Hagerty graphs top-10 most-searched-for muscle cars



The lure of American muscle cars runs strong in the collector car market, making up around 10 percent of those that are bought and sold, according to the Hagerty classic car insurance and valuation company.

Hagerty created this week’s bar graph by studying which muscle cars are most popular in Internet searches on Hagerty’s valuation tools, and these are the top 10. Continue reading

Restore or modify? Experts offers suggestions to muscle car buyers

(From left), Pickering, Comer, Bomstead and Carlson discuss muscle cars | James Resnick photo
(From left), Pickering, Comer, Bomstead and Carlson discuss muscle cars | James Resnick photo

The greatest thing about car collecting is not the speed, the swoopy designs, the history, the visible progress of technology or the togetherness and camaraderie of like-minded people. Nope. The single best thing is that there’s something for everyone.

In all of my years hanging around cars, be they old or new, race or street, big or small, cheap or more dear than the Gross National Product of a small country, no one has ever said, “There just isn’t a car out there for me.”

Well, okay, only three guys ever said that: Preston Tucker, Carroll Shelby and Ferruccio Lamborghini, and, though it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely that you are about to start your own car company.

Which brings us to the American Car Collector magazine seminar held during Arizolna Auction Week. “Restore or Modify?” asks the question you must ask of yourself before buying anything: “What do you plan on doing with your collector muscle car?”

In so doing, you quickly figure out to not be trigger happy. Not with a purchase. Not with a restoration.

Colin Comer, a Shelby expert and ACC dditor-at-large joined contributors B. Mitchell Carlson, Carl Bomstead and ACC editor Jim Pickering to discuss it all, plus to pick some winners for the future in the muscle car segment.

“A car is original only once,” said Comer. “I advise people that with an old muscle car, reversible modifications that improve some function or aspect of the car are fine. But if it’s a mostly original car, don’t do anything that will damage its collectability in the future.”

Some examples Comer offered of reversible modifications that result in real-world improvements are modern tires, points-free ignition, updating fuel systems to withstand modern ethanol-laced fuels that erode gaskets and other rubber and brake linings.

On the subject of modern brakes, and specifically front disc-brake conversions, Comer does not recommend them to most people with older muscle cars. He cites his own experience on the street (and even in vintage car road racing) with updated drums brakes using modern linings for both shoes and drums, plus larger wheel cylinders to actuate the shoes and braided steel brake lines.

He also recommends replacing an old driveshaft that’s likely out of balance at today’s elevated steady highway speeds with a modern aluminum driveshaft.

“This can make a shocking difference in highway ride quality,” he said.

The experts also are cautious on some oil and fluid selections for old muscle cars.

“Today, we have much better fluids and oils than we did even in the 1970s, but be careful with the oil you choose for old transmissions,” Comer warned. “Brass synchromesh rings, as used in vintage manual transmissions, are not compatible with modern GL5 transmission fluid.”

All GL5 lube has some level of sulfur, which attacks brass. Over time, the synchros then fail.

A GL4 brew of fluid specifically formulated to work with old brass synchros is a must. For differential oil, Comer still believes in good old-fashioned oil made from dead dinosaurs.

Many enthusiasts who want to drive frequently or long distance have looked into a fuel injection conversion to improve mileage. The panel recommends giving the old trusty carburetor a chance to work first, rebuilding and re-jetting them to work better with our modern ethanol-laced fuel. Even if you need to bring or ship your old carb to an expert for this procedure, it’s far cheaper than an EFI conversion and it may just satisfy your need. Plus, there’s no involved and possibly invasive wiring and fuel-feed surgery needed.

