Firstly if the do or don't question is whether to get into owning å classic car or not there is no don't, just do, or as Yoda didn't put it:
“Try not, do, or do not, there is no try”
He should have said of course:
"Do, there is no do not"
But then I don't have Yoda down as a classic car man, not least because of his size issues, and that is where we'll start in this guide to the Do's and Don'ts of classic car buying.
We've already established that getting into classic car ownership is something any half interested car person should grab with both hands if the opportunity or desire arises but whilst the overall direction is right, the actual destination needs to be even better to make it a long term relationship rather than a short term fling full of regrets and remorse.
That's the analogies over for now so what is the most common mistake we see from would be classic owners?
Well, put simply it's never a mistake to buy a classic but it is a big mistake buying the wrong car.
Forget the idea of investment potential, most classic owners and by those we mean classic owner drivers buy their chosen car based on nostalgia, emotion and boy or girlhood dreams.
It's always mildly offensive to use the term mid life crisis for somebody who has worked hard to get themselves into a position to indulge their money into something they either once had or once and forever wished they had, as a result it's completely understandable that come a certain time in life that classic ownership becomes a realistic proposition. No crisis there but buying the car of your dreams on cloudy memories can induce one.
Of course we also know that classic ownership is not age prejudiced, there is a huge boom in new drivers, 20s and 30 year olds buying into the scene as they kick back against the more mundane fare on offer from contemporary manufacturers with a more individual choice of transport. But in truth those young enough to not have a great deal of experience of cars and therefore not to have a benchmark tend to settle into classics of all shapes and sizes very quickly, they can take the rough ride, the uncompromising noise and the gnat's cough of a heater because they've just graduated to that from their Punto, Corsa or Ka.
But for those who are buying their boy or girlhood dream and who maybe have got used to a more comfortable, modern, easy access way of transport since those halcyon days it can be a huge culture shock jumping back in time to another era.
Indeed the 30 years plus that may have passed rapidly in humans terms have positively screamed by in the automotive world.
The car won't be as comfortable as you remembered, the ride won't be as forgiving as you thought, the handling won't be as incisive as you reminisced, the wipers won't be worth the name, and the heater, well the heater might as well not be there, and as for air conditioning, well at least the radio might pick up long wave.
All of these things add to the joy of ownership but only if you're prepared for it, go into the classic experience expecting the joys and none of the time bound compromises and you will be disappointed. So always, always drive the car or cars you dream of before taking the plunge, we all know we need do so to establish the individual car's health but more importantly in the first instance is to establish whether it's characteristics suit your lifestyle and can realistically be enjoyed without causing hernias or temporary blindness.
So when buying a classic always match the car to your circumstances and always drive one before you even get down to thinking about which particular seller you are going to buy from. Even a poorly maintained car will tell you all you need to know about accessibility, practicality and so on of the model so make sure that is covered off so that when you find the perfect, mint example, the reality of ownership doesn't disappoint. And don't be afraid to think practically too as after all this car will be used, it may seem to take some of the passion away from the purchase but a little bit of logic goes a long way to making classic car ownership a regret free way to spend your hard earned.
There are no bad classic cars but there can be bad classic car to lifestyle fits. So embrace the need to match passion with realism and immerse yourself, you might find the perfect classic you never knew you loved.
What’s hot right now? You really can’t look any further than 80’s hot hatches, heck even 70’s hot hatches when they were first born although hen’s teeth spring to mind when those are considered,
Why hot hatches? Well there are a number of reasons, firstly they haven’t leapt in prices generally and are still available as a (relatively) cheap basis entry into classic car ownership.
Secondly with the economy teetering and nerves in the markets there is an expectation that ‘small change’ will be dumped into these safe havens fairly quickly so now is the time to buy before the market rises…
But forget money and the fact that you will never lose on a well bought hot hatch why would you want one?
Firstly we will all have probably drooled over them as kids as the first car we wanted when we passed our tests, some of us might even have been lucky enough to have owned one whether in or past it’s prime and want to relive those days or maybe now the time is right and the financial position is in place to finally chase the dream.
Secondly they are a whole lot of fun, each with it’s own idiosyncrasy, light, nimble, not over endowed with power but enough to make them fly like their lesser versions could only dream of
Thirdly they are pretty simple machines and as an entry into classic car ownership they provide a sensible entry point for the novice.
And finally, they look absolutely brilliant, the only drawback? Having to get used to being the centre of attention wherever you go.
Also it is worth noting that there were a lot of different hot hatches built by a lot of manufactures and so there is a lot of choice out there.
There are also a few surprises the Golf Mk 1 is comprehensively beaten in all areas by the Mk 2 but it is the Mk 1 which attracts the biggest money in the market, deservedly so in many ways as it is truly iconic and an investment that will never disappointment but the Mark 2 provides a far greater bang for your buck. Our advice? follow your hunch when it comes to choosing your hot hatch.
Or how about the Peugeot 205, many people’s ultimate hot hatch and a car that we think is criminally undervalued right now.
We’re also suckers for the Talbot era hot hatches… we all know about Lotus Sunbeam’s but Samba Rallye’s are a special car too.
So if there are so many options and each is such an automotive icon what are the drawbacks?
Firstly finding one, a lot of manufacturers made hot hatches however not all did so in great volume, for every VW approach there was a Talbot one too, so choice is wide, availability less so. For instance our Samba Rallye is one of just 14 left in the UK now…. that’s Ferrari levels of rarity for less than £10k!!!
Secondly finding one that hasn’t been modified beyond all reasonable levels of recovery. These cars have been cheap for a long time and for every after market sticker that can be peeled off there is also plenty of after market mechanicals that have simply pushed the car too far.
Having said that you shouldn’t be scared by non-original cars when they are either well done to a known specification such as Peugeot’s to MI-16 spec or where they can be reverted to stock…
Overall then hot hatches make a whole lot of sense to both the heart, head and wallet.
In normal buying terms we are told the old cliches of History, originality and low miles and yes of course if one which meets those criteria is available and within budget then that is the route to go but with these types of car specifically you can widen your search remit to take a ‘what to avoid’ view rather than a ‘must have’ one.
Avoid cars fundamentally undermined by mods, and err that’s it.
Parts are again (relatively) plentiful and (relatively) cheap, VW in particular have such a huge following that after market specialists catering for classics are everywhere, but don’t be afraid to pursue the lesser lights…. car clubs are like bees to honey for hot hatches and the networks they produce mean sources are always available.
And finally if you’re not totally convinced by the fun, price, simplicity and iconic nature of these legendary cars then don’t forget they’re tough as old boots too making a classic daily driver not totally out of the question.
For us 2016 is the year hot hatches really take off, our advice? Buy in now before they capture the Porsche bug….