Mary shares experiences from 20 years in the auto industry selling classic cars internationally with her husband.
Where to Find Cheap Classic Cars
Perhaps you have just been to a classic car show, and the idea of buying and selling classic cars appeals to you. The new buzz word is "flipping cars." But if you're over 40 years old, this latest phrase will cause you to roll your eyes in dismay. Buying and selling classic cars for a profit is nothing new; my husband and I did this for 20 years.
There are two ways to make money from buying classic cars: either buy them and keep them for years, hoping they will increase in value, or buy and sell for a quick profit. The latter is now called "flipping."
To start your car flipping business, you'll need to buy a car. But where?
If you're like most people with an interest in vintage cars, you have at some point been walking around a classic car show. Car shows have fastidious owners, lots of accessories stands, and in my opinion, a lot of BS you don't need to know to start your new business.
At the car show, the proud owner stands next to his gleaming car. He tells you the life story of not just his car, but also the model and perhaps the history of the entire company that produced the car. What you won't get from him is a good price on a car, so smile politely and look at your watch. Go and buy a hot dog and make your way to the exit so you can begin your own search for a bargain classic car, one you can buy and sell for a profit.
Today, I want to tell you where you will find bargains so you can begin earning from this potentially lucrative business.
You make money when you buy, not when you sell.
You will undoubtedly have heard or seen television programs about barn finds. These are cars that have been left for years in a barn, only being seen by the farmer and a few of his domesticated animals. The cars are covered in a thick layer of dust but they have been kept dry—which is important, as humid and wet conditions are a classic car's worst enemies.
When we had a container of our barn finds shipped back to the UK from California, nothing had been done to them except to tow them to the docks. They were "as is," dust and all. This posed problems getting the container out of customs once it had arrived in the UK, because it first needed to be fumigated for black widow spiders, and I'm sure other insects died as a result.
That said, cars that have been stored in a barn are in better condition than those that have been used or been left in a field, exposed to the elements, and eventually rotting away. The problem is sourcing them. Unless you know someone who knows the farmer you may never know their whereabouts. This is where communications skills come in handy. Those who like the latest trending words can use the term "networking"; I'll call it talking, or getting out there and meeting people.
Networking or Talking to People
When you speak to people, tell them you buy classic cars. People love to tell stories of cars they've had or people they know who have them. Listen carefully as these people may know others who have classics. If necessary, pay them a finder's fee if the introduction results in you purchasing the car. It is likely they may know others and if they are happy with receiving a percentage for the introduction, it's a win-win situation.
If you're a casual dresser, then opt for t-shirts with images of classic cars, it is an ice-breaker. Follow this up with a business card.
One of our barn finds was a result of striking up a conversation with a man at an antique store.
Garages and Driveways
Men are stubborn about their classic cars. There, I've said it, and let me tell you how you can use this to your advantage. Men will buy a classic car and park it in their garage, much to the chagrin of their wives. The husband doesn't seem to notice that she now needs to scrape ice from her own car's windshield and soak her new hairdo when she runs from her car to the house in the pouring rain carrying overloaded bags of groceries.
As a classic car dealer, this is good news for you because if the husband seems to have abandoned the project car, his wife will do everything she can to get that car sold. If you show up and are interested, you will not only likely have a sale, you'll have a bargain! If left to their own devices, men will honestly believe that they will get around to restoring the abandoned car in the garage. But his wife doesn't believe this and wants her parking spot back.
To find these hidden treasures lurking in your neighbors garages, get in your car and go for a drive on the weekend.
Let me tell you a little story. One Saturday, my husband and I loaded up the kids for a leisurely drive around. This is something we did often to source our cars. Saturday is the best day, as the garage doors are open when people are doing yard work and washing their cars. As we drove by one garage, we caught sight of a chrome headlight sticking out from under a tarp. It had the potential to be our next bargain.
My husband got out and started chatting with the man who was 20 years his senior. The man showed him the car and after a few minutes said, "I have a few more in the back yard if you want to see them." On the acre behind his house, he had several classic cars. Over the years he bought them and parked them in his back garden among his tomato and cucumber plants. He had a love of the classics but no idea what he planned to do with them.
Advertise to Buy Classics
Place "classic car wanted" advertisements in local papers and on notice boards. People with classic and vintage cars frequently check the "for sale" section just to see what their car is worth. These ads will reach an audience who are local to you. If your ad is well written and you offer a valuation service (free or otherwise), you're likely to get calls. Although some of these callers won't be ready to sell, many will be as they can see money instead of something they currently see as a money pit.
