What to Look for in Collector Cars Part 1

Collector cars are often daily drivers for years that were driven into the ground – literally.  They were often parked for a reason (i.e. the transmission, engine, or something major went out and the owner never got around to fixing it) in a garage or barn, and then never restored to their former glory.  They are sometimes cars that somebody bought to fix up and enjoy, but never was.  Collector cars were once the pride and joy of somebody else, so when you go to buy the car, don’t make jokes about the car or tell stupid stories about a similar car that you once owned.  It’s just a bad idea.  Here’s a quick list of what to look for, should you decide to buy one.

  • Small Animals:  Small animals, remnants of them, or their excrement are not uncommon in collector cars.  Most of the time, the cars were parked in a barn or a garage and not touched for many years.  In barns, rats, mice, and the like often make nests in the engine bay, trunk, or interior.  This is a big, smelly pain to get rid of.  However, don’t be afraid to tackle getting rid of the poop.  All you need is protective eye and mouth wear, a good shop vacuum, and a good few hours or so.  These small critters will often have gnawed their way through the firewall, into the interior, eaten up the seat cushions, and made nests in their.  Don’t worry.  Most of these collector cars are going to need a new interior anyways.  I’ll talk about interiors later.
  • Rust:  Lots of classic cars rust.  It’s a sad fact, but it’s the unavoidable truth.  Even concours-worthy cars have had rust at some point in their life.  Really, don’t be daunted by rust.  There are so many NOS (not original stock), OEM (original equipment manufacturer), and reproduction parts around that you don’t need to look far for new body panels, floorboards, etc.  I’ll do another post on where to find reproduction body panels and parts soon – there are too many to list in a relatively short post like this!
  • Seized Engines:  Most collector cars that were daily drivers were often parked for a reason.  It could be that the engine went boom, the transmission went bang, or something else major.  With a seized engine, don’t worry.  If something, say a piston, went through the valve cover due to a blown crankshaft or connecting rod, you might want to look into getting a modern crate engine.  If the engine had something smaller, like a bad timing chain, any gearhead who has a good repair manual, a couple of friends, some beer, a full tool set, and a replacement part can do that fix in a couple of days.  Do something fun like invite your buddies over for a bratwurst party, or something else fun, and then go out to the garage/workshop/man cave and fix the car.  You’ve probably read a story or three about how a guy invited a couple of friends over to his house to replace a transmission and ended up restoring the car in his garage with his buddies.  Be one of those people.  It gives you creds in the car world, and it’s fun to hang out and work on something that was built to be enjoyed.
  • Failed Transmissions:  Sometimes transmissions fail.  It’s an albeit expensive part of life, but it happens.  Most of the time, it’s better to get a new transmission in a classic car unless it was a custom-built transmission for an old race car or something like that.  Gearstar transmissions (gearstar.net) offers overdrive-equipped transmissions that come in a crate ready to be bolted in.  If you want to add an overdrive to a stock transmission, check out Gear Vendors Overdrives (gearvendors.com).  These transmissions and transmission parts will last you a long time, increase the reliability and efficiency of your pride and joy, and make it more fun to drive.
  • Body Damage:  Don’t worry about body damage.   You can easily find a new replacement body part online (again, I will do a blog post on where to find new body parts) or at a swap meet.  If it’s something simple like a ding, it might be worth it to take it to a body shop and let them fix it for a couple of days.  Or, you can find out how to do it online.  The internet is a great place to go for advice.  Just don’t rely on it for everything.
  • Brakes:  Braking systems wear out over time.  It’s scary and bad when brakes go bad.  Don’t fret.  Classic cars often come with drum brakes, which don’t really stop a car that well.  Most classic cars have manual brakes.  If you want more comfort and driveability in your car, consider going with power brakes.  Master cylinders should be rebuilt, replaced, or fixed if needed.  If a car has been sitting for a long time, think about cleaning out the master cylinder and testing it before you drive the car.  It is worth it to buy a brake bleeder kit.  Should you decide to go for bigger, better brakes in a restomod or pro-touring car, or just want better performance, Wilwood Brakes (wilwood.com) is one of the best in the business.
  • Suspension:  Lots of old cars aren’t exactly known for their handling.  If you have an old muscle car and live in an area where there are a lot of curves, think about getting Koni adjustable shocks (koni-na.com) or Hotchkis Suspension (hotchkis.net).  These suspension systems will greatly improve your car’s performance and driveability, and will make it even more enjoyable for you to drive.  With the Koni shocks, you can adjust the shocks to your liking with a screwdriver!
  • Exhaust:  The exhaust system in a car can fail quite easily.  It can get holes in it, the muffler could have gotten dented beyond repair, and the exhaust pipes could have a leak.  Exhaust leaks can be deadly.  Exhaust from cars contains large amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and many other bad gasses.  Don’t ever hesitate to replace them!  If you have something that needs to be smogged, consider going for a Flowmaster Muffler (flowmastermufflers.com).  It gives a great sound while helping keep your baby on the road.  If you do need to smog it, always tune up the engine before taking it in.  It will be much less of a headache.  If you don’t know what Flowmasters sound like, look them up on YouTube.  They sound far better than stock while looking stock.
  • Wheels:  Wheels take a lot of abuse.  Most of you have probably accidentally scraped the curb with them or gotten them scratched somehow.  Don’t worry – I have too!  There are so many aftermarket wheel manufacturers that they are a 3-piece blog post – at least!  Go for a reputable name!  Cragar Wheels (cragarwheel.com) is a leading manufacturer in wheels.  They are well-known, look great on old muscle cars, and you can find really cool old ones for sale too!
  • Tires:  Think about it.  The only thing keeping your car attached to the road is about four square inches at four corners of the car.  That’s not a lot.  Get good tires.  Don’t get bias-ply tires unless your car is a trailer queen that is only driven to it’s place at the lawn on Pebble Beach.  Coker Tires (cokertire.com) offers vintage-looking radial tires for not too much money, and last a long time.  If your car is built for the drag strip, Firestone makes vintage-looking “cheater slicks,” as well as Mickey Thompson and Goodyear.  All of these tires are good drag slicks, and most are street-legal!  Get good tires that won’t go bald quickly!

