Many mainstream classics are finally cooling off

The indefatigable VW Beetle posted gains in the most recent Hagerty Price Guide, but other components in our Affordable Car Index lost ground. Andy Wakeman

For much of the last 24 months, the collector car market has been on an upward charge. That’s been a boon for sellers, but the average buyer hasn’t much enjoyed watching once-attainable metal climb out of reach. At long last, that trend appears to be slowing down. Based on data from the past three months, we can still point to cars on the rise, but more than an isolated few have begun to taper off.

As any good mechanic knows, when your standard instruments aren’t giving you enough information, it’s time for deeper diagnostics. One of the key tools on our shelf are indices based on the the Hagerty Price Guide. In fact, we have seven such indices: Blue Chip, British, Ferrari, Muscle Car, Postwar German, 1950s American, and Affordable.

Each index is comprised of the movers and shakers within a specific segment. Viewing the data in this manner gives insight into the health and trajectory of a specific part of the market, much like stock market indices can help suss out trends in sectors of the economy. Indices are calculated an average of the #2 (Excellent) condition of the component vehicles and are updated quarterly, along with the price guide.

Across the board, the market is doing quite well. Of the seven indices we track, six experienced growth, with four achieving an all-time high rating. The remaining index, 1950s American Cars, remained flat.

Delving deeper into the data, though, we see that there are a number of mainstream cars that are pulling back, despite overarching gains in their respective segments. Let’s take a look:

Affordable Segment

Time to redefine “affordable”?

Hagerty’s Affordable Car Index has been the most consistent gainer of all indices. So much, so, in fact, that the term “affordable” may no longer be appropriate. Component cars like the Datsun 240Z and 1970 Camaro SS 350 were once very inexpensive cars and have since exploded in value.

These cars, however, did not drive this quarter’s overall increase. Rather, huge gains from the likes of the Volkswagen Beetle balanced out losses by cars like the ‘65 Mustang GT and the MGB. What does this tell us? Some cars are staying within reach—like the 1949 Buick Roadmaster Sedanette, or the 1972 Triumph TR6—while others are still climbing.

Playing “what if” here, had Beetles not posted such substantial gains, the Affordable Index could very well have seen its first loss since 2011. The takeaway here is that the lower echelons of the market may be softening. Caveat: It is unreasonable to expect these cars to take a big enough step back to erase the regret many of us feel at not buying a 240Z, Beetle, or a TR6 back when they were dirt cheap. But maybe some sanity is returning into the market for the collector of more ordinary means.

Middle of the market

Mixed results

Movement was a tad more subdued in the meat of the hobby. The British, Muscle Car and 50s American indices all increased by 1 percent or less. Unlike the top of the market (see below), component cars for these segments had very mixed results.

Indices like Muscle Cars and British still reached all-time highs, but the rate of increases is clearly slowing. Zooming in closer, we see that a few significant gainers made up for a number of small losses. With 1950s American cars, there was plenty of activity but the gains and losses of various models washed each other out completely.

1965 Pontiac GTO front

That’s not to say the middle of the market is declining. We’d call it leveling out or, in math-nerd speak, regressing to the mean. Many of the vehicles that have softened, like ’65 Pontiac GTOs and ’70 AAR Cudas, experienced incredible growth earlier in the year.

A caveat here is that the fall is typically a quiet time for buying and selling in this price range. Muscle car acolytes in particular, may have their sights set on the January sales in Kissimmee and Scottsdale.

Top of the market

Is the stock market’s loss the collector car market’s gain?

The top of the market is clearly influenced by activity coming out of Monterey. Our Blue Chip index, which measures the performance of the top end of the Price Guide, performed exceptionally well. Over half of the 25 component cars posted gains with four cars posting gains over 10 percent. Overall, the Blue Chip Index posted a 3 percent gain for the quarter, the biggest move in a year. More segment-specific upper-end market indices, like Ferrari and German, also posted a 3 percent increase. Like with Blue Chip, the Ferrari index saw over half the component vehicles gain value, while the German index experienced more focused increases at higher rates.

