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How to Buy a Classic Chevy

person driving in a bel air

For experienced car collectors and rookies alike, owning a classic Chevy is a rite of passage. There are multiple decades and styles in which Chevrolet made popular cars. Many of these cars then had a devout following in the years after their production.

For this reason, there are many classic Chevy cars out there that have been partially or fully restored. Buying a previously restored vehicle will save a lot of time and money. For beginners especially, it is wise to start with a car manufactured after World War II that already has a large following.

Buying a popular classic car has other benefits as well. The communities that form around these classic Chevys - everything from Bel-Airs to Novas - are welcoming and offer an unbeatable source for advice on upkeep and modification. The solutions to common problems for each popular model will be widely available online as well. Also, people keep these models even if they are not running, meaning that finding spare parts is significantly easier.

Part 1 of 4: Deciding on the right classic Chevy to buy

Step 1: Decide what you want to use your classic car for. Some people want a car that they can drive a few times a week all year round, while others just want something they can take out on special occasions.

If you want to use the car often, prepare to either pay a larger amount upfront to get a pristine, running vehicle, or pay a larger amount as time goes on with near-constant maintenance.

No car can sit for months on end with no issue whatsoever. Make sure the car is either used often enough to avoid problems, or stored properly when not in use.

Use the knowledge of what you plan to use your car for to gauge how important reliability is to you in the whole scheme of classic car ownership. Something from the 1970s will be more reliable than something from the 1950s. You may also find yourself looking for certain upgrades, such as fuel injection, more often in restored cars.

Step 2: Decide on a budget. You may be able to have a classic Chevy up and running for under five figures if you can do maintenance yourself and you have access to tools and a garage.

Otherwise, expect to spend about the same amount as buying an economy new car or more - at least in the first year of classic Chevy ownership.

Fully restored and modified cars can sell for more than six figures, though you can get a running classic for considerably less.

You can buy a rolling chassis (just a body, frame, axles, and wheels) for a relatively low price - but the work required to get the car onto the road may rack up considerably more costs before being good to drive on the road than an already-running car would.

Step 3: Decide what era you want your Chevy to hail from. Each era has its own following and its own kind of personality, so deciding this will have more of an impact on the whole style that you’ll be buying into.

If you love the look of post-war America, then late 40s to early 50s is the era you should be looking at.

If you like Elvis and pocket combs, then maybe the late 50s to early 60s is your era.

If, instead, you want something in which you can blast Steppenwolf while burning rubber, the late 60s to early 70s muscle car era is probably more your style.

This chart will help guide you as to what models represent certain eras in Chevy’s history:

Chevy model table

Part 2 of 4: Find cars for sale locally

person reading classifieds

Step 1: Pick up local classified ads or newspapers with substantial classified sections for cars. This will not only give you an idea of how populated the local area is with classic cars, but it will also give you an idea of what the prices will be when you finally buy a vehicle.

In many areas, ones in colder climates in particular, the prices of classic cars are inflated because few survived the elements long enough.

Having a car shipped from another area of the country is common for buyers in areas with inflated classic car values.

Step 2: Figure out what your budget will get you. Use your budget and the average going price of classic Chevys in your area to figure out how much value your budget will get you.

If you can’t feasibly end up with a running car within your budget if you stick to your local area, then consider buying a car from another part of the country.

You can travel to view the car if you like, but the buyer knows that you are very interested if you do so, and the negotiation over price will probably reflect that fact.

Buying sight-unseen usually means a better deal for the buyer, but you don’t know what you’re getting until after you’ve paid for the car, which brings with it its own risks.

  • Tip: Consider increasing your budget if it repeatedly becomes an issue. There is no such thing as a cheap classic car; they will all cost a decent amount of money in the long run.

Step 3: Get in contact with sellers. If your local market fits your needs in terms of variety and cost, then you can start calling sellers to set up viewings or test drives.

Even if this doesn’t lead to you purchasing a car locally, it will provide valuable insight into the whole process, and will allow you to not only see and feel a classic car like the one you will eventually own, but to talk to a current owner.

Ask the owner about maintenance and overall cost of ownership.

If you find a car locally that you simply love, then go ahead and have it inspected at either a reputable shop, or by a YourMechanic mobile mechanic who will come to your location and perform an inspection.

Part 3 of 4: Find a car online

ebay with classic chevy listing
Image: Ebay

Step 1: Check online listings for classic Chevy sales. These days, most classic car sales happen online either via car-specific web forums or via auction sites like eBay. Utilizing these sources properly will definitely lead you in the right direction.

Try becoming a member of an online forum for the car that you eventually want to own, or just join one for Chevy owners in general and see what the general consensus has to say about the ownership experience of the car you would like to own.

Skimming through listings on eBay and elsewhere will allow you to see what the cars are actually selling for.

Step 2: Make an offer on a car you like. If you find a car that you like and want to make an offer on, do so and wait for a response from the seller.

Sometimes waiting is the most important part, as it gives the seller time to consider the fact that they can get money right away if they make a deal.

Part 4 of 4: Complete the purchase

Step 1: Write out a bill of sale for the classic Chevy. The bill of sale should include the car’s information, as well as the personal information of the buyer and the seller.

Make sure the bill of sale lists the classic Chevy’s year, model, VIN, mileage, and color - and the agreed-upon price.

Both parties must sign the bill of sale. If you are unable to sign together in person, you can fax or email the form between both parties.

Step 2: Arrange payment. You will either pay with cash, bank draft, certified check, or an escrow service.

Bring the payment with you if you pick up your Chevy in person, or submit payment via mail or electronic transaction.

Step 3: Bring your classic Chevy home. Once you’ve paid for the car, you can pick it up or have it shipped to you.

Once you have purchased the classic car of your choice, be sure to keep it running and use it often enough to keep the battery charged and the fluids fresh. Owning a classic Chevy is a rewarding experience, and doubly so if you get involved with the community surrounding the car you own.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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