The Art of Buying a Budget Cougar

 So You Want to Find Yourself the Perfect Cougar?

Fear not friends, there is hope for you yet. Buying a classic collector Cougar isn’t hard, but getting the right car for what you want to do with it is a little trickier. Before embarking on this great adventure you want to arm yourself with some knowledge about the cars you are looking to purchase. You should have a solid grasp of the various models and option packages of each production year your are considering purchasing and have a general idea of the values that each option or optional package adds to the vehicle.

Let’s look at the most important factor in the purchase. What do -YOU- want? Is the car for show purposes? Is your goal to be a national concours champion? Are you looking for a museum piece? Are you looking for a restomod? Something that looks stock but has some possible engine/suspension modifications? These are all important questions to ask before you begin looking for your classic Cougar. If you are looking for a museum piece 1968 GT-E with a 427, you are probably going to need to do a little more than hang out on the Craigslist classified’s section. (Oh yeah, you might also want to free up a good $70k – $100k in disposable income for that as well.)  If you aren’t overly particular about the “Show Condition” of your future car and just want to find something with a solid base to work from your journey will be much less arduous. (And much less expensive.)

Sometimes a “Great deal” Is Not Really Such a Great Deal

When shopping for a classic Cougar it’s always important to keep in mind that the initial purchase cost is usually just a fraction of the money that you will need to spend on the vehicle to make it just the way you want it. Let’s face it, we are dealing with cars that are over 40 years old. Things are going to need replacing and fixing up, even under really good conditions. Finding an old beat up Cougar in a barn somewhere for $1500 may sound great initially, but before you dive in to the deal take a close look at the car. Does it need body work? Sure some we can do ourselves, but what about replacement panels? Quarter panel patches? Door repair? Body straightening? Replacement fenders? Inner firewall replacements? These little items add up to big dollars in a big fat hurry. You always want to wiegh the short term gains of a lower purchase price with the long term pain of literally thousands of dollars in major frame or body reconstruction. I know it may seem like insanity to turn down that $1000 rusted out shell of a 67 XR7, but ask yourself  how much money it’s going to cost to put in a motor/tranny.. replace the rusted out cancer spots. Then look around the classifieds and I’m quite certain you’ll find that in the long haul it’s way cheaper to just pay that little extra money up front for a far superior starting point in your restoration adventure.

Consider These Key Items

Here are some things to consider when trying to decide whether or not you’re looking at a “great deal.”

  • If a car has been sitting for more than 5 years it’s most likely going to need a new gas tank due to the gas turning bad and gunking up the tank. This will mean at the very least, $150-250 for a new tank (plus shipping and it ain’t cheap), New fuel lines and a new fuel pump. Those items alone will cost you over $500 and you still don’t know whether you can get the engine running when you are done.
  • For cars that have been sitting for years at a time you also have to take a hard look at the brakes. Brakes lines will get water in them through condensation or other means and rust from the inside out. Your master cylinder and boosters will also get water in them causing rust or corrosion around the seals. Even if the brakes happen to work through some miracle or other, they are going to need replacing asap. If it’s a 4 wheel drum system now you have to ask yourself if it’s worth investing the $1000 in new parts for fixing up the drums or should you invest $500-1000 more and get a nice set of Discs and double your stopping power?
  • Engine’s that have been sitting for years are very iffy as to whether or not they will be recoverable. There are many people who have had good success with different methods of preparing a motor for starting after it’s been sitting for years but you really can’t count on that. Piston rings are going to be dry and brittle, and what about possible corrosion on the cylinder walls. If the engine is a rare or expensive big block (427, 428) remember that rebuilding it is going to cost a fortune. The difference between a running 390 in a daily driver and a blown 390 in a rusted out carcass has at least $1500 in value.
  • One of the most important aspects of knowing a “deal” is a reality check. Put emotions aside when you are looking the car over and look at the facts. How bad is the rust? It takes work but body panels can be replaced, what about the frame? Damaged or rusted frame rails can easily add five to ten thousand dollars in frame off re-fabrication. Don’t be suckered in by a pretty paint job, if you’ve got rust issues in the floors or frame structures you will most likely be looking at many thousands of dollars worth of rebuilding.

Get a Feel For the Market In Your Area

Before you get real serious about buying your Cougar you want to make sure you know what’s going on in the classic car market. If you aren’t in a terrible rush to pickup a car it might be advisable to spend a couple of month’s monitoring some of the more popular classified listings and ebay auctions for the specific years of Cougar you are looking for. With the popularity of Internet classifieds in today’s marketplace the “local” marketplace pricing is going to bleed into the global market pricing somewhat but there are always highs and lows in the marketplace. Finding those lows can save you substantially.  Know how far you are willing to travel to pick up your car.  Some people are willing to extend the range of their search several thousand miles depending on the condition and quality of the vehicle.

Seeing what popular classified sites and Ebay listings are selling for (that means “selling” by the way, not just listing over and over for some exorbitant price) can give you a very good feel for where the market is and then when you see something that looks like a great deal price wize you can flag it as a potential purchase and start digging into the details on it. As a rule of thumb you can expect to see hundreds of cars that are about “as expected” when you are searching for your project. This means they will be priced a little higher than you want to go, in semi-reasonable or “daily driver” condition. Those two points will tend to counter balance themselves. The lower the price, the lower the condition of the car.  For every hundred or so cars you see listed that meet your criteria aside from price or condition, you will come across one or two that are the exception to the rule and will be noticeably lower in price and in still fairly respectable condition. Keep in mind that you are probably not the only other person looking for that particular type of deal so they aren’t going to jump up and bite you. You are going to have to diligently check all of the popular classified advertising sites daily if you hope to score that dream deal. Generally if you don’t get it within hours of the listing going up, someone else will.

Be Ready When It’s Time To Buy

Know what it’s going to take to get your new purchase home. Most likely it will need to be trailered or towed. If it’s any kind of real distance you really are going to want to consider trailering. If you have a blowout doing 55 towing your brand new classic car home you could end up with nothing more than a mangled hunk of metal for all your hard work. So many things could happen. Old brakes could seize up, rotten tires can blow, an axle could seize or let go. It’s just not worth the risk. Many companies rent car trailers now. They aren’t that expensive, get one.

One very important detail that is often overlooked when buying an old car is the potential paperwork hassle when trying to register it as the new owner. Be very certain you know exactly what the requirements for registering an old vehicle in your province or state are. Don’t be shy about phoning your motor vehicles office three or four times to talk to 2-3 different people and make sure they all tell you the same story. Often times if you find yourself caught in some legal loophole it can mean that you simple will not be able to legally register or drive the vehicle. Find out what your state or province requires or allows regarding “title only” sales. Sometimes a seller will be giving a great price on an old car because they’ve already tried to register it and for one reason or another it’s unable to be registered and he’s just trying to flog his problem off on you.

When you are ready to make your purchase you might also want to consider transportation insurance. Talk to your local insurance agent regarding coverage for your vehicle during transport and even if it’s just going to sit in storage at either the seller’s or your location. Often times storage insurance is a cheap as $20-$30 a year and can save you terrible anguish in the case of the unforeseeable happening. You know how the old saying goes.. “An ounce of prevention..”

In Conclusion

These ramblings have been some of my own thoughts based on my work with classic cars and my experiences buying and selling them. Always make sure you do your research when looking to buy (or sell) your classic cat and don’t rely on any one person to tell you what’s hot and what’s not. I hope you can put some of these suggestions to good use and in doing so you end up with a great car and many happy years of tinkering. Just remember, your Cougar is only happy when it’s purring down the highway.