1969 COPO Camaro | Photos by Bob Golfen
The rise and fall and rise again of blue-chip American muscle cars was the topic of a pair of seminars under the backdrop of Arizona classic-car auction week.
Rare and powerful muscle cars once again are hot commodities, according to the panels of classic-car experts, with the best low-production examples surging ahead in values during the past couple of years after taking a beating in the aftermath of the U.S. financial collapse of 2008.
“These are really the last of the great collectible America cars,” said Colin Comer, author and noted collector. “They are the supercharged Duesenbergs of our generation.”
The first seminar, “The Muscle Car Market – Today and Tomorrow” hosted by American Car Collector magazine and MidAmerica Motorworks at the Barrett-Jackson auction site, included the viewpoints of Comer, an ACC columnist and the author of Million Dollar Muscle Cars, who also delivered the keynote speech; B. Mitchell Carlson, ACC columnist and auction analyst; John L. Stein, ACC contributor and Corvette columnist; and Jim Pickering, ACC managing editor, who served as moderator.
The second seminar, entitled “Under the Hood of the Muscle Car Market” and sponsored by Hagerty Classic Car Insurance at the Penske Racing Museum, included Wayne Carini, veteran classic-car specialist and TV personality; Comer; Donnie Gould, president of Auctions America by RM; Ken Lingenfelter, owner of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering; Matt Stone, automotive writer and author; John Kraman, consignment director for Mecum Auctions; John Bemis, sales director for Russo and Steele auctions; and Dave Kinney, columnist and classic-car appraiser.
Prices for muscle cars were expected to be solid during the Arizona auctions, although the rising tide will not lift all boats, Comer noted. The cars with special provenance of limited production and performance, such as 1965 Shelby GT350s and 1969 Yenko Camaros, have been returning to their previous record values, but the more-common examples of Detroit muscle have remained flat.
The rising values only include those cars that have been verified as real and unaltered since leaving the factory. Comer noted. “The stuff that’s not pure, that’s not authenticated” will continue to struggle. Resto-mods and “tributes” to famous performance cars – not to mention outright fraudulent representations – will remain flat.
Still, the prospects this year are good, said Kinney. “I think 2014 is the year we could see a pretty strong turnaround.”
True car people are driving the market. The speculators are gone.”
— Wayne Carini
At both seminars, graphics were shown to illustrate the boost in prices for the best muscle cars since around 2011, drawn from the American Car Collector and Hagerty price guides. But they also showed those that have not recovered. One example mentioned was the 1970 Chevelle SS 454, which plummeted in worth after 2008 and has yet to come back.
The multi-million values of 1970-era Hemi ‘Cuda and Challenger convertibles will likely never return was a consensus among the panelists. That was an anomalous bubble pushed up by a group of investors who had cornered the market on the Plymouth and Dodge muscle cars, skewing their values until the inevitable burst, several of the experts remarked. Buyers still shy away from high prices for those cars.
“These were a couple of guys trading baseball cards,” Comer said.
Another Mopar product that has been languishing despite rarity and uniqueness is the Plymouth Superbird/Dodge Daytona, the NASCAR homologation specials with the soaring rear wings and oddly aerodynamic noses and scoops. Matt Stone pointed out that these were “an important part of muscle car history.”
“They have lots of wings and things, and they were built for just one thing: cheating on NASCAR ovals,” Stone said.
But the look is too controversial for many.
“I think the reason these cars don’t do better is because most guys have wives,” Comer said. “I know I would be sleeping out in the garage if I brought home one of these.
Some of the top muscle cars mentioned by the panelists that are coming back strong in the current market include:
- 1969 Yenko Camaro
- 1969 Camaro Z/28
- 1967 Corvette 427
- 1965 Mustang Shelby GT350
- 1970 Mustang Shelby GT350
- 1973 Pontiac Trans-AM 455 Super Duty
Some others picked by the panelists that are underpriced but could see resurgence in value are:
- 1968-70 American Motors AMX 390
- 1969 COPO Camaro
- 1966-68 Shelby GT350s
- 1957 Corvette “Airbox,” fuel injected with cold-air intake
- 1967-68 Yenko Camaros
- 1965 Buick Riviera GS
- 1969 Mustang Boss 429
- 1969 Shelby GT500
- 1969 Ford Talladega/Mercury Cyclone Spoiler
- 1965-66 Impala SS 396
Some other takeaways from the muscle-car seminars:
“True car people are driving the market,” Carini said. “The speculators are gone,”
“The survivor-car aspect is the most important part of the market,” Comer said. “If you have a nice original car, don’t do anything to it.”
“The cars that are moving the market today are the ones with histories that we know,” Bemis said.
“Anything with a connection with Smoky and the Bandit is hot, it’s smoking,” Stone said, referring to the Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams of the mid-to-late 1970s. “Good low-budget fun.”
And the comment that generated the most applause during the seminars: “If you’re buying a car purely for investment, you are doing the wrong thing,” Kinney said. “Buy it because you love it.”