Vehicle technology has come along in such huge leaps and bounds over the last decade that it’s almost impossible to buy a new car that doesn’t have satnav, smartphone pairing, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning and electric windows. And that’s before you think about cross-path detection, lane control and self-parking.
But there are thousands of drivers in the UK who have none of these features on their car and indeed, don’t want them. These are Britain’s classic car owners – the legion of hardy, deep-pocketed drivers who put style before substance, the driving experience before intelligent cruise control and a petulant manual gearbox before an elegant eight-speed auto.
There are still many things to love about owning and driving a classic car: stand-out style and good looks, the camaraderie of an owner’s club, the history and heritage of your marque and its model, the sheer joy of firing the old girl up and heading off into the countryside for a blast.
That’s why so many enthusiasts buy and run classics, and also why there are a good number of garages, agencies and websites ready to source and sell you one. Of course, you don’t need to buy an ancient car to own a classic. Many ‘prestige’ cars are classics of the future and are sought after right now.
While you will have to plan for the financial implications of things failing and parts needing to be found, you will at least have almost zero depreciation to worry about – and might not have to pay any road tax (this is certainly the case if your car was built before 1974).
Here at The Car Expert, we’re building and updating guides to the top sites to buy used vehicles of all categories. So here is our pick of some of the best for buying a classic car (in alphabetical order, rather than any ranking).
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Bicester Sports & Classics
They say: “Amongst the best classic car dealers in the UK”
We like: Simple, honest approach
We don’t like: The ‘sold’ section might prove frustrating
Trading for more than 35 years, Bicester Sports & Classics are passionate about owning and running a classic and it shows in the website.
“We want you to truly enjoy the whole buying, driving and living with a sports or classic car experience”, it says, adding that they “believe in educating first time buyers into the reality of owning a classic and helping them understand what it is to drive and own one and keep that dream alive.”
That’s why every sale includes a workshop inspection and report, engine compression check, a full service and MOT inspection, a detailed valet and lots more.
Not everything on their books is necessarily ‘old’. Click on the ‘Showroom’ page and you’ll be taken to a smart, simple selection of classics which included, when we looked, a 2013 Ferrari 458 and a 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Certainly they will be classics one day.
Most cars are 30-40 years old though and beautiful examples too. Each comes initially with one picture and a brief description of year, make and model. Click on one and you’re taken to a new page showing at least 25 more pictures, interior and exterior, along with a more detailed description of the car’s history, features, information about work or upgrades, and the all-important price.
There’s a section on finance packages from these licensed credit brokers, a contact page if you’re looking to sell a car, after care facilities such as servicing, storage and warranties and, slightly oddly, a big page on cars they have already sold. You were too late!
BSC clearly love the whole art of buying and running a classic and the site reflects this beautifully.
They say: “The largest, busiest and most trusted marketplace for classic cars in the world”
We like: Huge choice – possibly too huge
We don’t like: Car descriptions and pictures vary in quality
There’s a lot going on when you call up the ‘busiest marketplace in the world’. Looking for a classic vehicle? This is certainly one place to come, and not just your car either: there are also listings for motorcycles, modern cars, US cars, 4x4s, camper vans and even race cars.
Down the centre of the landing page is a long list of cars currently for sale, both private and trade. But the mix is mind-blowing. Thankfully you can whittle down your search drastically using tabs to the left of the page (listing hundreds of well-known and obscure brands), by decade, or via one of the categories mentioned above.
We clicked on ‘Jaguar’ and 4672 results came back. This truly is a massive, international set-up and if you can’t find a car here, you’re being extremely fussy. There are details of auctions for cars currently going on, but the bulk of the results are for straight sales. Choose something you like and you’re taken to more detail including several pictures, price, mileage, year, where it’s being kept, and the seller’s own description of their car.
There’s an option to message the seller via the site and in some cases there’s also phone details. Considering many of the pictures are taken by amateurs, the photography is quite good. Descriptions are a bit random – some long and detailed, others short and to the point.
Among the other features of this busy site are an ‘Auction’ tab giving details of live and upcoming sales, sections just for classic cars or classic bikes, a ‘Magazine’ section, full of news, feature articles and advice, plus an area to sell your vehicle.
They say: “Classic cars for sale”
We like: Straightforward and easy to navigate
We don’t like: Pictures are varied in number and quality
Owned by publishing giant Bauer Consumer Media, this is a no-nonsense site with few frills. It does, though, provide a wide and extensive range of classics cars to choose from. You’re given an initial choice from a number of ‘Popular Classic Car Makes’ but, if that’s not what you need you can click on ‘View all makes’.
