Like a hot-rod DeLorean trying to snag a bolt of lightning to power it through a time warp, today’s overall collector market seems to need something that can jolt values back to where they were five years ago.
We’ve been keeping a close eye on the markets for you, and with assistance from our friends over at NADAguides.com, we’ve chosen 10 popular vehicles to show the price trends on over the past five years. Additionally, we’ve approached some of the most esteemed experts in the collector-vehicle hobby for their opinions as well. Though many classic and muscle cars have taken a hit, experts say that cream-of-the-crop cars–those that are rare and pedigreed–continue to defy the recession that’s battering other markets, and setting record prices.
“I identify three types of collector cars,” explained Stefano Bimbi, the business school grad and muscle-car maven who bought the famous backwards-K Nickey brand a couple of years ago. “Overall, I think the market is about where it was five years ago, but what I call entry-level cars are down 25-30 percent since then; medium-level cars have also dropped but not as much, and high-level cars are selling for more than they ever did.”
However, Stefano was cautious with his comments. “The buyer has to realize that there’s just a literal handful of high-level cars around that survived unmolested and in like-new condition. They are Survivor® cars with all their original parts and without any restoration work. They aren’t just nice, they’re almost perfect.”
When we showed him our 10-car list, Stefano again stressed that generalizing about the five-year trend for all collector cars is a “Catch 22” in his mind. “I’ve always been real comfortable sticking with Chevys myself, because there’s more buyers for Chevys,” Stefano pointed out. “Sure, I sell other types of cars and I’ve even got a great Mopar Hemi here right now, but nobody will touch it because they’ve heard Hemis are off their highs.”
As a Chevy fan, Stefano personally likes the 1968-1970 Nova, but as a dealer he has reservations. “The Nova has always been a ‘me-too’ car and always followed behind the trend of other Chevys,” he said. “If the Camaro and Chevelle went up, the Nova went up, but never as high.” In other words, when a Nova rises, other Chevys go up even more. Stefano thinks that Novas are down a little right now. “Even something like a Fred Gibb Nova will bring the same money today as it did two or three years ago,” Stefano said.
Bimbi feels that 1955-1957 Chevys are down 25 to 30 percent overall and right in line with the general five-year trend. “The last Tri-Chevy we sold was a Power Pack 1957 and it went for 15 percent off its high,” Stefano said. “If you’re selling a black or red fuel-injected convertible you’re probably talking about prices level with five years ago, but it’s not the same for other combinations.”
In Stefano’s opinion, Mopars–like the 1968-1971 Plymouth Road Runner–took the biggest hit in value over the past five years. “They are off more than 30 percent from their high,” he says. “But the other side of this is that they went up the fastest in the first part of the decade.” Stefano thinks that the 1969-1971 Pontiac GTO Judge fits in the same category. Despite Mecum Auction’s recent $350,000 sale of a 1970 RA IV 370-hp convertible in Stefano’s hometown of St. Charles, Ill., he still insists that Judges, in general, are off 30 percent.
“I’m not really a good guy to ask about prices of finned Mopars (like a two-tone pink 1959 Dodge Coronet Royal Lancer hardtop we photographed),” Stefano admitted. “I just watched the ’57 Heaven Auction in Branson, Mo., on TV and I saw them set some records relative to specific cars of this type.”
As far as the 1968-1970 American Motors AMX, Stefano feels the two-seaters are off 25-30 percent like the market on the whole. “I just bought an AMX for one of my customers at an auction in Indianapolis,” he revealed. “The price was $26,000 and I thought the car was a stone-cold bargain.” As far as Bimbi is concerned, the two-seat 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbirds fit in the same category of being 25-30 percent off of their 2004-2005 market prices.
“Last year Fords held up well at the Barrett-Jackson auction,” Stefano noted when asked about trends in the 1969-1970 Mustang Mach 1 market niche. “But unless it’s a Shelby Cobra, a Mustang falls into that 25-30 percent range.” He estimated that a Mustang Mach 1 that brought $50,000 three years ago might bring $35,000 to $40,000 today.
