How To Buy a Classic Car
November 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis
I get an e-mail now and then asking me about buying classic cars. Most recently someone was interested in buying a 67-68 Camaro Convertible (thanks for the inspiration, Matt). The biggest question seems to be about price. Do cars really cost so much? How do they get away with asking far more than the car seems to be worth? In helping our Camaro lover above, I spieled out a few things for him. Now I want to do that for all of you, as well as add as much info as I can cram into an article. Sit back, this will should take you about 30-45 minutes to read.
I have read a few articles that tell you what to look for when buying a classic car, and some that give some pointers about where to look. But none really intrigued me. Yes, it is important to know where to look for rust, how to determine if the car has a lot of Bondo, and if the car tracks straight going down the road. I firmly believe you should buddy up to a good mechanic and pay him for his professional advice before spending thousands and thousands on a car that will not have any warrantee.
What I want to cover in this article is information about finding & buying a car. I think a lot of magazines gloss over the buying aspect for fear of retribution. If a national magazine comes out and says that 80% of all the cars on the market are overpriced, one of two things may happen. 1) The buying public will use that as a tool to get prices down, or 2) the magazine will be the target of a class action lawsuit brought by a bunch of used car dealers claiming their business was hurt because of the article. Of course, the first is more probable, the second is the reason the magazines won't publish such an article.
I don't have those problems for two simple reasons. 1) My circulation is far too small to ever get enough attention to be a problem for dealers. 2) This is an opinion column. It is my right to have such an opinion and to publish it here.
Now, you could write a book about this stuff, and many have. Hopefully the information I will provide will get you further along than any other article you have ever read. But, you are still expected to do more reading, as I will explain below. Let me know how useful this information is. I am really interested in your experiences. If I get enough feedback from readers that followed the tips in here, I would like to follow this article up with another showing some success stories.
As stated above this column is my opinion. You are free to think I am wrong, but I will just think you are wrong. Trust me, if you make it to the end of this article you will be more on my side than theirs.
Also, my tastes slant toward mid 60s to early 70s Muscle Cars. This article will be geared toward cars from that era, but you should be able to apply the topics covered here to any older cars.
I am starting here because this should be a very short topic, but it will probably be the longest. Setting your budget, sounds simple enough, right? Well, it's not. Only you can decide how much money you are willing to put into a classic old car that may not even be capable of getting you to work... even once in a while. Personally I would never buy a car that I couldn't drive to work at least occasionally. If you are looking for a show car then this article is not for you. I believe cars where meant to be driven. If you are looking to buy a car that will see less than 500 miles a year I wish you and your fat wallet well.
Why is it hard to set a budget? Well, because there is more to buying a classic car than dropping down the cash and riding off into the sunset (unless you are the fat wallet type). Let's use our Camaro lover, Matt, as an example. Let's say that Matt has a budget of $20,000. This is a nice chunk of change. Most people would think you should be able to buy a very nice car for that kind of money. They would be right, but it won't be easy.
Let's break down some of the hidden costs involved that might effect that budget. In my state we have to pay sales tax when you register a used car. Yes, I know, the original owner already paid the sales tax on the car when it was new, but this is one of the government's bigger rip offs. They collect sales tax every time a car changes hands. Depending on where you buy a car, where you register the car and how honest everyone involved is, you will have to pay sales tax when you buy the car. I think the rate in Texas is around 7% (which we will use for this example). So that $20,000 now becomes $21,400.
What if you are buying a car out of state. This is very likely. In fact, the person that bought my 67 Camaro was from Northern California and he bought it sight unseen (I did provide 50 high resolution pictures, so he knew what he was getting). I let him talk me down in price because he was going to pay to have the car picked up and delivered. He was talking about $1,300 when we were negotiating. I don't know if he really paid that much, but it seemed reasonable. Let's say he was jerking my chain, and you can get a car transported for about $1000. Now we are up to $22,400.
Let's say the car we are buying has been in storage for a while. Its tires are dry rotted. I bring this up because some of the cars I inspected when I was actively looking had tires that had full tread, but had cracks in the sidewalls. Also, my boss just bought a 67 Coronet R/T on eBay for $8,000 that was "sitting in a barn" for over ten years. It needs tires and will probably need hoses and belts just to be remotely road worthy. Let's assume $100 a tire. That's another $400 bringing the total up to $22,800. Why don't we round this up to $23,000 for a simple tune up and to replace those belts and hoses.
Let's say the air conditioning is blowing "a little cold." Something I have heard a few times. In fact, one car I looked at had the air conditioning running off of a toggle switch instead of the controls in the car. Oops! If we plan on driving this car even semi-regularly we should plan to fix that. Can we do the work ourselves, or do we have to hire someone? And let's not forget a brake job. You want the car to be safe, right? I am not going to "jack up" our price here, but you need to decide what you are willing to live with and what repairs must come out of your budget.
Let's get back to the out of state car. I mentioned above getting a mechanic to inspect the car. There are plenty of services that will do that. I paid $165 to have my wife's Porsche inspected before I bought it (I learned it needed new tires that I did not notice when I checked the car out). Now we are up to $23,165.
Are we the Type-A personality, the control freak, the anal type that must see the car in person? Add a few hundred dollars (we'll guess $300) for a round trip ticket. You always book a round trip ticket so you are not forced into anything. Now we are up to $23,465.
Maybe we want to save the $1000 delivery charge, so we will drive the car home. What kind of mileage are we going to get driving a car 1,500 miles home. Let's see 1500 miles at a hopeful 15 mpg is 100 gallons of gas, at about $1.90 a gallon comes to $190. Will we need a hotel room along the way. Add another 50 bucks. Food for the road... another 50. Oh yea, don't forget we have to fly to the car. Was this the $300 trip we already made, or will we have to go back to get the car at a later date?
I hope I have made my point. We are looking at spending in the neighborhood of $22,775 - $23,465 for a car with a "budget" of $20,000. Can we afford that extra three grand, or are we going to be hurting... or sleeping in the car when the wife kicks us out of the house.
Later we will spend some time on negotiating the final selling price. For now what if we assume that we can knock $2,000 off the asking price, do we start looking at cars that are priced at $22,000? When you start looking at higher priced cars it gets harder to start sacrificing condition and quality for a lower price range.
All the above math makes one fatal assumption. The first car we spend money to see is the car we buy. This is probably not realistic. In fact, if you think this way you will be putting pressure on yourself to buy. You should assume that you will see a lot of cars and burning more than a few weekends driving around your state. If you spend $300 on a flight and don't like the car will that 300 bucks come out of your budget. When I was looking for my 67 Camaro any flights to see cars definitely came out of my budget, but I was able to "hide" the money spent on gas for all the "local" trips.
