Monday, April 12, 2010

My Quest To Buy A Classic Car (1): Choosing A Car

I'm gonna do it!  I'm going to buy a classic car.  It's going to be a long process, as I am very indecisive (almost fickle) and because I still have to find a place to store it.  At the earliest, I will get it in about a year's time.  But I thought I would chronicle my journey, from research to test drives to purchase.  I hope you enjoy this series and learn from my mistakes (which I am sure will result).

So the first question is, what am I looking for?  First, in the span of fifteen minutes, I came up with a list of cars within my price range-- $5,000 to $10,000.  My list is as follows:

  1. Alfa Romeo GTV
  2. Alfa Romeo Milano
  3. Alfa Romeo Spider
  4. Audi ur-Quattro
  5. BMW E24 6 Series
  6. BMW E30 M3
  7. Chevrolet Camaro (1967-69)
  8. Citroen CX wagon
  9. Citroen XM
  10. Datsun 240Z
  11. Ford Mustang LX (with trunk)
  12. Isuzu Impulse (first generation)
  13. Maserati BiTurbo
  14. Mazda Miata
  15. Mazda RX-7 (FD)
  16. Mercedes R107 450SL
  17. Mercedes W124 500E
  18. Mercedes W126 560SEC
  19. Merkur XR4Ti
  20. Mini Cooper (original)
  21. Nissan 300ZX (last generation)
  22. Peugeot 504
  23. Peugeot 505
  24. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (late 1970s)
  25. Porsche 928
  26. Porsche 944
  27. VW Scirocco

I know, some of these are not technically classic cars.  Plus, some of these may not be available for under $10,000.  But it's my list, so there.

My second step is to figure out my priorities.  I want, in no particular order, the following characteristics in my car:

  • easy to work on,
  • easy to find parts,
  • reliable,
  • safe,
  • good looking,
  • sporty (two doors), and
  • significant number of local shops that have experience working on the car.

Preliminarily, and this is very preliminary, I have chosen the Mercedes-Benz 450SL.  I don't know how easy it is to work on, but I see one of these at least once or twice a week on the road.  They are reliable, as my folks' W116 450SEL ran like a champ for over twenty years.  It is relatively safe, although the lack of a top may be an issue.  I think it will be a classic in five to ten years, if it isn't one already.  A quick Craigslist search revealed a handful of superficially decent examples for $5,000 to $8,000.

A little background on the American 450SL: In 1972, it was called the 350SL, although it had a 4.5 liter V8.  It was called the 450SL from '73 through '80.  It produced approximately 185 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque.  I'm not too crazy about the fact that it only comes with a 3-speed auto.

I will obviously have to do more research.  This involves surfing the net, buying a few guidebooks, and chatting it up with the local independent Mercedes shops.

If I do get one, I will immediately change the headlights and bumpers so that they have the original, European look.  Plus, any aftermarket/modern head unit will be tossed in favor of the original Becker Mexico tuner.  Wish me luck!


F1Outsider said...

The Mazda Miata is probably the runaway favorite in terms of price, parts, labor, etc.

I also at some point will be taking a plunge and getting a weekend car. Lately I've been looking at 2nd generation Toyota MR2's.

Edvin said...

Congrats on a good decision! Looking forward to seeing what you end up buying.

Maxichamp said...

@F1O: You're of course right. The Miata definitely makes the most sense. But I have delusions of grandeur and want to enter some low-key classic drives and they often have a 25 to 30 year age requirement. The Miata is still a bit new.

The SL is definitely not a sports car that was meant to be driven hard through corners. It is more of a feat of engineering and evidence of what Germans could do before cost-cutting was their mantra. Plus, it was such a great symbol of 1970s/1980s American material culture.

@Edvin: As I've said, I'm fickle. I could very well end up with a Citroen XM or a 1980s base model Ford Mustang 5.0 when all of this is said and done.

Anonymous said...

Of those on the list that I know of, first thoughts...

Porsche 944: If you can find a well-maintained one. Stay away from the very early ones. Later ones can be really, really good S2 2,7 or 3.0 litre, even a 944S in good condition. My pick.

Porsche 928: Stay away. Heavy coupe, old & complex electrics.
In fact, any large, heavy coupe from the 80's spells trouble, unless very well maintained.

Biturbo: Most of them are dogs I'm afraid, I am also a big fan, but too risky.

Audi Quattro: Despite the huge reputation the interior quality is similar to early 80's Passat, Jetta and Golf. It just doesn't feel special inside.

BMW 6 series: Great feeling of solid quality, be careful again if not well-maintained and complex electronics. Go for manual.

Nissan 300ZX: Very reliable, superfast and cheap. But you won't overcome the image problem.

Scirocco: Pretty, but usually not well-maintained, and is an old Golf inside.

Peugeots: Availability of parts in the US?

BMW E30 M3: I doubt if you will find an unmolested well-maintained one in your price range. The good ones are rising in price fast, will become good investments. I get really anry how these fine cars are modified.

I must say your first choice I think is a fine one. Very classy, beautiful and understated. Those engines are reliable, even if they were a little neglected.

You know of course who will give you the BEST advice our good friend Alex from Geneva. He is likely to reccommend something Enlish, Cooperish or Jaguarish. :-)

All the best,

Maxichamp said...

Thanks Etienne for your input.

Speaking of modifications-- I am going to write a piece about what people are doing to 450SLs. I'd like to hear your reaction when you see the pictures.