Pre-1990s cars, Classics, etc.

Groovy old vehicles. What you need to know.

We will work on your enthusiast vehicle, but keep these details in mind.

Everybody wants a cool car, and classics are the coolest. It doesn’t matter if your idea of a classic is a Corolla like your Nan drove, or Elvis’ Cadillac. There are a few realities you need to face, and some financial hurdles you will need to eventually cross.

1. Nobody makes parts for them. And if they do, they are usually via mail-order and may not fit your car in it’s current incarnation. You can often get bespoke bits, like brake lines or electrical upgrades, but not off the shelf.

2. Most mechanics have never seen them before. Lots of cars share similar subsystems, but some are very specific to one or two models. Your average spanner-twirler started their career in the mid-late 90’s, after that stuff was long gone. This means the mechanic has to learn how it works to make it work again (Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, for example).

3. Everything is worn out. It’s rarely a case of replacing one or two items, it’s more like fifteen or twenty. A good example is steering, where all the parts have to be in good, adjustable order before a wheel alignment can be carried out. A $50 alignment blows out to a $2500 reconditioning job. Some things, like rubber parts, wear out without any help. They just perish, and then fail.

4. Good things come to those who wait. Those parts aren’t just sitting on the shelf at SuperCheap. If you are paying storage costs while your car is in the shop, it can take months to have a steering box removed / reconditioned / refitted. We charge a storage fee after an agreed period, which you need to take into account.

5. Somebody else has already “fixed” it. Over the years, different bits, and different methods may have been used to keep your car on the road. This could be little things like band-aids for insulation, or cigarette box foil to replace fuses. Or it could be big things like replacing your radiator with one from an International truck, or badly fitting an engine from a completely different brand of car. I’m not making these examples up.

6. There’s more oxide than iron. Rust isn’t just an unattractive paint scheme, it can cause serious structural damage, and stop repair work from going ahead. Like where your steering box bolts to the subframe. Don’t fool yourself, you’ve got it everywhere.

7. Old stuff needs more maintenance than new stuff, because it’s old. There is a common view that they made things stronger/better/longer-lasting in the old days. In some cases it’s true, some items were designed to be repaired rather than replaced. Repairing stuff these days actually costs more than replacing it, because a higher level of skill is involved.

8. Don’t expect it to perform like a new car. If you are used to driving a late model Civic, everything is different in an old car. It won’t stop as quickly, turn as smoothly, accelerate in the same fashion. Sometimes there won’t be aircon. Or seatbelts. And take a look at this.

8. Don’t rely on it as a daily driver. It’s worth having a spare Hyundai in the shed in case the baby comes early.

How to make it work.

Now that we’ve tried to convince you what a bad idea owning an old bomb is, here are tips to help you on your journey.

1. Find others who share your passion. Clubs exist where friendly helpers abound. Online forums and Facebook groups have nice folks too, but watch out for grumpy trolls (like most parts of the Internet). Club meetings and shows are actually very cool, as are most real-life interactions.

2. Research. A Lot. Then you will have an idea of the challenges and costs you will be up against.

3. Learn to do it yourself. This is probably the best money saving tip we can give. An ill-fitting alternator could cost $800 in labour to get sorted. If you DIY, you get the satisfaction, and a great story to tell at the next party, and a spare $800.

4. Get ready to spend. Most modern cars cost a few hundred dollars a year to own, not including on road costs. Some classics go for years with no big costs, but sooner or later you will have to cough up. A shipload.