Go to auctions and see what happens before becoming a player. If unfamiliar with the world’s second oldest commercial activity, the best advice has to be - familiarise yourself with the auction process, not just on the internet, but by attending some sales ‘live’ first, and certainly do so before attempting to bid and buy a car with a lot number on it. Details of forthcoming auctions can be found here and in weekly issues of our sister newspaper, Classic Car Weekly.
To filter out tyre kickers and to provide plenty of room without crowding for the genuinely interested to view, you will need to purchase a catalogue, which admits two to viewing and sale days and can cost from £5 for a simple print-off job, can typically be £20 or so, up £60 or more for a hardback collector item, which may also include admission for two to the main event at which the auction is a supporting cart.
Researching which car could be for you will be time well spent. Do your home work on the computer and in the mags first to establish precisely which make and model or type of car you think you might quite like to own before competing for one at auction. What exactly does ownership involve, and is there a club or a register to help owners? Find out, if you can, what can go wrong and what to look out for. Are there specialists who can fix or revive one and what’s the parts availability like? And what are the current retail prices in private owner classifieds and traders display ads?
Reserve or No Reserve. Cars entered for auction are usually, though not always protected by reserves, the minimum amount that would be acceptable to the vendor. The auctioneer will orchestrate the bidding any way he can and it is he (rarely ‘she’in the old car bear pit) who determines and announces the increments he goes up in, and he who accepts or refuses any alternative offers from the floorup to that reserve figure. At this crucial point in the game, he will either bring down the gavel and sell the car on the block for that figure - the buyer paying this amount plus whatever rate of buyer’s premium the auction firm charges for cars (from 5-21% in Europe), and the VAT on same (20-25%) - or he will declare that the lot is now "on sale" and will hope to encourage further bidding before hammering it away. Still the exception rather than the rule at most auctions held in the UK is the ‘No Reserve’ lot, which is auctioned entirely without any reserve at all and is therefore "on sale" from the first to the last and highest bid.
Auctioneers’ Guide Prices. ‘Guide Prices’ are just that, the auctioneers’ pre-sale estimate band ranging from the likely minimum bid required to buy a car to a possible maximum that it might make. The lower estimate is usually, though not in every case, a guide to the likely reserve. It is the level of interest and strength of bidding on sale day that will always determines the final price paid for a car at auction, of course. ID and bank details you will need to provide before you can bid. When you finally go to an auction, fully prepared to buy a car you have spotted coming up on-line or in a catalogue, you will certainly need to take along some acceptable form of ID, a photo-driving licence and/or a passport and utility bill, to comply with money laundering regulations and to satisfy the bidder registration requirements. Before travelling to the sale, check with the auctioneers as to what you will need to do in advance to satisfy them, that firstly you have access to sufficient funds to pay for a car. Ye olde wads of notes are rarely acceptable anymore and a combination of Money Laundering regs, plus new house rules, now limits the size of cash payments that are acceptable. And secondly, you need to find in advance which items of ID documentation you should take with you. Once you are ‘on the system’, and only then, will you be issued with a bidding number on a paddle or card enabling you to bid either in the saleroom or remotely. Similar checks will be necessary before those who wish to participate on-line can do so.
Check the real estate before buying. You must inspect and thoroughly examine the car in your sights, preferably during the viewing day, when you and/or an accompanying expert or motor engineer, if you don’t have the knowledge, are likely to have better access to opening up all the panels and be able to crawl around underneath. What is it really like beneath the gloss and the underseal? Is there any evidence of any maintenance carried out on a regular basis?
Only at purpose-built facilities can classics be seen being driven across the block. For thanks to wonderful Elf and Safety, being able to start cars and run up their engines and check gear engagement has become impractical if not impossible at most sale venues with public access. It is usually these Nanny Regulations that have thwarted US-style drive-through sales from catching on and exhaust gassing the addicted. Potential buyers are particularly dependent therefore both on the diligence, accuracy and honesty of the catalogue description of cars that, in most cases and particularly at minor houses, may not have been seen in the metal by auction staff, but only in an email, before the goods turn up at auctions and are ‘sold as seen’.
Paperwork tells the story of a car. Remember to check out the all important and often revealing paperwork at the documents desk, and give all the numbers on the car a physical check and make sure they correspond with the ones on the registration document and Heritage certificate. Any old service books, MOTs, tax discs and receipts will so often indicate not just what’s been done to the car and when and at what mileage, but reveal what hasn’t.
Watch and learn from what happens with preceding lots. Although there may be bids already recorded on the auctioneer’s book, and other bidders may be competing for lots by telephone or, increasingly on-line, try to choose a spot where you can see who else may be bidding against you in the room. Don’t imagine that a discreet nod or a wink, as in the movies, is going to work from several rows back in a dimly lit tent. If you want to bid, make it obvious, so that the auctioneer knows you are in the frame.
As the bids increase, how much will you have to pay? I would suggest you work out in advance how much a series of theoretical bids/hammer prices - in both likely to be large increments to start with and then smaller increments approaching the lower estimate figure - are actually going to cost you in terms of the add-ons of buyer’s premium, which will depend on which house it is and how much they charge, as well as the VAT levied by HMG. With your handy list pre-prepared, you will then be able to better gauge how much you can afford to go to. If you are successful - and you win the car - you will have to do four things. Pay for your purchase. Go to the cashier desk, check out your sale invoice and tell them how and when you will be paying it. Insure the car. Because on the fall of the hammer, you technically own the car and are therefore responsible for insuring it, you should immediately do so by contacting one of the specialist classic car brokers (sometimes a broker approved by the auction house will have a fixing insurance cover desk at the sale), preferably warning them before the sale that you may be buying a car. As with so many transactions in our fast-track world, you can also buy cover over your mobile. Whatever you do, though, take no risks and leave no gaps in your cover. Take it away. Advise the auctioneers when and how you intend to pick up your purchase. Transporting a motor vehicle (the true mechanical condition of which is unknown) has to be so much wiser than jumping in and attempting to drive it home until you have really checked the systems through in the workshop. Going public. And finally, work out how you’re going to break the news of your success when you get home. Good luck with that.
For lest you forget, as you browse through potential candidates for a place in the garage, sooner or later, you are supposed to put your hand up and buy something!