First Time Buyer’s Guide To Classic English Cars

1. The History Of Classic British Cars

Introduction to the British Classic Car Industry

The British classic car industry is booming. In fact, in the UK it’s now a £4.3billion-a-year market, with 28,000 Britons earning a living through the industry. Popular and more frequent specialised events up and down the country also keep the enthusiasts busy, including the ever-popular London to Brighton Classic Car Run, as this hobby reaches record figures.

Little did the motoring giants of the 19th and 20th Century probably realise how sought after their vehicles would become over 100 years later, but as the statistics show, 35% of historical cars have swapped hands in the last five years.

Of course, given the prestige of classic cars they rarely see daylight during the winter months and are kept under covers for most parts of the year. Half of Britain’s classic cars cover fewer than 500 miles annually and needless to say, they’re not quite suitable for the daily commute.

Although some of Britain’s classic car manufacturers may have disappeared over the last century, their greatest creations remain as popular as ever and can be seen dazzling our streets throughout the year.

Britain’s iconic classic car manufacturers include a host of household names, plus a number of companies that have fallen by the wayside over time. Notable manufacturers include Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Jensen, Mini, Morris and Rover.

The British Motor Trade: A Short History

Britain is well renowned for its production of high quality and iconic motor vehicles, with Aston Martin, Jaguar and Mini all recognised household names. But where did it all begin?

In fact, it’s the 19th Century where our journey begins and Britain entered the automotive industry. This was with the founding of the Daimler Motor Syndicate in 1893. Production began in Coventry and the German company soon became the official transport of royalty.

It was then some 11 years later when Rover started the construction of cars and motorcycles, with General Motors not becoming a a European presence until 1909, with their Chevrolet models.

Vehicle designs were still dictated by France and Germany at this time, and it was only after WW1 that the British automotive industry really took off. In 1922 there were 183 motor companies operating across Britain and in 1932 the UK finally leapfrogged France as Europe’s largest car manufacturer.

With the world on the verge of war once more in 1937, Britain was providing 15% of global vehicle exports and close to 400,000 passenger cars were manufactured in just one year.

WW2 took its toll on the industry though and with resources spent on military vehicle production, many British firms fell by the wayside. Five companies emerged as the clear market leaders and by 1955 BMC, Ford, Rootes, Standard-Triumph and Vauxhall produced 90% of British vehicles.

Ford continued its progression and in the 1980s bought two of Britain’s iconic car manufactures; Aston Martin and Jaguar, the latter for a staggering US$2.38 billion. Land Rover was also acquired several years prior to this.

The industry has continued to flourish and in the first half of 2014, British car sales were at a nine-year peak. In the six-month period between January and June, 1.28 million new cars were sold (a 10% rise on figures from 2013).

2. Buying A Classic Car In The UK

If you’re considering an investment in a classic car, it’s not a decision to be made lightly. Nowadays, people look to the classic car industry for two main reasons – some simply love the idea of owning a vintage motor and caring for it over the years, whilst others are keen to make some money.

Of course, both ideologies are sound and had you purchased an Aston Martin DB5 25 years ago, you’ll now stand to make a 10-fold profit by selling.

However, it’s often the pleasure of cruising down the motorway in your Austin Mini or Morris Minor that really gets the blood pumping for the average classic car enthusiast. And if your dream is to be joining the local classic car club, then your next move will be vital.

Research here is the key. Don’t have a nostalgic moment with no logic and purchase a classic car simply because that’s what you were driving around in as a kid. Whichever motor you’re thinking about, take your time and find out the advantages and disadvantages of a particular model.

Use the power of the Internet and join an online classic car forum. Ensure to ask relevant questions and like-minded enthusiasts will endeavour to offer advice. Also take the time to visit events and shows where you can speak to experts and classic car owners. Get their opinion and talk over your ideas with them – It’ll really be of great help.

When you feel you’ve adequate research to go ahead with an investment, it’s time to start hunting for your dream classic car. Don’t rush into a purchase and pick up the first car you see on a whim. Also don’t expect to get a deal too good to be true. You know the classic saying.

Mileage is another factor to note. Although we often search for vehicles with a low mileage for the year, don’t be afraid of high mileage classic cars. The chances are you won’t stack on too many miles on an annual basis, so in this regard it’s not going to be a problem.

Also beware of classic cars that have been stored away for the last decade or so. Whilst it’s great that the vehicle has been protected and well looked after, faults such as brakes seizing and tyre flat spots could present themselves.

Your options for buying a Classic Car

When it comes to picking up your first classic car, or even your second, third or forth, there are three main options for you to consider; the auction house, dealers and private sellers.

Buying at auction
If you’ve never attended an auction then you’re in for a treat as these can be an extremely exciting event, especially when a particular lot garners plenty of interest. For the auction virgin though it’s best to get some experience of how the system works before bidding on a classic car. Just visit your local auction house – you don’t have to buy anything to simply soak in the atmosphere.

