The Best Bang for Your Collector Car Buck

Time to confess: Over the past 18 months, I ‘ve become quite smitten with the musclecar bug. I always appreciated them, starting back in high school when we would drive to high school summer league basketball games in the team captain’s early 70’s Trans Am. Since then four Mustangs have found their way into my garage, and these cars are somewhat in the musclecar ballpark.

But the insane price escalation from 2000 to 2007 really cooled any enthusiasm I had for them. When Hemi Cuda Convertibles became as valuable as SEFAC Hot Rods, there was something terribly wrong with the valuation equation. A SEFAC Hot Rod is a Ferrari 250 SWB with a hot V-12, non-standard ultra lightweight aluminum body, and a whole bunch of other goodies that led to class victories at Le Mans and elsewhere. The Cuda Convertible was basically an American production performance car with a mighty big block engine under the hood; take away the engine, badging and graphics and it would be pretty much like a base 6-cylinder Plymouth Barracuda. In other words, you could replicate one fairly easily, something one cannot say about the lithe Ferrari.

The Pontiac GTO's design was so clean and uncluttered, it could have come from Pininfarina in Italy.

The Pontiac GTO’s design was so clean and uncluttered, it could have come from Pininfarina in Italy.

They were both worth around $3 million in 2006-07, and since that time their values have gone in opposite directions. The SEFAC has escalated 300+%, while the Hemi Cuda convertible has dropped by 50% and probably more. Other musclecars’ values have cratered even further, which makes them absolute bargains today, the best buy on the collector car market.

Because my musclecar experience is still limited, I am going to lump “ponycars” and musclecars together. Having driven some of both over the past 18 months (ponycars: ’69 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, ’70 Ford Mustang Boss 302, ’71 Boss 351 and, to a much lesser extent for “ponycar” term, a ’66 Shelby GT350; musclecars were a ’64 Pontiac tri-power GTO, a ’66 GTO, ’70 Boss 429), I don’t think a buyer of either type would be disappointed if they bought one of the other.

What really struck me was how they all had different personalities in the way they talked to you when they went about their business. For instance, the GTOs had the most youthful, exuberant character imaginable, where they were shouting “Lets go have fun!” at the top of their lungs—or should I say wide open carburetor throats and rumbling dual exhausts. Just as memorable was the Shelby and Boss 302 were 50-60% of a standard SWB in the way they “talked” to you with the sensations you heard and felt. If the Ferrari was a scalpel, the Mustangs were very sharp machetes. Both types of knives can cut, but one has an entry price that starts around $3 million while the others are around $50,000-60,000 (the Boss 302) and $120,000 (the ’66 GT350). If you can get 50% of the SWB experience for around 2-4% of the cost, that sounds like a great tradeoff to me.

The Camaro Z28 was cut from the same cloth as the Boss 302--it could accelerate, brake and corner with most anything. Ponycars such as this and musclecars such as the GTO are the best bargains in today's collector car market, offering huge value for the money that European sports cars can't touch.

The Camaro Z28 was cut from the same cloth as the Boss 302–it could accelerate, brake and corner with most anything. Ponycars such as this and musclecars such as the GTO are the best bargains in today’s collector car market, offering huge value for the money that European sports cars can’t touch.

And continuing the Boss 302 theme, if a good Boss costs around as much a decent Austin Healey, why would you think twice about it unless you just had to have an open car? One is rather agricultural in the way it drives, the other engineered to win the Trans Am championship when that series was at its apogee. Plus the production numbers are also favorable—70,000+ Healeys of all types versus around 8,600 Boss 302s. And the Boss will blow the Healey off in any performance category you can name outside getting a suntan.

There are all sorts of great muscle out there, and some of it is a real eye-opener. While researching the genre I came across Car & Driver’s February 1970 issue where they took a Chevelle LS6, Plymouth Duster 340 and Boss 302 to Lime Rock Raceway and pitted them against a 289 Cobra to see how far the performance bar had moved. Sam Posey was driving the cars, and what was really surprising was the article’s conclusion on an LS6 Chevelle: “After two solid days of testing we can see that improvement is required before Detroit can knock the Cobra off its ‘world’s fastest car’ pedestal—but not nearly as much as you may have thought (italics mine). Those tweedy capped purists who have been accusing Detroit’s performance cars of being ill-handling hogs capable of little more than straight-line travel have had their legs kicked out from under them by the Chevelle.”

I’ll let you figure out one supercar (the original name for musclecars) this “tweedy capped purist” is really looking forward to trying, and it wouldn’t surprise in the least if that Chevelle possesses something sorely lacking in today’s high performance, vanilla tasting “faster is better” European machinery: A personality all its own.

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