How to Buy, Restore and Sell a Vintage Car

by Contributor

It might look like an aging heap of rusted metal to some, but you know with a little elbow grease you can bring that beauty back to life. Nearly everyone who restores cars will tell you that they're in the business for the love of it, not the money--it's hard to beat the feeling of pride when new life has been given to an old classic.


Follow the steps in <a href="" target="_top">How to Buy a Used Car</a>, except be prepared to buy your car one piece at a time. The perfect frame could be in someone's garage, while the seats may have to be remanufactured in Canada. Go to car shows, scan the ads in collector and car parts magazines, check salvage yards, scour the Internet, and ask friends if they have any auto parts lying around.

Beware of cars that are heavily rusted. Some rust may be unavoidable, but make sure it's not corroding structural parts.

See in person any advertised car or parts you're considering buying. If this is not an option, ask for detailed photos. A third alternative is to arrange to have the vehicle inspected for a fee by a national group like Automobile Inspections (automobileinspections. com), which can provide you with a comprehensive condition report within 72 hours.

Be realistic when calculating the expenses of restoring a vintage vehicle to sell for profit. Get to know the car's market well. How much time and expertise you have to devote to the project will determine which cars you can restore. Find and talk to other people who have worked on the same car; members of car clubs and books are good sources of information. If you're starting from scratch, be prepared to spend a lot of money on tools and equipment in addition to parts for the car.

Look in the mirror and tell yourself that in all likelihood you won't turn a profit on this. Don't be bitter if it doesn't turn out to be a money maker.


Make sure you have enough room. A dismantled car takes up a considerable amount of space. Ideally, you need the equivalent of two adjacent garages: one to dismantle the car and keep the parts, and the other to build the car up again. Alternatively, store parts like the engine, gear-box, doors and bonnet in a dry basement or shed while you are working on the chassis and body.

Expect the unexpected: You'll always find that aspects of the restoration are more involved than anticipated. If you're not sure you can do some of the work correctly or if it's dangerous (as is working with springs), call in a professional. In the end it will save time and money, if not your pride.

Use as much original equipment as you can get your hands on (hood ornaments, old mirrors, original radios) to enhance the value and raise the asking price. A successfully restored car is a trip back in time for car buffs.

Take your restoration cues (paint color and more) from publications of the same era that show your vehicle. Magazines like these are great to back up the work you've done when selling the car.


Clean the car extremely well. Steam-clean under the hood (car detailers can do this). Try to make sure its details are as complete and mint-looking as possible. Change the oil and service the car--the fact that the car doesn't require servicing right away may encourage some buyers.

Put together a complete sales package to market your car. Does it have its full set of chrome, for example?

Collect any artifacts or knowledge related to the car's history that might increase its allure and value. Was it a race car at some point? Car buffs love log books and proof of races won. Collect manufacturer medallions, racing badges, maintenance records, and original options and sales brochures as well as the manual.

Determine your asking price. Compare your car's make, model, year and condition to others listed in advertisements. Ask a fellow enthusiast for a valuation.

Choose advertising venues carefully, to get reasonable offers. A college campus bulletin board is a waste of time, but the catalogs where you found parts for your car, magazines and automobile clubs devoted to your model, and online mailing lists of car buffs all might turn up eager buyers willing to pony up.

Try not to limit the car's advertising to one geographic region. Different regions have different demands for the same vehicles, and buyers in another state may pay thousands more than local buyers would.

Take it to car shows and museums, and park it prominently near the venue's entrance or exit. Car nuts will appreciate this vehicle, so wave it under their noses. If you're going to a car show far away, trailer your car to eliminate road wear or damage.

Remind yourself as you sign the bill of sale that you weren't planning to make a profit, and focus instead on that next fixer-upper.


  • check Pay attention to details that sell cars. A catchy license plate or an antique bud vase make car buffs squeal with delight.
  • check It's not a good idea to try selling the car based on how much money was sunk into its restoration.
  • check With the revamped VW Beetles and Mini Coopers now out on the streets, their forefathers are in hot demand. There's always a market for muscle cars like Camaros and Mustangs.


  • close Lift with your knees, not your back.
  • close Be realistic about how much you can afford to spend on restoration. Costs can mount quickly.

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About the Author

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