to insure too, which is fast becoming a major financial incentive to buying an older car. With insurance premiums for normal cars still rising fast, now could be the right time to snap up that old pile of rust and chrome. Ah, about that… Irish insurers are nothing if not rapacious, and unlike their more enlightened counterparts in the UK, they don’t just hand out classic car insurance without some penalty. 

You see, unlike in the UK, where you can insure a classic as your only car, Irish insurers demand that you only cover very low mileages, sometimes as little as 5,000km a year, and worse; that you have another ‘normal’ car taxed and insured for more regular use, which does dramatically push up the cost of insurance. Only in Ireland, eh?

You’ll also have to consider what fuel you’re using. Precious few classics can be found with a diesel engine (although we do know a guy who converted his BMW 1602 to run a Ford 2.3 diesel, but that’s another story…), so you’re going to have to either have the engine’s head converted to run on unleaded fuel (many mainstream classics will have had this done some time ago) or resort to carrying around a bottle of fuel additive for each time you fill up.

The parts and spares situation will depend greatly on which model you decide to go for. For a great many cars, there is pretty much full parts backup now, with popular models such as the MGB, Mini, Morris Minor and more actually available with freshly-made body shells, allowing you to effectively create a new car from the ground up, if you like. For more expensive models, parts can be re-made from original drawings, frequently by the original factory as is the case with Aston Martin.

Others, such as Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all have big, and very profitable, classic car departments as part of their main factory operations, allowing you to get pretty much anything you need, for a hefty price in most cases. Jaguar and Land Rover are currently in the process of effectively re-starting production of classic models such as the Series 1 Range Rover and the E-Type, taking in original cars and rebuilding them using factory-spec parts, to better-than-new standard. The prices will make your eyes water, though…

Speaking of prices, there is a temptation to enter classic car ownership assuming that you can’t lose, financially. It’s true that classic car prices have been climbing at ridiculous rates. For instance, an Aston Martin DB5, which could have been bought for around €40,000 in the early nineties, would now set you back at minimum ten times as much, and other cars have seen similarly massive price hikes. “The initial tipping point for the current price boom was definitely 2008” says Chris Routledge, managing director of classic car specialists Coys Auctioneers. “Money was still about but it had nowhere reliable to go. Did it go into the stock market? No, that was on its knees. Did it go into an apartment in Docklands? No, property was tumbling. Or did it buy an old Ferrari? Yes… Fine art, fine wine and fine motor cars became seen as something if a safe haven because every other option was dead.”

The market has been, according to all but a few observers, well and truly over-inflated for some time. As long as interest rates stay low, then classic car prices will probably keep rising, but as soon as the rates the banks pay go up, then we’ll probably see the bubble burst.

That’s why it’s best to buy for enjoyment, and a little nostalgia. Buy a car that makes you excited, rather than one you think might appreciate. “The classic community in my view is in constant change: people tend to like the cars that they knew when they were kids, so the rolling 30-year Vintage status goes hand in hand with the changing likes and dislikes of the new classic car enthusiast” says Paul Kanters from Wexford based classic car dealer Classic Car Ireland. “When I was a kid, growing up in Holland, the classic car scene was alive and kicking, but seemed to evolve around cars that were old in my book. 1930s, 40s and 50s cars; Jaguars, MGs, Austin Healeys etc... Whereas I was keen on cars from the sixties and early seventies, cars that were around and that I drooled about when I was a kid. Now you see the same thing happening all over again, with younger enthusiasts getting all excited about cars from the eighties, which didn’t seem to be that special in my book at the time they were around. So I don’t think it’s an image problem as such, but you just have generation gaps between the various classic car lovers. Each to their own era, I should say.”

That generation of eighties cars, the likes of a Ford Escort XR3i, Volkswagen Golf GTI MkII, Mercedes W107 SL (the ‘Bobby Ewing’ one), are the last generation of cars that aren’t utterly reliant on electronic intervention to stay alive. In other words, you still stand a decent chance of being able to spanner one on your driveway to keep it alive.

Beyond that, you’re into more day-to-day concerns — keeping rust at bay (no substitute for keeping it garaged and spraying Waxoyl by the gallon into any moisture-retaining areas), dealing with such things as asthmatic heaters, dim headlights, cardboard brakes and the total lack of modern safety features.

Get over all of those hurdles and there’s little that’s as much fun as owning and driving a classic car. But don’t say we didn’t warn you…