Our old cars continue to make the transition from daily use appliances to coveted artifacts. This change raises an entirely different set of questions when it comes to deciding the quality and condition of a car you might buy.
Just buying something that runs and drives is not what we’re looking for these days.
As I’ve been looking around for my next sports car, I’ve come to some realizations. I don’t want a project car — or one with major things that are wrong or incorrect.
When I’ve owned cars that are in a non-factory-correct color, or have an engine painted the wrong color, I quickly grow weary with the many people who point out what’s wrong with the car.
It’s like driving a replica Cobra. The first question you are asked is, “Is it real?” Tedious.
Life is too short to undertake major projects that include a lot of metalwork or rust repair. This is especially true of inexpensive, under-$50,000 cars.
First of all, a rust project is always worse once you get the paint off.
Second, as far as the repairs go, you have the choice between crazy-expensive work that will make the car better than new — or a “you get what you pay for” inexpensive job that will leave you dissatisfied when you are done.
Do you yourself a favor — don’t buy a project car.
What can you live with?
Figure out exactly why you want to own a car — and how good it needs to be. Are you driving 1,000 miles to a national meet, or 10 miles to a club event at a pizza parlor? Does it matter if it burns a little oil? Does the oil pressure need to be great or just good enough? Can you live with it running a little hot — or do you need to recore the radiator and replace the water pump?
Can you tolerate old paint that will still hold a shine — and shows some nicks and scratches — or do you need better-than-new surfaces?
I can’t abide upholstery in an incorrect color or pattern, but I may just be goofy about that kind of thing. When I see an Alfa Giulietta Spider in red with tan interior, which was never an option, I throw up in my mouth.
So my personal standards for my next sports car are fairly simple: It can’t have any major needs. It can’t have “big stories” in its history, such as a sectioned frame or two cars put together to make one.
It has to be a color that was available from the factory. The interior color and seat patterns have to be correct. The engine bay has to be tidy and correct — or easily made right. The engine, if painted, has to be the right color.
The engine can smoke — but not excessively. It can leave drips —but not puddles — in my driveway. It needs to run true down the freeway at 60 mph, with good oil pressure at speed. When you apply the brakes, it needs to slow down evenly, without pulling. All of the instruments need to work — and the lights as well.
In short, it should have been owned by an enthusiast like me who enjoys using his car and feeling it behave properly.
When I show up at an event with the car, I want people to say, “That’s an honest example, and seems like a pretty decent car.”
The car’s strengths need to outweigh the weaknesses — or I need to move on to another car. Life is too short for major projects on inconsequential cars — or for cars with a list of immediate needs that takes up several sheets of paper.
Let someone else do the work and make all the fixes. Then just pay more for the car. You’ll always come out ahead.