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Lies, Damned Lies and Classified Ads

Judging by the volume of unsold cars that appear week after week on eBay or Craigslist, selling a collector car is difficult.


Some of the problem is economic force majeure.  Times are tough, and when cash to pay the bills is tight, it’s morally hard to justify purchase of a special interest car.

But having bought dozens of antique cars, and looked at hundreds more, an unsold car is often a self inflicted condition- 100% the fault of the seller.  Here are some of the cardinal sins and deal killers from the perspective of a experienced (and often disillusioned) buyer:

Dishonesty (intentional or otherwise)

Sellers are wise to promote the positive attributes and features of their car, as this will attract potential buyers.  Just make sure these claims are accurate, complete and honest.  Whatever the seller's motivation or intent - buyers don't appreciate being duped.  There are a few commonly observed seller statements that cause problems:

Low original miles – Claims of low original miles draw potential buyers like a moth to flame.  A low mile car is appealing because it represents a blank, virginal canvas unsullied by the passage of time, multiple owners and modifications.

When the odometer flips back over to 00000, unscrupulous sellers may be tempted to claim that their car is magically re-born with super low miles.  Don’t do it!  Smart buyers can spot a high mile car in seconds.

Low mileage claims should be verifiable through a tight paperwork trail (maintenance records, safety inspection reports,) the overall condition of the car and the telltale presence of original, production dated components (e.g., alternator, spiral shocks, riveted ball joints, starter, hoses, belts, etc)

We once drove nearly 13 hours to look at a 1969 Impala that the seller swore had a documented 38,000 miles and original paint.  It took about 30 seconds to ascertain that the real mileage was 138,000, or perhaps 238,000.  And the original paint was there – just buried under at least 2 low quality re-sprays.  Was I pissed?  Absolutely.  Did I tell the seller exactly what I thought of his deception?  Absolutely.  Did I buy the car?  Are you frigging kidding me?

Matching numbers – 90% of the time, "matching numbers" isn't factual.  A claim of matching numbers implies that the seller has done objective, factual research, and that a car is unmolested and not missing major original, date coded components that could cost thousands to locate.  These matching number components include just about every mechanical and electrical component, such as; carburetor, alternator, intake, exhaust manifolds, distributor, water pump, starter, power steering pump, shocks, voltage regulator and more.  In the case of blocks, transmissions and rear ends, these components often carry the unique vehicle identification number, so if the originals are missing – they will likely never be found, ergo the car will never again be "matching numbers"

A buyer that responds to a claim of matching numbers is likely a restorer – and he will KNOW the correct casting numbers, engineering numbers and date codes.  He will look over each component carefully, and he will be genuinely tweaked if the seller's “numbers matching Boss 302 engine” turns out to be a 1975 351M instead.  He will also be ticked if rare, expensive components like the original carb, distributor and starter are gone.

If you don’t know what matching numbers means, learn.  In the age of the internet, validating the "matching numbers" status of your car takes little more than an afternoon to accomplish.  

If you haven't done the homework, don't make the "matching numbers" claim.

Restored – The definition of “restored” is very specific, and often misused.  A restored car has been faithfully returned to 100% stock condition, using only correct OEM or concours approved reproduction components that carry the correct casting numbers, date codes, surface finishes and fasteners.  The addition of period correct OEM accessories (tachometers, tissue dispensers, etc) is fair game.

A restored car doesn't have Cragar wheels, headers, a Summit chrome engine dress up kit, custom paint or upholstery.  Non-factory alterations are modifications, and a modified car isn't a restored car.

Hey, there is absolutely nothing wrong with modifications - most of the cars we've owned were modified in some way.  Just play it safe, and call it a "resto-mod" instead. No harm, no foul and no lie.

Fakes - For the love of all that’s holy, don’t slap on SS396 emblems and try to pawn off your clone car as the real article.  A few years back, an unfortunate fellow tried to sell a poorly faked 1965 Chevelle SS396 Z-16 for $100,000.  What this poor guy didn’t know is that the Z-16 community is small, active and extremely well informed.   One such Z-16 expert is Jeff Helms - a great guy, customer of Gyrhead & Sons and a leading authority on Z-16 Chevelles.  Not only did Jeff pick this guy and his bogus car apart, but the seller ultimately got into legal trouble for attempting to sell a VIN doctored car.  The same thing recently happened in Australia to the seller of a fake 1969 Falcon XW GT HO. 

Spotting a cloned car is very easy for the experienced buyer - there are hundreds of clues to a vehicle’s authenticity.  . 

