Whether you called the economic downturn in 2008 a crash or merely a leveling out or market correction, there was no denying that collector car prices plummeted. Those who had purchased cars the previous year or two prior, hoping to cash in on the booming hobby, got a reality check that hit them like a chair on the back of the head. Although prices were spiraling downward, people were still trying to sell cars – usually because they had to, and they were losing their proverbial arse in the process.
Since then, many conversations have a mutually agreed upon viewpoint that it was unavoidable and had to eventually happen. Regardless of your opinion or ideas about the hobby, nine years have passed, and a question that inevitably gets asked in automotive circles is, “Will the hobby ever get back to where it was?” There are a lot of people that would prefer it didn’t, as they feel that the casual enthusiast was priced out of the hobby. Maybe that’s just an opinion, or maybe reality is stronger than perception.
With a 402ci engine, Muncie four-speed transmission, power steering, disc brakes, bucket seats and console, and air conditioning, this Chevelle offers anything a musclecar fan could want, and sold for $36,000. That's a strong price for this car.
There has always been a small part of the hobby that included cars whose value was egregiously out of reach of the average enthusiast, but those cars do not constitute the majority of the market. These cars of pedigree have always been at the upper echelon of collectability, and that will never change. Let’s face it, they are limited in numbers, and represent the best of an era or genre. If these cars were simply mainstream, their value would not be in the stratosphere, nor would their presence at a show or in a museum be as awe inspiring.
Has The Hobby “Bounced Back”?
But, has the hobby recovered from the downturn of 2008, and will values ever return to those still steeped in our memories? I wanted to get some input from a professional in the market, and who better to give us some insight into collector car values than someone intimate with their sale? I reached out to John Kraman, the full-time consignment director for Mecum Auctions to get his thoughts and input. John started his career with Mecum in 2008, he is also a commentator and analyst for Mecum auctions’ television coverage. I asked John his thoughts on the status of the collector car market, and he had this to say, “When the economy took a downfall in 2008, we saw a roughly 30-percent decline in musclecar values. But by 2011 or 2012, we started to see a slow and steady increase of those values.”
Kraman had confirmed what I thought about the recent upswing in musclecar values, so it was with much anticipation that I waited to hear the results about Mecum’s Kissimmee, Florida, event in January 2017. This auction would focus on American musclecars, and I hoped for the hobby’s sake that sales numbers might even surpass Mecum’s record numbers from the previous year.
This Z28 received a frame-off restoration, has a correct DZ-suffix 302/290 horsepower engine and Muncie four-speed transmission, 12-bolt rear end, power steering and disc brakes, and sold for $52,000
According to a Mecum press release, “Of the nearly 2,700 vehicles to cross the auction block throughout the 10-day auction, a total of 1,981 vehicles were sold, accounting for a 75-percent sell-through rate. Musclecars and Corvettes from the ‘60s and ‘70s dominated the Mecum roster with healthy hammer prices from start to finish.” John added to that by saying, “The 2017 Kissimmee auction was the biggest to date.” As far as numbers go, it sounds like the musclecar market is making a solid comeback.
This Z11 Impala Lightweight is packing its original dual four-barrel-equipped 430 horse 409ci engine with cowl induction, four-speed and 4.11 Positraction rearend. tIt is the epitome of a collectible with its aluminum front end, sintered metallic drum brakes with screened front backing plates and black interior with tachometer, floor shifter, and radio/heater delete.
The car sold for $340,000, and represents the high end of the collector car world.
Keeping The Musclecar Booming
If you go to any car auction, it is not really a surprise to see that the American musclecar market is heavily populated by baby boomers – those 45-plus year old enthusiasts who have a willingness to spend their hard-earned money. This is the generation that has great memories of these cars when they were new, so it stands to reason that they want to relive those days they remember.
While baby boomers do still drive this market, we have seen surprising growth in the interest of post-musclecar era cars – the mid ‘70s and later vehicles. -John Kraman, Mecum Auctions
Even though the cars that reside in the upper echelon of the hobby – and ultimately museums – seem to be realizing a steady regaining of ground as far as values. The cars that have really seen a steady clambering of interest are – as Mecum refers to them – the recreation cars. John affirmed, “Right after the market collapse, it didn’t take long before we saw a proverbial second wind in buyer activity. While those buyers might not have been buying, let’s say a 1970 LS6 Chevelle, they were happy with buying a nice ’70 Chevelle that might not have been as rare as an LS6, but they could drive and enjoy it.”