Do that, and you are presented with a massive alphabetical ‘who’s who’ of car brands, old and new. We tried ‘Packard’ and the search came back with nine cars, four in the UK, three from Belgium and two in Germany.
Whittle down the search further and you’re left with a manageable selection. Each car gives a brief explanation of features (mileage, price, left or right hand drive and a reference code). Some are private sellers and others are dealers. Selecting a car opens another page with longer description and pictures.
Some of these were very long while others just a few paragraphs. Similarly, some had 50 or so pictures while others half a dozen. But there’s a phone number included in each so it’s easy to get in touch with the seller for more information.
It’s a fairly simple site to look at but there are some add-on features, such as a nice classic car news section and a reviews area – a buyer’s guide for a selection of well-known cars, from Jaguar E-Type to Vauxhall Calibre.
They say: “Better classic cars at the right price”
We like: Good personal feeling to the site
We don’t like: Quite short on detail
Established in 1979, the Classic Car Shop specialises in finding high quality classic and sports vehicles to sell, along with other with top-end services. Based in Derbyshire the company operates out of a showroom which is available for viewings.
The personal services include locating the car of your choice for you and full workshop facilities for specialist work. All Classic Car Shop cars come with a full parts and labour warranty with UK and international roadside recovery included.
From the home page there’s a drop-down menu for potential purchasers, with sub-divisions to make finding your car easier. You’ll find sections such as British Sports, Classic European, Veteran and Vintage, Specialist Rolls-Royce, Classic 4×4 – even Classic Lawnmowers!
Alternatively, you can use the search engine to refine your search right down to a make and model. It includes minimum and maximum price, min and max mileage, and the age spread in years, that you’d accept.
If they have a car matching your requirements, you’ll get one picture and the price. Click on it to open a page with three or four more pictures and a brief description. There’s not a lot of detail on-line so your next course of action would be to pick up the phone and call them or fill in an email submission form.
A gallery of the company’s own vehicles (cars and vintage motorbikes) is featured along with a small blog section.
They say: “What are you looking for?”
We like: Interesting reading throughout
We don’t like: Cars for sale just a small part of the site
Another site owned by a publishing company, Classic Driver is an on-line magazine about classic and sports cars, property and other items linked to a luxury lifestyle. Founded in 1998, its marketplace offers a big selection of motorcycles, boats, watches and, of course, classic cars.
So, if you’re looking to buy you can start by simply typing into the search box the car you are interested in. Alternatively, there are drop down boxes into which you can type make, price (high and low), year (from and to) and your country, as this is a truly international marketplace.
Then initial listing of cars of your choice show one photograph, one line of description and the price, which is given in US dollars. Click on a car you would like to know more about and the page opens up with more pictures, and greater detail including mileage, chassis number, fuel type, left or right hand drive, gearbox and year of manufacture.
There follows a block of copy describing the car. This varies in length depending on what the seller is prepared to write. Certainly all the cars we looked at were being sold by dealers, but there were 6,800 cars for sale when we looked so we couldn’t check them all.
There’s a large, varied spread of machinery. Look at Ford for example, and just in the UK, and there are 20 cars available, including new (Mustang Mach-e), old (Capri) plus race and rally examples.
Being linked to a magazine means there’s plenty of interesting features and blogs to read along with a great shop selling toys, models, clothes and shoes.
They say: “The international marketplace for classic vehicles”
We like: Interesting magazine section
We don’t like: Search engine fiddly to use
Classic Trader’s founders Torsten Claus and Christian Plagemann both loved classic vehicles since their early childhood. Started in 2013, the site is a great marketplace for cars and motorcycles and there’s an excellent link to the online magazine containing lots of interesting news, features, profiles and tips.
You can search by category, for example French Classics, Rally & Race Car, US Muscle Cars or Pre-War Classics, or by make or model. Again the sellers are mostly dealers but there are some private buys available in there too.
There are more than 11,000 vehicles listed in the ‘Cars’ section so you need to edit your search. Start with make and model, if you know what you want, and you can put in a guide price, specify colour, year of manufacture, mileage, which country you want to buy in and even if you want a dealer or private seller.
The initial list within your search parameters gives one picture plus details of price, series number, whether dealer or private seller, body style, maximum power output and mileage. Click on a car and you get extra pictures, more information covering technical details and a description of the car, its history and current condition. There’s the option to call or email the seller.
There’s additionally a selling section, the magazine and the option to sign up for a newsletter. But there’s plenty to read online though so you might not need that.
