The search for a Corvette can be a long and complex journey. The road to ‘vette ownership rarely seems to run straight, and although ‘vette owners generally like a few curves ( in all senses :-) ), perhaps in this instance the enjoyment breaks down a little.

This goes double if your goal is a slightly unusual ‘vette or, as in my case, you’re looking for a rare edition like the ZR-1.

There are basically three main sources to check when it comes to acquiring a car – dealers, private sales (through ads or enthusiast clubs) and auction houses – some of which specialise in Corvettes.

Dealers always mark up the vehicles they sell. This is their business of course so it’s inevitable, they buy low and sell high. Typically you will pay thousands more for the same vehicle when bought through a dealer. This doesn’t necessarily make it a bad choice – dealers offer more ‘peace of mind’ through warranties, after sales care, guarantees etc. They can also be useful in helping you track down specific vehicles through a wider net of contacts (though the internet cuts this benefit drastically these days).

The thing to remember with dealers is that they are neither perfect nor necessarily too scrupulous. Often you could get the same vehicle much cheaper privately. Sometimes they believe (or claim, whether they believe it or not) that cars are rare when not, just to try and hike the price on someone who hasn’t done their research properly. Remember, what it’s worth and what it’s worth on the forecourt of the dealer are two completely different numbers separated by a wide chasm of often fictional extras, salesperson’s rhetoric and a few hours of detailing and polishing.

Private sales are probably the largest volume of transactions on rarer cars, including Corvettes. Many owners are enthusiasts and take pride in selling their prized possessions on to others with similar interests – ‘looking for a good home’ is a phrase applied equally to pets and ‘vettes.

With the web, these owners now represent a globally accessible resource with buyers and sellers coming together from anywhere in the world. This brings problems too. It provides a virtual field day for fraudsters and scam artists on both ends of the deal.

Stories abound of cars bought unseen that were supposedly in ‘mint’ condition that upon delivery have mysteriously turned into piles of junk in transit, or failed to materialise at all. Photographs posted of cars don’t help – they can be downloaded from another site in seconds.

Three big warnings here.

If it sounds too good to be true – it is. That bears repeating. If it sounds too good to be true – it is. A vehicle listed significantly cheaper than market value is almost certainly a scam.

Always carfax any prospective purchase. Although this doesn’t provide any real guarantee from fraud, it does at least raise the confidence level and can show up any problems that may not be visible in pictures such as failed smog tests or insurance claims.

Thirdly, never ever buy sight unseen. If it means you have to pass on a car then pass. Either you or some trusted independent third party has to check the vehicle out. The sellers know this and understand your concerns; they probably had the same worries when they were originally buying. If they’re unhappy with that – pass – it’s almost certainly a sign there is something wrong.

Often if you ask on the various online discussion boards like the Corvette Forum or ZR1 Net, people living close to your purchase will be willing to look on your behalf or accompany you to provide a more experienced set of eyes. Be polite and make use of the generous nature of other owners – and thank them!

The third option when looking for a Corvette is through auctions. These seem to becoming increasingly promoted recently, with big tie-ins with certain ‘vette magazines. Undoubtedly there is a place for auctions in the Corvette world – especially with some of the rare older models hitting six figures – but I am always suspicious of auctions.

First they have a vested interest in pushing prices ever upwards and secondly, an auction at its heart is a competition and that has a tendancy to make people bid with their heart not their heads and often the decision taken in the heat of the moment is regretted later.

The fact that some Corvette auction houses have grown as large as they have is proof enough that they are making a lot of money out of their customers.

Personally, I don’t really have the money to pay the ‘mark up’ that comes with buying from a dealer or auction, so I will be mostly looking to buy privately. Plus, the majority of the ZR-1s seem to be sold by collectors/enthusiasts so that’s where my source is.

Whichever route you take, possibly you might check all of them, remember to arm yourself with as much information as possible. Check things with the forums, ask questions, get market values from places like the Kelly Blue Book. Information is invaluable, so find it.

And most of all enjoy yourself – you’re buying a Corvette after all!