What’s In Store
It sounds like the hobby is stable and strong for the present time, but what about the future? My crystal ball has a severe crack in it, so I can’t see into the future until it gets fixed, but how many of us remember when ‘40s and ‘50s post-war-era cars and street rods were the popular rides? Those cars have definitely seen a slow creep downward in popularity since the people interested in those vehicles are, let’s face it, aging. While those seasoned enthusiasts feel nostalgic about those ‘40s and ‘50s era cars, their children – baby boomers, have something else to feel nostalgic about – their natural love for the musclecar. That is because those are the cars that fill their memories. So, the baby boomers are helping keep the hobby thriving – for now, but what about in the future?
While baby boomers remember the musclecar era with great reverence, it only stands to reason that the children of baby boomers hold a fondness for the cars built during the years after the musclecar era. That means they will probably show an interest in the cars that they remember, those of the late ‘70s and even to some extent, the ‘80s. John has already started to notice a shift. He told us, “While baby boomers do still drive this market, we have seen surprising growth in the interest of post-musclecar era cars – the mid ‘70s and later vehicles. I see the market making a slow shift to post baby boomer buyers.” As this demographic-shift of buyers looms as baby boomers soon reach retirement age, the question still looms, is the hobby stable?
According to John Kraman, the late-'70s cars are gaining in popularity. Thie '79 Camaro was a steal at $4,750. It has a 350 cubic-inch engine, Turbo 350 automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and the original AM/FM radio.
If we are to speculate about how the collector-car market might change in the next two decades, we must look back at history. Remember, after “The Greatest Generation” returned from World War II, America’s prewar automobiles were what was available and hot-rodding began. These cars are what people knew, and what they gravitated towards. When these Americans became parents, the cars their children were exposed to on a regular basis were no longer fat fendered or carried large rear fins. The musclecar was king, and most enthusiasts collect classic cars for nostalgic reasons. While some children of the Greatest Generation did have feelings for the post war classics, the musclecar was on the majority everyone’s mind.
As time marched on and baby boomers started families, there wasn’t much in the way of muscle that was available to automotive buyers. The children of baby boomers remember cars like the IROC Camaro and Buick’s GNX, but performance had surely been forgotten. Let’s face it, the Chevette and Citation are not the type of vehicle that people fondly remember. If there were no “musclecars” built during that time, what will keep the hobby alive? Can the classic musclecars be at the forefront of a buying public’s interest forever? Only time will tell.
The Musclecar Of The Future
In the mid-2000s. The Camaro, Charger, Challenger, and Mustang are once again in vogue. It is widely accepted that the first “musclecar” era lasted eight years, and encompassed 1964 through 1972. I don’t think that there will ever be a consensus about an exact year the new “musclecar” wars started. Some will claim it was in 2006 with the release of the Dodge Charger, while others will say the Charger has too many doors and is not a musclecar. So, let’s just agree for the sake of this article, we’ll consider the beginning to be 2010 – the year the fifth-gen Camaro was released – as our starting point.
This was the first year that all of The Big Three had an offering that fits the criteria. That means that the current musclecar era is now seven years long. Most people will also agree that this time, manufacturing will continue long past the previous iteration’s eight years. But if that’s the case, will there ever be a rarity to any of the latest musclecars that will make them collectible? I would like to think so.
Will collectibilty of the latest generation Camaro ever match that of the first generation? Only time will tell.
As the baby boomers continue to “season”, much like the Greatest Generation, their numbers will slowly decline. We won’t see a generation of similar size as the baby boomers until the millennials hit their peak earning years in 10 to 15 years. If the musclecar is not to their liking, what will be their collectible? I have to question whether they will feel a sense of nostalgia towards the cars their grandfathers and great-grandfathers held dear, or if those cars will go the way of the Model T while the latest musclecars become their collectibles.
In closing, there was a time when a 1970 Chevelle Super Sport was just another used car, and I think that after the latest generation of musclecars get past that stage, like that Chevelle, interest will be renewed, and the hobby will survive. At least that’s how I see it with my cracked crystal ball.