Recession-Proof Muscle Cars


By Colin Comer
Last year’s Arizona auctions proved that we were indeed due for a well deserved and most predictable “adjustment” in many segments of the muscle car market. As such, 2007 brought us more headlines about the muscle car market “crash” than those of Britney Spears’s need for psychiatric care.

The last twelve months have been filled with intense scrutiny of the muscle market. Now that a full year has passed and we have another stack of results from this year’s Arizona auctions, it’s time to see how the sales match up to the headlines.

Before we get to Scottsdale, it bears mentioning that there are a few key auctions during the year for muscle cars leading up to the January extravaganza. While suspect and less desirable cars continued to return to the swamp from which they came, a good number of cars actually sold for very strong prices. However, the general consensus among dealers and active collectors was that January’s auction companies would have a hard time getting high-end inventory for Scottsdale, especially those looking for no-reserve consignments.

Sellers, fearing a bloodbath, were expected to hold on to their cars to sell privately or to just wait for the dust to settle. Buyers, already skittish after what happened in January 2007, reported to me time and time again that they were just going to “see what happens in January and then decide.” Not a good combination—light consignment of “good” cars and bidders sitting on their hands. Regarded as the auctions that set the stage for the coming year, the January auctions in Arizona had everybody on the edge of their seats.

There was indeed a noticeable decrease in what I consider to be highly desirable cars on offer this year. The one exception was Russo and Steele, whose choice to allow reserve prices clearly helped them stock their pond with cars that might have gone elsewhere.

The end result? Quite shocking, actually. I fully expected that given the scarcity of great cars and the faithful anticipating prices would take a dive, Scottsdale would be a dismal showing for muscle car prices. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I know I wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Let’s look at some of the cars considered to be barometers for the market.

Hemi Mopars must be close to bottom

Hemi Mopars, the poster children for the muscle car price boom and bust, may not have hit the bottom but they must be close. The exception to any discussion in the past year about cars that have held their value were Mopars (namely Hemi-powered) as they continued the “adjustment process.” Twelve months ago, I reported that decent Hemi ’Cuda hard tops had dropped from $275,000–$375,000 to $225,000–$275,000. I watched three 1970 cars sell—one at B-J for $269,000 and two at R&S for $280,000 and $242,000. Two other ’70 Hemi ’Cuda hard tops sold at B-J for $165,000 and $170,000, both automatic cars.

It wasn’t an increase, but it also wasn’t the bloodbath many expected. Most B-body Hemi cars seem to have leveled out in the $100,000–$125,000-range, down about 30% from their peak. I’ve seen quite a few sell at this new level, and buyers seem to appreciate this “value pricing.” Has the rapid adjustment drawn in buyers who just couldn’t justify the 2006 price but who see value in the new 2008 price? Only time will tell, but I would guess that in what is now a buyer’s market for Mopars, the newfound supply may slowly but surely dry up with new buyers.

Shelby prices surprisingly strong

Last year saw two 1965 Shelby GT350s sell, one at $269,000 and one at $358,000. This year, only B-J sold one—an early car in no more than driver condition and missing its original drivetrain. It made a shocking $462,000. R&S sold a concours-level ’66 GT350 for an astounding $220,000—as strong as any ’66 sale in the past two years.

As long as we are on Shelbys, a street 289 Cobra brought $583,000 at Gooding & Company. Compare that to a similar car at RM in January 2007 that made $550,000. RM hammered a 289 Competition car for over $1.7 million, versus their sale last year of a 427 S/C for just over $1.4 million. B-J sold two 427 street Cobras this year, one a decent 428 car fitted with a 427 and in driver condition at $660,000, and another with a truly frightening description in the Shelby Registry for $687,000. Just like European classics follow vintage Ferrari prices, many parallels can be drawn between Shelby prices and those of other domestic performance cars of the same era.

Corvettes price sound, beware bogus Camaros, GTOs

Solid-axle and mid-year Corvettes returned solid results as well, with many showing strong increases from 2007—like the 1969 L88 coupe at R&S that brought $412,000—a result that would not have been thought possible even twelve months ago.

Higher-production cars, such as GTOs, Camaros, and the like trod along, with good cars bringing about the same as they have for the past two or three years. No big headlines to be had here, except that I am continually amazed at the number of people fooled by bogus made-up cars that trade in this $40,000–$100,000-range. People, pay attention: Even though it may not be considered by some to be a ton of money, it is still not pocket change. Do your homework. Like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

One caveat I’d like to offer about scanning sales results on the Internet or reading auction reports: While some cars may appear too cheap or others too expensive, keep in mind all that glitters is not gold. Seeing a car in person and inspecting it as a potential purchaser would is different from what an auction company or even auction reporter will do. And pictures at 72 dpi or seeing a car under studio lighting on HD TV can be misleading. As somebody who attends a lot of auctions, I often wonder if they mistakenly replaced the car described in the catalog with a mere imposter.

Scottsdale 2008 showed us that real cars still have no problem finding real buyers, and often at new record numbers. I surmised in my 2007 Arizona summary that the market was cutting the fat, with 2007 holding long overdue refinement in the marketplace, rewarding the great cars and scolding the rest. After literally sitting in the middle of six auctions in the desert and watching car after car find new homes (or go home packing when the owner wanted too much), I have to say that 2008 will be more of the same.

To me it is a great occurrence. A return to real value and steady growth, versus a feeding frenzy with silly, unsustainable numbers, is what will solidify the market. Predictable, logical price increases will always drive out speculators and draw in end users. In twelve months we’ll take another look and see if my prediction rings true.


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