Market Spotlight

Is this the last hurrah for muscle car values?

by Greg Ingold
17 September 2021 3 min read
Photo by Matt Tierney

Muscle cars have long been subject to booms and busts. They hit their first peak in 1970, when practically every American make from AMC to Oldsmobile offered a coupe with a rip snorting V-8. A few years later, amid the gas crunch, they couldn’t be given away. Collectors sparked buying frenzies in the ’90s and the 2000s that, ultimately, cycled into more dips and rebounds.

Yet none of that quite compares to this summer. Hagerty’s muscle car index has reached an all time high, and we’ve seen several top-tier cars attract spectacular seven-figure bids at auction.

The natural question is, How long can this last? Conventional wisdom would have you believe that another bust is only a matter of time, especially as the collectors who coveted these cars when they were new slowly leave the market. The actual answer, however, is more complicated.

Historic Highs

First, let’s define “all-time high.” Our Muscle Car Index tracks the biggest movers and shakers of the market segment, such as the 1970 Chevelle SS LS6, Mustang Boss 429, and of course the Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible. Just about all these major cars moved upward. The one that shone the brightest was the Hemi Cuda Convertible. A stellar example of a ’71 Hemi Cuda Convertible was offered by Mecum Auctions back in May, and it brought a reported high bid of $4.8 million. That’s the highest price we’ve ever seen offered on a muscle car. Others, like 1970 LS6 Chevelles have yet to see anywhere near their pre-2008 prices, but we are still seeing the highest prices in 10-years or more.

There is, of course, a big difference between these six and seven-figure muscle cars and, say, a 289 Mustang. Yet the trends are, for the most part, quite similar. The latest update to the Hagerty Price Guide includes double-digit percentage increases for the likes of small-block first-generation Camaro Super Sports (up 14 percent), '70–72 C-code (289cid/200-hp) '65–66 Mustangs (up 10 percent),

The last big push?

Let's address the elephant in the room: Baby Boomers. They were the kids for whom these car were originally built, and they have been the driving force behind every spike in muscle car values. So what happens as these collectors decide it's time to downsize their collection, or drivability becomes more of a concern? Will this be the last high water mark?

Our insurance quote data, which can be used as a barometer for interest, says no. The most expensive muscle cars naturally skew older—there are only so many 30 somethings who can afford a million-dollar Mopar—but for bread-and-butter vehicles, like '68–72 Chevelles and '67–69 Camaros, the majority of callers are Gen–Xers and millennials.

That's not to say focuses in collecting won't inevitably shift. Younger collectors dig muscle cars, but they also love 1980s German sedans and 1990s Japanese coupes. What happens when the people for whom muscle cars represent the red-hot center of their passion gradually age out of the market? Prewar cars may hold some of the answers we seek. If conventional wisdom held true, that later generations won't be interested in the cars of their fathers, then the prewar market must be rock bottom, right?

Actually, no. Ford Model As consistently rank among the top 10 vehicles Hagerty insures, right alongside the Ford Mustang. Meantime, top-tier prewar cars like Duesenbergs and blower Bentleys maintain a following and are desired centerpieces of serious collections.

Driving a muscle car is something every car enthusiast should experience at least once in their life. Nothing compares to the grunt of a large displacement V-8 with no driver aids to keep the tires from going up in smoke. Or the smells of unburned high octane fuel emanating from as set of dual tailpipes. For many of us—and not just the ones who remember watching the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show—muscle cars represent a golden age when manufacturers made cars the average enthusiast wanted and could actually afford.

That sentiment, ironically, is likely to keep muscle cars expensive for some time. Chances might be good that top-tier muscle cars may settle down at some point. Their highly volatile nature in the market has shown this has happened before. But staples like Camaros, Mustangs, and Chevelles have enough interest from younger buyers that it is safe to say they'll hold their ground, even as new segments like Japanese sports cars join the ranks of desirable collectibles. Just like the Model A, muscle cars will always be there for an enthusiast ready to make that leap to "collector."

Comments

  • Robert Ratliff says:

    I agree that prices are up, but I think the reasons are a little different. Last year I sold my 69 Chevelle SS L35 4spd car for $47k, I could have gotten $10k more this year. This year I sold my 77 Malibu for $13k, about $5k more than it was worth. I feel that the panic of the overall car shortage and people trapped mentality and physically due to the pandemic; has caused buyers to have that now or never attitude to buying. You see this in the housing market and buyers willing to pay $30-$50k over for a home and $10-15k over for a new vehicle. Two- three years from now this will all calm down. Just buy smart and get that Gap insurance.

  • Philip C. Campbell says:

    I watch a fair number of car shows and cruises outside the US and see quite a number of muscle cars being involved . What effect do you think that process will have on muscle car availability and pricing to the US collector car market ?

  • Brian Aust says:

    I can relate here as I’ve got two highly collectible BB Mercury Cougars and recently grown to love building a BMW collection from the 89s-90s(especially)

    I can’t get the driving enjoyment and confidence from a Cougar that I do from one of the BMWs. The comfort level, cornering, smoothness etc just aren’t there. But the muscle cars remain coveted and I can’t imagine selling. Nor can I imagine them becoming a bad “investment” as long as I have room in the garage. It’s a quandary, though, because I can only imagine driving coast-to-coast in one of the BMWs in the future. And there is only so much space, time/attention, and $$ to go around.

