I am going to buy my very first car. Is it a good Idea to buy a Classic car?

Tiny
DREWBROTHER
  • 1975 PONTIAC GRANDVILLE

I was looking on Craigslist and found a car I was interested in. It's a 1975 Pontiac Grand Ville Convertible. The owner said that he recently rebuilt the original motor. Everything in the car is original interior.

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Monday, April 2nd, 2012 AT 9:38 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
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I love classic cars with their lack of unreliable, expensive computers, but you won't want to drive it in winter if you live in a road salt state. Be sure to test drive it, and consider paying for an independent inspection at a shop of your choice, not one recommended by the seller. An unscrupulous seller could have friends at a nearby shop who will overlook known problems and not tell you about them. They will look at brakes, steering and suspension components, exterior light operation, tire wear patterns, and the exhaust system.

Keep in mind that finding replacement engine and electrical parts will not be a problem, but body and trim parts will be if you need to replace something. Check out Year One Company for replacement parts.

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Monday, April 2nd, 2012 AT 10:04 PM
Tiny
DREWBROTHER
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Thank you. If I buy the car, I was thinking about using it as my primary car. I'm very new to cars and feel lost. I don't know if buying a car in the 1975's are a good idea. Personally, would you buy it?

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Monday, April 2nd, 2012 AT 10:13 PM
Tiny
HMAC300
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The biggest thing here is lack of parts and the expense. I would not buy this as a primary car. A part time one it's fine but look for a newer model that will give you better gas mileage and parts would be readily available instead of having to wait a few days for parts.

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Monday, April 2nd, 2012 AT 11:32 PM
Tiny
DREWBROTHER
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Okay, I think I made up my mind not to buy a classic car. I'll buy one of the newer models and when I'm financially stable, I'll buy a classic car as my second car. Thank you for helping me make such a big decision.

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Monday, April 2nd, 2012 AT 11:41 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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I have a different take on it. My daily driver is an '88 Grand Caravan. Parts availability has never been a problem except for the odd size larger front brake rotors, but that hasn't changed since it was new. It has power windows, seat, brakes, locks, and mirrors, an automatic transmission and air conditioning, and none of those things has a computer involved. Gas mileage is better than my '95 Grand Caravan with numerous computers.

If you want good fuel mileage, consider that a '68 Buick Wildcat was so big you needed binoculars to look in the mirror and see the tail lights, it weighed around 5,000 pounds, could seat six people comfortably, and easily got 23 miles per gallon. What you DO get with newer fuel injected cars is much cleaner exhaust but at a cost of higher repair bills.

I have a '72 Challenger in the restoration shop right now. New body panels and head liner were readily available. My students rebuilt the 340 c.I. Engine. Those parts were also easy to find locally. In the summer I often drive an '80 Volare that I bought new. Brake and suspension parts are still in stock locally at all the auto parts stores because Chrysler was famous for parts interchangeability between various models and years. Even though most of those cars are gone up here in Wisconsin due to the insane use of road salt, there's enough of them around yet that it pays to stock parts for them.

For the car you're looking at, you aren't going to have a problem finding new engine, transmission, and tune-up parts, but you WILL find that there aren't many of them to be found in salvage yards. Scrap metal prices were very high a few years ago so many old cars got crushed.

If you do a parts search on rockauto. Com, you'll see that replacement parts are often less expensive than for newer cars. You must remember though that you'll have to add in the cost of shipping.

Keep in mind you'll be spending lots of money on repairs no matter which car you buy. The more you learn about them, the more repairs you can do yourself to save money. Newer cars starting around the mid '80s typically require the use of a scanner to see what the computers are seeing so you can make a diagnosis. That requires a trip to a mechanic. Older cars are pretty easy to diagnose without expensive equipment. You're smart to be asking these questions before you buy something. You can come back here for advice. I'm biased toward older Chrysler products and I have a few brands I really don't like. Other people here will have different opinions. If you want a really tough little car that's easy to fix, look at a Dodge Shadow / Plymouth Sundance. Stay away from a Neon. Grand Ams and Cavaliers are also good to stay away from. Probably the least safe cars were the Ford Escorts and Tempos. Those have a lot of designed-in suspension and steering problems that can't be corrected.