Generally speaking, the rarer the car, the more expertise exists in the market.  Subject matter experts have original production records, build sheets, engineering prints, manufacturing memos, marketing documentation and more. They know every inch of an original car - each stamping, feature, casting and engineering revision. Try to sell an undisclosed clone and they will know you are full of crap.  They will embarrass you - big time.

Warning Flags (That Lower Prices or Kill Deals Entirely):

Complex calculations go on in the mind of a buyer when evaluating a car. 

  1. The realistic restored retail price (NOT the often inflated, unreliable auction price) of the car.
  2. The seller’s price range
  3. Estimated restoration costs of the car. 

If C is greater than A-B, the car is upside down and usually a no-sale unless the buyer is emotionally attached and determined to own the car whatever the cost.

Of these three factors, restoration costs are the wildcard - the biggest unknown. Experienced buyers take their initial estimate of restoration/repair costs and then double (or triple) it to cover unknown risks such as hidden rust or worn/missing components.

These restoration cost estimates directly influence the buyer's purchase price offer, so common sense dictates it should be the #1 job of the seller to reduce buyer worry about the unknowns.

Here are a few common areas where sellers consistently shoot themselves in the foot.

Access / Lighting – If the car is packed into a crowded, dark garage with no proper access to all 4 sides of the car, you’ve just reduced the value of the car, a lot.  What the buyer can’t see, he will discount - using a worst case scenario.

Dirty Car, Dirty Workspace – Unless your car is a priceless “barn find” (where oddly, dust and patina add value) dirt and trash are bad, bad, bad.  Not only does dirt diminish the appeal of the car, but sends a very strong message to the buyer that you don’t take good care of your stuff.  If you can’t be bothered to remove fast food wrappers and empty the ash tray, how good care did you take of the car in general?  A dirty, messy car is often a beat and abused car.  A dirty, cluttered garage is seldom the domain of a competent, thorough mechanic.   I’ve seldom been proven wrong here.

Outdoor Storage – Absolutely nothing good happens to an antique car stored outdoors, particularly in the rust belt.  Most old cars were aggressive rusters , even under the best of circumstances.  Outdoor storage puts the deterioration process into warp drive.  If the car has been parked on dirt or grass for any length of time, floor, suspension and frame rust will be concern.  Leaves, pine needles and dirt will settle into the window channels and cowls – and retain dampness year round.  Leaky windows or cowls will cause mildew and floor/trunk rot.  Most old cars will be beyond saving after only several years outdoors.  Get it under good cover, and NO, blue tarps don't constitute "good cover"

Half Assed  – Buyers will be looking for visible clues as to the underlying condition of the car.  Bad bodywork, shoddy repairs (flex pipe, universal fit radiator hoses) and half done repairs (missing fasteners, etc) suggest that the seller doesn’t handle the details.  If the seller gobbed bondo over visible rust, what else is hiding under the paint?  If the seller couldn’t be bothered to find the proper radiator hose, how much attention did they pay to main bearing clearances, carb jetting, cam selection or the valve train setup?  As we know, a good running, well maintained car is 100% about the little details.

In Pieces – Dismantled cars seldom fetch anywhere near market value.  Buyers will assume many important, hard to find parts are missing or broken – and they will discount the price accordingly.  Sometimes it pays to spend a weekend re-assembling or re-organizing a project car prior to sale.

Bad Paper – We once looked at a motorcycle and prior to purchase asked about the title.  The seller casually mentioned there was a defaulted bank lien on the bike.  “Don’t worry about that”, he said “I’ll pay off the bank myself and have them send you title”  Suddenly I realized why the bike was being “stored” in his buddy's shed – this shady character was hiding his basically stolen motorcycle from the repo man. "See yah, take care."

If the vehicle’s papers aren’t in order, get them in order.  Unless it's a parts car, many buyers won’t touch a car where clear ownership cannot be established.

Bad Attitudes

    "No tire kickers, time wasters, strokers, test pilots or low ballers.  Get your Mommy's permission before hand, you know what it's worth, bring cash or stay home.  Don't bother asking questions, I'm busy and no time to waste on stupid questions. No emails, no texts, or out of state buyers"

Spend a few moments on Craigslist and you'll likely encounter more than a few ads written like this.

Classified ads that are rudely or aggressively written will scare off the majority of qualified buyers, me included.   You are not doing the buyer a favor by showing them your car and taking their money.  They are doing YOU a favor by taking their valuable time to look at it, based on the description that YOU have provided.  Keep it fun, keep it civil and most potential buyers will respond in kind.

© Gyrhead & Sons Restoration Parts 2013.  If you like this article, please share it freely with your friends.  Just remember to cite the source

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