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Buying A Triumph ?

Written by Frank Jacobson




The Triumph Sports Owners Association is often approached for an opinion on how much should be paid for a particular Triumph model, how much its insurance value should be, or just for answers to fairly general questions about the worth of whole cars or parts of cars. Usually, but not always, the enquirer is new to classic cars and/or Triumph cars and has little idea of value. We are also in an age where there is readily available information on almost any imaginable subject, so when faced with something we don’t know, we simply enquire. This article is designed to make the search for information on buying Triumphs a little easier for the enquirer who we hope will make a Triumph, his or her classic car of choice.

Buying a Triumph is about two parts. The first is understanding value and the second is having knowledge about what one hopes to purchase.

There have been many words written on how to go about a car purchase. Almost invariably the first thing the writer advises is to work out how much you have to spend. That’s good advice but a better place to start is to decide whether you have a good understanding of what constitutes value, as that helps you do a better job with what you have to spend. Once done, you will find that it becomes the cornerstone of all the “down the line” decisions that you will make in relation to the purchase of a classic Triumph. As well as a myriad of value judgments related to the initial purchase there might be insurance value and the value of various work that may be required to bring a prospective purchase up to a condition that you set as a goal.

Most people have a general understanding of value along the lines of; “Is the product worth $xx or not?” However, many do not quite grasp the process involved in developing an answer to that question. This brings us to the first of the two parts.

Value is the market place worth of an item (in our case a Triumph car) that has been determined by its sale between two parties. At the conclusion of a sale the selling party, who has not been over anxious to sell, accepts a satisfactory price from a buyer, who has not been over anxious to buy and who pays a price which he, or she, feels is fair and reasonable for the Triumph car that has changed hands. This satisfactory conclusion to the sale should also be achieved by two parties who are aware of the condition of the car as far as can be ascertained by observation and testing, supported as far as possible, or as deemed necessary, by the expert opinion of others, trained or experienced with the model in question, or in cars generally. The sale price should also be negotiated between parties who are conversant with sale prices in the market place for cars of a similar model, specification, age and overall condition.

Ideally, the more confirmed sales of comparable cars that are available the better evidence those sales are of market worth. The sales need to be as close to your buying date as possible so that they are a true reflection of the current market. Because we don’t have a register of concluded sales it is hard to gather this sort of information but keeping a record of advertised prices is still a useful base which can be improved by making an allowance for negotiation, say 10%. As part of the record, keeping an overall description of each sale, will also improve the information base. Even better is contact with the seller, or buyer, or both and any information that can be sourced from them about the price paid and the condition of the car in question.

Unfortunately, classic cars are not on the market in great numbers so sales information is limited. This is all the more reason to have good value and condition information to improve your prospects of getting your valuation right. It’s much easier buying late model Holdens or Falcons as there will be abundant information available. The bottom line in relation to value is that it is not an exact science. You, the potential buyer will need to make judgments based on the information you have and the better, and more extensive your information, the more confident you will become when making a final decision on whether to purchase a given offering at a given price.

The transaction history of completed sales is the best guide to value but unless you have access to the seller and the buyer in a completed sale this sort of information is very limited. However, the classic car magazines such as; Triumph World, Classic and Sports Car, Practical Classics and Australian Classic Car and the sales magazines such as Just Cars and Unique Cars can be very helpful and with patience a reasonable guide to car value can be developed. Don’t write off the British magazines as sources of value information either, as it is often surprising how good a match it is once the pounds to dollars conversion is done.   In any case, the relativity of values from model to model across the Triumph range, even in pounds sterling, can be a handy guide to making your mind up about which Triumph to pursue. Back this up with information from web sites such as and the picture gets better all the time. The website can be particularly useful if vendors include a good selection of photographs and a written description of the cars particulars. Some vendors are very open and point out the drawbacks in the car they hope to sell. It all helps and unless you have a particularly good memory it is a good idea to keep some notes of the sales information you gather.

The second part of buying a car is the inspection. This would seem to be elementary but there have been cars that have been bought on trust especially with the advent of the website and a concluded sale without inspection is sometimes realized through over anxiousness to acquire what appears to be an especially desirable car, or an especially cheap car. “Caveat emptor”.........”Let the buyer beware” is a term from the legal and valuation professions but is so very applicable to the purchase of classic cars. Whenever you’re getting a rush of blood over a particularly appealing car/deal remind yourself of this cautionary advice. You are the one who parts with the money. If you’re not concerned about spending it wisely you wouldn’t have read this far.

The inspection can bring you back to earth (sometimes with a thud) or can re-enforce a good opinion that you have about an offering. It goes without saying that the inspection/test drive is the most important part of the exercise and an adjunct to that is the better prepared you are for it the better it will work for you. For those who work in automotive industries and those who have had many years as serious automotive hobbyists much of the assessment process is almost an unconscious act. This advice is not for them, it is for those who have limited knowledge.

