Hot Rod Hot Deals

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by Bruce Caldwell  More from Author

Best Buys in Used Street Rods

Economic fluctuations are full of opportunities. One person’s bad news can be another person’s good news. That’s certainly the situation for people seeking great deals on used street rods. Cash talks, and it often rides home in a neat street rod.

A street rod is a fun item, not a necessity, so when times get tough, toys have to go before the family car or house payments. Even the most financially stable hot rodders often sell their rides in order to start a new project. More people need to sell their cars, so that affects prices for everyone.

Like all commodities, supply and demand determine prices. Supplies are strong and demand is down, so now is a great time to find a great buy on a used street rod.

Best Deals

When prices drop, as they presently have, the best deals are on complete cars. The price difference between a project car and a finished car is usually less than what it would cost to complete the project car. This is often the case in even in boom times, but it’s especially true in slow economic times.

The best car to buy is always the one you want. Street rods aren’t like transportation cars. You can’t compare similar cars at new car sites and come up with the best mid-size sedan for your family. Street rods are much more about emotions, so if a Hudson Terraplane is the only car that will make you happy, that’s what you should buy.

Most people tend to change street rods periodically, so a best buy is also one that’s relatively easy to resell. That makes popularity a key component of your search. Popularity should be defined in terms of the car, model and style of construction. Everyone agrees that 1932 Fords are a street rod icon, but a roadster or coupe is far more popular than a Fordor sedan. Likewise, a traditionally styled highboy is more popular than a restored car.

The popularity factor extends to colors, wheels, and engines. In all of those areas, strive for good mid-level choices. One-off wheels or super high horsepower engines have poor return on investment ratings, but junky parts are also poor investments.

Project/Unfinished Cars

Even though turnkey cars currently represent the best buys, there are still cases where project or unfinished cars are good, too. The best unfinished cars are running, driving cars that lack cosmetics or interior work. These cars offer the fun of participating in street rod shows and cruise nights without the high cost of a perfect car. You can improve the car as time and resources allow.

The best deal on a project car is essentially a “1-800” or “kit car.” By that we mean a popular reproduction car such as a 1932 Ford where the seller has amassed most of the parts, but hasn’t assembled them. No expensive bodywork (finished paint is expensive, but primer isn’t) or chassis fabrication is necessary. The cost to buy these mostly new components should exceed the project car’s asking price. Just be sure that the components are the ones you’d choose if you started from scratch.

High Dollar Cars

There was a time during the auction frenzy era that high profile, magazine-cover type cars built by big-name street rod shops brought crazy six-figure prices. That phenomenon was short-lived. There are still very wealthy people building incredible cars, but the days of making a profit on those jewels are over.

A notch below the mega-buck cars are some very nice, total ground-up, everything-new street rods that owners spent far too much money on. These cars can be relative bargains if you hit the owner at the right time. Like luxury beach homes, the owners are initially reluctant to take a huge loss, but after long periods of no activity, sellers can be ripe for picking.

Keys to finding such a bargain are patience, tact, and cash. It pays to follow a prospective car and watch as its price slowly drops. It doesn’t hurt to show interest early on, but do so without low-balling or insulting the seller. Make any price observations about your limitations, not the car’s flaws. It takes time for these sellers to soften. When the price seems close to right, make a slightly lower bid and emphasize that it’s a cash-right-now offer. Don’t push or try to close the deal immediately. Be low key; give them your contact info; and wait for them to call you. It’s a calculated risk, but one that can yield a super car at a bargain price.


If you’ve watched recent live auction coverage, you’ve probably wanted to jump through the TV screen and make a bid on some of the incredibly low priced street rods. Prices have been amazingly low on some very nice cars. The common remark is that these cars are selling for far less than what it cost to build them.

Some cars may have been bought back by their owners (although that’s not supposed to happen), but even if this is the case, the low bids are setting a negative precedent.

Whether these bargain prices continue remains to be seen, but if you’re in the market for a premium street rod at a price point common to middling cars, consider attending a major automotive auction. This is especially true for the no-reserve auctions, but even at the reserve events sellers may be persuaded to drop their reserves.

No one can predict if prices have bottomed out, but they’re definitely lower than they have been for several years. The key factor is whether nice street rods are for sale at considerably less than their build costs. When that’s the case, it’s a buyer’s market.

The ubiquitous 1932 Ford highboy roadster is the iconic car of the whole street rod hobby, so it’s a car that’s always in demand. There are large numbers of them for sale at any given time, so competition is strong. That helps keep prices reasonable.