Stefano had widely varying opinions on the last two cars we asked about. He felt that the 1970-1971 Dodge Challenger followed the general rule of Mopars being hit more than other brands over the last five years. On the other hand, he thought that while the average 1968-1970 Olds 4-4-2 is off 25-30 percent, the 1970-1971 Olds 4-4-2 ragtop with the W-30 engine and a four-speed transmission is a “top dog” and actually up over the five years more than a bit.
Bob Ashton, of Detroit, is a car show promoter who has seen more muscle machines come and go than the roller-skating car hops at Mel’s Diner. Don’t let the fact that Bob organized the first Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Ill., fool you into thinking he’s biased. He grew up in a Mopar family, and he knows more about Fords than Carroll Shelby forgot.
Regarding the 1968-1970 Nova, Bob asked, “What engine and what horsepower?” He feels that the “real deal” L78 Novas are very hot right now, particularly if they are un-restored, four-speed cars. “Outside of that, there’s really not too much Nova interest today,” he said. When we told him a German tuner told us Novas are hot in his country, Bob admitted, “I’ve been hearing the same thing from buyers all over Europe, and it may have to do with exchange rates.”
Bob couldn’t provide a whole lot of feedback on 1955-1957 Chevy five-year price trends. “But the 1968-1971 Plymouth Road Runner is my specialty,” he then volunteered. “Mopar interest in general–not mine though–has leveled off and is obviously lighter than it was five years ago.” However, he feels that interest in Hemis and 440 Six Packs (in particular) is still strong. “Mopar prices probably hit a bottom and started going up again,” Bob suggested. “Some are stronger than ever, especially prices for 440-6 cars.
“Not doing too bad at all,” is how Bob characterized the 1969-1971 Pontiac GTO Judge. Ashton feels the Judge hit stride a few years ago and is holding value since then. “Cars with the RA IV option are hot,” he says.
Bob’s view of the 1959 Dodge Coronet Royal Lancer hardtop–and other finned Mopars–contrasts with Stefano Bimbi’s view. “Surprisingly, the last few Mopar fin cars looked to me as if they brought considerably lower prices,” Bob noted. “They are down by 15 to 20 percent right now.” Bob thinks that there is suddenly very little interest in un-restored finned Mopars that aren’t Survivor® cars, even if they have rare parts left on them. And he feels that some fin cars at the ’57 Heaven museum auction brought “much less” than expected in bids.
Ashton also has a more positive view than Bimbi on the 1968-1970 American Motors AMX. “These two-seat cars are hot right now,” Bob stated with certainty. “AMCs in general are climbing in value, and the 390 AMX seems to be in a big up trend with AMC’s optional Big Bad colors being very popular and with the higher prices climbing well into the $60,000s.”
Bob refrained from giving an opinion about 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbirds, but when it came to Ford’s Mustang Mach 1, he was more comfortable offering market advice. “The big-engine cars and Shelbys have leveled off,” he felt. “It’s a good time to buy any 390- or 428-powered Mustang.”
The word “buy” is Bob’s advice on the 1970-1971 Dodge Challenger. He feels that the last-to-arrive pony car is poised at the point where it’s starting to go up again, after a major drop over the past three or four years. “Hemis are relatively cheap, too,” Ashton said. “The new retro Challenger is definitely rekindling interest in the 1970 to 1974 cars,” Bob added. “I do not know how that translates into a market-value effect, but I’d say prices are up just a bit lately.”
Like Bimbi, Ashton has a very positive view of the 1968-1970 Olds 4-4-2 market niche right now. “There’s a lot of interest in those cars right now and they are actually increasing in value from everything I’ve heard,” he said. “In particular, Olds 4-4-2 convertibles with the W-30 option and four-speed manual transmission are drawing interest from collectors who used to buy Chevelles and Camaros.”
