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Car Corner
Revisiting The Classic Car Search

January 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

Wait one minute, Scott! You're joking, right? You just sold a 67 Camaro RS Convertible a few months ago so you could get a new convertible. In fact, last month you just tried to shorten your list of new cars to consider. Why are you looking at old cars again?

O.K. For those of you that follow my hair brained automotive indulgences, let me explain. While I was selling my 67 Camaro I spent a fair amount of time looking at other cars for sale online. I mainly did this to be sure I was asking a fair price for my car and, of course, to check out the competition. However, while I was looking at ALL those cars, I just kept thinking I wanted one... yes, even though I had one. A classic case of "the grass is always greener."

The Problem

See, the problem wasn't that I didn't want a classic car. The problem was the car I ended up with. When I bought the 67 Camaro I had a budget of $12,000. I spent $13,000 on the 67 Camaro. That put a hurt on my finances, and left no money to put into the car. The Camaro did not have air conditioning, power steering, disc brakes or even a stereo. My goal was always a "daily driver" classic car. I also wanted a convertible, so I tried combining a classic daily driver and a convertible with the 67 Camaro RS Convertible.

After 5 weeks of driving the 67 Camaro daily, the transmission died. Since I was over budget at purchase time I did not have the money to fix it. So it sat for 3 months while I saved (barely) for the transmission. At that point I had approximately $13,800 into the car. I still couldn't afford to do anything more to it. It still didn't have A/C, no stereo, a headlight door that didn't work, no power steering and drum brakes. To make things worse, the rear window split on the second day out with the new transmission. It was frustrating.

In a nutshell, my 67 Camaro was not a daily driver. It was a very good car, and could have been a great car. I was able to maintain the condition of the car (except the rear window), but I had to check the weather anytime I wanted to drive it to work. In the summer, when you would think a convertible would be the most pleasurable, it was the least. In south central Texas it is over 95 degrees throughout the summer. Driving in that sun left me sweating mercilessly every day. Being an old convertible it is easier to steal than a kids bicycle, so I would not take it anywhere I would have to leave it unattended.

Basically I spent too much and got a car that needed a few necessary items to fulfill my daily driver requirements (A/C, stereo, power steering, etc.).

The Sale

When money got tight I initially put the car up for sale in haste. But it didn't bother me, since I was not able to enjoy the car as much as I thought I would. Basically, I still did NOT have the money the car needed to be enjoyable as a daily driver. It would take $1,500 - $2,500 to put in A/C, fix the headlight door, fix the wipers, replace the back window and add a stereo. I didn't have that money. Power steering and disc brakes would have been another $1,500 or so. That was $3,000 to $4,000 I did not have.

I eventually sold the car for $14,500. Then I started thinking, what if I used that money to buy another classic car. I know, this is were this article starts to get crazy. To buy another classic car and expect it to be a valid daily driver I would need a car that was reliable, and probably not a convertible. This time I would have to stick to the budget... no matter what. Since I won't get a warrantee I need to leave enough money left over to cover repairs or upgrades to get a car into a condition that I can enjoy driving almost everyday. If I want it to be a project car then I should leave money left over to start working on it as a project.

With all that said, I can't help looking at classic cars. I tend to get online and check a few places I really like a couple of times a week. I know, I'm crazy. I went through all the old links I saved up from past searches. I paired them down to a handful that make up my "master list." These sites always seem to have at least one car I would like, and can afford. Some of the sites have multiple cars I would be willing to drop cash on. I also narrowed down the massive list of sites I have to an extra handful that are worth checking back on from time to time. They may not have the best selection, but once in a while they have one or two nice cars that I can afford.

New Classic Car Search

I can't buy a car, any car, until after the summer. I have until then to decide if I want to try this again. After I take the family on a trip to Florida I will be considering buying a car. I am leaning toward a new car, but maybe I can try a classic car with a more thought out plan than last time. If I find a classic I really like... and can live with on a daily basis, I may go this route again.