The newcomer to classic car buying needs to fill the knowledge gap. An easy way is to get a known and trusted expert to do an assessment but this is usually the step taken when a possible purchase is imminent. One still needs personal knowledge to get this far, as regular expert assistance on demand is not always easy to get and in any case, the personal inspection/test drive may be seen as part of the learning curve. It is certainly very helpful for developing a basis for good judgment.

Just talking to the owners of the make/model classic you are interested in will yield lots of good advice and information. Most owners are only too happy to talk about their car as that is one of the enjoyable aspects of classic car ownership.

The best way to fast track the learning is to acquire some written information on what to look for in buying a car. There is plenty of material out there in books and magazines. Some are general descriptions about what to look for and are very helpful regardless of the make or model being inspected, but the best are those that are, “make and model specific”, especially when they apply to the car you are interested in. They will usually deal with faults, problems etc that are specific to that car and are written by someone who is an expert. There are many available for various Triumph models and Veloce Publishing presently has 49 books on various classic cars and bikes with four of those being devoted to Triumph car models; TR6, Stag, TR7 and TR8 and the Spitfire and GT6. The English magazine, Practical Classics has buyer guide articles for many cars and if the particular magazine can’t be sourced an email to the publishers may provide a back copy of the magazine or a copy of the article as an email attachment.

Taking Veloce books as an example of the sort of assistance they provide their purpose is to offer a quick step-by-step guide to finding the particular model as matched to your budget and ambitions. The primary objective is to help readers pay a fair price for their target model Triumph. A look at the chapters into which the book is divided gives a good overall picture of the sort of help that a prospective Triumph buyer can expect. These chapter themes are taken from a particular book but would be similar to most, if not all, of the Veloce series of books with the difference being the points in relation to the car under consideration:

  • Is it the right car for you? The chapter covers a range of sub topics such as controls, size, luggage capacity, running costs, parts availability and costs to name just a few.
  • Chapter two deals with cost considerations.....Is it affordable or a money pit. It takes a close look at parts prices.
  • Living with a particular model. This covers points such as engine size and power, gearing, soft top or hard top, brakes and suspension etc and asks the question will you get along together?
  • Relative values.......This chapter looks at the variation in value between cars of different specification especially as this often changed during the production run of a particular model.
  • Chapter five lists all the enquiries you should make before going to view a car
  • Chapter six lists a number of aids to a good inspection
  • Chapter seven is one of the more detailed chapters and in this book has a close look at the corrosion areas and overall physical state of the car being viewed. It includes the trim and the state of the engine and transmission and how the car sounds while suggesting a number of questions the viewer should consider in deciding whether to stay and look closer or whether to walk away.
  • Chapter eight involves looking at key this book it is model specific and relates to known problem areas common to the car.
  • The ninth chapter provides a points rating system to use as a guide to asses each car and have a numerical basis of comparison with other similar models. In this book it is quite detailed and comprehensive and a good guide for anyone considering the model in question. An appropriate introductory comment is...... “60 minutes for years of enjoyment.”
  • Chapter ten looks at the pros and cons of the auction system and how it affects value, while
  • Chapter eleven looks at the paper trail, that is, such things as ownership, registration, any certificates of authenticity and service history.
  • Chapter twelve is very brief and is titled “What’s it worth to you?.......let your head rule your heart”. It’s about weighing up the desirable and undesirable features.
  • Chapter thirteen looks at cars that are in need of a little or a lot of restoration. This has, or should have, a major influence on the purchase decision and how much to pay. The bottom line is that restoration will take longer and cost more than you think.
  • The focus of Chapter fourteen is the paint finish and covers a range of paint conditions that should have a bearing on the purchase. Remember too, that painting is a major task of no small expense in the restoration or ownership of a classic.
  • Problems due to lack of use are covered in Chapter fifteen. While little used cars may look to be in very good condition, and based on appearances, be a worthwhile purchase, lack of use has an impact on many of a cars systems that are likely to show up one by one during early ownership and prove inconvenient and expensive and potentially dangerous. These are especially good tips for the new comer to cars and classics in particular.
  • Chapter sixteen provides information on key people, organizations and companies that support the particular make/model of car. The best value here is the availability of web site addresses.
  • Finally, Chapter seventeen provides specification data for the car in question.

The price of the book (64 pages with colour photos in A5 format) from which this information was taken was just $20.00 which is really a minor expense in the whole purchase project. If the purchase is successful the book can be a useful future reference. If it is unsuccessful then the general advice for purchasing will be useful for any car purchase and indeed some of its content for any purchases at all.

The purpose of this article is not to make a street smart, classic car buyer out of its reader. Its aim is to provide a guide for understanding a little better the concept of value as it applies to classic cars. It also aims to show you how, with a bit of (interesting) work, you can become self reliant and confident in the practice of assessing a classic car so that valuation principles can be applied, taking into account all the influencing factors, in arriving at a price that represents good value to you for the chosen classic car.

Good luck and enjoy the journey to classic car ownership and afterwards for as many years of ownership as you desire.


Frank Jacobson.