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Getting it right first time (Part 2)
Classic Cars
Tuesday, November 09, 2010 1:39 AM

Getting it right first time (Part 2)

FOR those of you who have been doing some research on your first possible classic, it's time to go through the process of hunting for one now.

Well, to make things much easier for you, let's pick an example of a Mercedes W123 230.

The Mercedes W123 230, incidentally, might prove an ideal first-time classic as it's reasonably cheap to run and maintain and it's getting more stamps of approvals for its looks and collectibility, whether in a four-door or a two-door CE variant.

There are a couple of ways to go about getting this model.

First up is by using the power of the Internet where you visit local dedicated classic car forums and websites and look for W123's for sale.

Most of the time, the specific car you are looking for may not be up for sale yet, so, feel free to just drop in a request, indicating that you are looking for a Mercedes W123 230.

You can also flick through some pages on local magazines such as Motor Trader, or even contact a local club, such as MSVCR.

And there is basic word of mouth. Speak to classic car aficionados and seek their help.

Another recommended effort is to drive around and look for W123's, stashed in porches, or sidelined in housing estates. Remember that it's worth taking some weekend time off, and taking a road trip to old towns and villages to look for a car.

You'll be surprised with the results, especially when it comes to the selling price. If you can't get the owner, write a note and leave in on the windscreen.


The Mercedes W123 230 is an ideal first-time classic

One simple rule of thumb is to always keep your options open. If you have managed to find a few examples, restored or not, just make sure you give all of them a visit before making your pick.

Having found some possible candidates, make an appointment to see them and try to stick to some do's and don't list, which we will get to shortly.

But before that, be sure that whenever you make contact with the seller, never show too much excitement. You need to have done enough research about the car as the last thing you need is someone taking you for a trip to Disneyland!

The most important thing you need to know is the value of a restored unit.

For that matter, a fully restored four-door Mercedes W123 230 can be picked up for about RM13,000 at the moment, as apposed to an unrestored one at about RM2,000 to RM3,000 depending on condition.

It is also better to bring along a friend. Since it's your first classic, it helps if you have a mechanic friend.

Try to get one in running condition if you are getting an unrestored example. That means the engine runs and the car is drivable.

Avoid non-roadworthy cars. Although the list below is angled more towards unrestored examples, you can also apply them on restored ones:


Do not buy a car without relevant paperwork (ownership grant, seller's IC copy, etc). There's no point discussing about a car which can't be transferred to you. Make sure the seller shows you the documents.

Also never allow seller to make you pay and take the car first with the documents only to be given later " even if you already know the seller (you'd be surprised how many enthusiasts fall for this).

Make sure you check the engine and chassis numbers on the car, that they correspond with the grant. You may get away with a different engine number (buy another legitimate engine from a chop shop and get it transferred) but never buy a car with different or tampered chassis numbers. This is imperative as you will need to get the car tested by Puspakom to transfer ownership.

Do not give the seller a chance to know that you know plenty about classic cars. Some sellers who know that you are an avid collector may raise the numbers. Just keep a low-key profile.

Avoid cars with seized engine, rusted chassis rails (rust on other parts is still acceptable), messed-up wiring (especially for classics with loads of complicated wiring such as BMW E21 3 Series, Mercedes W123 230E, etc).


Check everything on the car. Assess bodywork for rust, especially floor boards (check under carpets), sills, wheel arch, windscreen areas, and undercarriage.

It's better to avoid cars with rust as much as possible. Rusty chassis rails are a big no-no. Also check exterior parts and accessories, interior and all electrical switches, meters, and visible wiring, etc.

Avoid brittle/hardened wiring. For restored cars, make sure you look out for ''bubbles'' on paintwork.

Check the number of previous owners. Cars with a lots of owners tend to have suffered a lot.

Check dip stick. Avoid water and lubricant mixture, that is creamy white at the tip of the dipstick.

Get the seller to start the engine in your presence.

If possible, take it for a short spin around the area. Turn off radio, and wind windows down.

While driving, engage all gears (if manual, switch between gears quickly). Avoid cars with weird, rough noises coming out of the transmission and engine. Also avoid cars with ''whitish blue'' smoke coming out of exhaust (this is where your friend comes in). Also check suspension travel quality, brakes, clutch and steering feedback.

Keep an eye on the instrument panel, especially on the water temperature. Overheating cars are not recommended, although most unrestored ones tend to overheat, and you have to fix that during restoration.

After driving, park the car and check for leaks under engine (wet oil sump), gearbox and rear axle.

Well, there you have it. Just make sure you keep yourself close to the do's and don'ts above and you're well on your way to getting your very first classic car!

Make sure that all visits are quick and straight to the point, and it's better to tell the seller that you will think about it and get back to him soon.

Once you have completed your visits, assess them individually and select the one which are in the best condition-to-price ratio. Please don't expect unrestored, running examples to be in tip-top condition

Try to buy a car within its current market value.

Next month, we will discuss about the initial restoration stage for your classic; stripping the car! For more information, please e-mail me at the motoring@thestar.com.my.



» Strip down (Part 3)
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