Before looking I need to set some ground rules. I tried to come up with as many mandatory requirements for another classic car. For this exercise I am going to use the selling price of my Camaro, $14,500, as the budget for a classic car. At this price I have pretty much given up on convertibles, which is fine for now. Here are the requirements for my next classic car:

  1. My budget is $14,500... no more. I would like to stay under $13,000 so I have money left over for any possible repairs that might come up, or to start tinkering with the car. Like the saying goes, "everything is negotiable," so I will do my best to limit my searches to cars that are listed at no more than $16,000. (The 67 Camaro I bought for $13,000 was listed for $15,900. Like I said, everything is negotiable.)
  2. Air conditioning. It is hot hear in Texas, so this is a must. If the car does not have working air conditioning I will lower any offer to cover the cost to fix or add air conditioning immediately after purchase. Vintage Air has such a huge selection of A/C systems that I should have no trouble. Figure $1000 - $1500 for a system. That means I have to "low ball" any offer by that amount.
  3. Manual transmission. I did not restrict myself to looking at manual transmission cars the last time. My wife does not drive a manual. This time I would like to heavily favor a manual transmission. Unfortunately, during some preliminary looking to start this article I noticed that almost every car I liked was equipped with an automatic. Getting a manual may be difficult no matter what.
  4. Power steering and disc brakes. I want the car to be safe and easy to drive on a daily basis. If I get an automatic my wife should be able to drive the car without worry. The turn-in to my garage is a nightmare for manual steering, so I have to have power steering. I will consider non-power disc brakes, but they have to stop the car safely without too much pedal effort. If these items are missing I don't mind, but I want them and will lower the buying price to cover the cost of adding them shortly after purchase. Figure $500 for a bare bones disc brake swap to $1000 for a nice aftermarket disc brake upgrade, and $500 for a power steering conversion.
  5. No convertibles. As stated earlier, trying to combine a daily driver classic with a convertible at this price range is asking for trouble. Convertibles cost way too much, and my budget is tight. Plus, you make a lot of sacrifices for a convertible. Chassis flex, noise, performance, comfort, etc. There is a huge risk of theft as well. If I do look at a convertible it will HAVE TO have a power top. I will look closely for good fitting window seals and weather stripping. It must be enjoyable with the top up, because it WILL be driven that way.
  6. No Rust! This was the one criteria I followed last time and I can't over-emphasize it. Rust is expensive to remove/repair properly. I don't have the skills to do it myself, so rust repairs would have to be factored into the cost of the car. If you factor in the rust repair costs you also need to factor in a paint job. I don't mind driving a car that has average to poor quality paint, but I will not drive a car with a bunch of primer patches. If it needs body repairs then the repairs and a decent paint job must be deducted from the buying price. I have not priced a decent paint job, but I think I would need to stay under $10,000 for a car that has ANY rust.
  7. Repairs. If the car needs ANYTHING repaired to be a reliable daily driver those repairs need to be deducted from the buying price. For example, if the clutch is slipping then I would deduct the cost to replace the clutch from the buying price. If it needed a battery, brakes, water pump, etc. it would be figured into any offer I make.
  8. Performance. This is the tough one. I want a project car with the intention of building a performance car. But sometimes I think just getting a "cruiser" would be good enough. Either way, I would assume some performance upgrades would be performed, and I might want to leave some money left over to get started on them.

Gee, I was hoping to come up with a top ten list of requirements. I must still be settling on something. Maybe I should add NO BLACK cars. Black is too hot in Texas, but I had a black car before (I traded in a black Honda CRX for my 93 Camaro... which has a black roof). With air conditioning, a garage to park the car in, and a white interior a black car should be acceptable. I could also add NO PONY CARS. Last time I was looking at way too many Camaros and Mustangs. Camaros and Mustangs generally cost more than Chevelles and Novas, which coast more than Impalas, etc. My wife told me not to compromise, but I HAVE to compromise. I cannot afford my dream car... yet.

A pie in the sky would be a car with power windows. I know, you are thinking I must be nuts to want power windows in a classic 60s car... and you are right. I won't find many cars with power windows. Even though I am not getting a convertible, I want to enjoy "window down" driving when the weather is moderate. So... if the car does not have power windows I must be able to roll all the windows down from the drivers seat. I could not do that in my 67 Camaro. The rear windows needed two hands to help them along. At the very least I want windows that work properly. And I wouldn't mind the idea of ADDING power windows.

Conclusion

I want an enjoyable classic car that I can drive almost every day. It does not have to be a Camaro or a Mustang. I am partial to Chevys and Mopars. Mopars are more expensive than Chevys, mainly because there are far fewer of them left around, so I don't expect to be looking at many of them.

So the search is on. Over the next few months I will probably do what I have done in the past and scour the Internet for cars. The ones that are close to my requirements I will display here, and make my usual comments.

Motor On!

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