They say: “Unrivalled knowledge and dedication to the classic car market”
We like: Neat, tidy website
We don’t like: Not as much detail as some
Milton Keynes based ClassicMobilia have been operating since 2009 and offer a friendly, open-doors approach to buying a classic car. The showroom is open to browsers (by appointment) and the website has that same approachable feel to it.
They don’t want to just sell you a car, says owner Keith Riddington on his website, but to help you understand the reality of owning and driving a classic. They buy cars, sell cars, source them for customers, offer finance, preparation and warranties, and advise on protecting your investment.
When we looked there were 135 vehicles to choose from. There’s a good mix of newer and older classics along with some fun stuff like a classic Porsche tractor or a Mini Moke. You can sort by price, age or mileage, or by using the drop down menus to edit down to the make and model you’re looking for.
You initially get one picture and brief details including colour, fuel type, engine size and year of manufacture. Click on something you like the look of and you’re offered lots more pictures, an at-a-glance overview and a more detailed description of the car and its features. The features tab shows a repeat of what’s in the description overview.
You can call the showroom or send an email inquiry. There are also facilities to arrange for a finance quote or to dive straight in and book a test drive. There’s advice about car sourcing, transportation and importing plus a good blog section.
Peter Vardy Heritage
They say: “Built to drive. Cherished to last”
We like: Easy to use site
We don’t like: Fairly brief details given
Peter Vardy Heritage is part of the mighty Peter Vardy Group of car dealerships which already represents ‘classic’ marques such as Jaguar, Porsche and BMW. Based in Edinburgh, the heritage site showcases some of recent history’s more iconic models.
You start at the main petervardy.com landing page and from there you can find ‘Classic Cars’ under the ‘Find a car’ drop down section. There were only 27 cars available from the heritage division when we looked so it was almost worth a browse rather than using the filter, but that’s there if you need it. You can specify year, cash/finance purchase, min and max mileage, colour and other requirements.
You’ll initially get one picture and a brief overview of price, mileage and key features. Click on ‘View details’ and the page opens to an attractive display of large photos and some brief headline details about your chosen car. Click on one of the main pictures and the whole gallery becomes available.
If you’re interested there’s a phone number to call or online email to complete. The main site contains other options including selling a car, maintenance of classics and restoration.
They say: “Seeing is believing”
We like: Good clear pictures
We don’t like: Not as much description as some
Started in 1963, London-based Hexagon certainly has plenty of experience. Founder Paul Michaels has led to company through decades of representing some of the biggest automotive brands in the world – BMW, Porsche, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and Lotus.
Today it offers a host of classic cars from its showroom – there are more than 100 in stock – along with servicing, car sourcing, restoration, body shop work and finance arrangements. There’s even a restaurant on site.
There are a couple of teaser shots on the landing page or you can go straight to the drop down menu and look for ‘Current stock’. There’s a good mix of more recent and vintage classics. Choose the brand you require and a new page will open with models from your choice. Each has a picture and brief details including year, mileage, colour and price. Click on ‘More details’ if you find something you like and you’re taken to a new page.
Here are lots more pictures, a specification sheet, a summary, more detailed specification and a description of the car. Want to take it further? There are phone or email options to get in touch and even an out-of-hours phone number.
A news section with a small selection of interesting blogs finishes the site nicely. It’s another well designed website that’s worth a visit, if only to view the cars.
Howard Wise Cars
They say: “Over 48 years of providing elite cars”
We like: Tempting photography
We don’t like: Limited detail
Howard Wise has been in the motor trade since leaving school aged 15 back in the early 1970s. The business ‘Howard Wise Cars’ was formed in 2007 and offers a mix of more modern prestige cars and older classics.
Based in their showroom headquarters in Loughton, Essex, the company has a small but beautiful collection of the finest cars of offer, each well presented on this website. The showroom pictures reveal a bright and airy space tastefully decorated with historic automobilia, and the site itself follows that trend.
Click on either ‘Classic’ or ‘Prestige’ and you’ll be presented with the current stock. There is some serious machinery here: Alfa Romeo Zagato, Ferrari Dino and Jaguar E-type Series 1 among the classics with a Ford GT, Lamborghini Gallardo and Mercedes SL500 Convertible leading the prestige way.
Click on a favourite and you’re taken straight to a page with several pictures, price, mileage and year plus brief details. Scroll down and there’s more detail about standard equipment, features and optional extras fitted. The classic cars’ descriptions are more historic in their content but with some specification details.
The website also includes a buying section showing cars Howard Wise is actively ‘hunting’, plus a small news/ blog section.