Ferrari 575M front
Broad Arrow Auctions

To some extent, these results echo the gangbusters sales at Monterey in August. Traditionally, we see a slowdown of the top of the market subsequent to Monterey, so it should come as no surprise if these indicators level off somewhat in the fourth quarter. Yet the top of the market’s strong showing in late summer—even as other segments were softening—could also be a sign that, with inflation high and the stock market underperforming, some high-net-worth individuals see million-dollar cars as a safe (and fun) port in the storm.

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    When you find that one that you just have to own, then the price is whatever you can afford w/o going into debt.

    Barry, Where does the ‘67 Mustang coupe stand in your all time list of cars? If it’s top of the list or very high, if it’s a solid car, if it’s a matching numbers 289 and you can afford the asking price, then buy it. Really doesn’t matter what it’s worth. What matters is what it’s worth to you.

    Well said. I own my dream car, a 1991 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo. The car is always for sale, for the price I would be willing to let it go for……which changes with the market obviously. If someone doesn’t want to pay close to my asking, I keep it and enjoy it another year.

    Warren, I also own a 1991 Nissan 300ZX twin turbo that is in beautiful condition. How did you come up with your price for selling?

    I agree 100%. I had a friend who located the exact car his late father drove in high school. He made the current owner “an offer they couldn’t refuse”. He won’t say how much he paid, but I’ve told him whatever he paid is worth every dime.

    I have a ’67 coupe, all numbers matching 289, along with a wall full of awards it’s won at (judged) car shows. Last April I asked Gateway Classics if I could get upper 30’s on it under consignment and they said yes. I wanted to trade up to a 1968 California Special. In the end, I didn’t put it up for sale. It’s the same deal as selling your house – you can get great money but then you have to buy something that costs more than what you just sold.

    Big money is n the fastbacks. Strangely, convertibles don’t command near the money of a fastback. A top of the line, restored coupe $15-20k. There’s just too many of them out there

    I’ve got 4sp fastback 289 very low mile inherited bought new by gfather…very ugly color. Does color play any roll in value

    There are still bargains out there, but usually you have to have the ready cash and act quickly. I recently purchased a ’97 Camaro z28 convertible in excellent condition with only 50,000 miles. Only 3,297 z28 convertibles were made in ’97 so they don’t come up for sale too often. When I do see one for sale, they usually have a ton of miles and are pretty cheap but low mileage examples bring decent money. The last one I saw with 70,000 miles the seller was asking $7,000 more than I paid for mine. Still, cars that were “bargains” as little as 10 or 15 years ago are bringing pretty good money these days, even less desirable models or vintage cars with “too many doors.” A few years back, I bought a beautiful 4-door ’64 Fairlane 500, auto with a C-Code 289, all original except for paint, with only 28,000 miles for $7,000. After a year, I sold it for $8,500 and the buyer was delighted to get it for what he thought was a great price. I’ll never own a nice ’66 GTO or a ’69 Torino GT with a big block as those cars are priced well beyond my means but I keep my eyes open for the bargains. They’re out there, you just have to have the cash and act quickly.

    Your indices need to be broadened and then segmented. For example, you are missing categories such as 1980’s-2000 Japanese. Luckily some of that is available elsewhere.

    Face it, folks: We, who appreciate many of these vehicles are aging, can’t crawl around to “play” (fix) with them, and would rather have some money in our retirement accounts. Our heirs don’t care about gas-guzzling dinosaurs – our gems will become old used cars.

    Agreed. Any gains at this point in classic muscle cars, 50’s American, and classic English affordable cars (MG, Triumph) are most likely a last gasp of Boomers buying these cars. As much as I love those machines my 30-something children – who are into cars – view them as crude, old cars that are surpassed by newer vehicles.

    My Son is 33, and he eagerly awaits the day my 74 Bronco Explorer is his along with my 05 Excursion Limited 4×4 V10 used to tow the Bronco.