When you’ve decided it’s time to try your luck in the process and you’ve found a classic car you’re interested in, ensure to do some research so you know exactly what you’re bidding on. Asking questions such as “can this model be easily repaired?” and “are parts relatively cheap?” is a good place to start, but you should also know the average retail price. After all, you won’t want to spend more than the vehicle’s worth.

On the day of the auction you’ll be given the chance to inspect the motor before it goes to the auctioneer and there may possibly be a viewing day in advance. Make the most of this time and if you’re not particularly clued up on the mechanics of a car, bring along someone who is to help you out. Use this time to look through the service logbooks too and find out if there are on-going maintenance issues.

Now it’s time to enter the bidding and hopefully you’ll have the winning bid by the time the hammer comes down. Don’t be too disheartened if you lose out – There is likely to be a number of like-minded individuals bidding for this prized classic. If you’re lucks not in on that day then simply keep looking and eventually you’ll have the classic car of your dreams.

Buying a classic car from a dealer
Your second option when it comes to investing in a classic car is to buy from a dealer. In this instance the law better protects your purchase, but adversely, the chances are you’ll pay over the odds for your investment.

As with buying at auction, research is once again your greatest tool. Go back to those online forums and get advice from classic car enthusiasts. Also visit specialised events and speak to experts in the trade.

Then it simply comes down to visiting the dealer and inspecting the vehicle. Make sure to ask all the right questions and check the service history. Ideally you’ll want a classic car that doesn’t warrant yearly maintenance as it can add up to quite an expensive bill.

Take the motor out for a test drive. This is your chance to get behind the wheel of your dream car and really make sure the vehicle’s for you. Get onto a long stretch of road and really test out all the gears and the engine. If mechanical knowledge isn’t your strongest trait then instruct a professional on your behalf to inspect the vehicle fully.

Buying a classic car from a private seller
Buying any vehicle privately has its risks, but at the same time you’ll probably be able to get more for your money. What you’re looking for in particular is a private seller that has taken care and pride of their classic car for many years. Remember, classic cars are a hobby. You’re serious about an investment, so theoretically you should be buying from someone with the same mind-set.

Dealers are very much money orientated and whilst a private seller won’t want to lose out on a fortune, there’s likely to be some bargaining room for you to get a better deal. This is especially the case if you show your passion and convince the seller their vehicle’s going to a good home.

Now, here’s the crux. Ensuring the vehicle’s mechanical competence is even more essential when buying privately. There are some warning signs to look out for yourself, such as rusting, leaks or even mismatched tyres. But the real problems can lie in the heart of an engine and often, is something a 10-minute test-drive won’t highlight.

For this reason it’s very important to take an expert with you to thoroughly inspect the vehicle, especially if you’re parting with quite a bit of money. The reason for this is that there is little legal comeback once you’ve purchased the classic car and only if the vehicle was incorrectly described in the advertisement will you have a leg to stand on.

It’s this very point that encourages dealers to pose as a private seller in order to flog their faulty motor, so beware of this whenever buying privately.

3. What To Look For When Purchasing A Classic Car

It’s an idealistic dream for many Brits: To own a classic car and spend a leisurely Sunday morning driving around in the 1960s vintage model. This is the life of thousands of classic car owners around the country and is certainly a hobby that’s increasing in popularity.

However, despite the joy and happiness a classic car can bring to your life, there are always horror stories of purchases that have gone badly wrong. No fewer than 20 miles down the road and the engine has smoked or power been completely lost.
To help you fit into the right bracket of classic car owner, it’s important to know what to be on the lookout for.

Research the classic car

This point has been discussed regularly throughout the guide but is something that can’t be stressed enough. Researching the classic car industry is a superb way to avoid the costly mistakes that are made on a monthly basis. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into, including parts and repair costs and typical prices for the model you’re keen on.

Have an expert inspect the classic car

We’re not all mechanical experts and as such, are clueless when it comes to assessing a vehicle’s condition. It may look nice and pretty from the outside but there could easily be a can of worms on the inside. There are some things you can check out yourself, such as rusting, leaks or even mismatched tyres. Any signs of these or something else that seems a little fishy and you should steer clear.

Has the classic car had regular use?

Many people step into the classic car industry expecting low mileage to be a good thing. Yes, whilst an extortionately high mileage should probably be avoided, you don’t necessarily need a vehicle that’s driven less than 50,000 miles in 40 years. Vehicle reliability comes down to consistent use – Not being stored away for a decade. It’s only when you get the vehicle onto an open road and start clocking up the miles that weaknesses will be revealed.

Check the classic car’s history

When it comes to purchasing a classic car, the chances are you’ll need to wade through a lot of service history. If the vehicle hasn’t been serviced regularly and cambelts haven’t been changed, then there’s something fishy the owner could well be hiding.

Find out why the owner is selling and their reasons for doing so. How long have they owned this classic?

