Twice-Plus As Much

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Thirty years ago, when I was young guy in his 20s, I bought the Great Pumpkin – my 1976 Trans Am – for $5,400. It seemed like a lot of money back then.

It’s a lot more now.

Adjusted for what they call “inflation” (as if it were some sort of natural change in things rather than a purposeful devaluation of the buying power of the money the public is forced to use to buy things with, done by the private banking cartel that has the legal power to increase the money supply, thereby devaluing the money in circulation and so requiring more of it to buy the same thing) a young guy today would need just shy of $12,000 to buy something like the Great Pumpkin.

Actually, he’d need 2-3 times as much, because Pumpkins have gone up in actual value at the same time a dollar’s buying power has gone down – making a Pumpkin purchase by a young guy in his 20s today even more pie-in-the-sky than the purchase of a new Corvette – because the ‘Vette could be financed for six years at a manageable interest rate. While financing is available for classic muscle cars like my Pumpkin, the loans are generally 2-3 years shorter and the interest is 2-3 times more, so good luck making those $600 monthly payments.

Back in the early ’90s, accumulating $5,400 was doable, even for a young guy in his 20s. This meant it was possible to avoid a loan – and the paying of interest. People used to do just that, commonly – for used cars generally. And young people specifically. It was usual for a teenager or college-age person to own their car, which they were able to do because it was possible to pay cash – and not much – for a car.

Even a car such as the Pumpkin.

When I look back and reflect, I marvel at this – and thank the Motor Gods I was born in time to experience an America that was like this. Cars like my ’76 Trans-Am were once as common as $50,000 trucks are today – with the difference being that cars like my Trans-Am were not usually driven by guys in their 50s, as is very much usually the case today (because it is mostly only guys in their 50s today who have the means to afford a car like my Trans-Am today).

I am the second owner of my Trans-Am, which had 52,000 miles on it when I bought it and in just-shy of what classic car people refer to as a “number one” condition, meaning a car that is in almost as-new condition, with nearly perfect paint and interior and all mechanical systems in excellent working order. It is still a very solid “number 2” condition car today, 30 years later – because I’ve kept it with the kind of care Medieval monks lavished on rare books.

But the point is that 30 years ago, all it took to buy an almost “number one” condition muscle car like my TA was $5,400 (just shy of $12k in today’s devalued-buying-power dollars). One could buy a solid driver – i.e., a car that wasn’t almost-perfect, either cosmetically or mechanically but that was drivable – for a third as much as that or even less. Anyone old enough to remember those years will confirm this.

Imagine it. A young guy in his 20s – or younger – could realistically entertain the hope of driving his very own V8 powered muscle car. Maybe the paint wasn’t great; maybe it had a lot of miles. But the point is it was a V8 muscle car. The kind of car that – today – is beyond the reach of most guys under 40.

It’s not just because of the devalued money, either.

The used muscle cars that were abundant and inexpensive back in the ’90s hadn’t been all that expensive when they were new. In 1976, for instance, a new Trans-Am could be bought for just shy of $5k – equivalent (interestingly enough) to just shy of $12k today. What kind of car can you buy new today – or recently, even – for $12k? Certainly not a V8-powered muscle car. The 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T for instance, lists for $39,940. A new Camaro SS starts at $39,900. A new Mustang GT stickers for $38,345.

Even 50 percent depreciated, these are still $20k cars – or twice as expensive, in inflation-adjusted dollars – as a brand-new 1976 Trans-Am was. The latter – after it had lost half its value – was within the budget of a young guy in his 20s. The former aren’t. At least, not without financing – and the debt albatross that comes along for the ride.

Yes, of course – the new muscle cars are much more powerful and they all come with features and equipment that was either exotic in the once-upon-a-time or inconceivable. But what does that matter if you can’t afford it – even second-hand?

It makes me grateful for what I’ve got – and sad for what the young of today will mostly never know they missed.

. . .

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Eric,

    While I’m happy for you that you got a steal on a very well maintained Trans Am from the mid 1970s, I am here to tell you my experience from a similar timeframe (1993-94) and age was 180 degrees the opposite direction.

    Any car older than five or ten years old, depending on the make, was beginning to rust away. Tailfinned monsters from the 1950s? Forget it. Muscle cars, or muscle adjacent cars? Nope. Most were refugees from the crusher. Or the Demolition Derby.

    For ex: I went to answer an ad in the Tradin’ Times (remember them?) for a “Sad Mouth” 1972-74 Dodge Challenger for $3K. I drove over to the fellows house and see he’s a Mopar enthusiast. He has a nicely kept mid 1960s Imperial in his garage, and a 1973-74 Dodge Charger on a trailer in the driveway. The Charger needed work but it was mainly straight.

    Then he shows me the Challenger. Y’know the cliche “It has more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese”? 🧀 Yeah, this Challenger had MORE holes in it than a wedge of Swiss cheese. As God is my witness I didn’t know a car WITHOUT a vinyl roof could rust where the roof met the rear fenders. Headliner falling down, interior trashed, rust everywhere. For $3K

    I’ll spare the diatribes on the 1969 Charger with a 318 that was a Bondo bomb with weak brakes and the 1974 Roadrunner where the owner half-assed a floor mounted automatic shifter into the car, and warned me after 30 minutes running, it would vapor lock. 🤦‍♂️

    Now granted, this was the Midwest where at the merest hint of snow copious amounts of salt were dumped on the roads. From November to sometimes April, cars marinated in a mix of slush and salt (Still do). Jagged rear fenders, flapping doors and front fenders, and rusty boils formed quickly.

    And that’s with the cars that survived many a teen or 20 somethings ham handed attempts to kill them.