While we didn’t get into specific cars with them, several other collector car experts gave us their views on trends that unfolded over the past five years. Colin Comer, author of The Complete Book of Shelby Automobiles and Million-Dollar Muscle Cars also runs Colin’s Classic Automobiles in Milwaukee, Wis., and was the first of four people who painted the trend lines with a wider brush.
“I believe muscle cars are the last true collectible American cars,” Colin said. “The muscle cars made incredible performance obtainable. They were dual-purpose cars, like European sports racing cars of the 1950s. A guy could drive his Pontiac GTO to work all week and then drive it to the drag strip on the weekend.”
Colin admitted, “The muscle market went crazy over the last five years and a lot of cars jumped in value when they shouldn’t have; however, I feel that rare, low-production, special muscle cars will always be in demand by collectors.”
Colin likes Survivor® muscle cars. “This is a trend I am happy to push along every chance I get,” he said. “These are the true treasures and it makes me very happy to see values rising and people finally appreciating these ‘time capsule’ cars. This is as close as we can get to going back and seeing how the cars really were; they weren’t Pebble Beach quality cars when they were built.”
Looking into future, Colin says, “I expect to see muscle cars remaining among the most desired collector cars, since they have wide appeal. If they didn’t, Detroit wouldn’t be bringing back the Challenger and Camaro. I get calls from teenagers up through people in their 70s wanting muscle cars.” He said that prices will go up as those turned-on teenagers hit their peak earning years.”
Auctioneer Dana Mecum, of Marengo, Ill., feels that muscle cars fit right in with the “great coach-built Classics of the 1930s and the great sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s” as a category of cars to collect. “Most automobiles are built for transportation,” Mecum believes. “But classics, sports cars, and muscle cars were purchased out of personal satisfaction and American muscle cars–although made for special use–were built and priced for the masses.”
Mecum’s recent sales of a Cobra and GTO Judge for record prices have been pointed to as proof that special muscle cars are still rising in value, despite the five-year trend. “Muscle cars are the baby of the collector market, and the line separating good ones from great ones keeps getting thinner,” he said.
The auctioneer suggested values are climbing because the cars appeal to young people. “I have kids in their mid-20s who like Chevelles, Camaros, and GTOs,” Mecum pointed out. “They have no interest in the cars from when they were kids. Muscle cars transcend several generations and have a long shelf life.”
Gene Taylor operates My Classics and Hot Rods in Mount Royal, N.J. Taylor is also in the construction business, but his collector car sales business grew after he got involved in the hobby. “It’s not that difficult to sell collector cars, even in today’s economy,” he said. “Cars are still selling better than houses.”
Taylor thinks collector car values were driven up like home prices. “People were getting money from banks for nothing, so they bought up everything.” Taylor says most of his buyers are collectors, rather than investors. “I do mostly 1950s cars–the heavy metal,” he said. “Here on the East Coast, muscle cars have been on a roller coaster, but the finned 1950s cars are still selling well.”
Right now, Taylor’s dream find is a 1953 Cadillac convertible. He feels it is one of those cars that has held up exceptionally well over the past five years. “Everyone wants them and you can’t get them,” he complained.
Troby’s Memory Lane in South Hackensack, N.J., is the classic automobile business run by Tony Averso and partner Tony Trabiano. Averso says the long, lustrous, luxury “land yachts” they sell are holding their own in a sagging economy. “As long as you have good cars, the market is still there.”
Averso just sold a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz to an 83-year-old woman who heard about him from another collector. “It’s probably the rarest car on the planet and she drives it every day,” he said. “Serious people who invest in classics are like the members of a club; if you cheat someone, word gets around.”
Troby’s cars stand out for their exceptional condition. “I try to bring cars back to what they were–even the colors,” Tony pointed out. “If a car is not correct, it’s not correct. Restoring a 1957 Cadillac Brougham is very expensive and time consuming. It will take one year of work and there are no parts available.”