Scrap Yards and Car Repair Garages
You may be shaking your head thinking neither of these places is suitable. The owners of these businesses could have parked desirable cars thinking, one day they may repair them.
Sometimes, it only takes the simple question, “Have you ever thought about selling it?”. People are financially under pressure, as never before and want someone who can solve problems for them. You can be that problem solver.
Use Google Maps
Now you don't even have to leave your sofa to find vintage cars; you can use Google Maps. Although the map may be old, some cars have been in the same place for years. If a car has been left outside uncovered, it will have deteriorated, even in a dry climate.
If you think you won't be able to tell what a vehicle is by looking at an aerial map, stop for a moment and think. Could you recognize a VW Beetle by its shape or a Corvette?
Use a Drone to Find Classic Cars in Fields
When we were buying and selling cars, our only option to see aerially was to hire a helicopter. Although we considered doing this, it was costly without knowing how many, if any, we'd find. Now your options are much better. Consider using a drone. Check the regulations in your city, state, or country for using a drone. You may need a license, a permit, or other necessary paperwork in place before using it in certain areas.
The advantage of a drone is you can discreetly fly over an area you might not be able to see when traveling in your car. Although a field may look overgrown with weeds or crops, you could see the tops of classic cars.
I hope these examples give you the confidence to begin buying and selling classic cars. Whether you choose to do this as a hobby or as a full-time profession, you'll develop skill in identifying not just the areas to locate the classic autos but also their monetary value, scarcity and potential profit you could be making.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Don’t you need a car dealer license in the US though, if selling more than a couple of cars a year?
Answer: This site is read by people all over the world and of course regulations will be different. It is best to check with your local department of motor vehicles or department of transit for clarification.
The local chamber of commerce will also be a good source of information.
Question: What do you do regarding insurance on the cars you are flipping? I have been quoted $2500 a year.
Answer: I would suggest you shop around to find the best insurance for the money. Check what they are covering you against, as not all policies will be the same.
Question: I'm the owner of a 1984 Chevy Cavalier convertible. I'm head over heels for restoration on it, but is that realistic?
Answer: It depends. If you want to restore it for your own personal use, then do it. However, even if you decided to begin restoring it, you may begin to look at it differently. It's likely you'll move from 'head over heels' in love with it to thinking of it as a 'money pit'.
If you are thinking of restoring it to sell it, don't do it. You are unlikely to find a buyer who will pay you anywhere near what you have put into the car.
© 2017 Mary Wickison
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on December 24, 2019:
I'm not sure where you are located but here is information for the States.
If you are in another country, then there will likely be an equivalent.
You will have to weigh out the value of the car to the shipping and any hassles. If you aren't in Lebanon, then you will need to find an agent to assist you.
Robert Boulos on December 23, 2019:
I have a1974 Porsche 911carrera 2.7 euro mfi 210hp type 911/83 matching numbers running and driving in good condition .a beautiful rare low mileage collection car... but the is in Lebanon I am having difficulty selling the car. Please guide me to a way to sell the car
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on October 26, 2019:
It sounds like it is your pride and joy. Enjoy it, and good luck with your further restoration.
Doug West from Missouri on October 26, 2019:
I have a 1967 Ford Mustang in very good condition. My goal is to restore it to near factory condition if possible. Owning the car has been a lot of work and fun.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on February 08, 2018:
Yes, you're right about however the bodywork is normally in better condition.
Seals and mechanical parts can be replaced or repaired. When you have to start cutting out rust patches and either welding or using body filler, it always shows and as such devalues the car.
It is a judgment call when you're offered a car that has been stored. You need to weigh off the value of the car, with what may need repairing.
Phil on February 07, 2018:
"cars that have been stored in a barn are in better condition than those that have been used". I would disagree with this statement. Most cars that are parked have seals that rot and other parts that seize.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 08, 2017:
We met some interesting people when we were doing this business, there was always a story connected with the car.
Now my son is doing this, buying in the States and sending them to Europe.
I'm glad you've enjoyed them, I appreciate your support.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 08, 2017:
This is the second classic car article of yours I've read today. As I said earlier, I love classic, vintage cars, so I'm really enjoying these posts, Mary!
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 04, 2017:
The classic car business was an interesting part of my life. We met some interesting people from all walks of life who all shared a love of cars.
It has also given me a good grounding of what is important in relation to cars. I don't need to drive the latest models and am not impressed by people who flaunt their cars.
Thanks for reading .
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 04, 2017:
You are a fascinating human being. You've done quite a bit in your life, haven't you, and it all seems to be interesting. Thanks for sharing your insights....great read, Mary!