It may sound obvious, yet despite Australia’s affinity with the automobile and up until a few years ago, legendary auto industry, we have a relatively small market compared to European, British, Japanese, and American counterparts. There was not the same amount of wealth distributed throughout the country post-war as there was in the US, nor did we see the same unprecedented growth Japan saw in the 1970s and 1980s.
It’s often said our isolation is a great advantage and hindrance at the same time. Access to vehicles thanks to the sheer distance required to ship one here means costs escalate, especially when coupled with our comparatively tiny population and market. Then add in a protectionist government willing to tax anything foreign or deemed as luxurious, and the most desirable cars weren’t financially viable.
Another factor is we drive on the left meaning right hand drive vehicles are the only vehicles sold new. Unlike other countries which switched to driving on the other side of the road like Sweden in 1967 we steadfastly remained loyal to our sovereignty and refused to switch. Again, both an advantage and hindrance when considering classic cars as it provides easy ownership for many Japanese and British cars but making it more difficult to take in American muscle cars and a lot of European classics that never arrived here in the first place. Of course it also depends on your point of view on driving a left hand drive vehicle in a left hand traffic country.
So finding the exact vehicle you’re after is quite a challenge given how small the pool is. Restrict your search to simply classifieds and you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities.
The world is getting smaller however and some things are actually getting a little easier. Finding and purchasing cars overseas is still fraught with financial risk yet things are getting better all the time. There are of course more ways than ever to find the vehicle you want in Australia.
Classic Throttle Shop (Sydney)
Classic Throttle Shop is Sydney’s best known classic car dealer. With a standout showroom under the harbour bridge access arches, the cavernous space is the perfect place to house some of the most sought after cars in Australia. This is mostly all high end cars with Bugattis, Ferrari Enzos, Porsche GTs and 918 Spyders making their way through plus some super rare older stuff. They have started to show a bit more variety of late delving into JDM and Australian muscle cars as well.
Prices are usually at a premium though, some will make you scratch your head but the friendly team there source the absolute best of any car while preparing it to within an inch of its life, presented immaculately.
Dutton Garage (Melbourne)
Dutton Garage has been established in Melbourne for a few decades now with the Dutton family interests in automotive lifestyle dating back to 1911. The showroom in Melbourne is absolutely world class, and reportedly cost $30m AUD to construct. A real mix of classic, modern, and race cars reside at Dutton Garage and like Classic Throttle Shop they serve the top end of the market with beautifully presented cars and because of this they command high prices. If you want something rare, then Dutton should be your first stop.
Location: 41 Madden Grove, Richmond, Victoria 3121
Phone: (03) 9419 8080
Richmonds (South Australia)
Richmonds in South Australia operate arguably the best showroom and vehicle storage facility in the state able to accomodate 65 cars in the showroom and storage for 70. The showroom has that industrial feel with exposed brick, steel, and wooden flooring which is the perfect backdrop for classic cars. With a real mix of rare, classic, and prestige cars they generally trade at the top end of the market much like Sydney’s Classic Throttle Shop and Melbourne’s Dutton Garage.
Lorbek in Melbourne are well known for finding a real mix of cars from classics to modern with plenty of interesting cars at all kinds of price points in a massive showroom. Search past the Cayenne’s and big kilometre Mercs and you’ll find custom Porsche Spyders and Flat Nose 930 Turbos to modern exotic stuff and classic American muscle cars.
There are a lot of other smaller classic car dealers and used car dealers that sometimes hold stock of classic cars throughout the country such as Brooklands in Victoria, Collectible Classic Cars in South Australia. There are also smaller dealers specialising in particular niches who are worth a look.
Shannons is the most well known auction house in Australia and virtually dominates all classic car auction sales in Australia. It doesn’t mean they will always have a lot in every auction but it’s a good place to start if you’re looking for something interesting. Quite a few rare cars pop up as well as bikes plus plenty of memorabilia and paraphernalia. If you’re in Sydney or Melbourne you will have the opportunity to inspect the cars in person on dedicated days.
Grays Online is an online auction site that dabbles in everything from businesses for sale to wine and jewellery. They often have plenty of interesting cars for auction too—blink and you’ll miss it stuff like 930 Turbos and rare Australian muscle cars. The buyers premium varies according to price from 7% for cars $4,001 AUD and higher to 30% for cars less than $1,001 AUD.
New kids on the block Meccanista have taken the Bring a Trailer model to Australia with online auctions of cars in Australia. Almost identical to BAT and Collecting Cars in every way the big advantage is not having to deal with any overseas transfer challenges, import costs, and with the ability to see the vehicles in person. Being local also means better response times for customer care and transactions.
Collecting Cars has made a bit of a name for itself thanks to Chris Harris and the team’s podcast as well as the quality of cars which come through. Million dollar cars right down to project cars—but all are interesting. The photography is right up there and it’s all very professionally done. Recently Collecting Cars have been showing international listings with quite a few coming from Australia which means inspections and transfers will be a lot easier.
eBay is actually not the first place many Australians go to when looking for cars yet there is still a dedicated section for motor vehicles. There isn’t a huge amount of vehicles for sale in the classic range but like some other destinations which don’t have a lot of stock, a surprisingly rare car can pop up at any time.
Carsales is the biggest platform in Australia for buying and selling cars. That means there’s usually a lot of choice, including classic cars and should probably be your first stop when looking. Because of the amount of vehicles on Carsales, it’s a good barometer of what people are asking but as always, not necessarily what they sell for.
Before the internet, when the Trading Post was the way we “searched” for used cars, there was also Unique Cars, the (eventually) glossier, more elaborate classifieds that you would pour over pretending you had enough cash to buy that modified HSV VL Walkinshaw with 500hp. Today the magazine still pumps out editions with just as many cars for sale as before but supported by a website, so you can search old school or older school.
Australian Muscle Car Sales
Australian Muscle Car Sales is mainly a web based platform although they do have a showroom in Kingsgrove, NSW. They sell what’s advertised on the tin: Australian muscle cars, but also stock some US muscle as well.
The last decade has seen a massive upturn in demand for Australian muscle cars that has seemingly outstripped every other segment for growth. The often (unfairly) derided VN Group A’s previously sold for $50,000 AUD are now fetching at least double that.
Gumtree is an online community focused site with a surprising number of vehicles for sale. There is little or no overhead for listing your car and no fees involved unlike eBay. However, the rules (if there are indeed any) are not exactly well enforced and this means there can be a few suspect people, both buyers and sellers, perusing the classifieds. Sellers will get a lot of low-ball offers, people who don’t show up after organising times, and those who insist on messaging at inappropriate times. Expect sellers to be a little cautious if not prickly.
Car forums and clubs
Car forums will sometimes have cars for sale that won’t be seen anywhere else. The reason for this is owners would rather see their beloved car go to someone “in the community” that’s going to look after it as well as they have. The cars are usually well documented and there are plenty of other brand enthusiasts that can chime in and keep things real. But you’ll have to join the forum and engage politely if you see something come up.
Car meet ups and events
Cars and Coffee events might not draw as much enthusiasm or people as they once did but they are still worth attending if you’re after a particular car. Meeting people and chatting to them about their car (usually them telling you about their car which could go on for longer than anticipated) is a great way to hear about others who may be selling “off market”. It’s also a great way to see rare and classic cars in person.
Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. Car dealers will often have a social account you can follow and get notifications so you’ll be the first to know when a car is for sale, provided the dealer posts it of course. You can also follow a particular car and make through a hashtag such as #e30m3, and if one comes up in your area and you’re prepared to make an offer, send them a message.
So there you have it. There are certainly more places about and other ways to find the classic car you’re after (leaving a note on someone’s window for example), but the above resources are your best bets.