Take the classic car for a test drive

The test drive isn’t just about ensuring the mechanical aspects of the vehicle are sound, but also comparing your dreams to the reality. Is this car exactly as you imagined? Test all the gears and try to get onto a road where you can get some acceleration and higher speeds.

4. Restoring A Classic Car

Sometimes the thrill of owning a classic car isn’t the idea of purchasing a perfect model that’s ready to be taken out on the road and to your next club event. In fact, there’s a huge market in the renovation of classic cars and this hobby is particularly popular in the UK. Not only can you get your hands on a classic car for a cut-price budget, but you’ll also have the opportunity to give it a new lease of life.

If you’re new to the renovation of classic cars, then don’t expect it to be a doddle. There’s a lot of hard work ahead and it will cost you a fair bob too depending on the state of your vehicle. Remember though, it’s not something you need to be working on every night – Even if you just spend a few hours at the weekend renovating the car you’ll be moving in the right direction.
So let’s take a look at what you need to know about renovating a classic car.

Find the right classic car

There are thousands of cars out there for you to choose from and whether it’s a childhood dream to own a particular model or simply a new interest, your options are seemingly endless. There are ways to save money on your restoration too, by investing in a vehicle that’s partially restored or a project that hasn’t been fully completed. Either way, take your time and don’t rush a decision. Remember, the more work to be completed the longer the restoration will take.

Locating the parts for your classic car

Some of the parts in your classic car will be salvageable, but for the rest you’ll need to source the ideal places to purchase replacements. Vehicle salvage centres are probably your best bet, so give your local one a ring and find out if they have a similar vehicle for spares or repairs. The Internet also provides an excellent source for locating the right parts and from auction sites such as eBay to classic car garages; you should be able to find what you’re looking for.

Restoring the classic car

So, you have the classic car and you have the right parts in your possession. Now it’s time to start the restoration process. It may seem an obvious point, but you will need some experience in mechanical repairs, unless you plan to follow online tutorials and videos for each stage.

The cheapest way to restore the classic car is to undertake the work yourself and you’ll need a dry place to carry out the job, where weather won’t be a problem. With luck you may even have friends or enthusiasts who are willing to offer a helping hand at various stages of the restoration. Realistically you’ll be looking at a year to finish the project but a lot will depend on your personal circumstances and the vehicle’s condition.

Remember to try and keep some budget aside for a professional paintjob at the end, although you can certainly prime the bodywork yourself.

5. Classic Car Insurance

If you own or are intending to own a classic car in the future, you’ll want to know the ins and outs of insuring your vehicle. Technically, there isn’t too much difference between insuring your normal car and a classic, with annual mileage and value the only real stipulations.

So to give yourself the best possible information for insuring your classic car, take a look through our guide.

How much is classic car insurance?

How long is a piece of string? Effectively that’s what the answer will be as insurance rates range depending on the make, model and value of your vehicle. The average mileage will also come into question and if you’re only driving it on a leisurely Sunday morning you won’t expect to clock up too many miles.

Saying that, there are deals to be had though. Specialist classic car insurance companies are available so you don’t need to go down the route of seeking a mainstream provider. Of course, what’s important here is to compare prices. There’s no point in signing up with the first company you speak to as round the corner could be a much better offer.

Fortunately, policies are typically cheaper than for regular vehicles as they’re both better maintained and drive fewer miles, but this can vary between providers.

Classic car insurance policies

If you take out comprehensive cover for your classic car, you will essentially have a similar policy to your usual vehicle. There are some differences though which are worth noting.

The valuation is one such stumbling block. For instance, the market value of your car could be significantly different to the true value, so if you were involved in an accident the pay out would be substantially less. You need to agree a valuation with the insurer before signing paperwork.

Insurance providers typically review and amend policies annually, and as such, your vehicle may have increased in value over the past 12 months. The only way to be sure is to have the vehicle independently valued by an approved industry expert.

Also check the conditions surrounding annual mileage because some providers will pre-set the average mileage they expect classic cars to journey. This tends to be around 7,500, so find out what will happen if your classic car exceeds this.

Young driver classic car insurance

Classic cars are typically associated with the older generation, but as the hobby has become more popular in the UK, younger motorists are starting to explore the option of an investment too. Unfortunately, insurers don’t offer a helping hand here as younger drivers are deemed as higher risk and as such, their premiums can be substantially more expensive.

As recommended above, if you’re looking for comprehensive cover for your classic car as a younger driver, compare a number of providers for the best deal. It may even be worth changing the sliders to increase the amount of excess you’d pay in the event of an accident.

6. Classic Car Events

Classic car events are becoming more popular and common year-on-year. The opportunity to show off your prized asset is not to be missed, whilst touring the country with hundreds and thousands of other like-minded enthusiasts.

7. Useful Links

Beginners Guide to Buying a Classic Car:
Buying a Classic Car at Auction:
Buying a Car Privately:
Classic Car Insurance:
Car Enthusiast Profiled:
London Classic Car Show:
Classic Virgins Experience Day:
Luxury Motor Show:
London to Brighton Classic Car Run: