Most Common Items to Check Before Purchasing a Muscle Car

Over the last 25 years of inspecting, repairing, banging out dents, repainting and appraising vehicles I have finally put together a list of the most common things to check before purchasing a muscle car. Having grown up pounding out dents, smoothing out body lines and sanding out runs in muscle cars I feel I know a few things that I would like to pass along to you my fellow muscle car enthusiast. Here it goes.

Steven Appraising a 1966 Pontiac GTO at the 2017 GTO National Convention
Steven Appraising a 1966 Pontiac GTO at the 2017 GTO National Convention

The body isn’t all that important however it makes it does feel a lot better to have a beautiful machine sitting in your garage as your muscle car.  Hey, I get it, it needs to be loud, fast, powerful and everything you want in your dream car or investment, there is nothing wrong with that at all. But when going through the purchase process, shopping, traveling, inspecting, researching and so on, what you see on the outside is some of the simple easy stuff to have fixed.  In comparison with mechanical work, now up past $100 / labor hour, bodywork is still holding below $50 / hour in most places.   So even if you had to have a quarter replaced and the car painted you might still be only looking at a $5,000 bill after all. Compare that to an engine or transmission rebuild at $100 / hour for your muscle car and your repair cost could easily be upwards of $10,000 for parts and labor.

The interior of a muscle car is relatively simple. There is not usually too many bells and whistles. You have a couple of seats, some interior trim, carpet and a radio and of course some switches and knobs. Much of these common items are easily replaceable on today’s market even at a relative cost, some muscle car gearheads even opt to go custom interior which can really add some visual power to a muscle car. Although there might be a bit of a cost to an interior rebuild and a bit of time… It is still easy bolt off- bolt on stuff that the average muscle car enthusiast can handle on their own.

The mechanicals, the engine, transmission, steering, suspension, brakes, and driveline, although they can get very costly, they too are not overly important.  I know, you want it to be LOUD and FAST and perform like it did or better than new. I get that.  I’m a gearhead too.  However, the mechanical and electrical in a muscle car are easy to come by, for the most part, its basic mechanics and most of the time we have a buddy that can help.  Not to mention, you know you are going to want to add some power to your punch anyhow over time.  The most important part about the mechanicals is to make sure they are all there, done right and are in decent condition.

So, if the body, mechanicals, and interior aren’t important in a muscle car then what is?  THE FRAME!  The structure of any muscle car is foremost what you should be looking for.  Many muscle cars of the 60, 70 and 80’s era have unibody frames with subframes. There are many areas such as spring hanger mounts, inner quarters, and torque boxes that often get major amounts of stress and load applied to them each time you mash the gas.  Sadly, these same areas are often the first to start rusting, corroding and rotting away in those beautiful barn finds that all the big magazines talk about.  Here is why I believe the frame is the most crucial inspection point on a muscle car.  Anything that must do with the frame often must be cut off and welded back on.  Each cut, weld, and repair reduces structural integrity. Each time you smash the pedal and show what’s under the hood you put great stresses on those frame components.  One thing is good to remember about a classic or muscle car… It doesn’t have to be driven to sit and rot away! So even your barn finds and field finds that have just been sitting for 40 years can rot out from grass, weeds, rock, and dirt.  Another good thing to point out, even if a car has been “restored” not everyone’s quality of work is the same.  If a muscle cars frame has been welded or repaired, it needs to be top notch craftsmanship to support the big horses under the hood.

Here is another reason why the frame is one of the most important inspection points of a muscle car.  Any time the frame must be worked on, or the floor pans or trunk pans, you also must rework some body components. So even if you have a beautiful body and finish and the frame has even the slightest of rot, you are looking at an eventual repaint of that beautiful body.  Sadly, that is what we are up against as muscle car enthusiasts when we shop for muscle cars.

Do you agree or disagree?  Tell me why in the comments…