This car is older than I am. Also more attractive and more fun.
July 12, 2013 7:55 PM   Subscribe

In less than a month, a classic car auction is coming to my neck of the woods, and by pure chance they're auctioning off an oddball car that I think is fantastic. Help me proceed without making any foolish mistakes.

The car in question isn't particularly desirable in the United States -- it is essentially a foreign equivalent to a 1960s Dodge Dart, a bit frumpy and slow but bulletproof to run and simple to fix -- but it hits a sweet spot for me that I cannot deny. It is a non-concours daily driver coming out of a private collection in the area, and based on the research I've done it should go for a price well within my budget for such things.

It is not my first older vehicle, but it is the oldest I've considered purchasing to date, and also the first time I've made the purchase at a "classic" car auction (where pre-purchase test drives and independent mechanic inspections aren't possible as far as I know.)

So, other than learning as much about the particular model as I can before the auction, locating a mechanic who specializes in such cars to discuss what trouble spots I should look for, and inspecting the car as best I can just before the auction, what else should I be doing?

Note that I'm looking for answers in two categories: things I should consider regarding the car, and things I should consider regarding the auction experience/process.
posted by davejay to Shopping (13 answers total)
Is it a Simca?! If yes, just jump in and get it. I can't tell you much about auctions, but I can tell you that owning a Plymouth Scamp was my favorite car experience. A Simca would probably be a million time more so.
posted by littlerobothead at 8:31 PM on July 12, 2013

Check the website for the auction company to find out what types of payment they take, you may need to have cash or certified funds.

Plan what your maximum bid will be before you go to the auction. Write it down, where no one else will see it of course, but where you can glance at it and remind yourself that when the bidding gets to that point you will stop. Get emotionally comfortable that when the bidding gets to that point you will stop. Yes, WHEN not if.

Auctioneers are usually paid on commission, and the live auction experience is all about creating an atmosphere that will keep you bidding. You could have the winning bid and be a winner, a winner who looses more money than they had to spend. Your "winning" bid may be a legally binding contract in your state. DO NOT go in to this with your ego set on buying that car, or you WILL end up buying it even if it's for far more than you would have chosen to spend were the auctioneer not pointing at you and shouting numbers. If they are pointing at you, and you don't want to bid again, stand stock still and don't move.

If you haven't been to auctions run by professional auctioneers before, try to go to one, no matter what's being sold, before you go to the car auction. They tend to be very fast paced, and make buying a used car look like an easy low pressure transaction.

Last vehicle auction I went to, you were able to view the vehicles in person before the auction. There wouldn't have been anything to stop you from bringing a mechanic with you, but all you could do was look, including under the hood and under the car. No starting anything. For the auction day, they had and employee start each vehicle if it could be started, and for the ones that ran better they might demonstrate that it could move a foot or two backwards and forwards, or that the bucket loader moved or something.

Even if you don't have a mechanic, you should be able to look at the car and see if it's missing any major parts, like the engine, as well as get an idea if it could have been running anytime recently, or has been sitting around rusting and having all the rubber parts dry up. See if the oil looks or smells funny.

Find out in advance how long you have to pick up vehicles from the auction (if there are other items for sale, vehicle pickup might be different). You might need to bring a trailer and something to haul it with. Don't think you will just run out and rent a trailer up the street from the car auction. Think about how you will get the car onto the trailer, and how to secure it to the trailer in transport. Consider where you will put the car, you might not get the title right away and in some towns unregistered cars will be towed if they are parked on the street.
posted by yohko at 8:55 PM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, pay close attention the items being auctioned before they get to what you are interested in. Listen to the cadence of the auctioneer, get used to what they say when they move to a new item -- some auctioneers just say an item number and start immediately. Listen to be able to make out the numbers that are being said. Watch the bidders, observe the whole process so you will know what's happening. They may spend 30 seconds selling the one car you want, and you want to be ready.

Good luck!
posted by yohko at 8:59 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I own a mopar car of that vintage(although not in the dart/valiant series, in the satellite/belvedere/gtx larger series). I bought it non-running and fixed it up.

It continues to be more reliable and have less stupid issues than any newer car anyone i know owns unless they have a super new car they bought off the lot. The only things that have ever given me trouble are flooding/fouled plugs on warm starts, and just carburetor tomfoolery in which i can never get it quite right(i've thrown in the towel, i'm paying a local shop to rebuild the entire thing for me).

Generally, it starts on one very short crank and is ready to go about as fast as you can pop it in to gear.

Is this early 60s or late 60s? Because a thing i'd look out for on the later ones is anything driven by a bi-metal like the automatic choke, exhaust recirc, etc. The levers and brackets just tend to kinda... fall off. Everything might look in place and functional to the untrained eye but a piece has just ejected itself at some point in the last few decades. Also the heater/defront baffles and basically everything driven by a lever in that area, and the ducts that go to the defrost on the dash get really brittle...