    Sometimes I’d rather stick my head in the sand and ignore what is reality for my own sanity – which is how I’d like to treat @Tim’s statement, but he is 100% correct. The generation behind us simply aren’t collectors – gas guzzlers or otherwise. Interestingly, I watched “Antiques Roadshow revisited” – it went back to shows from 20yrs ago and compared the item value then to the value now. The number of price declines to price increases was at least 5-to-1. Don’t get me wrong, extraordinary things (e.g. Ferrari 275GTB, Ming China) will still appreciate (well), but I don’t foresee the next generation collecting a barn full of mustangs or buying farmland to store 100 chevys… that is history.

    Any car is interesting, and probably enjoyable when being driven. However—when parked in a nice setting, not being driven, then the exterior beauty of a beautiful car can be seen. I have three old British cars, and I like to see them just sitting there in my stone-walled coach-house, for instance. It’s nice to look down a louvred bonnet when you’re driving, but that’s just a small tiny view—there’s also the stance, the colours, the wire wheels, curves of the wings, artistry in the grille and so on, that I never tire of glimpsing. And when sitting still, there’s no possibility of a squeak or rattle. The view of a nice, traditionally-designed car is much more than half the appeal.

    I have a 64 Corvette and at 80 yrs young, I crawl around and work on it when it needs it. Old cars are easy to work on, you can actually open the hood and see every spark plug. You throw a Pertronics ignition modual in it and you never have to screw with points again. It is most likely inflation is robbing us of expendable money to throw at a fun car. Even if you think your too old to work on it, you can still look at it and feel good, kinda like a pretty woman. so don’t give.

    Thank you for that! Have been thinking along the same lines for a while now. Most Millennials do not care about old muscle cars, or cars in general. They will eventually sit in some one’s garage and gather dust and just waste away. Sad ending. I am in my 70s now and my old Chevy truck will go to my nephew. He is in his 50s and a real gear head. When that generation goes, so goes most of the 50s through 70s cars.

    Pretty much my rationale in selling my 67 Camaro. Fairly decent market and I tripled my money on the car after 16 years of ownership.

    Who would ever have thought the day would come when like my 48 Harley, and my 50 Ford 2 door custom deluxe, and now my 52 F-1 pickup, that we could ever get “Tired” of them just “Sitting” and put them up for sale. At 84 and many, many grand vehicles over my life span, I guess its part of the aging process that will come on us all. Just happy now to talk with friends about the good old days and enjoy retirement.

    How right you are! I just sold my ‘94 Torch Red Corvette because I can no longer get in and out of it. I’m 81 and have waited since I was 16 to own a Vette. Drove it for 7 years before age caught up with me but at least I have the memories and pictures.

    I’m “only” 65, but getting in and out of the Tiger is getting more uncomfortable. Time to sell it next spring… Power everything and AC in the ’88 TurboBird makes life so much easier!

    I bought a 96 corvette when I was 70 because I had always wanted a Corvette but never had the extra funds to buy one, I sold a very nice, low miles 2005 Nissan 350Z to buy the Corvette. Well, that was a mistake, the C4 wasn’t nothing but a money pit so after only six months I sold it to another old man to get it off my bucket list

    I always feel sad reading these articles comparing a beautiful car to a stock portfolio. People who buy cars just for the money have no soul.

    I’d never want a car too expensive to drive.

    You are so right! I’ve got tons of money in my 57 Chevy convertible and drive the heck out of it. Folks gasp when I tell them how I’ve spent. It was never about the money it’s all about the love of the car.

    That’s why the tires are round. Owning a nice car and not driving it is like being married to a beautiful woman and not sleeping with her.

    Maybe “your” tires are round, but one on my old truck is round only because of the jack stand behind it!

    Tony, I had a ’66 Corvette coupe; 327/350, perfectly restored but also matching numbers and never hit. I put under 500 miles on it in six years. Began to resent seeing it in my garage. Sold it in ’06. Lasted a few years then got an equally nice ’72 convertible with removeable hardtop. Drove it under 500 miles in another six years. Last year, at 70 years of age, I bought a ’22 C8 and to heck with it. I’m driving it a lot, having put 4,800 miles on it in 11 months. For me, it wasn’t about too expensive to drive; it was about fear of hurting such treasures. This one is new and insured. I’m going for it!

