Why Buy a Classic Car from a Dealer

Why Buy a Classic Car from a Dealer?


Owning a classic car should be an exciting experience, something that rekindles old memories while making new ones. The hobby is stronger than it’s ever been, and there are more ways than ever to locate and buy your favorite classic car.

Thanks to Internet, of course, you could sit on your couch and buy from any buyer, anywhere in the country – or the world, for that matter. Just transfer the funds and have the car shipped to your driveway.

Some buyers have done well that way, but such transactions are not without potential pitfalls. You may have heard stories of some great deals found on eBay or craigslist. Indeed, there are still people who, perhaps charged with liquidating a relative’s estate, use craigslist to quickly sell an old car found in a garage. Collectors, dealers and flippers have lucked into some amazing finds that way, but that is certainly not always the case.

It is possible to buy a car sight-unseen over the Internet, but it’s on you to have an expert inspect it before you buy it. It’s all too easy to take a shortcut and put total faith in the seller’s description. Some buyers have learned the hard way that a car was not what it was claimed to be when it arrived on the transport truck. And, it’s easy to have a misunderstanding over how a car was represented.

Showrooms Full of Classics

Why not just buy a classic as you would a new car, from a dealer? Many vintage car dealerships have been around a long time, and today you’ll find them all over the country and overseas. You might even find the car of your dreams not far from home.

We have also observed that for very high end cars costing say over $100,000 there is a whole slew of buyers that are reluctant to write such a large check to someone not thoroughly vetted or known. So you’ll find that many such cars are listed on consignment at dealers that can provide storage, test drives, and arguably a stable environment that may be of comfort to buyers.

Just as with new car dealers, there are even classic car dealer chains, like Streetside Classics and Gateway Classic Cars. Some use the consignment business model, where the cars in inventory are owned by individual sellers, who pay a commission to the dealer.

With consignment dealers, it’s possible to see dozens or even hundreds of cars at one location — a veritable candy store of classics. Just visiting such a dealership is an experience. It’s like stepping back in time to see nothing but rows of cars from past decades. Many smaller dealers, on the other hand, select and purchase their own inventory. An advantage here is that the dealership should know each of its cars.

Advantages of Buying from a Dealer

Buying from a dealer offers numerous other advantages. Firstly, a dealer will have a reputation, good or bad, carried by word of mouth and social media. You can vet a dealer before you buy, just as you would when choosing a new-car dealer.

With many dealerships, you can view cars inside, out of the elements. Some dealers operate their own service departments, where you can ask to put a car on a lift for inspection. If you’re local, you can even return for service and maintenance.

Many classic car dealerships offer financing. Imagine driving home in your dream car after making just a down payment.

Most of the well-established vintage car dealerships offer tremendous knowledge of the cars that supply and in many cases they are the link to the history of important vehicles having in many cases sold and re-sold the same car over time as owners turned over their collections. Examples of such dealers would be Fantasy Junction, Hyman Ltd, Canepa, Swedish Motors, Art & Speed, Cooper Classic Cars, Fast Lane, Exotic Classics, Schmitt, Park Place Ltd, Specialty Sales and Vantage Motorworks.

Some dealers perform the service of unearthing cars from barns, garages and other hidden locations and offer them to the public without much, if any, work. This arbitrage on the part of such dealers really provides a valuable service to the public in terms of bringing cars to market, but just be aware of any work needed to restore or rejuvenate such vehicles. For example Gullwing Motorcars and Beverly Hills Car Club.

Buying at Auctions

If you’ve got a little more experience buying classic cars, you could certainly do well buying at an auction. You’ll have a chance to look over a car before the auction, but you won’t be able to test drive or take it out of the auction for an inspection. If you are not knowledgeable about the kind of car you plan to buy, bring a friend who is or, if you can afford it, a paid expert.

Auctions are fast-paced, and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. It’s possible to get into a bidding battle and pay more than you’d hoped. Before buying at an auction, consider attending a few with a friend who has purchased cars that way to learn the ropes.

Some sellers at auction will place a “reserve” on their car, a minimum price they’ll accept. You won’t know what that figure is, of course, and some owners will take their car home rather than accept less than their reserve. Or, the seller may decide to lift the reserve during bidding to ensure that the car does sell.

A car offered with “no reserve” means it will sell to the highest bidder, even if it’s not the amount the seller was hoping to get. Some buyers have gotten great deals that way.

Review any auction company’s policies thoroughly before you decide to bid.

Many of the auction catalogs make great coffee table books; a testament to the amount of work that goes into a quality write-up for each of the cars on offer. The top auctioneers are: Gooding & Co, RM Sotheby’s, Bonhams, Russo and Steele, Mecum, Rick Cole and Barrett-Jackson


Whether you buy from dealer or from an auction, obviously the rule is always to have the vehicle inspected by a knowledgeable person. Having the car exposed to the sunlight of a public offering will also potentially allow buyers to tap into car clubs or enthusiast forums for info on a vehicle they may be considering. Unless buyer happens to know the car it will help to find other who have encountered it or its owner.

Both dealers and auction companies need to make something on any deal in order to sustain their businesses. It’s not as easy as it looks. Some people begrudge the commissions that auction companies charge but take a look at the tremendous resources they use to bring cars to market: the staff to write the comprehensive marketing materials, all the specialists that research and write up all the vehicles, security, warehousing, weeks long commitment to rented venues, auctioneers, office staff, customer service, printing of brochure, etc. Believe me it’s not easy.

Dealers are usually sitting on many cars in warehouses they pay, for sale or no sale activity. Dealers have to maintain websites, hire mechanics, salespeople, car porters, etc.

In many respects dealers, auction companies and vintage car financing specialists are in fact the lubrication for the collector car market. You get what you pay for, as they say.

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