Did you think coming up with a budget was easy? If you can find a car locally (driving distance in a day) then I would make sure I had at least $1,500 left over after the sale (including tax, title, etc.) to account for any possible problems. You don't want to park a car after a few drives because the transmission went out. I had to do this with my 67 Camaro. Five weeks of driving and the transmission, which had only 8000 miles on it, died a miserable death. The car sat for 3 months while I saved up for a replacement transmission. That was not fun.
If you really do have $20,000 then you might want to keep the purchase price to $17,000 to cover taxes, possible repairs, travel expenses, etc.
Financing & Insurance
Here is the big kicker to your budget. You can finance almost anything, including classic cars. Are you going to be financing your purchase? This is very important. I have nothing bad to say about financing. I did it. However, you should always get your financing taken care of before you get to the point you have to negotiate for a car. We will get to negotiating in a minute, but make sure that you already have the money to buy. I personally recommend getting an unsecured loan. You may think I am crazy, but if interest rates are low and you can finance $20,000 on a "personal" loan you are relieved of the burden of meeting the financial institution's requirements for insurance.
Insurance can be a problem. I have never heard of an insurance company that will insure a classic car that you are allowed to drive to work. I only buy cars that I can drive to work. I did not use my car as collateral for my loan, so I was able to get basic liability insurance with no restrictions on how I drove my car. This is a personal decision you will need to make. Classic car insurance from Haggerty or Grundy's is great... if you don't drive it to work. You decide.
Just get your finances in order before you start negotiating. You can look while you are getting the money together, but don't negotiate.
The Purchase Price
Ah, yes. This is the section most of you really want to know about. The price. What price is that? The asking price? The price listed by NADA or CPI? No. You want to know the price the car actually sells for. So do I. The only way you can find that out is to ask the seller what they actually sold the car for, or buy it yourself.
Pricing guides (actually value guides) do just that. They compile their information by researching auctions and following up on sales to get as much information as possible about what the cars actually sell for. I think I received such a call. The only woman to call about my car was also the only person that asked what I sold it for. Since she only asked two questions (the first being if the car was still for sale) I suspect she was from some value guide, but I didn't ask. We will get to value guides below, but you need to keep in mind that a value guide is your best resource for what cars really sell for.
Everything is negotiable. This is as true as you can imagine. Everyone has their price. Count on it. However, you must be realistic. If you are going to try and buy a car with a value (confirmed by research) of $30,000 for only $20,000 then you are living a pipe dream. With the current trend in prices today, and auctions like eBay and Barrett-Jackson, you will not be the one to find that all elusive bargain. There are people that do that for a living.
I can tell you this... the asking price is rarely the purchase price. I have talked with one dealer and he told me that if he needed to get $15,000 for a car he would put it on his lot for $17,900. But he wouldn't do that if the car didn't show well to justify asking 18K. Basically he assumes ahead of time that he will negotiate the price. You can assume the same thing.
Asking Price vs. Purchase Price
As stated, I believe a classic car rarely sells for its asking price. Come on. You have thought this way your entire life. If you were going to sell a car would you advertise it for the lowest amount you would accept, or would you advertise it with some room to negotiate. Do you think dealers don't think this way. They do.
When I sold my car I advertised it for $16,000, even though I only needed to get $15,000 for it. I eventually changed the advertised price to $15,000 FIRM, and then took $14,500 for it. Let's look at that from the other side. When I bought my 67 Camaro I had a budget of $12,000. I called about a car that was priced at $15,900. Upon seeing and loving the car I asked what he was willing to take for it. The guy said, "it wouldn't be worth it for me to take less than $13,000." I went over budget and bought the car. By the way... never go over budget... if your budget is really all the money you have to spend. I regretted it, and that is one of the reason why I eventually sold the car. The point here is that the price was negotiable. The worst that can happen if you offer a low amount is that they say no, and you keep looking.
Like I said, everything is negotiable. Plan on doing it yourself.
Negotiating the Sale
I said that everyone really wanted to know about the actual purchase price of a car. Maybe I was a bit hasty. You really want to know how do you go about negotiating a good deal for yourself. I will do my best to tell you just that. If you follow what I am about to outline below you can be sure of one thing... you should not get ripped off. I am a conservative buyer when it comes to classic cars. Yes, I fall for the passion of cars, and have a hard time controlling my enthusiasm when I see a car I really like. But, I have done enough research (more on research in a moment) that I would not be looking at a car unless one of two things were true. 1) The car was worth at least close to what they are asking, or 2) I couldn't tell what the car was worth until I saw it. The second of those doesn't come into play during negotiations, but comes into play while looking for cars. You should expect to look for a long time.
I remember looking at a car in New Hampshire (pictures only). It was a 69 Camaro Convertible. They were asking $14,000 for it. It was gold with a black interior, 6 cylinder engine and Powerglide automatic. I really liked the car. The main pictures were very pleasing to the eye. I contacted the dealer selling the car. They sent me quite a few high resolution pictures showing the undercarriage of the car. We exchanged a few e-mails. I thought the car looked good. Then I showed my mechanic the pictures. He pointed out the rust that was covered up. Oops. The point is that I didn't even have to get to the point of negotiating on the price because I did enough research (in a manner of speaking) to determine the car was not worth it. Because of the undercarriage rust I had to assume that the body had been painted, and could possibly be covering body work to remove rust. I also saw cars that claimed to have no rust, except a tiny crack. That tiny crack was in Bondo. The rust was coming back through from previous body work and paint.
You will need to determine these things yourself. For the moment we will assume you have checked the car out (either yourself or through a mechanic/inspection service) and know you want the car. Let's start giving a couple of examples of what you need to do to negotiate a sale.
Determine the car's value. This is critical. Use at least one of the pricing/value guides mentioned below to get in the ball park. Let's take an example from my Classic Car Watch column. In the September 2004 column I showed a 70 Barracuda that was priced at $14,500. CPI (my preferred value guide) lists a plain 70 Barracuda at a price of $10,075 in excellent condition. Yes, this car looked excellent to my eye. We will assume that the car would hold up to a personal inspection. Are they crazy for asking over $4,000 more than a professional value guide states the car is worth. No. They are in business. This car did have full power (PS, PB, A/C and even power windows). It also had a 6 cylinder engine. Does this make the car more rare and desirable than a 318 powered Barracuda. No. And that's your leverage. The car is not worth more because they say so. It is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. You can bring your CPI guide with you. I had one guy pull out his NADA book right in front of me while looking at my 67 Camaro. I would have done the same thing when I was shopping except my CPI Guide showed up in the mail about three days after I agreed to buy my 67 Camaro.
Your biggest weapon is knowledge. Let's take another look at the Barracuda. NADA shows that the 6 cylinder engine should deduct 10% from the value from the 318 V-8, but adds 10% for the air conditioning. So this car is not rare enough to justify a high price. NADA lists this car at $5,650, $10,750, $16,500 for Low Retail, Average Retail, and High Retail respectively.
Maybe $14.5K isn't too much. When I was selling my Camaro CPI put it at $14,000 in good condition and the guy with the NADA book showed it listed as $16,100 in average retail. Go figure. So who do we go buy. Well, we only take the low one with us to negotiate, but we keep in mind the high one. For example, if this Barracuda was priced at $17,900 I wouldn't even look at it. If a car is priced higher than the highest "book" value clearly the seller will be wasting our time. Also, notice the words that are used by NADA. Retail! That means a dealer to me. If you are buying from a dealer they expect to make a profit. Why not, they are in business. But there is a difference between making a profit and ripping someone off.
Expect a dealer to want more for a car than an individual. You should try to deal with individuals as much as possible. Unfortunately, dealers are all over the place, and with consignment sales it is very attractive for sellers to use a dealer. Or maybe they traded up which is why the dealer has the car. Also, dealers negotiate for a living, so you are not going to be able to find that elusive gold mine at a dealer. People can be pressured much more easily when they need to sell one car. They get tired of answer all the questions, over and over.
Remember the old saying... money talks, b.s. walks. This is very true. When you go to see a car it is best if you have money with you. Especially if you plan to offer a low amount. Here are two examples that actually happened.
Case #1: I spent a few phone call back and forth with a guy about buying my 67 Camaro. He already had a 69 Z/28, but it was a bit too much and he wanted something he could drive more and enjoy with his family. He came to test drive it and even had an NADA book with him. He knew I wanted $16K for the car. He asked how flexible I was. I tried to avoid that, letting him think I was pretty firm. He knew the car was in good condition, which should have met the "middle" value in his NADA book, which stated $16,100. I also know he was very knowledgeable about Camaros because he could tell the car was the correct color just by glancing at the trim tag... and not looking anything up. He didn't make an actual offer when he saw the car. He just tried to tell me what he would do with the car. Basically he was trying to soften me up. We exchanged a few more phone calls and e-mails. Finally I was ready to lower my price. I e-mailed him (along with everyone else that e-mailed me with questions) that I was willing to go down to $15,000 FIRM. I had blown this guy off after not hearing from him for a couple of weeks. Then I receive an e-mail asking me, if he "showed up at my house with $14,500 would I send him home or give him the car." I said I would give him the car. At this point I assumed I was done selling the car. However, he was just getting started. He said he wanted to have it checked out by a mechanic. In other words, he wasn't really ready to make the offer. A mechanic might find things that you should know before you make an offer. Besides, he didn't even have a mechanic lined up and asked if I knew one. Yea, I knew one... that would say the car was was worth $25,000. Never expect the seller to provide a mechanic. And never, ever make a low offer unless you are ready to cough up the dough.
Case #2: I get a phone call from a guy about my car. It seemed like he was driving around, and I assumed he was reading the info from a print publication (one of the web sites I advertised with also publishes a monthly print publication). He wanted to see more pictures of the car. I told him the web address to my own site was in the ad. He saw that and said he would call after seeing the pictures. That night he calls back and says he wants the car and would I accept $14,500 for it because he was going to have to have it shipped. I said yes. The next day he sent me a cashiers check for $14,500 overnight. I sent him the title overnight the following day. Now I just waited until the shipping guys came to pickup the car.
If you are going to make a low offer you need to have the cash ready to go. If you visit the car in person bring the money if you can, or tell the guy you can walk down to the bank and have it wired into his account. Of course, you did already check into this with your own bank, so you could wire the money while out of town, right? I understand the need to not carry cash, but then you need to make arrangements ahead of time that will be as close to bringing cash as possible. If you can bring the actual cash you are a huge step up. Seeing the money in hand is definitely an incentive for the seller to take it, especially private sellers. It is hard to resist when there is no trouble for the seller.
Let's get back to our Barracuda example. I liked it. What should I do? Wait, that's what. Patience is your second best weapon (remember, the first... the pricing guides). If the car is over priced in your opinion then "save" the ad and contact information. Will you still like the car a month later? Will it still be for sale? Will you like it after seeing a dozen other cars? Will the asking price come down?
All these are possible. So we wait. Contact the seller and ask for more pictures. Try to get pictures of the undercarriage. Let the seller know you are interested. Give him your contact information. The more time he spends with you the more he should be willing to bargain with you. It is a time vs. money issue. Time is money. If he thinks you are serious and he invests time with you he will need to make that time worthwhile. Think of this as wearing him down. Just don't let the seller know that's what you are doing. Get some pictures one week. The following week get the trim tag and VIN information. Verify the previous owners the following week. Ask if it is on consignment another week. All these things show you are serious. This can be critical to a dealer looking to unload a car.
Do not negotiate on price until you have spent some time letting the dealer know you are interested and he has put in time getting you information. You need to make an informed decision on whether or not you really want the car before you negotiate on price. Avoid the quick question, "how flexible are you on price?" This is a dead give away to a dealer that you are only serious if the price drops drastically. A good dealer will invest less time with you if he thinks that you are just trying to scam a bargain.
If the car is local (in the same state) go see it. If it is at a dealership make an appointment. You want the same person dealing with you every time. It's his time that is more important than yours. Always take your CPI or NADA guide with you. In fact, let the salesman see you using it. Mark in it with a highlighter. Hopefully he will see lots of highlighter markings. If you are visiting a dealer try showing interest in other cars, even if you are not. Let him think you are serious to buy if the right car comes along.
Then start going over the car with a fine tooth comb. Make notes about everything that does not meet with the Excellent & High Retail descriptions from CPI and NADA, respectively.
Let him see you taking notes. Try to come up with estimates on what it would take to fix anything wrong, or replace any missing parts. Even if the estimates are wrong. You can take your notes home and get real estimates later on the cost of parts and labor. To get an excellent or high retail rating a car should need nothing.
Once you have come up with some reasonable figure for what the car needs you will have to decide if you really need those things taken care of. If it needs a headliner, do you need to have a new headliner as part of your budget? Determine all of these things.
Now it is time to make an offer. I would take the lowest value from all of your research, deducting for repairs and such. This is your first offer. You might want to lower it a little, just in case.
In our Barracuda example I can't tell if the car needs anything, so we will assume it doesn't. That means I should offer the $10K from the CPI guide, assuming the car is excellent by their rating. This is when you tell them about your guide... if they didn't already see you with it.
If you ever ask the seller (usually a dealer, but sometimes a person) why they have a car priced so high, you can usually expect an answer like this, "well, we have $XX,XXX dollars in receipts, and that's just for parts." This is the oldest scam in the book. If you spend $15,000 restoring a car worth $10,000 what is it worth? It is worth $10,000 and you spent way too much restoring it.
Let's say you buy a car. You love it. It is in very rough shape, but you have the money to restore it. You want the car to look like you remember from your youth. You pay a restoration shop to restore it. Since they need to make money on the restoration, or they wouldn't be in business, you will lose money on the car. You did not have the car restored to make a profit. You restored it because you wanted to. If you want to make money in the automotive restoration business then you need to restore the car yourself.
