Classic cars can seem wonderfully attractive but you need to do your homework before you splash the cash. Picture: Timothy Bernard.

Johannesburg - So you’ve spotted a beautiful pearl-white MG convertible for sale and you’re just about ready to make an offer. But there’s a problem. You’ve never owned a classic before and you’re worried about possible pitfalls for a vintage car virgin. Well, here’s some advice to help you secure the deal with some piece of mind:


The internet is a powerful tool, so use it to your advantage.

Let’s say, for example, the car concerned is a 1969 Triumph TR6. Extensive research can be done by just typing “TR6 problems” into Google’s search engine. From there you can find common issues with any car, but be on the lookout for specific rust areas and mechanical concerns. Use the findings to better equip yourself at the tyre-kicking phase. Don’t be afraid to poke around underneath the car, and in hard to see areas underneath carpets and inside the engine bay.


Get in touch with a specific marque’s local club.

Again, Google can help but also visit (the SA Motor Club Association) for a directory of SA’s motor clubs. The annual Motorheads diary, available from, is also a valuable source of car club info.

In South Africa we have a numbers advantage over bigger markets, and you might be surprised how well known a specific car might be within certain circles. Present the registration or chassis number of the car in question to the respective club, and it’s often possible to uncover an extensive history of previous owners, service history, restorations or crash repairs. If a club says a specific car is a lemon, don’t be afraid to step away from it.


Just because your local dealer has recently taken in a mint-looking Mach 1 Mustang on trade, it doesn’t mean this is the only Mach 1 in existence. Sometimes the hunt can be more thrilling than the kill, so be patient and look around. You might find a better deal down the road.


Buying a classic without an engine, or in unfinished condition can definitely save money but Classic and Performance Car Africa magazine’s Stuart Grant advises against project cars for inexperienced mechanics.

“Nothing kills enthusiasm more than a non-running garage filler that you don’t have the time, money, or ability to fix,” says Grant. “If you are a first time buyer then it’s better to get a good solid car. It might cost more at the outset, but you can use it and enjoy it immediately.”


It is likely that a classic’s previous owners kept a host of useful items with the car, so keep an eye out for any extras that can be included in the deal.

“Ask for books, tools, spares, workshop manuals, handbooks etc, to be thrown in,” says RMI CEO and head of Gumtree Automotive Jeff Osborne. “Also make sure that all the necessary documentation and papers are signed and in your possession, before making full and final payment. Insist on a roadworthy certificate.”


While it’s true that some classic cars are worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay, it is still possible to pay too much.

Scan SA’s classifieds publications such as AutoTrader and Gumtree for specific models to acquaint yourself with rough values. If Mk1 Ford Cortinas are generally priced between R10 000 and R35 000, it’s probably unwise to spend R300 000 – unless it’s an immaculate Lotus version. For rarer cars, like Lotus Cortinas, check what they sell for internationally, or visit insurance sites such as for rough estimates.


Have the car checked by a mechanic, preferably one who specialises in certain marques, before signing an offer to purchase. That spotless 1963 Mini Cooper S finished in British Racing Green with white stripes and period spotlights might pass your most stringent inspection, but it might take a specialist to uncover the fact that it’s actually a much less valuable Austin 850 converted into a Cooper S lookalike. -Star Motoring

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