As for predictions, the panel provided some vision into future values at several price categories for American classics:

Carl Bomstead: Carroll Shelby GT Golf Cart (Carl says it’s rare and fast!)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 1980-86 Ford Bronco XLT 4×4 (unmodified, must be 4WD as 2WD models are not nearly as desirable)

Colin Comer: 1986-93 Fox-body 5.0-liter Mustang LX or GT 5-speed (especially the 4-headlight early models)

Jim Pickering: 1973-87 Chevy and GMC pickups trucks (must be very clean; getting very popular among collectors; higher trim packages more desirable; short beds are more valuable)

Carl Bomstead: 1953 Kaiser Dragon (one year only and just 1277 were built)

B. Mitchell Carlson: post-WWII Willys M38 & M38A1 (authentically restored)

Colin Comer: 1986-93 Fox-body Saleen Mustang (very fun to drive even by today’s standards; racing pedigree; the GT350 of the ’80s & early ’90s)

Jim Pickering: 1990-95 Corvette ZR-1 (very fast & well-rounded; unique exotic connection with Lotus; racing history; tons of notoriety at the time)

Carl Bomstead: 1965 Buick Riviera (landmark design; universally well-regarded)

B. Mitchell Carlson: Pickups with tailfins like the 1957-59 Dodge Sweptside and 1955-57 Chevy Cameo (finned cars have leveled or started declining yet these pickups are rising; crowd-pleasers; younger audiences perceive them as cool and not mere tools) and/or 2012-13 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca (the last and best solid axle all-around high performance car; racing pedigree; first reuse of “Boss 302″)

Colin Comer: 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 (just announced; will be both a driving and investment value; will sell out quickly)

Jim Pickering: 2015 Dodge Challenger or Charger Hellcat (manic modern muscle; possibly a high-water mark with 707hp; already huge notoriety)

Carl Bomstead: 1954 Kaiser Darrin (just 435 built; seem to be at every auction)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 1963-65 Corvette with fuel injection (appeal more greatly to European sports car collectors than just about any other American car; at a low ebb in valuation right now)

Colin Comer: 1967 Shelby GT350 (last Shelbys made in California; possibly the best looking of the Shelby Mustangs)

Jim Pickering: 1969-70 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi

Carl Bomstead: 1958 Dodge 300D Convertible with fuel injection (only 191 total D convertibles with 50 alive today, 20 of which had fuel injection)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 2005-06 Ford GT (the last great mid-engine, V8 supercar with a clutch pedal; the new one just announced could improve the values of the 2005-’06 model; nobody thought at the time these would become collectible, but they’ve risen phenomenally and steadily)

Colin Comer: 1965 Shelby GT350 (defined Shelby’s success early; low production – 521 total; racing pedigree; parts are cheap)

Jim Pickering: 1969 Chevy Camaro ZL1 (interest in the originals is going to be boosted by the new modern ZL1)


She’s real fine, my muscular pony sports car

It’s Arizona auction week and I’m already dreading the thought of hearing people talk about Mustangs and Camaros and Shelbys and even Chevy 409s as “muscle cars.” Because they are not.

Being old may have its disadvantages — though being old at least means you’re not dead. And being old also means that you were there when what is now history was current events and you still may remember how things were. Really were.

So if Mustangs and Camaros and Shelbys and even Chevy 409s were not — and are not — “muscle cars,” what were and still are? And what should we call Mustangs and Camaros and Shelbys and even Chevy 409s?

Muscle cars: Big engine in a mid-sized package | Larry Edsall photo
Muscle cars: Big engine in a mid-sized package | Larry Edsall photo

We’ll start with muscle cars…

Once upon a time, John DeLorean and his crew at Pontiac found a way to violate General Motors’ marching orders and to stuff the big V8 engine from the full-size Bonneville into the Tempest, which was Pontiac’s “intermediate,” though today we’d call it a mid-sized, sedan.

Pretty much from the start, American sedans were full-size cars, roomy enough to carry the entire family. Then came the imports, primarily the Volkswagen Beetle, and the gas crisis and people wanted small and less fuelish cars, so we got the Rambler American and the Ford Falcon and the Chevrolet Corvair and the Plymouth Valiant, so-called compact cars.

But like Goldilocks, for some people compact was too small and full-size was too big, so the automakers created “intermediates” that were just right.

And then they became much better as DeLorean and his team discovered two things: (1) they discovered that their 389-cubic-inch V8 engine would fit into the engine bay of the intermediate-size Tempest and (2) they found the loophole in the corporate laws that allowed them not only to install those engines in that car, but to sell them to law-abiding customers. Well, they were law-abiding until they got their hands on this new GTO model and started racing them away from stoplights.