The next time they claim how much they spent on a car to restore, remind them of the line right out of the CPI guide, "the restoration costs will almost certainly exceed the value of the finished vehicle." That line comes from describing basket case cars, but it applies to everything. A car does not go up in value just because you spent money on it. Maybe you went to the place with the highest prices instead of shopping around for a good deal. Maybe you paid for all the labor vs. doing it yourself.
Jay Leno says that you should never go to a big restoration shop. Always find the guy that works out of his backyard. He is doing it because he loves it. The big shop is doing it to make a profit. Eventually the big shop will get greedy and cut corners to increase profits, or raise there prices. The guy working out of his one car garage enjoys doing it and probably makes just enough money to feed his family... if that.
This is the area where everyone falls short... even me. You really need to do research when buying a classic car. Too many people think they can just start looking at ads, pick a car and buy it. That may work in the new car world where you get a warrantee, and it may even work in California where they have a place called Fantasy Land over at Disney Land. It is not that simple.
Here are some of the areas where research should be spent.
1) Classifieds. Yes, you can use the classifieds themselves for research. 2) Auction Sites 3) Dealers and their web sites. 4) Car specific web sites. 5) Price guides. 6) Car Clubs. 7) Books.
I will explain below how you can use all of these items to help you with the following goals:
1) Buying a car that you will enjoy. 2) Not getting ripped off. 3) Protecting your investment (also know as resale value).
Let's get started with the classifieds. This means online and offline (paper) classifieds. My personal favorite is Collector Car Trader. What can you learn at CCT? For one, you should be able to get a feel for what cars are selling for. This is the number one area where classifieds help you. Determine the "asking" price range for the cars you are interested in. You need to take this information with a huge grain of salt... something like a 5 pound salt lick. Just because you see cars advertised for a price does not mean it is worth the asking price. As we have said, it probably won't sell for the asking price.
That brings up one good point. If you are calling about a car and it has sold, ask what it sold for. This increases your knowledge of what cars are selling for. This is what the value guides do. Why can't you? Think of it as getting up to date information to supplement the value guides. The worst that can happen is the seller won't tell you, which will probably be the case with a dealer.
You can also use the classifieds to see how long cars stay on the market. This is better with online classifieds. Get out that salt lick, because you can't trust the information in online classifieds as an accurate way to determine how long a car stays on the market. Web sites don't get updated. People don't bother to turn off their ad. They figure it will run out anyway. I have seen cars in classifieds last for over a year. I can't believe that the owners are selling a car for over a year. I can believe that the web site doesn't clean itself up.
Let's take CCT for example. I remember calling about a Firebird when I was looking for a Camaro. I came across a 68 Firebird 400 convertible. It looked excellent in the pictures and was priced only $500 over my budget. Plus, it was located in Austin, a little more than an hours drive away. I found the ad on a Tuesday. CCT displays the posted date which was from that previous weekend. I called that night and the person's answering machine already said the car was sold. Now, since I was looking for Camaros, not Firebirds, I don't know for sure how long it was on CCT's site. However, I did check on Firebirds every two to three weeks, so the Firebird was probably not listed for more that a couple of weeks.
When I listed my own car on CCT's site I would "update" the description twice a week. Why? Because updating the description has CCT change the posted date. Even if all I did was take out a period. Since the default is to display the most recent cars first, this trick keeps your car at the top of the list. I have seen many cars that were on the market for weeks show up as only a day or two old. I am not the only one who thought of this tactic. Now you know and you will use it toward your advantage.
The way you use the classifieds to see how long cars are for sale is to diligently check the sites multiple times a week. Hey you are looking for a car, right? Then you need to do this so you can be the first to call about that perfect bargain as soon as it goes online.
I call this constant vigilance. You must check again and again. You will see the same cars over and over. But you will also get an idea which cars sell quickly, and which do not. You should determine if the overpriced cars take a while to sell, or just the poor quality cars.
Always save the links to the cars that match your criteria, and check those ads again and again. Try to record when they were first posted (for real) so you can see which are really new. Then track them until they are sold.
EBayMotors. Yea, you've heard of it. Long before you read this article. If you know what you want you should be checking eBay all the time. eBay is for research. Even if you know you will never bid for a car you need to spend many hours on eBay.
Recently I noticed that they started listing the bid amounts. A year or so ago I remember the bid amounts would not be revealed until after the auction was closed. This doesn't matter to you, because you will be applying that constant vigilance to check eBay and you will check the bids after the auction is ended.
You should spend a few hours each week checking all the auctions with cars of similar make and model to what you are looking for. You will save the links to the appropriate cars. When you go to add a link to your favorites (you should put all the eBay cars in one folder) the description that eBay shows includes the date the auction will end as well as the make and model of the car. This makes looking at the list of links in your favorites very easy. In other words... you have no excuse for not doing it.
You will use this information to determine what cars actually sell for. You will also learn when cars don't sell because of the over abused reserve price.
You really should consider eBay a great resource for information. I find the descriptions of vehicles are far better there then anywhere else. This will help you match the description of the car to where it should fall in the value guides' ratings. Also, track how many cars sell for more than they are worth. Probably not many. eBay is the great equalizer. It's easier for a salesman to convince you of something when you are at his lot, or calling his dealership. With eBay you can easily see what does and does not sell and what cars are selling for. Everything is there for you to gain a lot of truly useful information.
Let's take this a step further. If you are serious about finding a car then you should e-mail the sellers of cars on eBay. I am not saying you need to bid, but you do need to ask at least one question... what is the reserve price. This will help you in your massive information gathering. If I was doing this I would rename the link after I added it to my favorites to include the reserve price. This way you won't lose it.
I have never bid for a car on eBay, but I can give you a couple of pointers if you decide you want to. First, get a professional inspection. Since you are using that constant vigilance you will see the cars very early and should have enough time to setup an inspection. I shouldn't have to tell you this... but rust is probably going to be the most important thing you gain from an inspection.
Contact the seller and ask for as many pictures as he can provide. Ask the seller what the reserve is. If the reserve is more that you're willing to spend then just track the car to see if it sells. Set the maximum you are willing to pay for a car before you put any bid down... and stick to it. Do not get suckered into a bidding war, you will lose money in the long run.
Finally, contact the sellers of cars that don't sell. They should be willing to talk about a regular sale. Maybe they will come to their senses on their reserve price once they see how few bids they get. You need to hit eBay hard if you want it to pay off.
