Esquire’s 1972 predictions for “Instant Classics” was right on the money
The carefree, prerecycling days of the 1970s provided curbside nirvana for a young garbage picker such as myself. On a weekly basis, any number of perfectly good things were available if you could manage to beat your nemesis, the garbage man. The primary focus of my foraging was always old car magazines. At a time of malaise in the auto industry, there was nothing exciting to read about in contemporary rags. So a good old Tom McCahill road test or vintage issue of Road & Track was garbage-pile gold.
[This article originally ran in Hagerty magazine, the exclusive publication of the Hagerty Drivers Club. For the full, in-the-flesh experience of our world-class magazine—as well other great benefits like roadside assistance and automotive discounts—join HDC today.]
It was the recovery of a February 1972 issue of Esquire, however, and an article I found inside, that set my 10-year-old self on a trajectory that put me where I am today. In the opening paragraph of “Instant Classics,” writer Dan Jedlicka stated that the previous year some articles had appeared suggesting that classic cars were a good hedge against inflation. “They recommended a Duesenberg Model J, a Stutz Speedster, a Mercer Race-about, and a Bugatti Royale, among others. As practical advice, this was pretty much of a joke…who can afford such cars?” The story went on to suggest a group of 16 contemporary classics that could be purchased in 1972 for as low as “several hundred dollars and sold for thousands in a few years.” Jedlicka continued: “You’ll never be able to buy anything like these cars new again, because of stringent federal auto emissions and safety laws. They [are] screamingly visual and mechanical statements of what an automobile should be but never will be again.”
All of that resonated with me, especially the idea that you didn’t have to be rich to be a car collector. It was also a revelation to learn that it was okay to break from “traditional” classics—cars the old guard viewed merely as used were collectible, too. And one passage in particular struck me enough to underline it: “Purchase them in original condition—no custom paint jobs, no hopped-up engines. Like any collector’s item they must be unaltered.”
I still have that magazine. When I pulled it off the shelf a few months ago, I knew I wanted to revisit it here. Jedlicka had made predictions for what those 16 cars would be worth by 1977, and I wanted to know if he was right.
Turns out there were plenty of winners. Right in my wheelhouse is the 1965 Shelby GT350, which Jedlicka said could be bought for $1600 in ’72 and would be worth $6000 in ’77.
According to my 1977 issue of the Shelby American Automobile Club’s Snakebite, he was spot on. Jedlicka also highlighted a 1959 Ferrari 250 “Tour de France,” one of which had just sold for $6900. He predicted it to be worth “upwards of $14,000” by 1977. An article from the April 1977 Ferrari Market Letter again proved him right; a good TdF was worth $15,000 to $25,000 at that time. Finally, Jedlicka picked the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing as a strong buy in 1972, for about $5000, and predicted a value of $20,000 by 1977. Again, he nailed it, as a sample of 1977 Hemmings Motor News magazines shows asking prices from $19,995 to $23,000. Of course, a quick scan of these cars in the Hagerty Price Guide today is seriously eye-opening.
Most of these picks used common sense, as the same set of core tenets—low production, high performance, good race history—are all common denominators for cars regardless of the era. Proof of this is in some of the “misses” from the article: 1963 Corvair Monza Spyders didn’t hit $5000 by 1977, as Jedlicka guessed they would. It took several decades, in fact. Same for the 1958 Thunderbird and the 1953 Studebaker Starlight coupe—both great, unique cars, but lacking the secret sauce that would have made them great investments.
Nearly five decades later, with recycling, the internet, and common sense keeping preteens from diving into garbage in search of old car magazines, what might spark this kind of forward thinking for future collectors? Could the underlying theme of this ancient Esquire piece guide them if updated with 10-year-old cars? More important, are there any cars today that are viewed as cool and attainable like these $1500 cars were in the late 1970s?
I think so. I hope the days of buying nontraditional, interesting “instant classics” that young people will never see the likes of again aren’t gone, because it’s still important for people to identify and go after cars that speak to them. Even if the car you’re interested in is a collectible “miss,” I believe what Jedlicka concluded with is as valid today as it was in 1972: “Investment profit aside, maybe you owe it to yourself to buy one just for the hell of it.”