Retro Cars are the rage, but are they too expensive

Posted: February 3, 2012 in Automotive trends
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By Thomas Zizzo

Carmakers have figured out that bringing back retro styling to their designs is good for business, too bad they don’t feel that way about the pricing.

Once Ford started doing well with its retro-styled Mustang in 2005, Dodge quickly got on board by bringing back the Challenger, looking much like it did back in 1970, then Chevy with the new Camaro, and for 2012, the VW Beetle finally got a new look, bringing back a little bit of that old vintage Bug style, but what made some of these cars such huge hits back in the day was that they were somewhat affordable. Not so much now it seems:

  •                                        Inflation adjusted/new car price             Original price
  • 1965 Ford Mustang                        $16,938                                     $2,372                        six cylinder model
  • 2012 Ford Mustang                        $22,310                                                                      six cylinder model
  • 1969 Mustang Boss 302                  $21,991                                    $3,588
  • 2012 Mustang Boss 302                  $43,000
  • 1963 Corvette Convertible                $31,256                                   $4,252
  • 2012 Corvette Convertible               $55,000
  • 1970 Dodge Challenger RT              $18,178                                    $3,273
  • 2012 Dodge Challenger RT              $30,000                                                                         5.7L Hemi V8
  • 1967 Volkswagen Beetle                  $12,108                                    $1,798
  • 2012 Volkswagen Beetle                  $19,795
  • 1969 Chevy Camaro                        $16,714                                    $2,727                         base V-8(307 CI)
  • 2012 Chevy Camaro                        $23,280                                                                       base V-6 model

*inflation adjusted prices were calculated using the US Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator illustrating today’s buying power of decades old prices

In an obvious attempt to lure aging Baby Boomers who owned iconic muscle cars in the late 60’s when they were teenagers, carmakers have successfully brought back the right styling and performance, but at a hefty price. If you look at the original price of Ford’s ultra cool Boss 302 Mustang introduced in 1969 and adjust for inflation, you’ll see that it was far cheaper than the brand new one being re-introduced this year. True, you get a lot more car for your money than you did 43 years ago(a 1969 Boss 302 had about 290 horsepower, compared to the new one that has well over 400 horsepower)but is it worth double the original price? Look at the price of an old Corvette, it was far cheaper back then compared to what new ones cost today, but given how much cars have changed with technology and performance, is it fair to say they are now overpriced? I would argue yes, they’re overpriced.

Back in 2000, a brand new IBM Thinkpad laptop, with 64mb of RAM and a whopping 12 Gig hard drive-weighing in at less than 8 pounds, would have cost you in the neighborhood of $3,500, and that’s NOT an inflation adjusted price. Even a 17” MacBook Pro, with a 750 Gig hard drive and 4 Gigs of RAM will only cost you $2,500 today. A high-def TV purchased 6 years ago was almost triple the cost of one today, so why has the auto industry reversed this trend? It’s a fair question, I think, because cars made 40 years ago also contained a lot less plastic and other cheaply made components used today. If it’s a question of better technology, doesn’t that usually get cheaper as a market matures, much like it has for things like TVs and computers? Maybe it’s a labor cost, but minimum wage in 1969 was $1.60 an hour, or roughly $9.80 when adjusted for inflation. That means that workers most likely got paid more 40 years ago, coupled with the fact that a good part of the auto manufacturing process isn’t even done by humans today.

Auto manufacturers 40 years ago understood the value of a good deal, how else can you explain the fact that Ford sold more than a million Mustangs, yes, a million, by the second year of the popular car’s initial production run. Then there’s the fact that during the late 60’s, popular muscle cars started to appear with many options deleted, such as radios, power windows, AC, etc. Cheap performance was all that mattered, and as odd as it seams, those old cars with deleted options are now more valuable because of it. Even Pontiac’s iconic 1964 GTO, widely regarded as the first true muscle car, was marketed under the idea that you didn’t have to spend a ton of money to get great performance and styling. Even it’s name, GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato), was considered a flip of the middle finger to Ferrari, which incidentally would have cost as much as a new home in 1964. I know I’ve said it before, but there’s a reason the most produced cars in history were so successful; they were affordable.

It (Model-T) will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one.” Henry Ford.


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