Also keep in mind that many newer cars have problems designed in to cost you money from simply disconnecting the battery to replace it. Volkswagen and GM are the worst offenders. That is not a concern with most cars from the '80s and '90s. This was done in part to prevent you from buying a good used computer from a salvage yard. You're forced to buy new ones from the dealer and often you must have them installed there and have the software installed too. Tricks like that are why I can't promote manufacturers of certain brands of cars.

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 2:05 AM
Tiny
DREWBROTHER
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Cardiodoc, You made my day. I'm reconsidering buy the classic car. It's a real beauty and I don't think I will be happier with any other car. Thank you for providing me answers on a professional level. I will show my dad the info and maybe he will reconsider it as well. Much thanks, and I will definitely come back to ask questions in the future.

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 11:28 AM
Tiny
HMAC300
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Everyone has a different take on classic cars. Yes parts are available like Hard parts and it's easy when students can do stuff for you right away and not have to pay for them to work on it. But you are talking a kid with little to no experience and the parts that will be hard to get are body parts including interior as well as exterior. The vehicle Cardiodoc refers to are readily avialbale through catalogs, Grand Ams weren't the most popular car tobegin with and parts like exterior or interior will be harder to find, not so much stuff like alternator or brakes, etc. Or stuff that is easily rebuilt.

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 1:34 PM
Tiny
WRENCHTECH
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I have yet another opinion. Classic cars are fine if the right person owns them. They require nearly constant tinkering and repair to keep them reliable and if you are not at least a decent mechanic yourself this car ill be in the shop more than you drive it and the cost will skyrocket. They don't drive like anything you are used to either. They have no computer to make it purr and if you have never owned a car with a carburetor, you are in for an experience you may not like. Us old guys that drove these cars when they were new know what to expect.

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 2:24 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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Yup. I hadn't considered the carburetor issue as far as repairs, but I've had GMs, Fords, and lots of Chryslers, and rarely had a carburetor problem. They're relatively simple devices. It's the adjustments that can get complicated or confusing.

Part of the attraction to these older cars is the nostalgia. We drove them when they were new and fell in love with some of them and the time they represent. I have little to no interest in '50s and '60s cars as they were before my time.

As for the tinkering that Wrenchtech mentioned, half of that is because we want to tinker and we look hard to find something that "needs" tinkering. I tend to ignore small things until they become big things. For sure I'll start to think about repairing something after a part falls off on the highway! That is not the way you want to take car of a car.

Something else to think about is breaker points. If I remember correctly, GM's High Energy Ignition (HEI) system showed up in the '76 model year. It was a very nice system and it can be converted to older cars but that might detract from the value if you want to keep it as original. Breaker points require periodic maintenance and adjustment. GM made that very easy by providing a means of adjusting them with the engine running. You can find more information on how points work and how to adjust them here:

http://randysrepairshop.net/basic-ignition-system-theory-of-operation-how-it-works.html

It's geared toward automotive students and covers electrical theory that is typically hard for hands-on people to understand. You can use a dwell meter that doesn't cost very much. "Dwell" is explained too.

As a former suspension and alignment specialist, I can tell you that these cars are by far the easiest to set the wheels precisely to where you want them to be when doing an alignment. Most other brands of cars use adjustment methods that are somewhat hit or miss, and you finally take what you get when it's "good enough". There are a few common wear items that I can share how to inspect and replace, but there is nothing known to be a common safety issue as on some newer models of other brands. Looking at your photo of this car, I wouldn't mind having it in my garage. I would certainly trust it to get me back home more than some of the other cars I have right now.