I think that’s enough for you to digest right now, so I’ll leave the rest for another time.

A Cool Classic

A while ago, my dad introduced me to one of his business partners who just happened to happen to own a 1960 Jaguar MK9.  Hmm…Maybe I just needed to see it…Well, I’m happy to report to you that it is, without doubt, one of the most breathtaking cars that I have ever laid my eyes on.  Not only does the beautifully patina’d maroon and good paint look absolutely stunning.  Oh, and if stunning looks and a spotless beige leather interior complete with Grey Poupon jars (you never know who might need them!) aren’t enough, this car used be Ike Turner’s car.  So, this car isn’t just ANOTHER Jaguar MK9…

The story behind the owner of the car is an interesting one in itself.  My dad’s business partner, Michael Page, used to be the bassist for Iggy and the Stooges, which was a band that opened for the Rolling Stones.  Mike also played for Chuck Berry and other bands in the 1970’s.  Mike now runs a small studio down in Southern California.  When I asked Mike if he still played musical instruments, his reply was, “Naw, I’m content to listen to it now.”

The story behind how the car ended up being in Michael’s hands is an interesting story itself.  During Ike and Tina Turner’s long divorce, Ike parked the Jag on blocks in a back lot of Paramount Pictures for somewhere around 17 years.  One day when Mike was walking in the back lot, he saw the Jag, was absolutely smitten, and made an offer on the spot.  It was accepted.  He then proceeded to, as he put it, “I stood on my head for about an hour with the guy from Paramount just trying to figure out what kind of engine was in it.  Eventually, I saw a label that said ‘Chevrolet 350 C.I. V8.'”  That means that the engine is a Chevrolet 350 cubic-inch small-block V8.  The Chevy 350 V8 is a popular choice for engine swaps in Jaguars.  It requires very little work to install, it has decent power stock (a LOT when it’s tuned), and it’s an extremely reliable engine.  That can’t be said about any Jaguar engine.  Just ask my uncle or grandmother.  As a whole, a 1960 Jaguar is a pretty sturdy car.  It’s made all out of steel (the only aluminum is inside), it’s got glass that could probably stop a bullet, and the tire treads wouldn’t look out of place on something destined to go off-road.