I recently followed a car on eBay. It was a 1966 Chevelle SS 396 Clone. Take a look for yourself. What did you notice? You were supposed to come away with two very important pieces of information. Were you paying attention? Take another look. Figure it out yet? No. Have you been reading this article? What was the reserve of the Chevelle? Nothing! There was no reserve. That was an important piece of information. Next, how much did he really want for the car? Can you tell? Do you know how you can tell? No. Look again. Look at the pictures. Notice the picture at the very bottom of the page. See the price? Of course not, he crossed it out. However, he forgot to cross it out on some of the other pictures. This car was being auctioned off by a dealer (I think). At some point he was asking $22,000 for this car. Yea, Right!
Let's have some fun with this example. How much is this car worth? What does CPI say it is worth? Look it up. Don't be lazy. You need the practice. If you have read this far you need this exercise. Look it up. Do you know what to look up? Look up a Chevrolet/Chevelle, then 1966, then "Malibu Hardtop Coupe." Wait, why not look up an "SS396 Coupe"? Is this an SS 396? No. It is a regular Chevelle that has been made to look like an SS 396. At least he put a 396 in it (more on that in a future article). So what is it worth? CPI puts this car at a maximum of $12,450. Did you check to see what an SS 396 was worth? Why not? You really do need this practice. A real SS 396 tops out at $24,450. Twice as much. Now you know why people make clones.
If you were interested in this car (for this exercise you will pretend you want this car and the auction is still active) you have something to decide. Do you want to spend more than a car is worth? Is a clone worth more than the car it is based on? I don't think so, but to a degree you need to make one assumption. You are paying more for a clone than the base model because you would be paying for the labor and expense in building the clone. That 396 engine had to cost money at some point in time. And this car looks very nice in the pictures. Do we allow extra for "craftsmanship"? In my opinion this car sold for a reasonable price at $15,350. I would not be willing to go much higher for a clone. That is a question you will have to ask yourself.
Remember, this car is at a dealer. NADA lists "retail" prices. What does NADA put this car at? NADA lists a High Retail for a Chevelle 300 at $7,175 and adds 35% for a 396 engine bring it to $9,686. However, the SS 396 listed by NADA shows a whopping $39,500. I don't know where they got that, and one reason why I like CPI better.
Clearly this car is not worth almost $40K. I think it went well at $15K, and $22K was a rip off. Look at it this way, if the dealer (we assume) still made a profit on this car at $15,350, image the profit he would have made if he sold it for $22,000. This is why I hate dealers and their "we have $XX,XXX in receipts" garbage. Let the buying public be the determining factor. And in this case the public did the right thing.
eBay... the ultimate resource for the serious buyer. And you don't even have to bid.
Kruse International auctions can also be a good resource. Their web site usually has information on past auctions. Information like the final bid or whether the car didn't sell can help you find that elusive correct price for a car. Unfortunately, the Kruse site has remarkably small descriptions and few pictures for you to determine what the condition of the cars are. But it is still a resource.
Dealer web sites are just like classifieds. If you visit the same dealers over and over you should see when they get in something new, and know which cars sell quickly and which sell slowly. If every 67-68 Camaro sells within two weeks then maybe they are pricing them fairly.
When I get serious about looking I find a couple dozen dealers and check them each multiple times a week. You will see cars come and go. As an example, I saw a 1972 Demon on a web site here in Texas. They were asking $14,600 for the car. It had a 383 engine when the largest engine available in 72 was a 340. So it was a big block swap. CPI maxed this car out at a little more than $11,000. I watched this car stay on that web site for about 6 months. Then they lowered the price to $11,000 and the car was gone from their web site within about two weeks (roughly, I was not checking every single week). Clearly the car sold when it was priced appropriately.
Most recently I saw a car show up again. In my August Classic Car Watch column you will see a nice looking green Trans Am clone. It was priced at $11,995, but sold before the end of that month, or so I thought. I just saw it show up on that same site in later October... this time for $14,995. I don't think it is suddenly worth an extra three grand, but it is important that I knew what they did in the past. This is the perfect time to come in with a low offer.
Watching dealer's sites lets you see when prices get reduced... or even increased. A good dealer should know what a car is worth and what they think they can get for it. If they lowered the price the car could have been a dud, or maybe they were way off in pricing. This is your best time to offer an even lower price. Any car that sits for months on a site should also be ripe for a low offer. Since dealers will sell cars on consignment they may be at the mercy of the actual seller to advertise it for a particular price. Again, this is a good time to make a low offer. They may be required to take the offer to the actual owner, and he may get tired of the car not selling.
Visit the same dealer's sites often. At the end of this article I will list a few dozen sites to get you started. In other words... I am going to do some of the research for you. Bookmark the sites and start tracking their inventory. You will be enlightened.
Car Specific Web Sites
Here is where we get into knowing the vehicle. If you must have a 69 COPO Camaro, do you know how to identify one? Do you know how to tell a real Nova SS from a fake? Once you know what make and model car you want (even if more than one) you should search for sites about those cars, and save the links. Make sure you have them ready to do research to authenticate a special model. Did Ford make the California Special option available with the GT option on Mustangs in 1967? I don't know, but if I see a CS/GT advertised I will want to confirm that before I call about the car.
How many Z/28s were made in 1967? From our research project above, how many SS 396 Chevelles were really made in 1966? Do you want or need to know? Find a Chevelle site that will break down the production numbers. It will help you determine how rare the car you are looking for is.
I can't help you in this part of your research. I love all cars. Well, almost all cars. Mustang, Camaro, Firebird, Road Runner, Charger, Barracuda, Chevelle, Impala, Nova, Challenger, Monte Carlo, Grand Prix, 442, GTO, GS, GTX, Super Bee, Demon, etc., etc., etc. If you like many different cars then you should collect a list of web sites dedicated to all the different ones. When you come across a car that peaks your interest research it further.
If you already have your mind set on a 67-68 Camaro then you should do the research ahead of time and know how to tell an RS from and SS from a Z/28. If you are not willing to put the time in here then you might as well open your fat wallet to the nearest classic car dealership to your house. Knowledge is power, and nowhere is that more important that right here.
I have mentioned pricing guides a lot already. They are also called value guides. I tend to use those terms to mean the same thing. Whatever you want to call it, these professional guides are there to give you an idea what specific cars are selling for, or what you should expect to spend.
The two I use are CPI and NADA. I notice a lot more people advertise NADA, and I think this is because their prices are higher than CPI. After all, if I was selling a car I would rather tell people to look where my car will be listed with the highest price.
Each of these guides has three major price points. For CPI they list cars as Fair, Good and Excellent. NADA uses the terms Low Retail, Average Retail and High Retail. Retail to me means a dealer. That alone can account for the price difference. Since dealers need to make a profit we can think of the difference between the two as the difference you should pay from a private seller or from a dealer. This does not explain why the Barracuda used above in our negotiating exercise was priced 60% higher in NADA than CPI. Clearly a dealer does not need to make a 60% profit on a car to stay in business.
Let's take a look at the classes.
