While vintage trucks and SUVs continue their surging rush of popularity, along with a selection of Japanese performance cars from the 1980s and ’90s, prices of American cars from before the muscle car age have been mostly flat. In general, enthusiasts and collectors gravitate toward the cars they remember when they were young, and these days the contingent that look back fondly on ’50s and ’60s American cars is dwindling. Young buyers are showing a keener interest in performance-oriented cars, but not so when it comes to the average American transportation of the era. That’s why we were surprised to see that, according to the latest Hagerty Vehicle Rating data, there are six ’50s and ’60s classic American cars bucking that trend.
The full-size Firedome was a big success for DeSoto when it debuted in 1952, as it received a new 276-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 and finished the year as the most popular model in the lineup, with 45,830 examples sold across convertible, wagon, sedan, and coupe body styles. It would remain popular as the years passed, even as it was reclassified as an entry-level model for DeSoto. By 1955 the V-8 grew to 291 cu in and then 361 cu in for 1958, when it topped out at 295 hp. Things dried up, however, as Chrysler pondered killing off DeSoto entirely, which it eventually did in late 1960.
Despite the fact that values really haven’t moved in the last eight years, in the last 12 months we’ve added 70 percent more Firedomes to insurance policies. Pile on that the values for the cars we’ve added to those policies is up 62 percent, and this this primo slice of 1950s exuberance and scale is looking rosier than it has in quite a long time.
Although not nearly as eye-catching and flashy as the Buicks of the previous decade, the LeSabre’s tastefully styled ’60s look was nevertheless a hit. Even the distinctly deep sculpting on 1961 model’s side fenders, which survived after the erasure of chrome and fins, was gone by the following year. These cars were most certainly large and in charge in the Buick tradition, but the trusty LeSabre wasn’t a fortune to buy. As a result found many a good home.
In the last 12 years values have been flat for this generation of LeSabre, but in the last year demand has soared. Not only are insurance quotes up 15 percent, but we’ve added 17 percent more of these models to policies, and at a 21-percent higher value than a year ago, to boot. They remain cheap, too—a 1963 four-door sedan with a two-barrel 401 V-8 averages just $10,300 in #2 (excellent) condition.
Though short-lived, the second-generation Chieftain saw major changes in its three years of production. The debut 1955 model—with an all-new chassis and body—was the beneficiary of tons of new styling cues shared with Chevy and Buick models, and it was the first model to use Pontiac’s new 287-cu-in Strato-Streak overhead-valve V-8. Things got even more interesting in the next two years, as ’56 models got a 227-hp 316 V-8, and ’57 welcomed a 347-cu-in V-8 that was good for 317 hp in top form. It’s a stellar example of Pontiac embracing ’50s design cues and soon, under supervision from John DeLorean and Pete Estes, lowering the look, adding fins, and slapping on some good old-fashioned American power via displacement.
The main driver of the increase in the Chieftain’s HVR score is insurance quoting—up 17 percent in the last year. Prices are still flat, but all this sudden interest has us wondering how demand will affect the Chieftain market if the buzz continues.
Chrysler’s lower looks and fin frenzy in ’57 sent GM design teams into defense mode, and for 1959 Cadillac added a gargantuan set to the Eldorado, lending it an impressive scale not seen on other GM model lines. The 390-cubic-inch V-8 got a bump to 429 cu in in 1964, boasting 480 lb-ft of torque and an all-new Turbo-Hydramatic 400 automatic transmission. Styling was updated for 1965 to move away from the fabulous ’50s look. Most collectible are the ’59 Brougham models, of which Pininfarina built just 99.
Hagerty Price Guide values for this Eldorado are down five percent over the last two years, while demand in the last year has spiked upward. In that same period insurance quotes are up 20 percent, we’ve added 20 percent more Eldorados from this generation to policies, and the examples we’ve added are valued 10 percent higher.
The other Caddy on this train, the Series 62, adopted some of the Eldorado Brougham’s styling cues. Although shorter and not quite as flowing in its looks, the Series 62 had attractive presence. Mechanically it did not make huge strides, powered by a 325-hp, 390-cu-in V-8, which was a reliable workhorse (it got a new V-8 for 1963 with the same specs) until a brief run with a 429-cu-in V-8 making as much as 340 hp in ’64.
Values creeped up six percent in the last year, as 33 percent more examples have been added to policies at a value seven percent higher. While perhaps not as typically enormous and expressive as the larger Cadillacs, the Series 62 is nonetheless a memorable luxury American cruiser that spans the transition between ’50s and ’60s design.
Sold within the newly-minted Continental division of Lincoln, the Mark II was worthy of the adulation it received due to its striking low-roofline design and impeccable build quality. The car’s high level of exclusivity and luxury materials was a public blow across the bow of Cadillac, Packard, and the like. It was, to many, a breath of tasteful simplicity in design that stood out in the sea of fins and chrome. Alas, Continental fizzled out for 1958, and the low-volume Mark II remains a hard-to-come-by beauty to this day.
Values haven’t budged for years, and it’ll still cost an average of $42,400 for a #3-condition (good) hardtop coupe. Not only have clients added a stunning 113 percent more Mark IIs to policies in the last year, those cars are valued at an average of 25 percent higher over the same period. Perhaps not everyone has forgotten the car that once strived to be “the very finest expression of American automotive craftsmanship.”