As a side note, we have the nation's second largest old car show and swap meet, after Carlisle, PA, 50 miles from me in Iola, WI and you can find just about any parts there. We also have two shows three hours away in Jefferson, WI that is big enough that you can barely see everything in an entire day. There's a lot more new stuff at that show and it's very heavy on GM stuff. There's a lot of vendors that have new sheet metal, new chrome, and new wiring harnesses. You can even find new windshields, gas tanks, and interior parts. It looks like the car you're looking at doesn't need stuff like that, but at least you know it's available.

Most of us learn the best by taking things apart and peeking inside, but I should warn you that this isn't a good way to learn on a car you have to rely on to get you to work, school, and home. Too many things get broken in the process. I learned a lot this way but left a trail of undrivable cars behind. With the internet, you have the luxury of being able to read up on something before you tackle a repair. We would hate to see you turn this car into junk from misguided repair attempts. Between all of us here, we can tell you what to look for and how to repair just about any problem you can come up with.

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 7:09 PM
Tiny
WRENCHTECH
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I didn't say anything about carb repairs. I mean just driving a car with a carb through different seasons. The tinkering part isn't just being anal. A car that old has constant electrical issues and rubber seal issues. I have a 78 Vette and every single time I use it, a new electrical issue shows up. I have repaired leaks from nearly every ofifice in the engine. No a big deal for me but could be a real pain for someone that doesn't do their own repairs

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 7:52 PM
Tiny
HMAC300
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What cardiodoc is forgetting this is a FIRST CAR and someone with little or practically no experience and is trying or wants to use it as a DAILY DRIVER. The guy probably doesn't do his own repairs and has little or no money. This isn't a guy that should be looking at this vehicle for a DAILY DRIVER. He needs something that parts are READILY AVIALABLE and not having to go to some swap meet once or twice a year to get the parts he'll need to fix it and haveto pay a pro to do.

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 8:58 PM
Tiny
DREWBROTHER
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Wow, very interesting. It's true what hmac300 says. I am still a senior in High school. I'm going to move out of my parents apartment in a couple of months with a job. I have this thing for classic cars and I wish that buying one or having one wouldn't be so hard. My dad told me that it will definitely be harder because warehouses may not have the parts I need when it breaks down. I am new to cars and don't know how to fix them. Cardiodoc makes me smile, because his take on classic cars gives me hope that I could finally get a classic car, but will it really give me more trouble then buying a car that is a newer model? Say that a newer car model breaks down, it will be most likely that warehouses has the parts for it, but will it cost more than a classic car parts? Am I really asking for trouble if I buy a classic car? Would it really be better for me to buy a car that is a newer model? Would I suffer the same penalty from buying a newer model? It's a hard decision.

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 11:44 PM
Tiny
WRENCHTECH
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There's no problem owning a classic car as a 2ND PART TIME vehicle. Cars were much different back then and were much less forgiving to flooding, cold temps, braking, and handling. Driving a car with a carburetor is nothing like the modern, computer controlled cars. They don't run any where near as well. Wait until you can afford to own one as a hobby and not your every day driver that you depend on. You will soon see what i'm talking about.

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 AT 11:49 PM
Tiny
DREWBROTHER
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I think that's what I'll do then. I really wanted one as my primary car. It's just so beautiful, but I guess I'll just get one of the newer models. When I have a job that pays good money then I'll probably buy a classic for a part time. Thanks for everyone's take on this. Very much appreciated.

The first image is the inside of the '75 Pontiac Grand Ville, which I probably won't buy based on the answers here.

The other two images are my other car choices.
The red one is a 1999 Ford Mustang and the white one is a 1996 Camaro. What do you guys think?

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 AT 12:03 AM
Tiny
WRENCHTECH
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It appears that one has not been restored either. Big headache

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 AT 12:06 AM
Tiny
DREWBROTHER
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Which one? And I'm not considering buying the classic car anymore.

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 AT 12:09 AM
Tiny
HMAC300
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Hey go by price and miles they both look good.

