For some people cars are a means of transport, for others they’re a commodity to buy and sell for profit, and for another group they’re a way of life - something to cherish, admire and lavish time and money on.
For the presenters of Salvage Hunters: Classic Cars - Drew Pritchard and Paul Cowland - it’s clearly a case of the latter two as they look to make money from their passion for all things automotive.
Antiques expert Drew and car dealer Paul have spent the last three years tracking down the good, the bad and the ugly of the UK’s classics scene for their show on Quest. With the help of the country’s automotive artisans they’ve brought everything from Alfa Romeos to Volvos back to life and made a few quid along the way.
Now they’re back for a fourth series, which sees them tackle everything from a rust-riddled 1960s Fiat 130 coupe to an iconic 90s hot hatch in the shape of the Renault Clio Williams.
With the duo’s efforts likely to inspire many viewers to take on their own classic car project, we spoke to Paul and Drew to get the inside line on how to buy and restore a classic, with advice on everything from best models for beginners to the common project pitfalls, the cars set to become future classics and the skills you need to succeed in any restoration.
What to look for when choosing a classic car project
The first step on any project is deciding on the right car. For first-timers, Paul’s advice is to be diligent and down to earth.
Says Paul: “Firstly, choose something that you have a genuine passion for, having done decent research, and maybe visited a few shows. Also, be realistic. You may covet a Porsche, but if your budget is more Fiesta, pitch your tent accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
And once you’ve done your research get out and look at a few examples before parting with your cash. Tempting as that late-night eBay discovery might look on-screen, a few carefully staged pictures and some flowery description can hide a multitude of sins.
Paul adds: “See a few before you buy. Don’t ever buy the first one you see, read all the buyer’s guides, watch the ‘how-to’ videos and learn before you shop. Then, always buy the best and most complete car you can afford, with decent history, provenance and mileage, if possible.”
And while right-hand-drive cars on UK plates might be the most common, Drew’s advice is to think beyond these shores for cars to avoid one of the biggest problems for any restorer.
“My biggest bugbear is rust,” he says. “It takes so long to sort and if not done properly it compromises the integrity of the car. There are so many imported cars from drier climates that to buy a rusty classic if it is not a rare or very valuable model is madness.”
So what are the ones to go for?
The best starter classic cars
Some classic cars are far more common than others and it’s these perennial favourites that are the place to start, according to Paul.
“The best starter classics are the truly obvious ones, with plentiful supply, and great owner’s club back up and spares market. Perennials like the VW Beetle, Morris Minor, MGB and Rover Mini are superb choices. Younger classics like the Mk1 and Mk2 Golfs and Fiestas can also be great fun for sensible amounts of money.”
For his choice of starter classic, Drew looks to Germany: “Right now it’s older BMW and Mercedes. They are just great solid cars to start with and have a superb parts back up.
And if your tastes err more towards modern metal that you can make a profit from, Drew reckons a couple of famous four-wheel-drives are a good starting point.
“I do think the early Land Rover Discovery - if original - have got growth, and any Subaru Impreza if you can find an un-abused one. They are out there - I’ve bought two in the last two years.”
In Drew’s opinion those relatively new but often neglected models are among the ones to watch if you fancy buying something now that’s going to appreciate in value. Also on his personal watch list are hot versions of the modern Fiat 500. “The Abarth 500 range is a winner guaranteed - I’m buying 695s now. Also, the AMG range if your pockets allow. They are good bets but expect to lose money at first on both.”
For Paul, the current momentum towards tiny turbocharged petrol engines and alternative fuels is opening the door for a new breed of desirable classics.
“I think the ‘last of the dinosaurs’ will be a good longer-term investment. As we move towards an electric and hybrid future, the cars that represent the ‘Old school’ thinking, like petrol turbos, V8s and manuals, will become sought after. They’ll represent an iconic time that people will want to go back to. It may take a while to realise the investment, but you’ll have a lot of fun driving it in the meantime.”
Once you’ve settled on the what for your project, the next question is the how.
While the idea of bringing a complete basketcase back to life is an appealing one, Paul’s advice is to start small and work up to the sort of major projects he and Drew tackle.
“Look for cars that need a small amount of small jobs to make into a nice car,” he advises. “Often jobs like a minor trim repair, alloy wheel refurb, paint polish and decent valet can knock four figures off a car’s sale price, but only cost a few hundred to put right.
“For your first project, try and avoid major restoration jobs that need lots of external help. That will cost money that the car will rarely make back. Keep it simple, small and something you can do in affordable chunks while still driving the car. Being able to use it will make a huge difference to your enthusiasm for the build.”
Drew warns that even with relatively simple-looking projects, don’t assume it will be plain sailing: “There are very few easy and cheap projects out there, so don’t get anything too crazy as a first project as it may put you off.”
Whatever the project, it’s worth learning some basic skills. Being able to carry out work yourself both gives a sense of involvement in the restoration and will help keep costs down.
You don’t have to become a master paint technician but Paul recommends brushing up on some simple spanner-wielding. “Learn the basics of detailing, learn how to fit basic mechanical components like new dampers and suspension bushes, and maybe even try fitting things like seat cover kits and carpet sets,” he says. “These are all fairly straightforward skills that can be learned in a few days, and by watching online tutorials. The main thing is to have a go – and keep trying.”
For Drew, being able to find the parts is almost as important as being able to fit them: “It might sound an odd one but get good at sourcing parts cost effectively and pay the pros to do the work with the money you’ve saved. Welding, wiring and brakes are the jobs I always leave to the professionals.”
And once you and the pros have worked your magic and you’ve got a roadworthy classic, what can you do to keep it in tip-top condition?
Says Paul: “Keep it clean, keep it regularly serviced, using the best parts you can afford, and most of all, keep driving and using it. Nothing keeps a classic healthier than regular use.
For Drew it’s three simple steps: “Use it, wash it, garage it and repeat.”
The new series of Salvage Hunters: Classic Cars is on Quest every Wednesday at 9pm.