After Mike had owned the car for a couple of months, he decided to take it out for a spin on the freeway.  When he got up to 55 mph, the engine was screaming at something close to 5,000 RPM, and he was playing tag with a bunch of tractor-trailers and grandparents.  Not exactly my (or his) definition of fun.  He got off of the freeway and went to the local transmission shop and had them install an overdrive.  Now, the RPM’s are cut down to 2,500 RPM (most modern cars turn 1,800-2,000 RPM’s on the highway), and he can go up to 70 mph without worrying about killing the engine.  The overdrive, Chevy small-block V8 and Turbo 350 transmission are the only parts that didn’t come with the car.  That is, other than the tires!

Speaking of tires, the tires are modern Coker radial tires with big, tall whitewalls on them.  If whitewalls are put on the right car, they can turn a show-stopper into a car that will literally make people’s heads turn right off their neck!  That’s what my dad’s business partner did with this Jaguar.  The whitewalls make this classic Jaguar look better than it did when it rolled off of the Jaguar assembly line in Coventry, England, in 1960.  Not many cars can pull that off.  Plus, the engine, transmission, and overdrive give a car that wasn’t really driveable before the engine/transmission swap driveability.

In terms of driveability, Mike says that it drives like a wallowy, new car.  It’s got suspension technology from 1960, so it’s not the best choice to throw around a road course.  With the stock engine and transmission sans overdrive unit, the Jaguar MK9 isn’t easy to drive unless you toodle around town.  The stock engine was designed for people to take a slow, scenic drive of the British countryside, not for freeway cruising.  Bring a car like that to America where there are vast expanses of freeways, and you’re essentially got a death wish.  Mike essentially said the same.  The stock three-speed manual has a stiff clutch, according to Mike, and three short speeds aren’t going to do you any favors when you’re cruising.  The Turbo 350 transmission greatly improves the driveability factor.  The Jag doesn’t have power steering, but it tips the scales at about 3,400 pounds, so you’re really not having to put THAT much effort into turning it.  It does, however, have power brakes, so that does make it easier to stop it, even though there was no such thing as ABS back then.  With the Chevy engine and transmission, plus the overdrive unit, Mike could easily drive across the state of California if he so wished.

His Jaguar doesn’t have thousands of man-hours put into restoring it to #1+ condition.  It doesn’t have ABS, cruise control, or satellite radio like most modern cars.  It’s a survivor car.  Trust me, the Jag is perfectly fine that way.  It’s got absolutely gorgeous looks before the paint, which accentuates the car’s looks even more.  It has beautiful walnut wood varnished to an almost matte look.  It doesn’t need to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to get best-of-show at every car show.  These old Jaguars have a certain charm to them that very few other cars, classic or modern, can duplicate.  They’re not absolutely cute like a Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite nor do they look like they were hewn from a block of stone like a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro.  They have an understated elegance to them, plus that cute British charm.  With the right paint colors on them, like gold and maroon, they can be quite a looker.

If you have a self-esteem issue, buy a Jaguar MK9 NOW!  Nobody really lusts after them, so they cost far less than a 1960 MK2, which is also a good car for those with self-esteem issues.  People will want to take pictures of themselves standing in or next to the car (#selfie), and Mike says that whenever he goes out, he literally has to either leave an hour just to talk to people, or park the car and run.  I’d leave an hour.  Running’s not my thing…

I’ve attached some photos of the Jag for you to literally drool over.  As I’ve previously said, it’s one of the most beautiful cars that I’ve ever seen.  It really looks stunning, especially with some light, but not too much.  I’ve never seen it at sunrise or sunset, but I can only imagine how beautiful it is at those times.

 

Badges are awesome - just ask this car!
Badges are awesome – just ask this car!

 

Grey Poupon is a requirement for British cars, I guess...
Grey Poupon is a requirement for British cars, I guess…

 

Sorry about the view - it was the best that I could get!
Sorry about the view – it was the best that I could get!

Editor’s note:  Mike actually played with Chubby Checker, NOT Chuck Berry!  My apologies!