Walk around the car, look at it from different angles. Does anything look odd? Are there strange lines, dents, dings, bubbles, waves, holes, colors? Does the car look right?
Without paperwork or known history to rely on, you have to piece together evidence to get your story going. It might even take a while to really get the full picture; one clue may spark a realization two weeks later - so keep an open mind and allow things to meld and convolve in your noggin.
This car was promoted as a rust-free, SoCal survivor and, from a preliminary inspection, nothing seemed off enough to doubt it:
- Body straight; no weird, off angles; door gaps are even and true
- Some expected dings and dents peppered throughout
- No visible rust of consequence
- Trunk bowed slightly
- At least two repaints: black to green, green to blue
- Interior showing proper signs of age and mileage
At the surface, things are legit. Some observations also seemed interesting enough to take mental note of:
- 1968 U.C. Riverside parking stickers on rear bumper
- A new starter was installed
- Tires seem very old but no flat spots or excess dryrot
Moving on… How much rust, Bondo, or other crap is lurking, waiting to be found? Grab a magnet and let’s see. Using a round magnet, you can roll it along the wheel arches, along rocker panels, and probe suspicious lumpy-bumpy areas:
- Wheel arches: Good (feel up and along the inside of the arches as well - they’re good, too)
- Rockers: Good
- Rivets under paint on lower front quarters (patchwork?); will investigate further later
- Bottoms of the door skins: Good
- Random plucking at the side surfaces: Good
Again, looking OK. Now moving on to under the car, looking for rust, rot, repair, etc. You can tap around with a screwdriver handle to check for weak spots and use the business end for suspect areas:
- Undercoating liberally applied throughout
- Floors: Solid
- Frame: Solid
- Spiderwebs: Plentiful
Consensus: At this point, it’s looking like a decent 50-year-old car. No major issues found so far; the biggest problem will probably be that trunk lid that went on a bender. The repaints would be a flag raiser if filler was found or if panels had different layers of paint underneath. We seem good to go on both counts. Also, the undercoating seems properly aged and worn to be believably original to the car.
Fast-forward a few weeks: the interior is out and I can check the floor pans from the inside. Some surface rust where moisture could hide out over the years, but no rot. The worst rust found so far is in the battery box behind the passenger seat: scales, not rot – so good again.
Some leaves and dust were found in channels and air ducts, but no significant gatherings of debris. Why would that matter? It suggests that this car spent most of its life in a dry climate or it was stored inside during its downtime. Also adding to this conjecture: that ol' sticker on the bumper and the condition of the tires, noted before.
All in all, the car is in great shape and we’ll see how many more issues are uncovered as we strip this sucka down. I'll also talk about that new starter and the state of the mechanicals next time...