Like anyone (of limited means) who is chasing a classic car, I resorted to the usual resources – http://www.autotraderclassic.com, http://www.cars.com, http://www.dupontregistry.com, http://www.hemmings.com, http://www.craigslist.com and http://www.ebay.com. In addition to these generic sites I also perused the Jaguar Clubs of North America site at jcna.com. These are all good sites to get some idea of current prices and relative conditions of cars. I also found looking at the completed listings on ebay was really helpful in researching car values.
Now, I had figured that since I lived in southern California there was a good chance of getting a fairly rust-free XKE in the state or in one of the adjacent sunbelt states. However, it seems like a lot of So Cal cars have been exported northward or eastward to less friendly climes. If the car was exported from California recently and kept by a knowledgeable collector it might not have many rust issues. However, there seemed to be a lot of really bad rust buckets out there on the east coast that were ‘original California cars’ , some still with their original California black (1960’s) or blue (1970’s) license plates. There are some pretty bad horror stories about people buying XKE’s that looked solid in the photos on ebay and ended up to be rotten through and through – or suffering major mechanical issues. I came away with the following truism –
“If the car looks a little rough in ebay pictures it is usually many times worse in reality”
So, the only thing you can really do is travel and have a look at the car yourself – brining along tools, magnets, mirrors and a flashlight so you can really go over it in detail. A flight, rental car and hotel might cost a $1000 – but a basket case car could cost you a lot more than that in extra work – and I figured a bad XKE could cost me ten to thirty times that much in unexpected restoration costs. The other thing is to look hard at when you visit is the paper work. You can ask to see the clean title (in the name and state of the seller) and history of ownership. I heard some very interesting stories from sellers as to why they had cars that were not in their names, or were registered in other states, or lacked any paperwork. Scared – yes I was!
I found that cars on the Dupont Registry and Hemmings tended to be nice, but quite expensive typically. Autotrader and Cars.Com had the occasional deal – but these went pretty fast. Craigslist sometimes seemed to have some amazing ‘barn find’ cars – but these also were snapped up fast or had some issue in the end. I also found that there were seldom any real super-bargains on ebay. The cars that I really felt were solid and undisturbed in terms of modifications, engine switches etc. pretty much went at market price. On top of that there is the cost of shipment to add to the auction price. So, I always was torn – is this car a good enough deal to put up the cash for a quick flight? The best thing you can do is make e-mail contact with the seller and then organize a phone conversation first. You can tell a lot on the phone that might not come across in an e-mail. There were some cars I just got a bad vibes about and passed based upon surly or evasive sellers.
Online resources really broaden the scope of the search – but it also can be frustrating. Still, the hunt is part of the fun. To relax after working in the evening I enjoyed firing up the browser and seeing what new cars had come on the internet market. As it turns out though, the XKE I finally purchased was right in my backyard so to speak! It also happened to be a special car in some ways – and even more attractive to me once I learned its history. My XKE turned out to be a 1969 2+2 that had spent its entire life less than 15 miles from my home in sunny southern California.