  • Dennis Greene says:

    If only I still had my ’69 383 Roadrunner…. 🙁

  • Steve Clinton says:

    “…the collectors who coveted these cars when they were new slowly leave the market.” In other words, they DIE! (and what happens to all those 60s and 70s cars?)

  • Reggie Horning says:

    Honestly other young enthusiasts (as pointed out in this article) are already filling the spots in the market left by Vietnam Era enthusiasts and buying these cars at healthy prices, so it will continue to flourish.

  • Brooks Laudin says:

    Simply put, this is what happens when trillions of dollars are dumped into the economy. All that money is looking for something to do and vintage cars have gathered their share of the action.

  • stuart slack says:

    We keep pounding the pavement to the ignoring! Got to leave my 4 gear soon cause of age but will still run one

  • Morris says:

    A ’70 Chevelle LS6 has always been cool and always will be, as will Hemi cars. For a while, they were “on sale”, but they are back to delivering rising values.

  • Michael Gretchen says:

    Sold mine long ago to cover an overdraft ATM transaction for $300

  • Michael Milam says:

    Anyone know the value of the 1964 Plymouth GTS (that was manufactured in Mexico with a 318cui) instead of the 340cui

  • PETE ENGEL says:

    It was an exciting era. The cars (and yes, they were mainly cars back then, not trucks) were exciting to see, hear, and yes, even smell! The visuals were good because stripes and graphics were just starting to come in to use. The noise from those high-displacement V8’s with their cams and headers, was unmistakable. And even the smells, from high octane gasoline, burning rubber, etc.
    As much as electric cars will eventually dominate the newer vehicle marketplace, they will never duplicate the entire sensory experience that Muscle Cars brought to the streets.

  • Terri Street says:

    I honestly don’t think this is the end of the market. A lot has to do with the economy and right now it’s in bad shape. If you have a classic car or truck my advice is to hang onto it. My husband and I both have 2 1955 Chevy’s. His is a 210 and mine is a 4 door belair beauville. They are both not going anywhere. Just be patient…..

  • Ron Baker says:

    I still love my ’68 AMX 390 4 speed and I was born during WWII

  • Tom Claridge says:

    Any of us that have had collector cars for any period go time have the old time I wish still had that _______________ blues! I have a really strong one I had perhaps the very most original and lowest mileage ’66 Ferrari 275GTB/C (that last letter “C” is critical) and alloy body cheater GT
    race car built by Ferrari for only a few race team customers and a couple “gentlemen” racers
    in 1966. They built 12 cars wide fenders, wide larger diameter wheels, only 3 carbs, dry sump,
    factory made catch cans, right hand drive only, big tank, long nose, big brakes, plexiglas win-dows side & rear, tiny bit bigger rear spoiler (among earliest cars with this) and any other tiny details like open drive shaft not enclosed etc etc & last but not least 275LM 335hp race eng- ine. Matching numbers no less! I discovered the car even existed in 1973 when my friend Pete (ATL builder) offered me the car (with torn down engine) as he needed money fast — $8500(!) cash only! To be sure $8500 was a lot of money then but today that car is believed to be OH! OMG! only worth around $26MILLION! I sold it sadly in 1978 for nearly $40,000 a fortune then as a new, most expensive model Mercedes 450SLC, was about $27,000. I put the money into a new Ponte Vedre, FL beach house priced at $55,000 then sold it for $150K
    4-5 years later & invested that in a Mercedes-Benz (a whole dealership this time!) that I
    operated for many years & sold to comfortably retire on in ‘Vegas! So you see there is alway the THE REST OF THE STORY! With good investments and a little luck you can sell and be glad you did! THC

  • Chris says:

    Keep an eye on the 4th generation Camaros and Firebirds – especially the SS, WS6, and Firehawk models. Motor Trend recently labeled these cars as “America’s First Modern Muscle Car”. https://www.motortrend.com/features/the-4th-gen-chevy-camaro-americas-first-modern-muscle-car/

  • David Barth says:

    In watching the televised auctions I am seeing a new kind of collector emerging. Actually, these people are professional collectors who happen to be buying cars now. There are a whole lot of Benjamins chasing a limited number of vehicles. These new buyers are driven by different motives and prices are badges of success. “Look at me in my $200,000 Motormobile XL Zoomer!” Only time will tell what effect this practice will have. No one REALLY knows what goes on in a collector”s mind. Are these new buyers collectors? Or are they simply acquiring another “daily driver” to add to a “stable of vehicles?” In 1963 Chevrolet introduced the Sting Ray Coupe, and 58 model years later “I AM A COLLECTOR!” And, we come in all sizes, shapes, and other categories too many to name. Car collecting could possibly be the “Last Frontier.” There are no rules and anybody can get in the club.