    I own a 1969 corvette coupe with less than 70k original miles. All matching numbers right down to the belts and hoses. Cosmetic restoration only. A buddy of mine had it for 30 years b4 me. I guess it’s only worth whatever a serious collector would be willing to buy it for. It’s just a basic 350/ 300 with lots of factory options including side mounted exhaust. I’m 68 years old and enjoying the heck out of once or twice a month at local shows and meets. Maybe I’ll hang on to for my grandson. He’s only 3 now, but loves his grandpa’s vette.

    Long live the rumble of a gas guzzling big block 426 Hemi….. take one any day over an electric wiener mobile or smart car for two……🤮

    And yet the Weiner mobile will fly by your hemi like it’s standing still. I love my old muscle cars, but the fastest car I’ve ever driven was electric.

    I attribute a lot of the values going up and down to the time of year they sell, it does affect values substantially. People are fickle and are constantly pushed here and there by articles, other peoples opinions, and the huge auctions around the country that are attended by people with big money and care less if they loose $100K on a car, they just want the car and no one else is going to buy it. Statistics are one thing, real time, real people purchases are more indicative of values of classic cars then the big auctions are. we middle income people usually can’t afford a restored #1 condition vehicle, we leave those to people that have the money to blow and loose. We seem to enjoy our cars more !

    Vintage car mystique is a flame fueled into a full-blown conflagration by “fads”. And, fads fade–sooner or later. I especially am looking at the rise in pricing for the vintage VW T-2s (buses, etc.). I fully expect to see this market decline in price–it WILL happen. Better not place too much faith in VWs to bolster the over-all vintage car evaluation charting. One has to look at who is buying vintage vehicles–NOT just the prices for which they are selling!

    You don’t need to have Hagerty’s deep market data to understand that the market is softening for collectible cars. All you need to do is spend some time on Bring a Trailer. That is an excellent barometer of the market. Based on BaT’s results during the past several months, sale prices are declining from a year ago, and more cars are not meeting their reserve. There is continuing strength in the high end Porsche market (especially GT3 variants with manual trans), but most other major categories are slipping. Of course, the cratering stock and housing markets, the continuing effects of high inflation, rising interest rates and the growing fears of a recession are not helping matters. Well, it was fun while it lasted!

    Yes, a 1 percent increase in the “Affordable” category, is just hidden by the multi percentage increase of Bidenflation.

    Since when are we so obsessed with the value of a car now? Why can’t we just enjoy them since it is something we wanted or fell in love with for that reasoning the first place (or at least IMO)

    Seriously. 5 colors of blue to trend out values. No one thought maybe light blue & sea spray blue just May look the same especially as they overlap

    Aging truth is correct – I see the same in classic ham radio equipment that I restore – newbies don’t remember lusting for “older” stuff, so it’s tough to sell. That said, I’m the big seven-nine (when did THAT happen?), and got did my ’60 Austin-Healey 3000 6 years back, and did the Factory Five Cobra this last year… (had sports cars since 1966) Yeah, I’m going backwards… The cool thing is that my son LOVES ’em, and keeps begging to get ’em (only when I’m taking a dirt nap), so I have FAITH in the next generation of owners. (Not everybody likes the “whoosh” sound of a Tesla!)

    Buy what you like,buy the best one you can find,have fun. If you are in the hobby to make money it’s not a hobby.

    “Caution: The back seat is clothing-optional.” …so reads the sign in the back seat of my refinished (stock) 1955 Mercury Monterey Coupe. (Old ladies giggle and take pictures & younger women smile.) I even had a young lady (40ish) tell me she wanted to have sex in the car. I smiled. …”but not with you!” she said. I cried.

    Not a lot of post-50s & 60s cars can generate that kind of reaction! 🙂

    A good article & interesting comparisons with excellent information…but I’m old & I’ll continue to cruise in
    50’s comfort & style until ….yeah….until then…

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