At Troby’s, the cars of the 1950s have stayed hot over the past five years. “The 1940s have dropped off,” Averso admits. “But serious collectors are still buying Gatsby-era Cadillac V-12s and V-16s and putting them away. If GM keeps changing, these cars are going to be worth a fortune.”
Averso sees a continuing market for old cars, trucks and tractors, etc., in the future. “It’s like a candy store with all the choices,” he said. “Muscle cars are going to go up and down. I think Barrett-Jackson created a false level for the muscle cars. Your classic cars are always going to be there.”
Whether they viewed classics or muscle cars as the most solid part of the market, every expert we talked to steadfastly insisted that they could get better money today for a true Survivor® car than they could five years ago. At the same time, they all conceded that the broad collector-car market is down somewhat (estimates varied from 15 percent to 30 percent) over the same five-year period. In other words, when every category of collectible vehicle in every condition class is considered as a universe, the market is off from 2004-2005.
There was also general agreement, however, that even the broad market in the car hobby is doing better than other investments like stocks, bonds, money markets, savings accounts, and real estate. And how many of those investments will burn rubber on the 1-2 shift?
1969 Nova SS Yenko
Low Average High
2005: $60,000 $70,675 $91,950
2006: $60,000 $70,675 $96,550
2007: $60,000 $70,675 $96,550
2008: $69,300 $78,700 $114,700
2009: $57,400 $65,300 $94,200
1957 Chevy Bel Air 2-Door
Low Average High
2005: $14,550 $33,300 $43,700
2006: $16,000 $38,100 $49,900
2007: $21,600 $48,000 $68,200
2008: $28,400 $55,900 $79,100
2009: $26,000 $49,700 $65,500
1969 Plymouth Road Runner 440
Low Average High
2005: $13,850 $32,300 $60,200
2006: $17,900 $40,900 $84,900
2007: $20,600 $46,000 $98,100
2008: $19,200 $35,500 $71,800
2009: $19,100 $36,400 $64,800
1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
Low Average High
2005: $13,875 $24,500 $42,000
2006: $19,100 $35,225 $75,600
2007: $26,500 $48,850 $124,750
2008: $29,200 $51,800 $134,700
2009: $30,250 $53,750 $138,250
1959 Dodge Coronet Hardtop
Low Average High
2005: $5,575 $11,550 $18,700
2006: $6,275 $12,750 $21,400
2007: $7,225 $14,300 $24,700
2008: $7,725 $12,900 $21,600
2009: $7,825 $12,500 $18,100
1970 American Motors AMX
Low Average High
2005: $5,925 $12,825 $20,525
2006: $7,275 $16,300 $29,450
2007: $9,450 $21,200 $38,300
2008: $13,750 $29,700 $45,600
2009: $13,750 $29,725 $41,250
1957 Ford Thunderbird
Low Average High
2005: $22,775 $36,700 $64,000
2006: $24,000 $38,550 $67,250
2007: $21,825 $35,050 $61,150
2008: $26,400 $39,050 $72,800
2009: $26,280 $33,600 $62,160
1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Low Average High
2005: $9,600 $20,800 $35,600
2006: $11,900 $25,200 $44,800
2007: $13,700 $28,300 $51,800
2008: $19,500 $27,300 $45,000
2009: $22,440 $30,480 $42,480
1970 Dodge Challenger T/A 340
Low Average High
2005: $18,400 $33,600 $59,800
2006: $25,800 $46,300 $94,100
2007: $29,700 $52,000 $108,700
2008: $27,600 $40,100 $79,400
2009: $28,000 $38,900 $66,700
1970 Olds 4-4-2 Hardtop
Low Average High
2005: $8,175 $13,850 $22,900
2006: $10,300 $18,300 $31,500
2007: $10,825 $19,225 $34,650
2008: $11,900 $20,400 $37,400
2009: $11,850 $20,400 $36,900