I'd say it was closer to midnight, than nine o'clock, when I received a text message from old mate James Ward.
It contained a few words, and a link to Peugeot 505 STI listed at Shannons auctions. This wasn't the first car, or even the first Peugeot that late-night Wardy had flicked through to me.
Speaking on his behalf, our chief publisher has a soft spot for chic metal. His mother owned a 505, and he's yet to catch a ride on the nostalgia train by owning one himself.
In fact, these sorts of points usually form the crux of our conversations. Cars we'd love to own, ought to own, and sometimes, maybe will own. That latter point is what split this conversation apart from the rest.
Not only did it look promising, but the price guide was palatable. From what I was able to gauge, this one sounded like it may eventuate.
"You know, it's five minutes away from the Sydney office," I replied.
"Go," was the response.
Buying a classic car can be a minefield. Dubious sellers, equally dubious cars, and even paying too much are common pitfalls.
The first step is to assess the seller. Regardless of whether you're buying privately, via a consignment agent, or through a new start-up auction house, be sure you can have the car inspected. Whether you do it yourself, or an expert does is irrelevant – just have it looked at by a quality set of eyes.
Some consignment sellers don't offer such a service, and expect you to transact unseen. Avoid arrangements like these.
In our case, the car was listed with Shannons, who are a leading enthusiast insurance provider and auction house. This instantly established rapport with myself, and managing editor Trent Nikolic, who'd all of a sudden become buyers agents for one Mr Ward.
Road-registered cars cataloged for auction at Shannons also undergo an independent inspection, as a sign of goodwill. They're quite detailed, and assess a car in all key attributes: engine, transmission, bodywork, underfloor, chassis, et cetera.
Upon inspecting the report, nothing appeared to be glaringly wrong with our potential buy. Other than a few minor oil weeps, a busted headlight, and faulty central locking system, the old Pug was in good nick.
Good nick for what is a very old, relatively well-loved French car.
A quick call was put into Shannons Auctions, to triple-check whether COVID-19 restrictions would prevent an inspection.
Given a second okay, Trent Nikolic and I headed over to Shannons' new facility in Artamon, Sydney. Upon arrival, we instantly ran into trouble.
A completely standard Nissan 'S14' 200SX, and beautiful, low-mileage Ford Sierra Cosworth, both caught our eyes. We'd come here for James, and not us, so we needed to stay away from anything vying for the dollars and cents in our piggy banks.
Back on course, the humble Peugeot appeared to present well. It had some service history too, which was a promising start. Another good tip is to actually spend the time reading, analysing, and understanding a car's provenance.
Firstly, by doing this, you can plan fiscally. Understanding exactly what's been done, and what's left to do, allows you to bid accurately, and potentially reduce short- to medium-term over capitalisation.
Secondly, you may also be able to understand how many possible owners it's had. Service centre locations changing, different handwriting, all clues as to a car's past.
Sometimes sellers will omit previous owner details, as they simply don't know. Simple detective work has the potential to uncover value in a car, so don't be afraid to spend as long as you need buried in paperwork.
A good skim of the body revealed the car had received some paint touch-ups over its life, which can be a cause for suspicion.
However, the important stuff remained untouched – factory seams, welds, and joins in the door jamb, radiator support and boot areas all consistent and original. Again, it doesn't take rocket science to understand a car's life.
Things like seams and joins will be consistent with mass production metal from the 1980s period onward, so take photos on your phone, and compare the left side to the right. If there are obvious differences, or a change in paint texture and finish, call in an expert to verify.
Damien Duigan, Shannons' auction specialist, joined us for a quick yarn. He'd enlightened us with a few facts about the car, as it's his job to get to know each car, the owner, and their stories.
He also informed us of how its auction format has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What was once a hot, bustling adrenaline-fueled auction floor, is no more, for now.
"We've had to move to an online-only, timed auction format given the situation we're in," explained Damien.
"We all thought auction values would remain steady, but instead, prices have skyrocketed. People are at home, and more willing to get involved in both buying and selling, which has been fantastic."
The timed auction process differs from a live, online auction.
What happens instead is lots are given seven days to run. If a potential buyer places a bid in the last minute of play, a two minute extension is granted. This process is continued until the auction finally times out, with the highest bid securing the sale.
With the car now inspected, and meeting the standard of "good, solid weekend driver", it's all up to Wardy to bring it home. The guide on the car is $3000-$5000, which makes it a relatively affordable entry into classic European motoring.
The auction is currently live, and we'll bring you a follow up – win or lose.
Wish him luck, everybody.
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