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Stepping Into a Classic - Part One

We introduce you to the world of automotive classics and give you some practical buying tips...

By Michael Knowling

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This article was first published in 2003.

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Once you've owned a few cars that you've tweaked with some basic exhaust, intake and maybe boost, intercooling and chip changes, you've pretty well 'done it all'. After your third time 'round, those mods have lost any real feeling of excitement and it's all very familiar. Just part of the routine.

So what can you do to get off this merry-go-round, you ask? Simple - buy a classic car!

Yes, yes, the transition from a rapid modern-tech streetcar to an automotive antique is a gigantic one, but if you're looking for an adventure that's a little out of the ordinary, it really is a great experience. Especially if you don't mind getting your hands dirty...

First of all, we should point out that classic cars will only appeal to true automotive enthusiasts - not those who are on the car fashion bandwagon. An appreciation of motoring history is a prerequisite.

There is no defining quality of a classic car, but - to give you a guide - let's take a look at some of the most widely recognised classic cars as examples...

Alfa Romeo 105-Series Coupes

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Alfa Romeo's popular 105-series sedan debuted in 1962, but the Giulia Sprint coupe version (which is based on the sedan) didn't appear until later the next year. Its gorgeous, flowing - yet compact - lines were sketched by the famous Bertone and, under the skin, used mechanicals based on that of the Berlina Ti sedan - a DOHC, 1.6-litre four-cylinder generating 106hp.

The terrific sales success of the Giulia Sprint led to the 1968 release of the bigger and bolder 1750 GTV. The 1750 part of the name hints at the larger engine capacity (actually 1779cc), which was good for pumping out 118hp. The 1750 was a considerably quicker vehicle than the Giulia Sprint and its wheelbase was stretched 30mm to aid stability. The 1750 GTV was also made identifiable by its twin headlight front-end.

The final in the beautiful 105-coupe series was the 2000 GTV, which used a 1962cc version of the DOHC four-cylinder. Claimed flywheel output was 132hp. The 2000 GTV was capable of accelerating to 100 km/h in a shade over 9 seconds, with a top speed of 121 mph (nearly 200 km/h) and had nicely balanced rear-wheel-drive handling.

Any in this series is a collectable sportscar.

Jaguar Mark II 3.8

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The 1959-introduced Jaguar Mark II was a tremendously important vehicle for the British marque. With almost 100,000 examples built, it established that Jaguar had the capacity to assemble very real numbers of niche vehicles.

The popularity of the Mark II can be tied to its modern, sporty body profile and the XK-derived twin carb, DOHC, 3.8-litre six giving an output of 220hp and a top speed of 120 mph (about 195 km/h). It was also a supremely comfortable leather-lined/walnut timber capsule with effortless open-road cruising abilities. Less desirable 2.4 and 2.8-litre Mark II versions were also available.

Production of the Mark II ended in 1967, when the 'downgraded' vinyl trimmed 240 and 340 saloons took over. Restored Mark II 3.8s fetch considerable money but tatty examples are still quite cheap.

Fiat 124s

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The Fiat 124 series is probably the most accessible classic sportscar. Designed by Pininfarina, the 124 is a pretty little sports coupe powered by an ahead-of-its time DOHC four-cylinder. There were three models in the series - the AC, BC and CC (the AC being the earliest, from 1967).

The early AC 124s come powered by a 1.4-litre, DOHC four with 96hp put to the rear wheels. The engine was upsized to a 104hp 1.6-litre for the BC model and a 5-speed manual was made available instead of a 4-speeder. The final version - the CC - got a big 1.8-litre motor but, thanks largely to low compression, it made just 92.5hp.

Major styling revisions were made across the model's lifespan, but the older models (as pictured) are regarded as the prettiest. These cars offer excellent classic motoring value.

Mercedes Benz

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The Mercedes Benz Ponton (1953 - 1962) concreted this marque's reputation for tremendous strength, reliability and comfort.

Following the Ponton came the first S-class series, which kicked off with the 1959 fin-tail classic (aka heckflosse). The late '60s saw the same vertical headlight front-end retained, but the adoption of a much flatter and lower body profile and the loss of the rear fins. Bigger engines were also progressively introduced - namely a 2.5-litre six, a 2.8-litre six and a 3.5-litre all-alloy V8.

If you have plenty of money to spare you may well want to invest in a W109 300SEL 6.3 - easily the fastest luxury saloon in the world at the time and still an awesome beast. Some unusual limousine versions were also produced (as pictured).

BMW 2002

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One of the most important cars for BMW was the 2002. Based on the 1600 series - which saved BMW from imminent bankruptcy in the early '60s - the 2002 achieved great sales success in America, where the twin-carb 1.6-litre sports versions of the 1600-2 (2-door) didn't meet emission regulations. This compelled BMW to increase the engine capacity to 2.0-litres, thus creating the 2002 and a performance classic.

Ample straight-line performance, good handling and much better practicality than the imports from Italy meant sales were very strong - exactly what the company was desperate for. Later versions of the 2002 - the 2002tii with Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection and the awesome 2002 turbo - were faster again, with the 2002 earning a reputation on racetracks. The 2002 Turbo was built in limited numbers only between 1973 and 1974 and incorporated many aero, suspension and brake upgrades. The 2002 turbo is a true collector's item that demands big prices, but the normal 2002 can be picked up quite cheaply.

Prices

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The purchase price of a classic car varies tremendously - tabulated depreciation rates go out the window and many other factors come into play. The most expensive classic cars are, of course, the ones that are the most desirable for one reason or another - they might be sporty, something quirky and/or simply a car that has a rich historical significance.

On the positive side, there remain quite a few desirable classics that can be picked up very cheaply.

The humble VW Beetle has an undeniable classic car status and can be bought for as little as a few hundred dollars (in 'as is' condition), while Minis, BMW 1600s and the 'compact' series Mercedes Benzes can also be picked up for surprisingly little money. Of course, a lot comes down to the condition of the vehicle...

Insurance

The cost of insuring a classic car must also be considered. Like any car, the insurance premium varies hugely from company to company (and from day to day!) so it pays to shop around. Shannons, for example, is one of the most noted insures of classic cars in Australia.

Note that Shannons also has an excellent website - www.shannons.com.au - that includes the selling prices of various classic cars from previous auctions.

Stay tuned for Part Two - inspecting a classic car and how to maintain it.

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