Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson Auction Company
  • Driven by seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Sr.
  • First year for the black-and-silver Goodwrench paint scheme
  • Multiple race winner during the 1980s, including at Richmond, Darlington and Rockingham
  • Earnhardt drove this car to victory in the first Busch Series race at Daytona in 1986
  • Driven at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2005, 2006 and 2009

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1977 Chevrolet Nova NASCAR racer
Years Produced:1977
Number Produced:One
Original List Price:N/A
SCM Valuation:$209,000 (this car)
Tune Up Cost:$250 (estimated)
Chassis Number Location:N/A
Engine Number Location:N/A
Alternatives:Vintage Trans-Am and NASCAR race cars
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 652.1, sold for $209,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Palm Beach, FL, on April 13, 2019.

NASCAR race cars come to auction with some regularity and often sell in the $20,000 to $40,000 range. This particular battlewagon topped $200,000, which is extraordinary.

An “ordinary” car

NASCAR is more of a spec series now than it used to be, but even so, there was much commonality between cars even in the ’60s and ’70s. This includes pushrod V8 motors, live rear axles and 4-speed gearboxes. This makes ex-NASCAR race cars trading at typical prices an immensely good deal for track fun.

The downside to NASCAR racers as investments is that they are plentiful and offer nothing particularly extraordinary in design or construction. The physical and mechanical elements of this car alone don’t justify its high sale price.

History is everything

Like many NASCAR race cars, this one has had numerous lives. It started out as a Pontiac Ventura, then was rebodied as a Chevy Nova. This is where things get interesting. Being a Dale Earnhardt Sr. ride, it originally carried his famous blue-and-yellow Wrangler sponsorship livery, and then switched to Goodwrench after being reformed from a Pontiac into a Chevrolet. And historically, it carried this Goodwrench paint scheme during the first year of that long sponsorship.

Competing in multiple important events, this Ventura-turned-Nova scored a handful of wins, including at Daytona, Richmond, Darlington and Rockingham. And so, during its time, on certain Sundays, this car and Earnhardt were truly a blue-ribbon combo, building and ensuring the car’s future value.

This Nova eventually found its way into private hands, was obviously lovingly kept, and has competed in top vintage events including three times at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The new McQueen?

Even though he’s gone, the allure and attraction of Dale Earnhardt Sr’s name remains. It may even be stronger now, reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s enduring draw. Who wouldn’t want in on a piece of a legend?

Because every celebrity is different, there’s no reliable blanket method for determining the value associated with a name. But let’s use this Nova sale as a trial balloon in the collector-car world.

If certain “typical” NASCAR race cars sell for up to $40,000, this $209,000 sale represents a five-time premium based on the Earnhardt name, the sponsorship livery, and the car’s record on the national and even international stage.

How to separate the Earnhardt part from the rest is up for debate. Put another way, had this not been an Earnhardt car that had won races, had not been one of the first Goodwrench-liveried cars (after its stint as a Wrangler car), had not appeared at Goodwood or other prestigious events, and not been a proven vintage-racing weapon, it certainly wouldn’t have drawn $200k-plus.

So while the Earnhardt name is a big draw, the car’s provenance also contributes. A ready comparison, although for a “foreign job,” is the Steve McQueen 1963 Ferrari 250 GT/L Lusso that Christie’s sold in 2007 for $2.3 million. At that time, the correct price for Lussos was closer to $600,000. Although the McQueen Lusso and the Earnhardt Nova are like chalk and cheese, their commonality is their late celebrity drivers and the premium that empowers.

The McQueen scenario commanded a four-times premium of a very expensive vehicle, while the Earnhardt scenario netted a five-times increase. Don’t take those numbers to the bank, but a strong classic celebrity vehicle with no stories and an important track record is going to possess a value-multiplication factor of some sort. Stay on the lookout for such cars.

Right room, right day

This NASCAR Nova was sold in West Palm Beach, FL, just 25 miles from Palm Beach International Raceway — racing country. Had it sold in, say, the Pacific Northwest, where NASCAR is not so culturally grand, the result may have been different.

We can’t choose our parents any more than we can choose who will be in an auction room on a given day. But we can pick the auction venue, and in this case, the seller chose a great one. This is proven emphatically by the sale price this time, as the car sold at Bonhams’ Amelia Island sale as Lot 299 for only $53,000 five weeks prior (ACC# 6897368). The seller won big here.

So what’s the new owner to do with this Nova? Well, they can go to the track or vintage races and play Dale Earnhardt for a few days.

Thanks to organizations such as SVRA, vintage Trans-Am appears rock-steady. Will vintage NASCAR follow? If so, cars like this will be at the top of the heap instantly. And compared to an actual successful Trans-Am car, the best of which can trade for $1 million, the $209,000 spent for this Earnhardt Nova may someday seem like chump change.

A big sale — and totally justifiable.

(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)

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