And it didn’t take long for those buyers to have people and cars to race because suddenly we had a whole series of “muscle cars” – the Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396, Oldsmobile Cutlass 442, Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda, Dodge Charger, Ford Torino, Mercury Cyclone, even the Rambler Rebel SST.

Mustang launched the pony car genre | Larry Edsall photo
Mustang launched the pony car genre | Larry Edsall photo

But intermediates weren’t the only new-sized cars coming into a diversifying automotive marketplace. With baby boomers coming of age, automakers saw an opportunity to sell a personal-size car, a vehicle built on a compact-car chassis, basically with two buckets seats up front and a small rear bench in back, but with very sporty styling. Ford was first to market with the Mustang, which was an immediate sales hit. Chevy followed with Camaro, Pontiac with Firebird, Dodge with Challenger, Plymouth with a new Barracuda, AMC with Javelin, etc.

But because Ford was first, its Mustang enjoying a huge head start — by more than one million sales — this entire new car category was labeled “pony cars.” They even had their own racing series, the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-American Sedan Series, or Trans-Am as it was popularly known. Pontiac liked the Trans Am name so much that it was willing to pay the SCCA a licensing fee so it could label the raciest version of its Pontiac Firebird as the Trans Am.

While muscle cars carried the largest engines available, the pony cars that raced in the Trans-Am series were limited to engines with 305-cubic-inch displacement. But as with the original GTO and other muscle cars, larger engines could be wedged beneath pony car hoods, and so we had the Mustang Boss 351, the Shelby Mustang with a 428-cid Cobra Jet V8, various big-block Camaros, and the lines between pony car and muscle car were starting to blur.

Carroll's Cobra was a sports car | Larry Edsall photo
Carroll’s Cobra was a sports car | Larry Edsall photo

Speaking of Carroll Shelby, the chicken-farming, race-car driving Texan really wanted to beat established competitors such as the Chevrolet Corvette or Enzo’s Ferraris, so he figured a way to stuff a powerful American V8 in a small and lightweight European sports car chassis. The result was the Shelby Cobra, and like various Ferraris, the Corvette, Jaguar XKs and others, the Cobra was a pure sports car — two seats and ready to show its competence on the road or on the race track.

They were sports cars, not “muscle cars.”

409: Big block in a big car | Barrett-Jackson photo
409: Big block in a big car | Barrett-Jackson photo

Which brings us to the Chevy 409 and its ilk. For the 1961 model year, which was before the Cobra, the Mustang or the GTO, Chevrolet offered a Turbo-Fire 409-cubic-inch V8 engine option and produced 142 Impalas with that engine and an SS (Super Sport) option package. The 409 became not only the car to have on the drag strip, but the subject of song — “She’s real fine, my 409,” sang the Beach Boys.

Ford soon followed with a 427 and Chrysler upped the ante to 440 and GM to 454 and…

And somewhere between then and now people started describing all of the cars — the true muscle cars and the pony cars and the sports cars and the big blocks — as muscle cars, and the nomenclature got even further confused when the Camaro and Challenger were resurrected and along with the Mustang were termed “modern muscle cars.” Which they are, even if their historic namesakes never were called muscle cars by those who owned, drove or wrote about them.

Blue-chip muscle cars on the rise, seminar experts say


1969 COPO Camaro | Photos by Bob Golfen
1969 COPO Camaro | Photos by Bob Golfen

The rise and fall and rise again of blue-chip American muscle cars was the topic of a pair of seminars under the backdrop of Arizona classic-car auction week.

Rare and powerful muscle cars once again are hot commodities, according to the panels of classic-car experts, with the best low-production examples surging ahead in values during the past couple of years after taking a beating in the aftermath of the U.S. financial collapse of 2008.

“These are really the last of the great collectible America cars,” said Colin Comer, author and noted collector. “They are the supercharged Duesenbergs of our generation.”

The first seminar, “The Muscle Car Market – Today and Tomorrow” hosted by American Car Collector magazine and MidAmerica Motorworks at the Barrett-Jackson auction site, included the viewpoints of Comer, an ACC columnist and the author of Million Dollar Muscle Cars, who also delivered the keynote speech; B. Mitchell Carlson, ACC columnist and auction analyst; John L. Stein, ACC contributor and Corvette columnist; and Jim Pickering, ACC managing editor, who served as moderator.