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 AT 12:10 AM
Tiny
WRENCHTECH
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Have it checked out by a shop before buying it.

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 AT 12:12 AM
Tiny
DREWBROTHER
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Okay thank you guys. I'll keep you guys updated and I'll remember to ask further questions in the future. :)

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 AT 12:18 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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Of the three, I'd go with the Grandville. I will never own another Ford. First of all, while we're calling this a "classic" car, that's more for its age, not its desirability among collectors. Perhaps "popularity" would be a better word. As a result, it's going to cost you less than the other two. Those other two are going to have numerous computers that can provide neat features but they also lead to expensive repairs that you can't work around except to replace them when they cause a problem. Newer cars have a lot more problems than older ones but it's partly because there's a lot more stuff in them that can develop those problems. You'll find very few newer cars broken down on the side of the road but that doesn't mean the owners aren't driving with the Check Engine light on, the air conditioning doesn't work because of a computer malfunction, or the radio quit so they have to sing to themselves. Read through these forums and you'll see the kinds of problems that keep on popping up over and over. In probably 95 percent of the problems, people are still able to drive the car.

I misunderstood Wrenchtech's comment about carburetors. It's true the newer cars with electronic fuel injection are going to run smoother, (when everything is working properly), and I like it that they're much cleaner but there hasn't been the same increase in fuel mileage as there was with a decrease in emissions. I would never want to go back to a carburetor if I had a choice, but I have three cars with them and operating them is just the "nature of the beast". You get used to them, then when you hop into something newer, you just appreciate it that much more.

Wrenchtech is thinking more about the pleasure of driving a newer car that you start up and go. I personally can put up with a lot of inconvenience. My interest lies in making repairs, and can I do them in my driveway? Every car is going to need them sooner or later, and there's not much you'll be able to do yourself on the newer cars until you learn more about how the systems work.

Look at how easily accessible everything is under the hood. It's hard enough learning how to maintain and repair a car without adding in another dimension of difficulty right away. As for the parts, hmac300 is right. You don't want to go all over the country looking for parts, but I really doubt that is going to be a problem. I plowed into a girl who turned in front of me a few years ago. I flattened the right rear suspension on her Taurus and pushed the wheel and strut half way to the other side of the car. Had I known at the time I could have pulled the fender away from rubbing on the right front tire, I could have driven my Challenger home. The headlights didn't even get broken. I can't make the argument that old cars were safer, but her car was totaled and mine needed a new fender, hood, and bumper. I had no trouble finding used parts. With this Pontiac, you are going to have WAY less trouble finding those kinds of parts new. A number of companies make reproduction body parts for older GM cars and trucks. I only mentioned the old car show swap meets to point out that the stuff is readily available, but we should probably talk about that only if the need arises. I doubt you're planning on piling into someone.

You will not have a problem finding the normal maintenance items at any auto parts store. Stop in by one and ask if they have brake pads, air filters, water pumps, and fuel pumps in stock. You'll find out how inexpensive those parts are for that car. Fuel pumps and water pumps fail just as often on newer cars but they're harder for a do-it-yourselfer to replace.

By the way, the Grandville appears to have a new generator on it. (Wrenchtech is rolling his eyes now). That was a very good design and easy to diagnose and repair. I have a few pages on repairing it on my web site. The generator on the Camaro is going to cost a lot more and fail much more often.

I suspect insurance is going to cost less for the Grandville. You may not be able to get collision coverage due to the age. That covers the cost of repairs only to your car if the crash is your fault. THAT'S when you need to be concerned with the availability of body parts. Chrysler never licensed anyone to make reproduction fenders for my Challenger, but I found a used one. GM DID license other companies to make stuff, so between that, and the ease of finding normal parts, I wouldn't have the slightest concern about finding parts. Shoot, there's a lot of unhappy Ford owners with five to seven-year-old cars who can't find suspension parts at a reasonable cost.