Excellent Condition - Nearly perfect condition. The vehicle has usually been professionally restored to the current highest standard, but a few exceptionally well cared for originals may qualify. All components are original or are exact replacements. Most excellent cars are not driven more than a few miles per year, if at all. There are vehicles, usually due to an interesting history or special circumstances, which will sell for more than CPI's excellent figure, but these are extremely rare and would require extensive documentation.
Good Condition - Very nice condition. In fact, most casual observers would describe the vehicle as excellent. "Good" cars show very little wear and are driven sparingly. Many are used as weekend drivers. Many older restorations fall into this category.
Fair Condition - Presentable condition. Runs and drives and will pass a state inspection. Maybe driven on a daily basis. Generally in need of a cosmetic restoration, but not a "basket case", or parts car. There are many cars on the road that fall below CPI's "fair" category, and will be priced accordingly. These are commonly referred to as "beaters" and usually not worth restoring, as the restoration costs will almost certainly exceed the value of the finished vehicle.
Low Retail Value - This vehicle would be in mechanically functional condition, needing only minor reconditioning. The exterior paint, trim, and interior would show normal wear, needing only minor reconditioning. May also be a deteriorated restoration or a very poor amateur restoration. Most usable "as-is". Note: This value does not represent a "parts car".
Average Retail Value - This vehicle would be in good condition overall. It could be an older restoration or a well-maintained original vehicle. Completely operable. The exterior paint, trim, and mechanics are presentable and serviceable inside and out. A "20-footer."
High Retail Value - This vehicle would be in excellent condition overall. It could be a completely restored or an extremely well maintained original vehicle showing very minimal wear. The exterior paint, trim, and mechanics are not in need of reconditioning. The interior would be in excellent condition. Note: This value does not represent a "100 Point" or "# 1" vehicle. A "100 Point" or "# 1" vehicle is not driven. It would generally be in a museum or transported in an enclosed trailer to concourse judging and car shows. This type of car would be stored in a climate-regulated facility.
When I was buying my 67 Camaro I also bought a book at Barnes & Noble called Cars & Parts - Ultimate Collector Car Price Guide. It provided prices in the following five categories: 1 - Concours, 2 - Show, 3 - Street/Show, 4 - Driver, and 5 - Restorable. I hear these numbers mentioned often enough that I saved this guide to get an idea what they should really mean. Here are the definitions:
1 - Concours - Restored to perfection. A 100-point car with no deductions for non-originality, condition, function, cosmetics, etc. A show car that is driven only in and out of an enclosed trailer. This is true concours quality, the type of car that routinely appears at the Pebble Beach Concours, Meadow Brook Concours, Eastern U.S. Concours, etc. This car is correct right down to the last nut, bolt and washer. It needs absolutely nothing. In a regional show featuring 500 cars, there might be three or four true concours quality machines present, while even the best of show at a local event with 250 cars might not be concours. This is the type of car that wins its junior and senior firsts at Hershey and then is invited to Pebble Beach, Meadow Brook, etc. These cars are rarely seen in regional or local shows.
2 - Show - Professionally restored to high quality. About 90 to 95 points, with only very minor flaws. Would win a trophy every time out in local, regional and most national competition, and would likely be a best of show candidate at most area events. Needs no major work (body, paint, interior, trim, mechanicals, etc.), but may lack a few minor details, such as correct components (date code, etc.), and may not be 100 percent detailed under the hood, on the chassis, and so on. Would need nothing to ride, drive, show or enjoy with complete confidence. Generally, though, it takes a major effort to move a number 2 car to a number 1 car, often as much as $10,000 in professional labor alone. A number 2 car is frequently trailered, occasionally driven, regularly freshened by an experienced detailer.
3 - Street/Show - An older but still presentable restoration, or a solid, clean original with no major obvious cosmetic or mechanical flaws. A car that is driven to shows, only trailered when traveling great distances, entered in local and national events but not especially competitive on the national circuit. In terms of point value, about 80 to 89 on most recognized judging scales. A car that needs very little to drive, show and enjoy. Of the 400 cars registered for a local show, some 250 of them would fall into this category, on the average.
4 - Driver - A collectible car that is driven regularly, even daily, but kept in top notch condition mechanically, and pretty decent cosmetically. Would have a nice, straight body with no major visible rust, would be fully functional, but could need a new interior, a new windshield, some new tires, even a paint job, etc. Would be judged in the 70 to 79 bracket, good enough to win a trophy now and then in a local show. A 20/20 car, one that is presentable with flaws that don't show at 20 feet or 20 mph. Probably clean but not detailed under the hood. All equipment is operation, though.
5 - Restorable - A project car that may be drivable but needs about everything, -- from body and paint work to a new interior and mechanical overhaul -- to be show quality. Could be a daily driver, or a car stored in a barn for years, but must be relatively complete and restorable without an unreasonable amount of work and expense. Might not even be drivable, but should at least be towable or rolling.
Notice that CPI and NADA are vague enough to make it difficult to pin them down exactly. I see many cars listed for more than CPI's excellent rating and they are definitely not "professionally restored to the current highest standard." I also see cars above NADA's high retail rating but they are not a "#1 vehicle [that] is not driven [and not] in a museum or transported in an enclosed trailer to concourse judging and car shows". That's why I wanted to provide you with the 1 to 5 scale definitions. That may help you out.
This much is clear... all the good/average/street/show descriptions are for rust free cars. If you are looking at any car with rust you need to deduct the cost to repair the rust and get the car painted from the price listed in either of these guides.
When I read these descriptions, I assume that when it says something like "the exterior paint, trim, and mechanics are not in need of reconditioning" and "good cars show very little wear and are driven sparingly" and "completely operable" I assume that anything that goes against that should be taken into account in the actual selling price.
I have a personal story to go with that. I went on a trip to the Dallas/Fort Worth area to look at 4 to 5 cars (the 5th was sold by the time I got in the area). The third car I looked at was the first car I had ever seen in all my looking that was rust free. It was a 69 Mustang that had a good value of $9,175 in my Spring 2002 CPI guide. The car was repainted, and the paint looked excellent, except where a few scratches were in the paint. Nothing too serious, and I could overlook them because of the overall appearance of the car. In fact, I was very impressed with the quality of the paint. The interior showed some wear. However, there were a number of items that needed immediate attention. I don't remember all of them, but I still remember these items: 1) The windshield had a crack. 2) The air conditioning worked off of a toggle switch. 3) The power steering pump was not fully working (the steering would get stiff and soft as you drove around). 4) The brakes took an awful lot of work to stop the car. 5) The temperature and voltmeter gauges did not work (though it did have an aftermarket temperature gauge, so I knew the car was not overheating). There were some other things, but this is enough for our example. When I left the guys house I pulled over around the block (out of site) and wrote down everything I could think of that was wrong.
In my opinion this car deserved a good rating by CPI's guide. However, I assume that all of these items should be fixed. The seller was asking $12,500. Since he was about $3,000 more than the car was worth I had a hard time deciding to offer him $1,000 below CPI's good rating to cover the costs of fixing the items needing repair.