The second seminar, entitled “Under the Hood of the Muscle Car Market” and sponsored by Hagerty Classic Car Insurance at the Penske Racing Museum, included Wayne Carini, veteran classic-car specialist and TV personality; Comer; Donnie Gould, president of Auctions America by RM; Ken Lingenfelter, owner of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering; Matt Stone, automotive writer and author; John Kraman, consignment director for Mecum Auctions; John Bemis, sales director for Russo and Steele auctions; and Dave Kinney, columnist and classic-car appraiser.

Prices for muscle cars were expected to be solid during the Arizona auctions, although the rising tide will not lift all boats, Comer noted. The cars with special provenance of limited production and performance, such as 1965 Shelby GT350s and 1969 Yenko Camaros, have been returning to their previous record values, but the more-common examples of Detroit muscle have remained flat.

The rising values only include those cars that have been verified as real and unaltered since leaving the factory. Comer noted. “The stuff that’s not pure, that’s not authenticated” will continue to struggle.  Resto-mods and “tributes” to famous performance cars – not to mention outright fraudulent representations – will remain flat.

Still, the prospects this year are good, said Kinney.  “I think 2014 is the year we could see a pretty strong turnaround.”

True car people are driving the market. The speculators are gone.”

— Wayne Carini

At both seminars, graphics were shown to illustrate the boost in prices for the best muscle cars since around 2011, drawn from the American Car Collector and Hagerty price guides. But they also showed those that have not recovered.  One example mentioned was the 1970 Chevelle SS 454, which plummeted in worth after 2008 and has yet to come back.

The multi-million values of 1970-era Hemi ‘Cuda and Challenger convertibles will likely never return was a consensus among the panelists.  That was an anomalous bubble pushed up by a group of investors who had cornered the market on the Plymouth and Dodge muscle cars, skewing their values until the inevitable burst, several of the experts remarked.  Buyers still shy away from high prices for those cars.

“These were a couple of guys trading baseball cards,” Comer said.

Another Mopar product that has been languishing despite rarity and uniqueness is the Plymouth Superbird/Dodge Daytona, the NASCAR homologation specials with the soaring rear wings and oddly aerodynamic noses and scoops.  Matt Stone pointed out that these were “an important part of muscle car history.”

“They have lots of wings and things, and they were built for just one thing: cheating on NASCAR ovals,” Stone said.

But the look is too controversial for many.

“I think the reason these cars don’t do better is because most guys have wives,” Comer said. “I know I would be sleeping out in the garage if I brought home one of these.

Some of the top muscle cars mentioned by the panelists that are coming back strong in the current market include:

  • 1969 Yenko Camaro
  • 1969 Camaro Z/28
  • 1967 Corvette 427
  • 1965 Mustang Shelby GT350
  • 1970 Mustang Shelby GT350
  • 1973 Pontiac Trans-AM 455 Super Duty

Some others picked by the panelists that are underpriced but could see resurgence in value are:

  • 1968-70 American Motors AMX 390
  • 1969 COPO Camaro
  • 1966-68 Shelby GT350s
  • 1957 Corvette “Airbox,” fuel injected with cold-air intake
  • 1967-68 Yenko Camaros
  • 1965 Buick Riviera GS
  • 1969 Mustang Boss 429
  • 1969 Shelby GT500
  • 1969 Ford Talladega/Mercury Cyclone Spoiler
  • 1965-66 Impala SS 396

Some other takeaways from the muscle-car seminars:

“True car people are driving the market,” Carini said. “The speculators are gone,”

“The survivor-car aspect is the most important part of the market,” Comer said. “If you have a nice original car, don’t do anything to it.”

“The cars that are moving the market today are the ones with histories that we know,” Bemis said.

“Anything with a connection with Smoky and the Bandit is hot, it’s smoking,” Stone said, referring to the Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams of the mid-to-late 1970s. “Good low-budget fun.”

And the comment that generated the most applause during the seminars: “If you’re buying a car purely for investment, you are doing the wrong thing,” Kinney said.  “Buy it because you love it.”