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Bidding Wars: How to Conquer Classic Car Auctions

A first-timer's guide to mastering an automobile auction from Terrance Lobzun of Collector Car Productions

Taking bids from crowd at classic car auction

Things are starting to heat up in the Toronto International Centre. More than 300 vehicles—ranging from vintage Corvettes and Chargers to late-model Mustangs and Porsches—sit stationary as they await prospective new owners. Meanwhile, a man in a suit barks a rapid-fire litany of numbers and catchphrases into a microphone to rev up the excitement factor: “Thirteen-five, thirteen-five, thirteen-five—do I hear fourteen? Buy the best! Buy the best!” Serious buyers and tire-kickers alike take in a bidding frenzy for a vintage Ford. Another edition of the Toronto Spring Classic Car Auction is off and running.

Terrance Lobzun of Collector Car Productions, a Blenheim, Ont., auction house, explains what neophyte car-auction attendees need to know before they start making bids.

Do Some “Window Shopping” First

When attending your first auto auction, leave the chequebook at home. Simply go as an observer so you can make better sense of all the nuances that are inherent to such a frenzied buying environment. “For a first-timer, an auction may come across as really intimidating,” says Lobzun.

Do Your Homework

Specialized magazines and websites such as Classic & Sports Car, Hemmings and Sports Car Market are good reference tools. “Some older cars may have electrical problems, others might have wheel-well problems—you want to be an informed buyer before you start making bids,” says Lobzun.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Lobzun notes that a dozen cars of the same make, model and year may look identical yet the price differential can be enormous. Among the factors to consider are the car’s condition, documented history, mileage and whether it’s 100 per cent original or restored (and if it is restored, the quality of the restoration).

Take a Mechanic

Hiring a mechanic (or inviting someone who is mechanically inclined) to tag along at the auction could be the best few hundred bucks you’ve ever spent—even if you end up going home empty-handed. Since you can’t test drive the cars, a seasoned mechanic can at least check under the hood and frame to determine if a vehicle is a cream puff or a lemon.

Buy for the Love of the Car, Not to Turn a Profit

Much like the stock market, no matter how experienced the speculator, it’s almost impossible to outsmart the classic-car market. Lobzun says you should buy a car because you really want to drive it. Should that ride happen to appreciate in value in the years ahead, consider it an unexpected bonus.

Know When to Walk Away

If you have your heart set on snagging a certain set of wheels and you end up going head-to-head with someone who is equally smitten, don’t let emotion eclipse reason. Establish what you want to pay for the car before you start bidding. When the price no longer makes sense, stop making bids. Otherwise, you run the risk of spending hundreds (or thousands) more than what the car is actually worth. Besides, what you’re hoping to obtain is a mass-produced product—not the Mona Lisa.

Whether it’s your first time or not, buying a car requires a bit of homework. If you’re shopping around for a used car, our handy checklist helps you prepare for the purchase.

Auto shows can also be a great place to seek out your next car, and with these tips, you’ll be navigating auto shows like a pro.