The Wiley Report

Don't count out the muscle car

by John Wiley
17 February 2021 5 min read
Photo by Aaron McKenzie

Like all of us, John Wiley loves cars. Unlike most of us, he also loves math, which is why he’s senior data analyst for the Hagerty Valuation Team. He takes a statistics-minded look at the collector car world for Insider.

During the past several months, even as the collector car market has performed well overall, we have been uncertain about the state of the muscle car market. The perception is that muscle cars do best at live auctions, where their bold shapes can attract big crowds. For much of 2020, those events were canceled, postponed, or at a limited capacity. Even in 2021, one of the biggest displays of muscle, the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale January auction, was postponed until March.

Beyond the immediate concerns for this segment looms a demographic one: Muscle cars are inextricably linked with the Baby Boom, a generation of car collectors that is gradually passing the torch to Gen–Xers and millennials.

To get a sense of the health of this segment, both today and tomorrow, we have to do some heavy lifting to see what the data tell us.

Defining muscle

First, let’s define what a muscle car is. Certainly, modern muscle like the Dodge Challenger Hellcat are absolutely true to the ideals of the originals, but for the purposes of this report, we’ll focus on the model years of 1963 through 1973. And although we love high-powered sedans and station wagons as much as anyone, we’ll limit our discussion here to two-door models.

Even with all that filtering, we’re left with a large dataset: The Hagerty Price Guide lists more than 1400 muscle cars for those eleven model years. The makes in the set are American Motors, Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Pontiac, and Shelby. Models are limited to the 4-4-2, AMX, Barracuda, Camaro, Challenger, Charger, Chevelle, Comet Cyclone, Coronet, Cougar, Cuda, Cutlass, Cyclone, Dart, Duster, Fairlane, Firebird, Gran Torino, GS, Grand Prix, GT350, GT500, GTO, GTX, Impala, Javelin, LeMans, Monte Carlo, Mustang, Nova, Rebel, Riviera, Road Runner, Satellite, SC/Rambler, Skylark, T-37, Talladega, Tempest, Torino, Toronado, Valiant, and Wildcat. The average displacement is 366 cubic inches, and the average horsepower rating is 287.

Muscle cars haven’t experienced wild surges in value over the last decade as have other segments, such as German cars; Hagerty’s Muscle Car index presently sits just below where it was in 2008, on the eve of the Great Recession. Yet this segment remains one of the most popular in the collector car market. Policy quotes for the model years of the late 1960s through the early 1970s are consistently twice as numerous as model years from 1980 through the present. In terms of total sales, the 1963–1973 model years of the muscle car market are equivalent in dollar terms to the entire Porsche enthusiast vehicle market.

Hagerty’s Muscle Car index, which tracks average #2 condition values for several muscle cars, has been relatively stable over the last decade.

Speeding up, not slowing down

Currently, the average condition 2 value of the muscle cars is $57,000. That represents a decline compared to January 2019, but a small one—just 1.6 percent. This is similar to what we’ve seen in the rest of the market since the pandemic.

The fact that your GTO is worth pretty much the same as it was last year would be cold comfort if it took forever to sell, so we also want to know the speed with which muscle cars are selling. Typically, thanks to their popularity and relatively plentiful numbers, muscle cars are among the fastest selling collectible vehicles. Early in the pandemic, as in-person auctions were being cancelled left and right, it seemed these sales slowed considerably.

Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Despite all of the auction event changes since April 1, 2020, sales of muscle cars actually sped up compared to the prior two years. The number of muscle cars sold increased from 17,358 per year to a rate of 19,621 per year after April 1, an increase of 13 percent.

Note that other segments are accelerating even faster. For modern performance cars, defined here as coupes and convertibles built between 1985 and 2003, sales increased 31 percent over the same period. Credit their popularity on fast-growing online auctions platforms, as well as the ever-increasing clout of the younger buyers who prize these vehicles. Don’t take this, however, to mean modern classics are more popular: The sales rate for these vehicles, just over 9,000 per year since April 1, remains less than half that of muscle cars.

Key to all of this is the vastness of the private market. Previously, we’ve noted that something like seven cars sell privately for every one at auction. For muscle cars in 2020, the disparity was even more dramatic. The share of sales at live auction events nearly halved to 5.5 percent, and the share of online sales crept up to 1.3 percent. In contrast, modern performance cars sell relatively often online: 9 percent of all transactions public and private sales (based on insurance data) are conducted online. In other words, even as the auctions dried up, enthusiasts found ways to buy and sell even more muscle cars via dealers and peer-to-peer transactions.