Oh, and prepare for how much the brakes suck. They stop the car fine, but you have to apply an absolutely superman amount of force sometimes. Same deal in other cars of the same vintage i've driven around a bit...

Don't let anybody stop you though. Mines been more reliable than my parents 10 year old subaru...
posted by emptythought at 9:33 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had my grandma's 1972 Doge Dart Swinger in the 90s, when she finally gave it up for a Camry. I'd agree that if you have a chance to inspect in at all before buying try and assess how well the fasteners and panels in the interior are holding together etc. The car was basically indestructible, but bits and pieces of it would occasionally decide that they were not, and detach themselves.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:04 PM on July 12, 2013

We used to add lead substitute when we filled it up. I don't know if that was really required or not, but your car will be even older.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:09 PM on July 12, 2013

There will be an owners club, 2join it. You may well find that the true market is very different from the widely accepted one.
posted by BenPens at 2:48 AM on July 13, 2013

I bought a 57 bel air two years ago, and the biggest challenge with this car is going back through decades of "fixes" done to it. Electric tape instead of sheathed wire, custom fabricated metalwork, aftermarket kits from now defunct companies, and the most terrifying: hidden home brew repairs.

You may not have this issue if its coming from a "private collection" but these things are major headaches and sometimes confound even the classic car restoration garage I bring it to.

That, and the obvious hidden rust issues (which thankfully there is little of on my car).
posted by Debaser626 at 5:35 AM on July 13, 2013

My concern would be safety. Even cars ten years old aren't half as good as cars today. A car older than you are....death trap.

If you want it to go for Sunday jaunts or to the local donut shop on a Saturday morning to hang out with other classic car owners, then hey, go for it.

If you plan to use is as a daily driver, and you drive on the interstate, with folks driving cars with collapsible steering columns and air bags, then PLEASE reconsider!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:00 AM on July 13, 2013

On safety, note that the seatbelts may not be as you expect.

Front lap belts weren't required until '65, although most cars had them by then. Rear lap belts were required by the late 60s. Front shoulder belts weren't required until 68 or 69 or something like that, although they were a common option. These were of the snap on, non retractable variety (or they were in our Dart, which had them as required equipment.)

That said, old Detroit steel like that may be more of a danger to the occupant of the modern subcompact than to its own driver, in some collisions.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:10 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also owned a Dodge Dart Swinger, '72. Those straight sixes are indestructable.

My suggestion is simple--look to see if there are any written rules to the auction and learn them. Staffers might not know them.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:38 AM on July 13, 2013

Quick clarification: it is not a Dart, it is a foreign car with attributes/reputation similar to a Dart. Nevertheless, I've gotten a lot out of this already, so please do continue.
posted by davejay at 4:05 PM on July 13, 2013

I used to drive cars for an auction when I was getting out of high school so I can speak to the auction experience which I suspect hasn't changed much at all. In the auction I worked at the cars were available for looking at beforehand and then they were driven through the auction barn and actually auctioned off right then and there. Potential buyers were always crawling all over the cars asking us to do this or that thing to the car (lights, pop the hood/trunk, how is the AC, etc). We were instructed to say that the AC "blew cold" and that the car ran "like new" to everyone (it was sort of a joke really, everyone knew that's what we were supposed to say) and so people were trying to get as much firsthand info as they could. I think I'd be concerned about a few things

- does the car start on its own (some are jumped, if they don't start again a bit later, I'd be concerned)?
- is the car leaking anything or making any bizarre noises? Smoking?
- does the car stay running while in the auction barn, if that's the way this sort of thing goes?
- anything obviously broken or patched up? Tires may be worn but are they worn evenly, that sort of thing.
- I'd be concerned about salvage which could mean water/storm damage which would mean a lot more potential mystery shit than a standard repo or whatever.

Remember cars often come to auction because there's something weird going on, worth it to see if you can suss out what that thing is. A lot of the cards we drove were rentals past their prime or obvious repos but some looked and smelled like they'd been in a lake. Be sure to smell the car and be wary of cars with a lot of air freshener in them.

And then I'd think about the auction. How can you pay? When do you have to pay by? Can you leave a deposit? Do you have to drive the car home? By when? What personal documentation do you need for the DMV? What do you need for the auction? If it's possible to go to this auction on some day when you're not looking to buy your car, that will help you see the structure when you're not distracted by the car of your dreams. Keep in mind that you may be able to buy the car from the person who wins it since a lot of them (where I was working) were just secondhand dealers anyhow. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:29 PM on July 13, 2013

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