For years I dreamt about buying a classic car and bringing it back to glory. Of cruising the streets and taking the family on an ice cream run. The emphasis here is for years. I really haven’t seriously worked on a car in, well, forever. Since high school, actually, and that was a long time ago. Yeah, sure, an oil change here and there and a brake job from time to time, but no real projects. In the meantime, many of the classics I had fantasized about became financially impractical. For example, that 1967 Corvette 427/435HP Tri Power quickly grew out of reach and the late ’60s Mercedes Benz W113 (230SL variety) started to get appreciated by more people, relegating it to the high-bidding car auction set.
There was always another car that I loved though. Unique and outrageous and, in my opinion, gorgeous. That is the 1960s Lincoln Continental Convertible. The fourth generation of Lincoln’s flagship. Yeah you know it, the one with the suicide doors (the rear door is hinged in back), immortalized during the assassination of John F. Kennedy (and for the younger crowd, on the TV show Entourage). Let’s face it, how many four door convertibles have you ever seen? The slab-sided car looks like it goes on forever. And somehow, the car is yet to be appreciated by the collecting masses. They didn’t make loads of them, only 3-4K/year of the convertible during its 9-year production run from 1961-1969, but the prices are still reasonable as classics go.
After searching for several months, I found a car that was very close to what I wanted – a triple black model (black paint, black interior and black convertible top) on eBay. Even better, it was a car originally delivered in Southern California that, apparently, spent its entire life there. I actually had set my sights on a ’65 with its minor upgrades from the original, but the ’64 was still very cool and the year difference was less important to me than the condition of the car.
The description was enticing. A second-owner, sub-60K original mile car in reasonable running condition. Never in an accident. New, high quality paint job with loads of clearcoat, new leather seats, a new top with fully functioning mechanicals and working windows (I had read that a fully-functioning top and windows were classic problems for non-restored Lincolns of the day and that getting them working was a pain in the ass). No rust and well maintained with all original and maintenance documentation.
The seller posted the Warranty Number (sorta like a VIN number, but specific to Ford) for the car and it was easy to look up Ford’s Warranty Number format of the time.Maintenance-Manual-Warranty-Plate-VIN
While, in retrospect, I should have asked for a photo of the ID plate, the numbers were as advertised.
As you may know, the current VIN numbering system didn’t come into being until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States standardized the format in 1981. So online resources that report the repair record or any history of a car given its VIN do not apply to cars prior to that time.
I did more research online and called the owner with my long list of questions. Unfortunately, he had very few direct answers and I had to continually reword my questions to get the information I was looking for. I should have taken this as a huge red flag, but my excitement about the car and what he was telling me grew every minute I was on the phone with him. Still, I tried to let logic prevail and called him back a few days later with more questions. His answers weren’t exactly what I wanted to know, but they served to get me more interested in the car. I was in love, what can I say?
So, I bid on the car. My bid was the highest for about a day and then the bids started moving up fast. I thought my bid was reasonable, but others were, apparently, more in love than I was. Or maybe they knew more? The things that go through one’s head in an auction are wild. I didn’t bid again.
A few days later, I got an email from eBay telling me the car didn’t meet its reserve. It was then that I discovered the owner had the car listed on several sites including Hemmings. It was naive on my part to think that someone wouldn’t do this. FWIW, checking other sites for a car, especially non-auction sites, is a good idea. The non-auction sites will give you a much better idea of how much the seller is really looking for.
I called the owner back and asked him what he would take for the car. He shot high and I shot low. Well, low-er. We settled on a number and agreed to a process for moving forward (more on that in another post). Was I paying too much? If the car was as he described, I wasn’t getting a bargain, but was in the range of what these cars went for in very good condition – the top of the range. I was cool with that. After all it was a triple-black California car with a new top, solid mechanicals and some restoration work. What could go wrong?
You might reasonably ask why I didn’t actually go and see the car or, at least, hire someone do take a look for me. It was, after all, 3,000 miles away. I thought about it and I checked on resources to do it. I even went as far as contacting a couple of people. The bottom line is that no one could get to it for a few days and with the post-auction process still going, I was worried about losing the car and I was in love. Yes, absolutely stupid. Too risky. As you’ll read in subsequent posts, my gamble didn’t pay off.