Fortunately for me the 4th car I went to see on that trip was the 67 Camaro I ended up buying... at $2,900 below the asking price... and $1,000 below the good rating in the CPI guide. The Camaro was in better condition than the Mustang, and worth significantly more, so I was glad it all worked out.
The guides do help, you just have to be diligent, honest (with yourself and the seller), and patient. You also need to be careful with the guides. For instance, I was looking up Monte Carlos recently. NADA showed an increase of 50% for a 396 in a 1970 Monte, while a 454 was only worth 30%. That doesn't make sense. Also, it gave an increase of 15% for the 402 big block, which was basically an overbored 396. In 1971 the 402 was good for a 35% increase. Numbers like this can confuse the issue. So be careful when you look at the different guides.
For those that want to use NADA online I have a trick for you. NADA only allows you to look up cars 5 cars a day. That is pretty restrictive. However, if you search the folders where your cookies are stored you can search for file containing the letters nada. Just delete the NADA cookies and restart your browser. Just like that you have 5 more lookups.
Car Clubs are a great way to get information on a car, and to get leads on cars for sale. Car clubs will only be useful if you know what you want. If you are looking for a 1st generation Camaro, by all means join your local Camaro club, and maybe join one or two regional or national clubs. If you are like me, and can't decide what you really want than you either have to spend a lot of money joining a lot of clubs, or you have to skip this resource.
Most good clubs have a newsletter with a classifieds section. This is a classifieds that only club members can put ads in, and only club members see. You could get a look at a car before the "general public" sees it for sale.
Car clubs are great for networking. This is like looking for a job. You talk to people in your industry to see if someone knows someone hiring. In the car club world you could ask club members if they know of a car for sale. People that are that into their cars tend to know where there are cars for sale. They just can't afford them at the time. It happens all the time.
Join at least two clubs, one local and one national. Get the newsletters and join in the meetings (local, of course). You have nothing to lose except the annual membership. And you might like it enough to stay with it when you become a car owner yourself.
Books are like car specific web sites. You can learn all about particular makes and models. Let's take Matt Camaro from earlier. He is into 67-68 Camaros. Then he should invest twenty or thirty bucks in a decent Camaro Spotter's Guide, or restoration guide. The restoration guide may have enough information to help him decode the trim tag to see if a car has the correct engine and options it is supposed to. It also can help him after he buys the car if he wants to make sure everything is original, or wants to restore it that way.
Where To Look
I have avoided mention where you should look for cars. This is because I really don't know. When I was selling my Camaro I was told by a number of people that I was asking too much for a "project car," and there were plenty of project cars out there for a lot less money. The reason some thought my car should be thought of as a project car was because they thought it was not a numbers matching car. To them, if it was not a numbers matching car they would just do with it what they wanted. A project car. It doesn't matter much that it was a numbers matching car, and even if it wasn't it was the lowest V-8 offered in the Camaro that year and hardly in need of being a numbers matching car.
However, none of them ever told me where all these "project cars" where. I would love to find cars in as good a condition as my 67 Camaro was, but do not have numbers matching engines and get them for a bargain. Where are these cars? I tend to think this was smoke they were try to blow up my... well, you get the idea.
I am going to list a few dealer's sites and some search sites. I will provide the link and a brief comment on what I think of the site. You should look at each site and see if the dealer sells the cars you like. Remember, dealer's inventory changes, so just because you don't see any Camaros at a site this month doesn't mean it won't have Camaros next month. You need to determine if you like the quality of the pictures, the level of detail in the descriptions, the overall selection of vehicles, and the prices they ask.
So, in to particular order:
American Dream Machines - Small selection. Mostly higher priced cars. Pictures are of decent quality. They do get some nice cars at reasonable prices, so I like checking them from time to time.
Brockers Beautys - I really like this site. They have quite a few cars that are affordable. Their prices seem to be pretty close to CPI's prices. I like that. Their inventory rotates pretty well so they are worth checking out at least a couple times a month. The thing I like is that this site gets a reasonable number of cars that are just different enough that I like them. Then I get disappointed when a car I like sells after I tracked it for a few months.
Classic & Collectible Cars - This dealer is located in Las Vegas. I think they tend to price high, but they get a wide range of vehicles. I assume the slightly high prices are to take advantage of those who hit a winning streak. But I have seen enough affordable cars to make it worth checking.
Gentle Touch - I really like this site. Almost every car I see is priced reasonably if you use your CPI guide as a benchmark. Their inventory changes regularly, even if they only have a couple dozen cars at a time. I like the quality of the pictures. I check this myself once a week, but twice a month is probably enough.
Golden Classics - If you have money to burn (which you probably don't if you read this far) then this is a good site. Some of there inventory moves pretty fast, some moves pretty slow. Most of the stuff I cannot afford. They seem to get a high caliber of car... and expensive models. Once in a while they get a decent priced car. If your budget is in the $20-30,000 range you should be able to find something you will like here.
Greene's Classic Cars - Here we get a fairly large section of cars. They usually have a few cars that I find affordable. Not bad overall. The pictures could be higher in resolution, but they are good enough for browsing.
Jake's Forgotten Past - I used to really like this site. They used to be very affordable. But they have gone up in prices over the last couple of years. However, they do have decent turnover of cars and some are still affordable.
Luedtke - This dealer specializes in Mopars, but they carry a few other cars now and then. They tend to be "project cars." This means there are plenty of cars that are affordable, but almost all of them need work. Every now and then I find a real gem in here. Their inventory is somewhat small, but rotates enough to make it worth check once or twice a month.
Memory Lane Motors - I really like this site. Their inventory is small, usually a dozen or so cars. But they rotate pretty well. I think they price there cars fairly, though sometimes out of my budget. However, they are usually just a bit over CPI's prices and the good cars move fast. I like checking this one once a week.
Premium Motors - Here is another one to check regularly. They tend to be reasonable priced. Sometime a little too high, and sometime about right. However, the cars tend to move well. There is enough turnover here to justify checking at least twice a month.
Pro Max Performance - This dealer is so-so. However, their prices are consistently slight over CPI's. I think they might be about right with some negotiating. Their inventory level fluctuates, but it is probably still worth checking once a month.
Sports Car Gallery of Beaver Falls - This dealer is falling right behind Gentle Touch above as one of my new favorites. They seem to have a higher caliber of car than some, but all very fairly priced... even if I can't afford them. However, they always seem to have something I would love to own that fits the fictional $15,000 budget I use for my Classic Car Watch column.
Texas Toy Box - If you are looking for a Mopar in Texas you need to check this site regularly. I find their prices to be high, but they have some good stuff. If the prices are negotiable then this is a great site. Even if not there is enough turn over that the prices can't be too out of line.
