Looking For a Blast From the Past?

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Jerry-Wells '57 Bel Air
Jerry Wells stands next to his pride and joy - a 1957 Chevy Bel Air. He and other classic car owners share their tips on buying a vintage vehicle.

[quote style=”2″]A Friendly Guide to Buying a Classic Car[/quote]

It’s a simple equation, really: X + Y = Z.

In this case, X is that certain age one reaches in life. Y is that certain amount of money you’ve built up in your savings account. Add those two factors together and you get Z, right? What is Z, you ask?

Z is the decision to indulge yourself with the purchase of a classic car. The truth is, however, buying a classic car isn’t quite so simple. There are more factors you have to consider, and Northeast Oregon Now is here to help you sort through a few of the big ones.

Why Do You Want A Classic Car?
There’s no right or wrong answer to this question; it varies from person to person. But knowing why you want a vintage vehicle will help you buy the right one.

For a lot of folks out there, it boils down to nostalgia. This sentiment often kicks in when people reach their 50s and find themselves dwelling on the past, particularly their high school years. Maybe their first car was a beat-up ’59 Ford Fairlane or a fast and loud ’73 Dodge Charger or maybe it was a gutless but charming ’67 Volkswagen Beetle (that would be me – 0 to 60 in two and a half minutes flat!). If nostalgia is what’s driving you to make the plunge into the classic car culture, you can’t really go wrong with whatever car you buy.

If, however, you want a classic for investment purposes, it’s important to do your homework and ask a few questions. Was the car mass produced? If so, it will likely never be as valued as those with limited production numbers (though the widely produced 1957 Chevy Bel Air continues to be a much sought-after car).

But just because a car is somewhat rare doesn’t mean it’s necessarily in high demand. Vintage cars from the 1920s and 1930s don’t hold their value like they did 20 or 30 years ago simply because the demographic that held them in high demand in the past is shrinking.

Bill Kloepper of Prineville owns a 1968 Ford Thunderbird. He was at the car show at Butte Park for Hermiston’s Fourth of July celebration. He pointed to a 1930s coupe a few yards away from his T-Bird.

“See that car over there,” he said. “You want to know why it’s not as popular as cars from the 1960s? The people that want those older cars are dying off.”

Are You Good With A Wrench?
A lot of people who own classic cars also own a large tool collection. In other words, they know their way around a garage and can fix a sick engine or replace or repair a damaged car body. If you fit that description, skip ahead to the next section. Otherwise, read on.

Fetter Cougar
Larry Fetter found this 1969 Mercury Cougar in Yakima, Wash. A car that comes from a dry, arid climate is a better bet than one coming from somewhere like Portland or Seattle. Rust is like cancer to a car.
Since the word “classic” can roughly be translated to the word “old,” it stands to reason that a vintage car is going to need to have some work done on it at some point. If you don’t know a socket wrench from a pair of pliers, you’re better off spending more money on a car in good running order. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending a lot more money fixing it than you ever did purchasing it.

Jerry Wells ended up doing just that. Wells, who lives in Kennewick, Wash., spent a little over $19,000 on his ’57 Bel Air, thinking it was just about completely restored. Turns out, it wasn’t even close and he ended up spending significantly more restoring the car than he did buying it. He found he had to do some work on the brakes, steering wheel, front and rear suspension, radiator and more.

“It took me two and a half years,” he said. Wells, however, could do the work himself. He would have had to spend even more money if he had to pay a mechanic to do the work. He said there are mechanics around that specialize in classic cars, so if you’re unable to do the work yourself, there are places you can turn to.

“But they’re not cheap,” he said.

The bottom line is you will save yourself a lot of money in the long run buying a $20,000 classic in tip-top shape than you will spending $3,500 on a junker that needs an endless list of repairs.

Where Is The Car From?
The answer to this question may take a little research – but you’ll want to know. Larry Fetter of Hermiston owns a 1969 Mercury Cougar. He bought it 20 years ago from someone in Yakima, Wash.

A car that has spent the bulk of its life in a dry, arid climate is much preferred to a car that comes from Portland or Seattle because those vehicles will likely have rust problems if they haven’t been well cared for. Think of rust as a car’s version of cancer. If it’s not dealt with immediately, it will spread and could eventually kill the car.

39 Mercury
Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s better to find a car in good shape, otherwise you’ll likely spend more than you expected fixing it up.
And just because you bought the car from someone in Hermiston or the Tri-Cities doesn’t mean the car didn’t originally come from Portland or somewhere back east.

“Stay away from a car from back east,” said Fetter, who runs the Parks and Recreation Department for the city of Hermiston. For years in the eastern states, salt was used to melt ice and snow on roads. Salt is an oxidizing agent that reacts badly to metals and will eat away the paint and metal of a car, causing it to rust. Be sure to take a look underneath the car. A car may look fine as you walk around it, but rust could be lurking underneath.

Kloepper has a good tip for people who think they’ve found the car of their dreams.

“Look at it three different times,” he said. They say love is blind, and many times when someone sees a car they’ve been dreaming of, they are blind to its faults.

“I’ve looked at cars and said to myself, ‘Oh, this is a great car!’ Then on the second or third look, I begin to see the damage – rust here, a dent there.”

Are Replacement Parts Easy to Find?
Maybe you want a car that nobody else has. Maybe you want to walk – or drive – to the beat of a different drummer. Very cool, huh? Absolutely. But be prepared to pay for that uniqueness with a hefty dose of frustration because you’ll likely find yourself on a world class scavenger hunt looking for replacement parts. Face the facts, you will, at some point, have to replace something on your classic car and it’s much easier to find those parts on a popular and mass-produced vehicle.

“Take a ’57 Bel Air,” Kloepper said. “There’s a thousand different people making parts for that car.”

What Are You Going To Do With The Car?
Is it going to be a show car or a car you drive? If you plan on driving it around regularly, you probably don’t want a muscle car with a massive engine. Scott Adams of Hermiston owns a 1968 Ford Mustang with a 428 engine.

“A car like this, it’s going to be a toy and not for transportation,” Adams said. He said he gets a wallet-draining 9 mpg while cruising down the highway.

“It’s not economical,” he said. “The gas is just too expensive.” On the other hand, Wells likes to take his ’57 Chevy out for a drive several times a week. Fetter, too, takes his car for a cruise fairly regularly, especially in the summer months since it’s a convertible.

“There’s nothing like cruising around with the top down,” he said.

Should You Buy It Online?
Probably not. Wells actually bought his Bel Air on eBay from a guy in Georgia and what he got was not what he expected. He was led to believe the car was in perfect shape, but it was far from it.

“I’d spent a couple of months looking on eBay and found what I thought was a car that was pretty much restored,” he said.

Not only did he spend $19,000 on the car, but he also had to kick in a couple thousand for the shipping costs, then two and a half years fixing it up and much more money than he bargained for.

“I nearly bit off more than I could chew,” he said. It’s a mistake he would not want to repeat. If he were to buy another classic, he’d definitely buy it from someone in person.

Fetter said if you do find what you think is the car of your dreams on eBay, make sure to put in a contingency for final acceptance. If the car isn’t as advertised, send it back.

And if you think you’re ready to buy a classic, but don’t know what kind, make your way down to McKenzie Park on Saturday for the Hermiston Classic Car Club’s 18th annual Cool Rides show. The club’s website also has a photo album page that can give you some ideas – or just make your mouth water.