Within the overall lift in sales, some makes and models saw more gains than others. American Motors lagged behind the pack, and Ford and MOPAR were a bit below average, but the GM brands saw above average increases led by Buick and Oldsmobile. Among popular models, the Mustang, Camaro, and GTO were a bit below average, while the Cuda, GT500, and Firebird were a bit ahead. The interactive data visualization below shows how the rate of sales has changed for many vehicles before and after the pandemic began. Brighter colors reflect a larger percentage change, while the bar’s length represents the number of vehicles. 

Forever young, forever loud

Longtime readers of Insider won’t be surprised to read that younger enthusiasts like vintage cars just as much as the people who were driving them when they were new. This holds particularly true for muscle cars, which consistently rank among the top vehicles Hagerty quotes insurance on for millennials and Gen–Xers.

However, there is some variation among the generations for the most popular makes. According to their share of insurance policy quotes, Gen–X likes Chevrolet more than the other generations, while Boomers like MOPARs more than most. Millennials match Boomers for the order of preferences but notably quote Shelbys the least—almost as infrequently as AMC. Of course, that says more about the cost of Shelbys (average condition 3 value $219,792 vs. $21,688 for AMC) than their desirability.  

Looking at the most popular models, based on the share of policy quotes, millennials quote Mustangs more often than Boomers. Gen–X likes Camaros along with Chevelles and Novas more than the other generations. Meanwhile, Boomers go to the GTO more often.

While the health of the muscle car market was questionable without the usual big live in-person auction events where they star, private market numbers, and a (slowly) growing online auction presence show the market has picked up since April of 2020. That increase in pace of sales doesn’t quite match more modern performance cars, but it remains a larger segment. Also, while some makes and models within the group lag, the market’s core is performing well.

Most important, the segment benefits from a broad base of enthusiasts of all ages. The fact that muscle cars don’t trade as frequently via online auctions as do modern classics says more about the focus of the most popular platforms than it does about the staying power of muscle car buyers. In any event, the many channels used for buying and selling muscle cars, and their broad appeal, show the segment is more than pulling its weight in the enthusiast vehicle market.

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Comments

  • Claude says:

    Yes, I own a 1986 Camaro Iroc Z28 350 small head LT1 Corvette motor motor rebuilt to 600 hp , in very mint condition and it was stored in a container in Allison on , for 27 years motor 5.7 litre rare car for that year and I always asked if it’s for sale guess to being a more modern muscle car guess we are getting a new generation enthusiast which is a good thing
    Frenchie note keep up with these stories makes for great reading I’m all excited now

  • Jim DeBoyace says:

    I have, what I believe a pretty rare car. It’s a 1989 Pontiac Gran Prix Turbo. Currently at 7,100 miles and been stored in my garage for several years. NO, it’s not currently running.

  • John Boschman says:

    I own a unrestored 1970 Chevelle SS LS6 454 in Daytona yellow, documented with only 51000 miles. I have known about this car since 1973. It took 22 years to have the owner finally sell it to me in 1995. I have driven it about 100 miles per year since I bought it. From the information that’s out there only 6 were finished in this Daytona Yellow paint, making it one of the rarest still in existence.

  • john weaver says:

    Not really wealthy enough to consider my play cars investments. I will just continue to drive and enjoy them. The kids can do with them as they see fit when I’m gone. Maybe if I do a FI conversion on the big block ‘72 Chevelle my daughter will keep it.

  • Scott Sinclair says:

    We have a 69 Camaro Pace Car with AC

  • Christopher Benis says:

    I have owned 8 Mercury Cougars (67-70), and currently own four. I am continually upgrading my collection. I believe the more pedestrian ones will start to lose value, so I want my cars to be at the higher end. Currently, I have a 1958 Xr7 GTE 428CJ-ram air and a 1970 Eliminator 4 speed. I am working on upgrading my 1969 Xr7 convertible to a higher end car. I am not in this to make money, but I don’t want a depreciating asset either.

  • Bob says:

    It would be interesting to see what the average selling price for “old” and “new” muscle cars is vs their original sticker prices were. I suspect some of the newer muscle cars are struggling to sell for their original MSRP. Not so, even in a more diminished old muscle car market. Leads me to believe that the oldr cars were probably somewhat underpriced and the newer ones over.

  • George Pehanick says:

    I own 40-50 classic cars. The majority being GTO’s but also some Mopars, MBZ, Porsche, Caddy etc. 2020 has been the hottest sales year I can remember. I sell most of my cars in a consignment showroom. Also exploring BaT. To me, the market seems red hot.

  • Ron DeArth says:

    This is great information! i am a boomer and I have been saying to my boomer friends that I Question how long it will be that muscle cars and other classic cars of the early 20’s to the late 70’s will be popular and be going downward in sales and price.

