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Owning a classic car. Lessons in love

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The temptation to buy a vintage Ferrari, Aston Martin or Alpha Romeo is undeniable, but be sure you know what you’re buying. Classic car expert Tony Watts tells all.

I should know better.

I’ve been privileged to have driven hundreds, if not thousands, of new cars over the years. And I know they continually improve. Almost every new car is more economical with fuel, safer, faster, and better equipped than its predecessors.

But I still hanker after classic cars.

I’m not alone in this – the values of classic cars have been increasing at what appears an exponential rate of late, outperforming even property and shares in the last decade.

There is a hitch, however. To enjoy lofty returns, buyers would have to have bought rare Ferraris, Jaguars, Aston-Martins and the like.

Ferraris set the gold standard here, with a 1962 250 GTO Berlinetta being sold at auction in 2014 for US$38m, comparing rather favourably with its retail price of around $20,000 in the 1960s (though that was about four times the price of a new Cadillac at the time, so hardly cheap).

My aspirations – and budget – have always been somewhat more modest, with cars that have been bought to drive, rather than put on display.

Having owned cars from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s I have learned a few things about living with classic cars:

Lessons in love

1. Don’t rely on an classic car to serve as reliable daily transport. Some will be more reliable than others, but any well-used machine will require at least more  maintenance, and probably more frequent repairs.

2. It helps to have some some mechanical knowledge. When your car breaks down, as it inevitavbly will, you may be able to effect some roadside repairs.

3. Older cars have fewer non-essential parts, which means when something goes wrong, it is almost certainly more serious. When the electric window on my 1980s BMW stopped working in the Cameron Highlands, it didn’t prevent me from driving back to Singapore. When the negative lead to the coil on my 1960s Morris Minor fell off thanks to fatigue, the engine stopped.

4. Many classic cars are popular enough to spawn clubs and on-line forums. Use them; they can be a great resource.

5. People generally like seeing classic cars. You’ll often have pedestrians wave or give you the thumbs-up as you drive past, and strangers start conversations about the vehicle (which may, or may not, be a positive thing).

6. They’re not necessarily easy to drive. My partner at the time broke my 1970s Alfa Romeo with a missed gearshift, a notoriously difficult affair with that model (It took me a month of ownership before I could reliably find 5th gear).

7. Classic cars are not as safe as new ones. There is probably no anti-lock braking system, and almost certainly no stability control. Likewise you’ll live without airbags and crumple zones. Drive carefully.

8. Don’t buy an classic car if you’re in a hurry. Even sports cars from the 1960s and 1970s aren’t particularly quick – the gorgeous, eminently collectible Lamborghini Miura S of the late 1960s and early 1970s with its V12 engine only gets to 100km/h from a standstill as fast as a new 2.0-litre Volkswagen Tiguan SUV.

9. It helps to be enthusiastic –you are more likely look on the bright side of the ownership experience. If you’re buying an classic car on a whim because you think it is ‘cute’, then you may be in for a world of heartbreak.

10. Parts may, or may not, be difficult to find. As a rule-of-thumb, the rarer your vehicle, the harder it will be to find parts, and to find experts to maintain your vehicle. Likewise, many insurers shy away from older and rarer cars.

Budget Direct Insurance, however, will look after you with an incredible competitive quote for Comprehensive insurance for cars up to 15 years old, Third Party Fire and Theft for cars between 15 and 20 years old, and Third Party Insurance if your car is between 20 and 30 years old.

Need advice on COE renewal or de-registering?

In Singapore, your car must be de-registered after 10 years unless you pay to renew your COE.  Start the process 2-3 weeks before your COE expires. After this date, your car cannot be on the road and you could incur additional costs, like towing.

Quick guide to your options 

Quick guide to PARF vs COE

For more motoring tips, look out for regular posts in this series.

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