  • RR says:

    The facts speak for themselves, conventional wisdom says we should have seen a drop off in Tri-Chevies, yet they are pretty much still a hot ticket. The fact that the market accepts all-comers should influence any nay-sayer. i.e. reproduction 32’s, 33’s, the ever popular kit car Cobra. A 32 with modern or traditional power, still hot, and as the market stabilizes the Chevelles and GTOs, we see the 4 doors, flat tops, and others (wagons) being the new hot ticket. Long live rodding!

  • Charles B Lutz says:

    I have a 2007 Mustang GT, 5 speed, with cams, long tube headers and flow thru exhaust and what sets it apart from my 2016 Taurus SHO twin turbo is the visceral feel of driving the Mustang, the SHO may be quicker but nothing will replace the physical & emotional experience of driving the Mustang. There will always be a place for muscle cars in my garage.

  • John Presson says:

    Well….fortunately…Wednesday Sept. 22nd…..I will celebrate 52 years of ownership…my 1969 Dodge Charger 440 R/T…purchasing the car new…course my dad had to sign for me on this very exiting day. The R/T now fully restored to it’s original Bronze Metalic finish with a pearl white vinyl top. I put the first 157,000 hard drag racing miles…parked for 23 years…now smiling brighter than ever…boasting only 3,000 miles. It is totally a NEW 1969 again!!!

  • Charles Pincombe says:

    Like you said, driving a muscle car is an experience that everyone should experience. Now add the whole restomod scene and you have the coolest cars ever designed with today’s performance (to a degree). Handling and horsepower is definitely an intoxicant. So these things don’t come cheap and they aren’t making anymore except some of the reproduction bodies which will cost almost if not more to get a completed car. The people buying these cars for big dollars have money but maybe not the skill or patience to build a car so they pay for them. I have considered selling my 68 Camaro convertible restomod and then I think about the 5 years overall to get it where I want and shake it out. Hard to put a price on that.

  • MATTMERICA says:

    Here are some reasons/answers to what the article ASKS but doesn’t actually provide: why are values so high? Simple supply and demand economics aside, the reasons include:
    1. Covid money (both people who received business OWNER covid money but didn’t need it – you know who you are) – and those who saved a handsome sum because they couldn’t do anything for a year and have pent up savings yearning to be free. There is no judgment here on folks who got covid cash and didn’t need it – if you “qualified” for it and didn’t take it, you are a fool, because we will all be paying it back at some point
    2 – The stock market – in case you haven’t been paying attention, the free money (0% effective interest rates since 2008) have inflated the stock market to ungodly heights – and when you have literally an excess of savings, what are you going to do with it? Pull some major cash out of the market and buy a toy and your investment is still up 275% in just a decade
    3 – The Solo Collector – prices are not being driven up radically because Joe Blow needs to buy that last Charger to make his mopar collection complete; prices are being driven up astronomically b/c Joe Blow is NOT a collector of a dozen automobiles, and he may not even have a quality daily driver, but what he does have is a pile of cash and a burning desire to own the ONE vehicle that he lusted over since he was 9 years old, and he is going to buy it and the wife can park her vehicle in the driveway, the new whip gets the garage.
    4 – Do not underestimate the devaluation of the dollar. Our money is not worth much right now, and a good place to park it (intentional) is in an asset that would appear to have a good potential upside, limited or no competition, and is fun to hang out with.
    5 – Irrational EV Impulse – yes, some idiots in some states are trying to ban or abolish ICE vehicles and ICE vehicle sales, so being grandfathered in seems like a smart move now. This definitely pushes cost up due to the perception of limited horizon and or being “grandfathered-in”, but really, look at the horse. The auto displaced the horse, but you can still buy horses and you can still buy horse feed….
    6 – Right Place, Right Time – Have you actually looked at some of these automobiles?!? They are in better shape now than when they were new. The hot rod/collector car INDUSTRY has been growing at a good pace for years, and a confluence of events just happens to make it sky high right now.
    7 – Technology – don’t underestimate how much people want to disconnect from today’s digital age, and are willing to pay for it. Tech runs another angle as well in that you don’t have to go to a dealership and pay $130/hour for a tech and three computers to “fix” your car, you can do a lot of the work on these vehicles yourself and the parts are cheap

  • LamaDogg says:

    Like many things, the muscle car market is largely impacted by fundamental financial and socio-economic market swings. It’s no coincidence the Hagerty Price Guide Muscle Car Index chart reflects the financial meltdown of 2008-09 and the following 3-4 year recovery. Also, the cars mentioned (Chevelle LS6, Boss 429, Hemi ‘anything’) are more ‘value-insulated’ – just like the ’62-’64 Ferrari GTO, 300SL Gullwing, and Lambo Miura. They will always be in demand and covet top-dollar. For most, it’s availability of disposable budget dollars. Another area likely to cause market impact is the ‘inheritance car’ that is passed onto a family member. If little interest in owning long-term, many of these could impact the market and lower prices. Also, development of the ‘retro-mod’ market that combines modern drive train with old-school body may make your ’69 350 c.i. SS Camaro less attractive to new buyers.

  • Russ says:

    I still love my 69 Roadunner

  • Paul John says:

    Watch the music if that era. When the Beatles and Motown wane, so will the muscle.

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