  • Dick says:

    I love it when options, like colors, are considered rare.
    I have a Orange 72 C10 with seat-belts and a three speed.
    One rare truck! Like the rare optional 3 speed in a mid-year Corvette.
    Nobody wanted it then and no one wants’ them now.
    The LS6 adds the value. Doubt many purchase the car for the color.

  • Lou Salvalaggio says:

    As a qualified baby boomer (circa 1952) and current very fortunate caretaker of a 1966 Shelby GT 350, a CSX continuation Cobra, 1966 Mustang GT FB, 1965 Mustang FB (in tropical turquoise no less)and a 1964 F100, I safely say that I have no interest in what the market will bare. What these cars give me in return the stock market cannot. Surely they will have residual value, but for me at least it matters not. I am going to continue to enjoy them for as long as the man upstairs permits. Great article. Thank You

  • Raymond Florida says:

    I’m a boomer with two of my most favorite muscle cars in the whole wide world. A 1967 Pontiac GTO red convertible very original and a 1965 GTO black convertible restomod. Both have given me years of joy driving and showing them off at local car shows. Increase in value doesn’t matter that much to me. It is the pure joy of experiencing the muscle car community.

  • Andrew Sommers says:

    Let me get this straight you include the Riviera and Toronado (built to compete with the Thunderbird which pushed 360 hp +475 Foot lbs. in 68) but you leave out the Galaxie? The Galaxie which could be had with a 406 then 427! Can’t wait until you do the 70’s when you’ll be flying down the road in your Pacer!!

  • Marc Hull says:

    I own 2 GM a bodies, one I consider a muscle car a 1970 buick GS 455 coupe and a 1968 Pontiac Lemans convertible 350 2 barrel powergluide not a muscle car. The buick is a running rusty car and the pontiac is a frame off resto that has a built 1969 428, aluminum heads roller motor QA coil overs, 12 bolt posi 355 gears, 4 wheel disc brakes, I found an enduro front bumper. It’s still a work in progress and it won’t be a clone, its a restomod with no guilt. The buick is staying indoors and will be restored. Both were purchased at low prices and that’s the only way I can be part of this very expensive dare I say it hobby, I’m in my late 50s. I’m doing a lot of the work and the coolest part is learning and sourcing parts, the buick is challenging!

  • Red Hamilton says:

    Everyone will have a different perspective but I believe that you should have started at 1960 or even earlier. The Super Duty Pontiacs and the 409 Chevys and the 401-425 HP Galaxies were all pretty potent and far above your averages for the group in cu in and HP.

  • Brian Aust says:

    OK I am somewhat offended that Mercury is listed as a brand but Cougars are not?

  • william phillips says:

    Have a few 60s muscle cars, but started collecting the later model ones, from a 14 Z28 to my Demon I really enjoy and try to drive them all. Couldn’t afford muscle in the late 70s when I could finally drive. Now I collect and enjoy power with a warranty.

  • John Wiley says:

    The Mercury Cougar was mistakenly omitted from the list of models, but it has since been corrected. Also, many model years and submodels of the Cougar appear in the interactive data visualization “Muscle Car Sales Speed.” Just check the Mercury button and see how they’ve performed.

  • Jeff Elson says:

    Can I get information selling Collector Cars in China….
    Thanks !

  • David Barth says:

    A discussion of muscle cars that omits the Corvette is lacking in credibility. Corvette was in production for 12 years before DeLoren snuck “muscle” past the censors. A wise man once told me “figures can’t lie but liars can figure.” Be very careful in what “figures” you place your trust.

    • John Wiley says:

      Neither the Corvette nor the Cobra is in our official set of muscle cars. The Corvette market could be a report unto itself. Also, the point of our Insider site is to show what’s happening in the market – rather than hide or mislead.

  • Kaz (Charley) Lojko says:

    Our Chevys, 56 Vet (with that years racing engine) and 70 Chevelle SS396 will always be our dream machines. Price is just a number but the joy of owning these cars is a dream come true. My wife named the Vet ‘Sandy” and the Chevelle “Danny”. I’m sure most owners feel like we do! Happy driving to all!

  • BW says:

    I tend to agree that the more obscure muscle cars will continue to be a good investment. That said, I own a ’70 Challenger T/A, a ’70 HEMI Challenger R/T, a ’65 GTO restomod convertible, and a 2017 Chevy SS Sedan. Enjoy all of them and love the interaction with fellow car people at the local shows.

  • eighthtry says:

    My experience, and let me emphasize experience versus expectation, is that a cost effective restoration and a wife that appreciates a muscle car hobby do not exist in the wild. I’m not sure the definition of investment. I do understand fun, which gets me, not the wife, past any profit expectations.

