Year in Review: Muscle cars roared back in 2021

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Hagerty’s Automotive Intelligence team analyzes thousands of auction sales each year. Although they all help inform our view of the market, some of them stand out and can tell us something more. We call these “Sales that Teach.”

In the craziness that was the collector car market of 2021, a few clear themes stand out. Newer enthusiast cars became “collectible,” vintage pickup/SUV prices kept on trucking upwards, and cars that are traditionally cheap or at least affordable became increasingly less so. The demographic shift toward younger collectors hit with full force, a healthy high-end market was confirmed in Monterey, and online auction platforms matured as a permanent fixture of the classic car ecosystem.

One area that didn’t get as much attention as it deserved amidst all that change was the traditional muscle car-heavy live auctions from the likes of Mecum and Barrett-Jackson. But this isn’t to say the muscle car market is sleepy, or that the pandemic has dampened enthusiasm for the live auction spectacle. On the contrary, muscle cars are as hot as they’ve been in a long time, and live sales brought many record prices just like the ones on the internet did. Mecum, which has become something of the Muscle Car King in the auction world, is perfect evidence of that. Although the volume of vehicles sold hasn’t quite bounced back to pre-pandemic numbers, prices are up.

After a few years of softening prices, Hagerty's Muscle Car Index hit its all-time high twice in 2021. Some of the biggest reversals and biggest gains were for cars at the top of the muscle car market. Think Hemi Cuda convertiblesLS6 Chevelles, or Boss 429 Mustangs, including one that sold at Mecum Dallas 2021 for $357,500. While not a record, the price was nearly 60 grand above the Mustang's condition #1 value at the time of the sale.

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Boss 429s are collectible for the usual reasons—big engine, high performance, racing pedigree, and, by muscle car standards, rarity. In order to homologate its 429-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) "semi-hemi" engine for NASCAR racing, Ford decided to stuff the near race-spec V-8 into its volume-selling pony car. But the Boss 429 couldn't just drop into a standard production Mustang, so Ford contracted with Kar Kraft in Dearborn to make it fit. In part because of their high price, Ford sold only 1360 Boss 429 Mustangs in 1969 to '70, and today they're the most valuable Mustangs not wearing a Shelby snake.

The Mecum Dallas car, finished in Grabber Green (one of five colors offered), is a high-dollar restoration with some show awards to its credit. None of that is exceptional for one of these Mustangs, but the price is, and it's part of a general rebound for these Mustang royalty after prices started dipping in the late 2010s. Mecum offered 10 Boss 429 Mustangs in 2021, eight of which were reported sold for an average price of $272,571. In 2019, the average auction price of a Boss 429 was $217,343. Hagerty Price Guide values for the Boss 429 are also up from where they were a year ago. Far from the biggest increase in the world, but notable for a high-dollar car that had been slipping prior to the surges of 2020–21. In short, the past two years have been a big growth period in prices all across the hobby, and that is almost as true for mature segments of the market like American muscle as it is for newcomers like JDM and late-model exotics.

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