There are sometimes bargains to be had at classic car auctions, but never has the phrase “caveat emptor” been more applicable to anything in the history of humankind than buying a collector car at an auction. In less than three minutes you will have to decide whether or not you wish to own a car that in most cases you have been unable to drive or thoroughly inspect. And you’ll pay a commission for this privilege, so make sure to do your math, decide what you’re willing to bid, and do not exceed that limit. As mentioned earlier, the auction company is acting as an agent for the seller, and they make it very clear that they are relying entirely on the seller for an honest description of the vehicle, eliminating any liability on their part for inaccuracies and leaving you with very little recourse if the car is not what you expected.
Question: Can a car that’s in terrible condition but still entirely original be considered a “survivor”?
Answer: Determining if a car is a “survivor” is more of an art than a science. There is no scale of 1-10 in which anything above an 8 would be a “survivor” although it would be nice if there was one. Many factors have to be taken into consideration, and the two most important are the condition and the collectability of the individual car. To illustrate this, let’s look at two cars in identical condition.
Both cars have 45,000 original miles and have been sitting outdoors for twenty years, but they are in good condition. They are entirely original with the exception of consumables such as tires, battery, belts, hoses, etc. Both cars still have their original paint in good condition, but both have rust in the lower quarter panels. Both cars retain their original interiors which show ordinary wear and tear but are usable. Both cars run and drive and have their original matching numbers drivetrains, but the engines and transmissions need to be rebuilt.
The first car is a 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger which in the condition described above would be considered a “survivor” and would likely be worth at least $100,000. The second car is a 1970 Dodge Dart and would be considered a “parts car” and would likely have no value at all.
As illustrated above, “survivor” is a subjective term. Most cars considered “survivors” retain at minimum the original paint, interior, and drivetrain. The condition is good at the very least, and usually very good to excellent. However, as is also illustrated above, as the collectability of the car increases, flaws in the condition are likely to be forgiven. This is what makes identifying a “survivor” an art.
Any time that weather causes major flooding across large parts of the United States it is inevitable that “flood cars” will come to market shortly thereafter. These are cars that have been partially or entirely submerged. Classic cars are not immune to flooding and they appear on the market as well. Be particularly wary of cars that are being sold in areas that were flooded, as well as cars that have titles from those areas. Look for signs of flooding such as new carpet in an otherwise older interior or water stains on cardboard liners in the trunk and glove box. It is very difficult to completely dry out upholstery so a musty smell should be investigated. At the very least, ask the seller if the car has ever suffered flood damage.
Question: I just bought a 1961 Cadillac convertible. I was told that the tires are about thirty years old. The tread is perfect and the rubber is not cracked at all. Should I replace the tires? Also, the emergency brake is supposed to release automatically when the car is put in gear, but it does not. I have to release it manually every time I use it. What could cause this?
Answer: The truth of the matter is that most people would not replace these tires if they still appeared to be in very good condition, myself included. This would be especially true if you were only planning to use the car for local trips. The responsible answer would be to tell you that you should replace the tires. Conventional wisdom, and the tire manufacturers, believe that a tire cannot be structurally sound after thirty years. All it takes is one blow-out at highway speed and you will wish that you had invested in a new set of tires. Besides, what better time of year to buy yourself a gift?
The problem with your emergency brake is most likely vacuum related. The emergency brake is designed to be released by a vacuum switch when the shift lever is moved out of park into any other gear. There is a vacuum pod with a rubber diaphragm that is often the culprit, but it could also be as simple as a broken vacuum hose. These parts are generally available from any of the major classic Cadillac parts suppliers, but they are not inexpensive.
You do not mention hearing a hissing sound which is typical when these vacuum pods fail, or if a vacuum line breaks. In order to quiet the hissing sound, the vacuum source has to be plugged. Since someone apparently did this, it would lead me to believe that it is the pod that has failed, and not simply a broken vacuum hose.
Question: The turn signals on my 1966 Thunderbird have been acting funny lately. The left signals work properly and flash sequentially as they should. The right turn signals do not work at all. When I lift the directional signal lever to make a right turn, all of the lights on the back of the car light up but they do not flash. The front directional signal does not light up at all. When I turn on the hazard lights, the left side works properly. The right side rear lights up, but the front does not light up at all. This problem started happening intermittently a few weeks ago. For a while when I tapped on the directional signal lever I got the right side to work, but now it will not work at all. Do you have any ideas?
Answer: Ordinarily I would suggest that a burned out bulb, bad flasher unit, or defective sequential-flasher unit would be the usual suspects, but the system in your car is so complicated that I had to check the wiring diagram. Your last statement about tapping on the directional signal lever gave me a clue, but I wanted to confirm my suspicions before giving you my answer. All indications point toward a defective directional signal switch. Replacement of this switch requires removal of the steering wheel to gain access to the switch. It is not a particularly difficult job, but you will need patience and a “steering wheel puller” in order to avoid damaging the steering wheel or the steering column. I would recommend ordering this part from a supplier that specializes in Thunderbird parts since the specific part may differ depending on your cars options such as a tilt steering column.
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Steve was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He grew up in a time
and place where cars were worshipped, and none more so than the
“American Muscle Car,” although this was a phrase that wasn't coined
until decades later.By the age of twelve he was repairing just about
anything with an engine.
Steve Linden is a recognized expert in antique, classic and collectible vehicles. He offers a wide range of services to the classic car community.