Looking over the prices for most American muscle cars sold at auction in 2016, one could easily conclude the market is softening on these high-octane, high-performance, will-get-you-high-on-adrenaline roadsters and coupes from the ’60s and early ’70s.
The values for these cars dipped slightly in comparison to the sums they brought in years past; however, that trend impacted every segment of the collector car market in 2016.
“It goes in waves,” Brian Rose, consignment relations manager at Barrett-Jackson, says of the overall car-collecting market. “Over the last couple of years, we were on one of the peaks, and now we’re sliding back into one of the valleys. It’s just one of the ebbs and flows."
A number of classic American muscle cars commanded high premiums during Barrett-Jackson’s auctions in 2016, including a 1967 Shelby 289 Cobra roadster (US $797,500) and a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette L88 convertible (US $577,500), sold during the company’s annual Scottsdale event. A 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 Fastback (US $357,500) and a 1967 Ford Shelby GT500SE Super Snake (US $275,500) crossed the block during Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas auction.
During Barrett-Jackson’s inaugural Northeast auction in Connecticut, more than a dozen classic American muscle cars sold for more than US $100,000, led by a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette L88 (US $624,800), a 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 Fastback (US $346,500) and a 1970 Plymouth HEMI Superbird (US $330,000).
“One of the biggest stories was the strong demand for original American iron this year,” Craig Jackson, the auction house’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement released after the company’s Palm Beach auction in April. “The pristine, matching-numbers American muscle and sports cars were particularly coveted.”
Barrett-Jackson’s top muscle car sales in 2016 provide plenty of insight into what is universally appreciated. Corvettes remain one of the most popular models in the classic American muscle car category; however, with so many in existence, some—like the L88s sold earlier this year—can exceed half a million dollars, while others can sell for amounts that make them approachable for the vast majority of collectors looking to own a piece of powerful 1960s automotive engineering.
Any classic automobile with Carroll Shelby’s fingerprints on it is certain to command a premium when offered for public sale, as is the Ford Mustang Boss, in its various forms from the late ’60s.
Perhaps the most sought-after muscle car—both in 2016 and in years past— was a Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible. And this past year saw two of them offered in Mecum Auctions’ Kissimmee event last January.
Predictably, both Plymouths commanded significant sums. A 1971 example—one of only five built with automatic transmissions that year—sold for US $2,300,000; while a 1970 model—one of only five, four-speed examples built that year—sold for US $2,675,000.
Mecum Auctions, which has built its reputation on American muscle, is still the auction company to reference when evaluating the genre’s demand. Given that classic American muscle cars accounted for 65 percent of the auction house’s top sales for all 2016 events—of the 130 vehicles that made up the company’s top 10 sales for each of its 13 auctions, 85 of them were classic American muscle cars—it seems safe to say the category is plenty strong.
In a somewhat surprising twist, muscle car restomods are proving to be just as valuable and, according to Rose at Barrett-Jackson, even more in demand than some of their authentic counterparts.
“Younger money is into big wheels, big engines and new stereos,” he says. “The same guy who wants that muscle car also wants a more drivable one. The restomod market is crazy right now, which is kind of strange to us, because we’ve concentrated for years on originality and matching-numbers cars.”
Despite the current demand for restomods, authentic, properly restored examples are certain to retain their share of the collector pie, both for their performance and what they represent. And Rose believes their demand will outlive the current popularity of modified restorations.
“People are into cars for the normal reasons,” Rose says, “but you also have to look at it as preserving history. With what was going on back in that time and with a lot of changes in the country . . . they [muscle cars] are important pieces of that, and you can’t let that go.”
Photos courtesy of Barrett-Jackson and Mecum Auctions.