Another one of my arguments against newer cars is their insufferable use of anti-theft systems. Every manufacturer has their share of systems that are very effective at keeping owners from driving their cars. I only have one car with an anti-theft system but I only drive it about once every other year so it's not a concern. None of my other cars will ever let me sit because the computer doesn't recognize they key I've always been using, or there's a broken wire in the steering column, or a voltage spike tricked two computers into self-installing the anti-theft programming when it doesn't exist on the car. (That's an older Chrysler problem). Of course, few people would care to steal the kind of cars I drive. In fact, I could leave the keys in my rusty trusty '88 Grand Caravan daily driver with the windows rolled down, and a full tank of gas, and still no one would swipe it!

If my vote were to count for anything, I wouldn't even consider looking at the other two cars. We're all assuming the Grandville is going to need repairs, but the reality is all three of them are going to need repairs. Do you want to spend lots or little for parts? Do you want to be able to get to those parts and work on the car yourself, or do you plan on taking it to a shop every time something comes up. Most reputable shops are charging around $100.00 per hour for labor, and if you could see my list of expenses, taxes, regulations, and other costs of doing business, you'd wonder how they could afford to stay in business by charging so little. Just had a visit today from a friend who took his truck in for just a diagnosis of a running problem. No repairs, just a "guess" on what he should try first. Cost him $198.00 for an opinion and a few sheets of paper!

I had a lot of former students who seemed to have $800.00 repair bills every six months on their Grand Ams, and they seemed to think that was normal. It's not. I only started to pay attention because there were so many of them, (the cars AND the repair bills). My Caravan cost me 45 bucks for a muffler that I wasn't happy about, and nine bucks for a brush assembly for the alternator. That's what I spent on repair parts in the last three years. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if you spent the same amount on the Pontiac.

I mentioned I can put up with a lot, but one thing I can't tolerate is torn seat covers. At that point the car becomes a personal transportation device to get me somewhere faster than walking, but it's no pleasure to be in it. Look at the upholstery, then look at the wear on the carpet under the brake pedal and look at the wear on the pedal pads. That will give you some idea of how the car was cared for. I've even seen pens and pencils stabbed into the foam on the front of dash boards. Normal wear is one thing but that screams of not caring one bit about even trying to take care of the car.

There's two sides to the argument of electrical problems. There's going to be a ton of them on newer cars with lots of computers, but when you consider the miles of wire and the complexity, it's a wonder there aren't way more problems than we already see. I don't know what Wrenchtech was thinking when he mentioned that, but there are some things that come to mind. First of all, around that time period, (or perhaps a little later), GM tried using aluminum wire to save weight or cost or both. It's always a no-no to pierce wire insulation to take voltage readings but if you do that with aluminum wire, you can be sure it will corrode there within a few months. I worked on one Firebird that had intermittent tail lights. That ended up being a corroded wire where it was exposed at a brass rivet in the fuse box right in front of the driver's feet. Right where the salt ran off his shoes in winter. The salt caused the corrosion. Finding problems like that will be a lot easier than on newer cars, but repairs can be a little tricky when the wire just crumbles away.

The other thought is we used to see a lot of overheated terminals in electrical connectors. Back then it was due to a less than perfect connection that caused a little heat buildup which got progressively worse until you smelled smoke and connectors melted. That was somewhat common on early '70s Chrysler products. Don't know if that was an issue on other car brands. The good news is that once those problems are fixed, you go back to driving. When computers are involved, you have to wonder if one got damaged from arcing connections and voltage spikes.

Those are MY wondrous opinions. Others will disagree because we value different parts of car ownership differently, so ultimately you have to decide what you want to drive around in. You know you can always come back here for information and advice. I'll be adding some web pages soon on the HEI and Chrysler ignition systems as soon as I make up some drawings and take some photos. If there's other circuits you're interested in, let me know and I'll try to add them.

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 AT 2:05 AM

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