In the pre-internet age, looking for sports cars was simple. There was Hemmings, AutoTrader (both regional and national) and the local classifieds.

Time was not of the essence. When we started the Alfa Romeo Market Letter in 1988, we would ask Alfa fanatics across the country to mail us the classifieds from their local papers. We would end up with 100 or so unique Alfa ads every month, often with a significant time delay between the original placing of the ad and when it showed up in ARML.

Often, despite the lag, the cars were still available.

If I found something in Hemmings I was interested in, I would make a phone call and request pictures. They would then be mailed to me. A couple of weeks would pass. I was lucky if I got six snaps, one of each corner, one of the interior and one under the hood. I don’t recall ever getting one of the underside of a car.

Craigslist began in 1995, and our world changed. Its original intent was to be locally oriented. However, in 2006 Search Tempest (originally named Craig’s Helper) was launched and searched every CL listing nationwide.

I recall the first time I used “SearchTempest.” I typed in “Alfa Romeo” and suddenly every Alfa listed on every CL site in America popped up. I was in nirvana.

Of course, the rise of Craigslist led to the demise of local newspaper classified advertising and the disappearance of the print AutoTrader.

eBay Motors was started in 2000. Suddenly, not only were pictures of for-sale cars available online, but you could go ahead and buy a car online. While at first the world was dubious about anyone buying a car sight-unseen, eBay Motors has gone on to great success and is among the most highly profitable parts of the online auction site.

In today’s world, I gravitate towards the sites that make searching and notification the simplest.

For instance, when I was looking for our S4 Alfa Spider, I had set my eBay searches to notify me when any 1991-94 Spider was listed.

As there are few checks and balances for eBay listings, I would never consider buying a car from eBay without some sort of secondary verification. In this case, the seller was an SCM member, and the car was located where I could have someone look at it for me. It still arrived needing the a/c compressor rebuilt (“just needs a charge” is never true) but otherwise it was exactly as described.

Autozin has an excellent notification system as well. As I go through various collector-car mood swings and my desire of the moment changes from Jaguar V12s to Volvo 122s to Jensen Interceptors to Mercedes 250Cs to Land Rover Discoverys, I simply change my notifications.

A key to the success for any online site is that its developers make it easy for you to get updates when a car you are looking for is listed.

As the volume of cars available has increased, so have our requirements for information that can lead us to an informed buying decision. When I see, “new floor pans welded in pretty well,” a car gets crossed off my list.

What is your preferred way of looking for a collector car today? Can you make a decision after looking at 200 photos, or do you need to have a car inspected in person? Let me know, I’m curious. Thanks.



  1. I look carefully at whatever pictures are shown and can often see pride of ownership, or lack of, by the condition inside the car. Next I look for the maintenance history and, if none is to be found or is incomplete, I avoid the vehicle in question. Ultimately I have to see the vehicle and the owner. Meeting and talking to the owner can tell you a lot about the car!

  2. Your historical review is a good indication of why the tent auctions will soon fade into obscurity, me thinks!

  3. On the 500Eboard forum, we’ve been tracking every Mercedes 500E / E500 by VIN that comes up for sale, for the past 15+ years. All photos and commentary from auction sites, CarFax and AutoCheck reports, old eBay Motors listings from years ago, etc. are added to each car’s “For Sale” thread, for a cumulative history. If a forum member owns a car, they typically start their own thread that documents their own personal history and repairs/mods they make to the car during their ownership.

    All this means that many cars have tended to get a history over time, which is actively tracked. Often the history on the 500E forum reveals “long-forgotten” or undisclosed accident damage, or washed titles, etc. which factors into a car’s desirability and ultimately its price, when it eventually comes up for sale.

    The safest and best 500E models that come up for sale (whether on MB Market, Bring a Trailer, GCFSBlog, or private sales) are the ones that have documentation on the 500E forum, and have been taken care of by enthusiast owners who have been transparent as far as what they’ve done to the cars. When cars come up for sale, folks just punch the VIN number into Google or into the 500E forum’s search box, and inevitably the car’s thread will come up for perusal.

    It’s always a sad day in the 500E community when a 5-year or 10-year or longer-term owner places an ad on the forum to put their car up for sale. However, it usually always also translates into a happy buyer, because they know what they are getting via the car’s extensive documentation.

  4. Photos certainly help, but it is foolish to opt out of a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) before committing your funds. There are just too many words, photos and simple tests likely not shared that throw doubt on that “full restoration” from twenty years ago, or the “rust free” car somebody’s uncle’s neighbor stashed in a barn for no reason.