In Marketplace

Car collector Judith Burden found a yellow Mustang in Florida that was reminiscent of her favorite car when she was young.

Summer car shows put dreams on display

This content is presented in partnership with ADAMM.

Judith Burden was flipping through the pages of a scrapbook when she came across the picture of a 1967 yellow Mustang she'd owned when she was younger.

"Boy, I'd like to get my old Mustang back," she said to her fiancé, Randy Ninneman.

Say no more.

Ninneman had introduced her to his car collecting hobby, and they'd become regulars at car shows.

It took two years of patient pursuit through car shows and the internet, but the Hubertus couple found and bought a vintage yellow Mustang for Judith from an eBay seller in Florida who'd had it for 30 years.

"One night, there was a ping on my phone at 9 or 10 at night," recalls Ninneman. He checked and found out that the online auction of a Mustang they were following was in its final minutes. After a flurry of bidding, the car was Burden's at what they considered a pretty reasonable price.

"We just took a chance it would be a decent car," Ninneman says. "It was way nicer than we anticipated: all original paint, no patch panels." Burden is only the fourth owner of the car, and the previous owner had meticulously logged every oil change.

While the web and social media have made searching out and acquiring vehicles and parts easier, the ways people track down the car of their collecting dreams are as varied as the buyers.

While it's not as common as it once was, plenty of people still find their vintage vehicle in a barn. The 1950 Chevy pickup truck Chad Kallies is currently restoring had been sitting in his wife's grandfather's barn since 1985.

"I'd seen that truck since I started dating my wife," says Kallies, who is parts director at Holz Motors and helps organize that dealership's annual Fourth of July Classic and Antique Car Show in Hales Corners. He was able to buy the truck from the estate after the grandfather died, and it joined his 1967 Impala. That car was acquired the same way many proud owners of vintage vehicles get their favorite: just by keeping the first car they ever bought.

His dad talked him into buying the Impala when he was 16, Kallies recalls, because it was large and sturdy.

"At the time, I thought it was a boat – two tons of fun, but when you're 16, you want something cool." After 28 years of tinkering, it's now a classic, and he's happy to take it to car shows.

"That's my main car, my baby."

Sometimes buyers combine the pursuit of their hobby with their vacations. That's how Gil and Bonnie Pierre of Sussex found and bought the 1949 Chevy they're now proud to bring to local shows.

Gil had been looking around online through a site called Spud's Garage that helps individuals buy and sell classic and vintage vehicles. Since the couple was planning a trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, they took the opportunity for a side trip to Lake Havasu City to see the car. After some back and forth negotiation after they returned to Wisconsin, they bought it.

Other buyers seek out cars both through word-of-mouth, through local car clubs and car club sites, through contacts with dealer personnel and at car shows.

ADAMM runs a listing of car shows on its website every spring and summer, and local clubs hold smaller, informal rallies. The Pierres like the huge "Back to the '50s" show held in St. Paul, Minnesota, every spring that attracts approximately 12,000 vehicles, none younger than 1964.

"Monthly magazines, such as Hemming's Motor News, list 20,000 cars of every possible description," advises Stan Johnson, a well-known local collector who organizes the annual Starry Nights Cruisin' show at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.

Or, you can do as he's done and build your own.

"That can be a great learning experience for the whole family," says Johnson. You can build the entire car yourself or get help with specialty work like welding or painting, he notes.

"There is a real satisfaction in entering a car show of 200 to 400 cars knowing there will not be a duplicate of your car," he says.

Another tip from Johnson for finding a vintage car: "Print a flyer stating your vehicle search and placing it on the front seat of cars in the shows is also effective – everyone in the shows has another car at home."

Whether a buyer is looking for a car online or in person, local and national experts offer some tips:

  • Have a price in mind and stay within that range. That's the advice of Kyle Oberdorf, a sales representative at Andrew Automotive, who runs that dealership's annual classic car show and is himself the owner of four vintage cars: a 1960 Chevrolet Impala convertible, 1965 Impala Station wagon, 1984 Impala SS and a 2006 Impala SS. His wife has a 1984 Toyota Celica that she got from her dad. "Once you purchase these older cars, they always need some kind of work," says Oberdorf. "You can spend thousands on making it all correct and right. They're never a cheap date, for sure."
  • Do your research on both the vehicle and the seller. Educate yourself by talking to other collectors at car shows and at local dealerships.
  • If you're buying online, check out ratings or, like Pierre, deal with sites you're familiar with. eBay is a good start, says Oberdorf, because buyers are rated on how customers are treated and how accurate the descriptions are of what is being sold, he adds. Other sites mentioned by those interviewed for this story include Craig's List, Carsonline.com, racingjunk.com and bringatrailer.com. The sites vary in policies, charges and services. Spud's Garage, for example, has free postings, only charging when a vehicle is sold, according to Pierre. For an extra fee, the service will make a video for buyers, even including the sound of the engine running. eBay Motors charges a percentage when the car is sold so some sellers prefer to try other sites first, says Pierre.
  • Check the car out if possible. While Burden and Ninneman took a chance and bought the Mustang after only seeing the online photos, others, like Pierre, check out cars they find online in person.
  • Having a good mechanic check over the car, if possible, can give a buyer more confidence in making an offer, says Oberdorf.
  • Often, cars from warmer, drier Southern and western states are in better shape than Wisconsin cars that have been exposed to snow, rain, ice and road salt.
  • Though rarity may add value, as with any type of collectible purchase, focus on buying what you love rather than speculating on future value. That's the advice from a March 2017 Fortune Magazine. The article on buying classic cars focuses on multimillion dollar vehicles like McLarens and Bugattis, but also has some good general advice.

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