Building a basic Detroit V-8 that can easily chirp the tires and add under-hood eye-candy is straightforward enough. It is also an appealing prospect for many. But once the quest for horsepower starts, the temptation to go a little further grows. You know: “While we’re at it, why not drop in a bigger, lighter…?”
The answer is that the swap may, even after a great investment of cash and effort, destroy the value of a car whose most powerful appeal is authenticity. The process of seeking more muscle can be self-energizing, an all-American addiction. Lest you fall for the siren call of “more is better,” consider the following tale, starkly told in auction results.
At its 2009 Scottsdale auction, Barrett-Jackson offered a freshly restored 1969 Camaro RS/SS Sport Coupe with the 300 hp 350-cid engine, VIN 124379N681661. Equipped with the M21 four-speed, 3.73 Positraction, J52 power front disc/rear drum brakes, air-conditioning and power steering, it was loaded with very desirable options. And it had great curb appeal, too, particularly when its rare color combination, Daytona Yellow with a black vinyl roof over a yellow houndstooth interior, is considered.
Its condition following the body-off restoration remained nearly impeccable. It sold for a strong $73,700, including the buyer’s commission. The car came back to Barrett-Jackson’s WestWorld sale two years later and did even better, selling at $82,500.
Then someone made major changes. When next seen, the 300hp small block under the hood had disappeared, replaced in 2014 by a GM crate motor – an L-88-style 427-cid big block.
“The classic L-88 updated for the 21st century” from GM cost $12,375. And no matter how slick the buyer handled the deal, the cost to replace the 350 V-8 ended well into five figures. The crate engine is rated at 480 hp, some 200 horses more at the flywheel than the original motor’s optimistic rating. It was a serious upgrade in horsepower, but authenticity suffered equally.
The Camaro returned to Barrett-Jackson in January of this year, still the same Daytona Yellow over yellow houndstooth. It was offered without reserve, as it had been in previous trips across the WestWorld auction block. Still looking good despite the years since its restoration, it had a sound position on the docket: mid-day on Friday.
It bombed: The selling price in 2016 was $47,300 including buyer’s commission.
Sure, ’69 Camaro values may not be where they were in 2011, but this was a loaded example with all the amenities and in a brilliant color scheme. Spending all that money and effort on the big-block crate motor was the only difference, and it cratered the car’s value.
According to the auction catalog’s description, there were less than 200 test miles on the new engine. And the seller didn’t even own it long enough to burn through the skinny rear Polyglas repro tires. All that effort and expense cut the sale price roughly in half, considering the engine swap’s cost. That’s a cautionary tale for anyone who considers modifying a desirable classic with non-original parts.