Data Dive

How many are left?

by Tim Weadock
16 April 2021 2 min read
Image
Photo by Mecum

Have you ever spotted a car that used to be common and realized, in that moment, how uncommon it has become? Never mind the antiques—most of us don’t remember when Model Ts dotted city streets (although they certainly did at one point). Think, for a moment, about how many first-generation Ford Tauruses you’ve seen recently. That’s right, not very many.

Attrition is a fact of life for automobiles. Many are produced, few survive. But just how few? This isn’t merely an idle question. Most markets, from art to supermarket produce, have a clearly defined supply that helps determine what those things cost. Even if rarity doesn’t guarantee higher value, knowing how many of a certain model exists matters to collectors. However, for many classic cars, that number is elusive.

Generally speaking, about 15 percent of vehicles leave the market every year. Of those, most are newer than you’d expect—those between roughly 10 and 20 years old see the highest rates of attrition, according to data from IHS/Markit. Where they go is a bit of a mystery. Many get scrapped, to be sure, but bookkeeping at junkyards is unreliable, to say the least. Moreover, a vehicle that’s “gone” could very well be parked safely in someone’s garage. This is particularly true of collector cars.

We have several ways to track these missing-in-action classics, starting with our own insurance data. Many cars in private collections, museums, and the like won’t be registered, but they’ll often be insured. We can also see when misfortune befalls these cars via claims information. Failing that, we can comb auction transactions. A car that has sold in the last decade likely still exists, even if it appears neither in registration data or our book of business.

What this digging gives us is something of a floor—at least this many likely survive. How useful that figure is depends on the vehicle. For older mass-produced cars, that number can be unhelpful, partly because many of these vehicles lack unique serial numbers. (Cars sold since 1981 wear standardized VINs. Before that, manufacturers stamped codes as they saw fit; duplicates thus can appear across models and even brands.)

There are, however, cars we can track confidently. Take, for instance, the 1971 Plymouth Cuda. Production numbers were well known, and Cuda VINs, unlike many from the era, specify engines. Combing through registration, auction, and insurance data, we can see that more than 80 of the 118 Hemi Cuda coupes built for ’71 are still with us. Of those, we consider 65 of those to be active, meaning they’re registered, insured, and/or transacted recently. That’s a 55 percent survival rate, which is quite impressive for a vehicle built 50 years ago. For sobering comparison, consider that more than a quarter of the model-year 2000 vehicles on the road in 2018 have vanished in the last three years.

The Cuda example illustrates a broader, encouraging fact: Although most cars have an expiration date, enthusiasts can and do save the special ones. That’s why, for instance, more than 350,000 1965–1966 Ford Mustangs are still on the road, why the overall attrition rate for survivors from the 1960s is between just 1 and 2 percent, and why we estimate there to be some 31 million enthusiast vehicles in the United States.

So, the next time you come upon a once-familiar car you haven’t seen a while, consider giving it a home. That may be its best chance of winning the war of attrition.

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Comments

  • Sharing Chevys says:

    Very interesting. Folks have said to me at a Cruise-In, “Wow, this is so RARE.” Then I say about 1.5 million 1964 Chevrolet full-size cars were built, 10% were the Impala SS sport coupe like mine. I’d guess 2-3% remain, 3000-4000. To the folks who repeat the “rare” remark, I direct them to eBay Motors where there are typically 3 – 5 such cars listed any given day.

    Can Hagerty see the VINs of classic cars being exported? Especially to Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway?

  • John says:

    I have a classic Vette and a classic 72 Ford LTD. I get more attention with the Ford. I think because we are supposed to collect old Vettes, but not Ford LTDs. Almost all the Ford LTDs went to the junkyard; therefore, unlike the Vette, they are almost never seen.

  • Richard says:

    Interesting article on a popular model indeed! I own an original Olympic gold (similar color to the cuda featured) low miles 69 Z/28. Cruising the internet (and car shows) there are lots of “numbers matching” impostors! beware when shopping, save a classic if you can and keep the 60’s and 70’s alive! I’d love that cuda in my garage next to my camaro.

  • Thomas Leshinsky says:

    I have 1969 firebird overhead cam 6cly I never seen any at car shows but they can’t believe it’s 6cly when I open the hood

  • Tom Bolte says:

    I have a 1984 Trans Am barn find. Fantastic condition. Little work,now runs like new.

  • Scott Sinclair says:

    I have a 1928 Chevrolet National (woody) 30,000 miles third owner since 1960.

  • Daryl George Little says:

    I have a 68 montego mx convertible that has the original running gear. Has the “s” code 390, c6 console auto and 9″ rear end. I never see these cars at auction and not much available information on line. Does no one collect Mercury cars and specifically Montegos

  • BW says:

    I consider myself blessed. 1970 numbers matching HEMI Challenger, 1970 numbers matching Challenger T/A, and a 1970 numbers matching Olds 442 Pace Car convertible.

  • Jackson says:

    Halfway through the first paragraph I made a mental bet that you would mention the Taurus, and it paid off. I hardly ever see first-gens on the road. Meanwhile, the last generation of Baroque Crown Vics are a daily sighting, despite being inferior to the Taurus when new. I live in Florida, so we don’t get chassis rot, but I’ve seen Crown Vics with fist-sized rust holes at the edges of their vinyl tops tooling around town.

  • John says:

    I started in the old car hobby in 1990 with a 1967 Buick Riviera, parts were scarce then, it was a chore finding any parts for it in junkyards, then 25 years ago I bought my first 3rd gen Firebird, at the time the junk yards were littered with them, I could simply pick a junkyard and I could get parts for it. I was in heaven, if I needed a part, anything it did not matter what it was, I was sure I could find what I needed. 10 years later, they were getting pretty scarce in the junkyards, I would have to call around and ask if they had one, today I hardly see any 3rd gens. What was something where I could typically go on an average nice summer day and spot at least 2 or 3, has become a special thing when I see one every few weeks.
    As for my Riviera, I do not think I have seen another one on the road in 15 years, other than my sister’s who also owns a 67 Riv, but hers is a GS.

  • Jesse Schworm says:

    Is there any way to find out exactly how many of a particular model are left? I have an old 1970 Ford Thunderbird 4 door Landau that is definitely in the rare numbers now. Every one seems to think I added the suicide doors. lol. Not that it makes it worth more but most were not collector type cars so most were driven right to the graveyard. I would just be curious how many are left or at least registered drivable.

  • Robert Johnston says:

    I have a 1960 Belair, 2 dr. hardtop. Frame off, rotisserie repairs. I have installed a 383 stroker eng. & TH400 tranny. Any ideas on the rarity? I see a few Impalas but have only seen a couple Belairs.

    • Jeffery Amburgey says:

      I love Hagerty, but to think that the survival rate for the Hemi Cuda is 55 percent without the aid of shenanigans seems very unlikely to me personally. Like the “high” survival rate of the first gen Camaro RS SS, while all the more common cars just withered away. I think before some “left”, the rust free unwrecked bodies from more common cars may have “contributed” to the high survival rate. I hope and would love to be wrong, but I can’t get those numbers to jive in my head. I’m old enough to testify that I witnessed several of those run along with everything else cool, extremely hard. The 440s were faster in my memory, the Hemi if I remember right was harder to tune, albeit magnificent when it was running right.

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