USA Classic Cars - This place is a bit unusual. They get cars of varying quality. Some affordable some not. It is at least worth checking out. Many of the cars get quite a few photos to help you decide if it's worth it.
Valley Motors - I just came across this one and I like it. The selection is only fair, and it does not change much. But I seem to find something I like when I visit. Since the turnover is slow I expect they would be open to negotiate.
America Classics Autos - This site tends to get some really nice cars. That also means they are expensive. But I find that they do get some affordable cars. For instance, when they get a "clone" they call it a "look a like." I like that. And they don't price it like the real thing. Again, I like that.
America's Classic and Vintage Auto - I recently found this one. Their descriptions are pretty short, and their inventory moves slowly. But the prices seem fair, and I like their pictures. Nice for browsing.
Classic Cars, Country Classic Cars L.L.C. - This site is good if you are looking for a project car. They have a lot of rough cars, but you can find plenty of cars that are in decent shape that may need just cosmetics and minor mechanical stuff. Don't look here if you want a near show car. This is for those that are willing to invest more in the cars after they buy it. Either more time or more money.
Fast Lane Classic Cars Inc. - I used to really like this place. They would have a wide range of vehicles as far as price goes. But lately they seem to only have higher priced cars. I tend to think they are overpriced, but that's just my opinion. However, I do find nice cars at affordable prices once in a while so it is still worth checking.
Gateway Classic Cars - This site has a lot of cars. However, they tend to by high priced. They do provide a lot of pictures. They used to be high resolution, but that was a long time ago. By today's standards they are medium quality photos. I assume they could provide better picture to someone actually interested. If you can work down their prices it might be worth checking them out. At least look over their inventory and decide for yourself.
Holt Auto Sales, Corvettes & Muscle Cars - This one used to have cars that were affordable. Now they mostly stick to high priced stuff. If you have a larger budget ($20K or more) check them out.
Muscle City Auto Sales - I haven't made up my mind on this site yet. They seem to be worth checking, but sometimes their prices seem out of line. They don't have a big selection, so maybe I just need a little tracking time to see if they are a good source.
Noel Davis Auto Sales - For some reason I really like this place. They have a small inventory and it does not turn over very fast, but I usually find a few cars I like. They tend to be a little pricey, but not out of line. If they are even a little flexible on price I think this should be a must check site.
Pride Autoplaza - I like this site because they seem to be the most honest. They usually give plenty of details of what is wrong with a car and back that up with plenty of pictures, including the problem areas. Lately their inventory has not been as good, but it is worth checking once in a while.
US Automart - This one has a very small inventory (usually less then half a dozen cars for sale at a time). But I like the cars and they are always fairly priced. It is amazing. If these guys were bigger (inventory) I would visit them all the time.
Ageless Autos - I like the way this site is setup. I like the fade when you mouse over the images. Don't visit this site from a dial up account as I think it needs a broadband connection. The prices here are high, and they deal in a lot of old style hot rods. But there is the occasional affordable car, and even though some stuff is high priced it might be worth it. You'll have to do the research to be sure.
American Classix - This site has plenty of expensive machinery. However, they are consistently very nice looking cars. This site has plenty of pictures of every car, including multiple undercarriage pictures to let you know everything. Heck, I even saw a Camaro here with a photo of the engine with the valve cover removed to show what was in the engine. Now that's putting in an effort. Once in a while they have affordable cars, but mostly this is a place to look for a high caliber car. Do your research carefully before paying too much.
Classic Dreamcars - This is the place to go if you want to know what a restored car should look like. This site has only very high dollar cars. I cannot afford anything here, but I will look here when I will the lottery. Most of the selection is fully restored cars with plenty of documentation. Like I said, if you want to know what a car should look like come here. If other dealers are charging way too much for a car, compare them to this site. If a dealer is asking way too much its cars better match the cars on this site. This one is for all those deep pocket guys that made it this far in my article. Their inventory doesn't move fast, because they are holding out for the high price of these sometimes rare and well restored cars. Some of their cars are museum quality. Check them out for why cars are supposed to be expensive. Then show these pictures to all the other dealers that think they should be changing as much.
Duffy's Collectible Cars - When I first started doing this stuff 3 to 4 years ago I came across this place. They have stayed the test of time, but they have raised there prices along the way. I used to like that they always had something in the $12-16K range that I wanted. Now everything I want is in the $20-30K range. If you have that much to spend it is worth checking out.
Mershon's World of Cars - I love this site. Everything is out of my price range, but I want it all. The quality of the cars here is very good. This is another of those sites you should go to if you are looking for a properly restored car in truly excellent condition. You will pay a price. Their inventory rotates enough that I assume their cars are worth it. Check it out if your budget it over $20K.
Now I want to list a few search sites. These are not specific dealer sites, though dealers use them. They are general sites that you either browse or search.
Collector Car Trader - This is my first stop. Everyone uses it. Dealers and individuals alike. I like when dealers use it for their inventory. It allows you to browse a dealer's inventory almost always better then their own web sites. Of course, you have a lot of work do to here, because of all the stuff there... good and bad... expensive, affordable and not worth it. But there is plenty to keep you busy. Check it at least once a week. I would try for twice a week if you know what make and models of cars interest you. This way you can see new cars come online, rather than going by the inaccurate date posted information.
Deals on Wheels - Deals on Wheels is owned by the same company that owns Collector Car Trader (and Auto Trader). I find the cars here to be more expensive than on CCT. But it is worth checking from time to time when you get tired of CCT.
Hemmings Classified Search - I find Hemmings to have a lot of expensive cars. The people placing ads don't post many pictures. So this is not for the casual browser. However, if you are serious about a car, and want to do a lot of calling this can work. Be prepared to open your wallet wide enough. I find sellers expect to take a while to get their price. Whether they do or not... I don't know.
Cars On Line Photo Ads - I wish this site had a search engine. As it is, it is the ultimate browsing site. However, I know they don't update the site often enough. I have seen cars last on this site for over a year. They put counters on the pages and they say how many visits the pages get, but they only list the date once in a while. When a car has been viewed over 5000 times, it was probably sold unless it was totally out of line. View this site with the expectation of hearing "it's already been sold" when you call. And I would not trust the e-mail part either. People give up e-mailing you back after the car is sold... a year or two ago.
Classic Cars @ 1 in a Million Classic Cars - This search site is not near as good as some of the others. But it does a decent job in the advanced search section to limit you to look at relevant cars. Only use this site if you know what you want. It is for real searching, not casual browsing.
Classic Cars, Muscle Cars, Hot Rods and more - This one is a royal pain to use. I only go here when I am desperate. But if you are serious you should be going here at least once just in case.
Muscle Cars & Classics - This is sort of a search site. I think they actually share there searching. This site is where you spend a LOT of time just browsing. You can only page through so you won't want to visit often unless you have a lot of time on your hands.
That's it. What do you think? I am looking for some real feedback here. Let me know if this information was useful to you.