Classic Muscle Cars: The Just For Men Hobby?

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Perhaps you’ve noticed.

In the pages of muscle car enthusiast magazines and at car shows where muscle cars are the main attraction, the over-40 crowd is the largest demographic.

Twenty years ago, if you looked through, say, Hot Rod magazine, Car Craft or High Performance Pontiac, the owners of featured cars were mostly young guys in their 20s and 30s. It was the same on cruise nights. Muscle cars were young men’s cars.

Now it’s almost entirely the Just For Men set.

Which is a little jarring (the whole muscle car thing was at one time Youth personified) but is easily explained.

First, muscle cars have become expensive cars – and that almost automatically rules out anyone under 30. The days when a high school or college-aged kid could find a decent-condition ’60s or ’70s muscle car for two or three thousand bucks are long gone. The more popular models – anything with a big block V-8; a Mustang or a Camaro – easily fetch $30,000 or more. Some are six figure cars, a development that’s almost inconceivable to those of us who were high-school age in the early ’80s – when such cars were just old beaters and gas hogs that no one especially wanted. Certainly, no adult wanted.

The point being, not many kids in their late teens/twenties today are in a position to cough up the money it takes to buy a muscle car. It’s not like a new (or recent model used) car, which you can at least finance at a decent interest rate. Most of these purchases involve a private seller who will accept just one thing – cash. Good luck trying to scrape together $20,000 on McDonalds and lawn-mowing money.

The high cost of entry has kept the muscle car ownership pool almost completely static. The guys who were young in the ’80s and ’90s (when muscle cars were still affordable) bought theirs then and have tended to hold onto them; or they simply have the money to indulge because they’re now in their middle years and have had decades to sock away the cash for fun things like blowing a wad on a 40-year-old GTO.

A secondary effect of the high cost of entry is, of course, that younger prospects never got to work on muscle cars, so never grew to know and love them, either. Their formative years were spent hopping up front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive “sport compacts.” This where the Youth have gone.
It’s what they can afford; it’s what they know – and it’s where the future lies (for them).

But where does that leave the classic muscle car hobby?

It’s a graybeard’s thing; something that older dudes will continue to be into for as long as they’re able to be into it. But that’s not an indefinite, infinite thing.

Prediction: After another 20 or 30 years roll by and the majority of Baby Boomers and Gen. X muscle cars groupies are either dead or more interested in their wheelchair scooters than they are in muscle cars, the cars themselves will mostly fade away as curious relics of an ancient time – much like steam locomotives and Civil War re-enactments today. A few newbies will carry the torch, but for the most part, muscle cars will not even register as a blip on the screen come 2030 or so.

The upside is – if you’re still around and still interested – you’ll probably be able to buy that 383 four-speed Coronet you always wanted for a decent price at last.

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7 COMMENTS

    • Sad. That car is trashed. It looks almost exactly like mine; same year, same color (Carousel Red) same wheels… only this one will need major reconstructive surgery. Given the moth-eaten rear quarters, I would bet the trunk floor is shot and there is probably structural damage to the rear leaf perches and subframe. The back half of these second gen. ‘Birds is unibody and when the structural parts rust, you are looking at big dollahs to fix. Both doors will need new skins, too, at minimum. Both front quarters will need major patches on the lowers. What a shame. ’76 Carousel Red TAs are pretty rare; hate to see this one chewed up so badly…

  1. I’ll be the first to admit that new/modern cars are superior as appliances; they are more reliable, better built and all that stuff. The old cars were often balky; had quirky (and sometimes downright weird) design touches; they could be uncomfortable and in many ways were primitive in comparison to modern cars. But they had character and curb appeal. And, though they did need tweaking (and sometimes, nursing) more often, you could do it yourself, mostly. This not only saved money, it was empowering. You weren’t helpless when something went wrong – as is the case for most people today with modern cars. Finally, if you’re a tightwad (like us!) who drives a car for 10-plus years, the modern car’s advantage in initial reliability begins to slip away due to the increasing cost of keeping it on the road after a certain point. Assuming no frame rust, you could keep a car like your old Monte on the road almost forever. The drivetrain was so simple it could be completely rebuilt for about $3,000 (that’s the engine and transmission). In a modern car like that Tundra in your shop, a new transmission – just the transmission – will cost you $2,000 or more. And if the ECU craps out…. etc.

  2. I really did love the 300HP in my ’71 Monte Carlo. And I lived for that TH350 shift into second at 60 MPH, and third at 95 MPH and burying the needle past the 120 MPH mark (especially since the car was floating back and forth in 2 lanes at that speed!)
    I do not miss the 100 LB, 6 foot long hood that required pulling out into the road to see, of course, the oncoming traffic could usually see me pulling out at least 30 seconds before I could see them.
    I do not miss the factory 8-Track player that sped up and slowed down with the car speed, but it did give me a bizzare way to enjoy all my favorite tunes.
    I do not miss the gas gauge that moved faster than the hands on the factory analog clock, but I do miss the hidden cap behind the rear tag.
    I do not miss the 30 degree list I got with every 90 degree turn I made, but at least right hand turns would toss my left knee into the window switch and I wouldn’t have to take my hands off the wheel to get fresh air.
    I do not miss the lousy reception from the windshield antennae, but I was always playing the 8-tracks, and the MC looked so much nicer without the ugly fender ariel!
    I do not miss the clunky, spastic, erratic, mechanical cruise control, but it was rather exciting to have the 300HP V-8 launch you from 45 to 90 when the cruise box suddenly got vacuum!
    I do, however, miss the cockpit of that fine craft. Back then it felt to me like an overgrown Jaguar XKE on Steroids!
    And if you knew how (which I did), you could move the console shifter into gear without ever touching it, and really freak out your friends riding with you!
    G.

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