  • Bob Palma says:

    C’mon, guys; NO Studebakers? Super Larks, Super Hawks, Avantis, etc?

  • Ali Jalali says:

    Big block corvettes and all corvettes made between 1956 to 1973 have been very sought after. I don’t see this referenced this in the article.

  • Jake Bird says:

    I do not purchase the few classics I have to sit and stare at. I purchase them to drive and enjoy. That being said, they are not driven in bad conditions, and we take immaculate care of them. A 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 convertible and a 1972 Ford f100, frame-off restoration. Both have been gradually improved, post purchase, to become more confident and powerful drivers. Collections are great, but these cars, particularly those built for a fun driving experience (muscle), are meant to be driven, in my opinion. There are so many variables to consider when compiling an article like this about the market, including comfort level of buying online vs. in-person, the perceived value of the auction vs. private market, the motivation of buyers in different generations (that may be the trickiest to figure out), the threat of the “green police” as it relates to gas guzzling fun cars, like these, the fraud that occurs in all markets, and the list goes on. A tough article to write, could be a book, but by the time it was published, the market would have changed.

  • Frank Grier says:

    For what it’s worth, I suggest that you buy what you like and want and not think of your muscle car as an investment. And by all means, drive them.
    Muscle cars generally provide a visceral driving experience. That’s not for everybody, but if it’s for you there are few things in life that match getting behind the wheel of one of these powerful, loud and gruff automobiles.
    I’m fortunate to own a fully restored 65 Mustang 2+2, with a tweaked 289, a Borg Warner T-10, couple to a 9” rear with a limited slip 4:11. It’s laid out like we did them back in the 60’s and 70’s.
    When the day comes for me to sell it and l find that it hasn’t increased in value, so be it. The “gain” that I will have made will have been in its enjoyment factor. And that my fellow car guys in my humble opinion is the best investment of all.

  • dick rose says:

    hi Scott, Dad named “KENT”?

  • claude mainville says:

    Wow good reading above from replies, here is a good one , this past summer 2019 i had a great oppurtunity which i took advantage of, i purchased my second Classic car are you ready for this 3 blocks from my house i noticed an old car in a garage while riding my ATV AROUND TOWN, got so excited that i rang the door bell and inquire about it and to look at it . My god i found a 1961 Buick Electra 225 white in color and in very mint condition and all numbers match , lines are perfect , lots of chrome . this car came from California 30 years ago and was stored for 30 years never seen rain, salt or snow 400 pin head 2 speed transmission Wildcat fully loaded and all original never been touched immaculate old car very rare find got so excited that i bought it yippee turns heads while on the road everybody Honks the horns at me by the way 225 means the lenght of the car lol

  • Julius Bognar says:

    Great article…….! I had been a dedicated Corvette worshiper growing up and I actually saved enough CASH to buy a new ’62 for $3300 when I was still single, but Dad threatened to make me pay rent if I did!” So…no sale. After getting married and having kids (3 boys) the muscle car dream faded, until son no. 1 was 16 and itching for his first ride. With my “tried and true “financing formula” for teenagers (I’ll match you dollar for dollar, just so it’s safe to drive) he had a brief fling with a ’78 Plymouth Fury “police special” for $300….H.D. everything; engine, suspension, cooling, tires…etc. Sold it and then found an orig. owner ’70 442 conv He promptly spun a bearing (surprised?) and after a bottom end rebuild, severely damaged the front end (not his fault…another 16 yr old turned right in front of him). That kid was driving a chevy Love truck that was almost destroyed and he suffered injuries. Son no.1 walked away without a scratch……lesson learned! Those GM A Bodies could take punishment. After collecting the insurance, he (with my help) progressed (bought,drove then sold) a ’70 W-30 4sp, ’76 Cutlass “(swivel seats),’85 442 . Currently has an ’86 442 and is restoring a ’72 Cutlass wth a factory 455. Not to be undone, his younger brother started with an orig. owner ’70 442 , progressing to a Rally 350 and finally to the family “jewell….a ’70 442 Indy pace car we bought unrestored in ’86 for $5300 (code Y-74…one of 268 built) which I helped him restore in 2011.
    It’s not just a “show car” but our our family “fun car”. It’s not a “Trailer Queen”…..We drive it! The grandkids are already implroring us to never sell it. The death of my Corvette dream is not missed…..ther’s too many out there. I couldn’t afford that ’62 at today’s prices anyway!

    Converted Dad

    (

    9 to a ’72 Cutlass conv., ’70
    W-30 4sp,

    (4 boys)”late bloomer”Oldsmobile gear

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