The deuce coupe is right behind the 1932 roadster in terms of popularity. Cars like this highboy coupe are easy to resell because of their popularity. Currently, turnkey deuce coupes can be found for about the cost of buying the parts. That makes them a super deal.

Project cars can be quite tempting, but buyers inevitably underestimate the time and money needed to complete such a car. This unfinished 1932 3-window could not be completed for the price of some turnkey examples. Note the odd wheels with the positive offset.

The unfinished 1932 3-window coupe obviously has power windows, but why is the driver’s door skin missing? Not all fiberglass bodies are equal in quality, so it pays to research which bodies have the best reputations.

Model A coupes are plentiful, affordable, and they make excellent first time street rods. This 1930/31 body looks promising sitting on a rolling chassis with shiny wire wheels, new tires, and a small-block Chevy engine.

The downside of the Model A coupe example is the huge amount of bodywork needed to make the badly dented and rusted shell right. Such a car could be a good deal if a rat rod is your goal.

Highly popular cars such as tri-five Chevys are excellent deals. Although prices may dip, the popularity of these cars remains strong. That gives them a good upside for future resale. Popular models and colors such as this red Bel Air 2-door post sedan provide added value at very little extra cost.

Less popular Fifties Chevys such as this 1950 Fleetline fastback sedan can be good deals if you don’t go overboard on restoring them. This solid, running, driving, six-cylinder-powered car was offered for about the cost of a very mediocre used car.

Three similar 1937/38 Chevy two-door sedans illustrate the opportunities and compromises available in the $29,000 to $37,000 (asking prices) range. All three cars were offered at the same Goodguys event. This chopped and flamed 1937 has Jag independent rear suspension and popular five-spoke mags for $30,000. If the wild flames suit a buyer, this represents an excellent value. The seller was open to trades, which could sweeten the deal.

The second Chevy sedan example was priced at $29,000. It has the most extensive body mods, but they’re somewhat dated. The graphics could be painted over, and original style headlights could be used instead of the current hidden lights.

The most expensive member of the bowtie trio is this 1937 “flat back” sedan with a $37,000 asking price. The unique body style is extremely rare and could be worth a premium to a buyer who appreciates this styling. The car has a new motor. The stock height roof, while far less costly than a chopped top, could actually be seen as plus for many potential buyers.

Expensive street rods can be tough to sell, which means they can eventually be relative bargains (compared to their construction costs). This meticulously detailed 1939 Ford coupe cost over six figures to build. The original asking reflected those costs, but time has worn down the seller to approximately half his original price. Timing (and ready cash) is key when it comes to scoring these deals.

Parking lots of big street rod shows and swap meets can be excellent shopping grounds. Many sellers either don’t want to pay the entry fees or don’t want to stick around all day.

This rare, all-steel 1934 Ford Vicky had an asking price of $50,000. That’s not a giveaway, but it’s very fair for such a desirable body style. Steel cars don’t have the cachet they once had, but purists prefer them. Removing the dated graphics would greatly improve the car’s looks.

Here is another all-steel, gennie 1933 Ford Tudor sedan with a vintage 331ci Hemi and a $38,000 asking price. It has air conditioning and an automatic transmission, yet it retains its vintage look. Cars like this can be good deals, because they enjoy the status of being original instead of a fiberglass clones.

Unfinished steel-bodied cars can be attractive deals if they’ve had a lot of expensive bodywork. High quality bodywork could equal the price of the car. That’s like getting the rest of the car for free. The caveat is that the workmanship has to be excellent (re-dos are very expensive) and it has to suit your tastes.

This 1928 Model A pickup sold quickly, because it was complete and inexpensive. Completeness is a big deal when you’re talking about sub-five-thousand-dollar cars. A clean title/registration is a valuable component of any old car or truck.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – unique or unusual cars can be excellent deals if their styling/color/drivetrain/etc. truly appeals to you. This Cadillac-powered 1931 Model A coupe was finished and ready to go with an asking price of $22,000. The problem is that the unique front fenders could be costly to return to a more traditional design.

Here is another slightly non-mainstream Model A hot rod with an asking price of $26,500. This channeled 1928 A roadster looks more traditional than the pink “A,” but the sealed doors are unorthodox. The big-block Chevy, nice rolling stock, and finished paint and interior could make this an attractive deal after a little price negotiating.

Rare models can be attractively priced if they’re rare in a not-too-popular sense of the word. With fewer potential customers, sellers of these vehicles need to be more flexible. This seldom-seen 1950 Ford Anglia panel had an asking price of $4,200 or best offer.

The epitome of an inflexible seller with an exaggerated sense of his car’s worth is marked by pretentious, permanently lettered window prices such as this offer to bless buyers by selling them his car. Thanks, but no thanks.


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