    Alas, I gave up my dream of fixing up a Muscle Car or Tailfinned Dream Boat of the 1950s.

    BUT:

    For $5,200 in 1994 I bought an “Arrest Me Red” 1989 Chrysler Conquest TSi Turbo off a dealer’s used car lot. (Think Japanese 944 equivalent) That was a fun car for a young guy to own, even used.

    Which gets to the heart of what you’re saying: Between inflation, the “Saaaaaaaaafffffeeeeetyyyyy” fatwa, and the fuel economy fatwa, a young guy (or gal, there are a few out there) can’t have an inexpensive, and maybe fun car without breaking the bank. And the weird machinations of the government between COVID and inflation mean used cars can come out appreciating. For Ex: in 2016 I bought a used 2013 base Ford Mustang as an everyday driver. Paid $17K out the door. Last year after nearly seven years of ownership I traded it on a 2018 Dodge Challenger. Dealer gave me $12K on trade, repainted the chipping paint, fixed the trans leak, and turned around and sold it for $19K.

    How the Heck does a car appreciate $2K when it’s nearly ten years old?!?! 🤔

    Now a young guy hopes he can swing a ten year old Honda or Toyota for $15K.

    Rant off, keep the posts coming.

    • Hi Mack,

      Well, now we’re talking classic Mopars! They were always less common, especially the E bodies (Challenger, ‘Cuda) because they were only sold through ’74 and never sold in anywhere near the numbers that GM sold second-gen (1970-81) F-cars (Camaros and Firebirds) so there were lots more Camaros and Firebirds around to select from.

      Before I got the Pumpkin, I had another ’76 and it was a 50th Anniversary car with the 455/4-speed. I paid $3,200 for it. It had bad paint and high miles but it was a driver. I also owed a rough ’80 Z28 that I bought for even less!

    • You want inspiration about what’s still possible, check out Vice Grip Garage or Roadworthy Rescues. The dude goes out and finds cheap old vehicles and makes them roadworthy again in a matter of days. Sure, it’s TV, and he has mechanical skills that we presumably don’t, but he shows it’s possible still today if you want it.

      I’ve done the same with my 79 Firebird that I have spent the last year getting roadworthy. It’s now my very reliable daily commuter. It may sound cheesy, but those TV shows inspired me to take a leap and just do it. Driving that car in a sea of appliances increases the joy level in my life 10 fold.

  2. New engine oil, new spark plugs, set of points, feeler gauge, have one, you’ll be on the road again. Hey, the capacitor in the distributor does all of the work, just so you know.

    Don’t forget about the timing chain, two degrees off center. Sumthun, or something.

    So there you go, that’s the way it goes moving west.

    Time to drink.

  3. Got my K5 blazer off the military in 2009 for under $3000 (during cash for clunkers, I almost got a Jeep Patriot instead), now I cant find the army version in working condition for less than $10,000, even though they are not generally desirable since you’re driving a diesel tin can without speakers or reclining seats. And forget a clean working civilian K5 running $15,000 to over $80,000.

  4. I’m staring at the big 6-0. It’s tough to see how much the value of the dollar has been debased just in my lifetime. The dollar is going from “worth less” to “worthless”.

  5. Inflation is the great trick by which politicians and the Fed claim to show growth without growing anything.

    Increasing the money supply devalues the purchasing power off the dollar, taking more dollars to buy the same thing (see grocery store shelves).

    So, more $ spent on the same things is touted by the political class to show “growth” – always measured in dollars, not goods.

    The happy side effect is that pay doesn’t keep up with (manipulated price) inflation over 3%, so the lower income scales will need “assistance”.

    This assistance is sold for the price of votes. Repeat forever until the majority are getting assistance, ensuring the population control that the politico class so much desires.

  6. I wish I still had my Pontiac Acadian. It cost me less than $1000 in the 80’s and is still the only car I have owned with the most comfortable seats. Too bad it rusted to dust even after I repainted it by hand.

  7. The Psychopaths In Charge apparently hate the common man’s guts, and hence do all they can to make our lives more miserable. They make Satan look like a girl scout.

  8. Today these cars are investments to sit in the back of the climate controlled warehouse until such time as the market is ready to send it on to auction. This is fine, people can do whatever they wish with their property. But I think it might be very short sighted, or at least an investment that won’t cross generations.

    Much of the attraction of these investments is nostalgia. Younger car guys aren’t into garage queens, at least as far as I can tell. They might like to own their own Orange Pumpkin, but they’re probably not going to be all that committed to paying the massive premiums we see at the Barrett Auctions. And if the green communists’ goal of eliminating gasoline comes to pass operational costs will skyrocket. Think in terms of AvGas prices for a weekend of joyriding.

  9. Culturally, what’s striking is that governments once sought popularity by making personal transport affordable. The Volkswagen (people’s car) embodied such thinking.

    Cars made costly by government fiat — EeeVees above all — reflect an inversion of democratic values. Affordable vehicles are taken away by policies such as Cash for Clunkers and CAFE, which soon will force conventional engines off the market, to be replaced by costlier hybrids.

    All this demonstrates the same contempt for the people, so bitterly complained of in the Declaration of Independence. But King George was a sweetie pie, compared to “Biden’s” gang of lawless usurpers, persecutors and genociders.

    • Jim H:

      The King George was a sweetie pie argument seems appealing on its face when you compare the British government of 1776 to the U.S. government of 2023. Of course, it’s not so convincing when you make the comparison to what the British government of 1776 has since become. As awful as the current U.S. government is, the Anglo and English Commonwealth countries (e.g. UK, Canada, NZ, Australia, South Africa, etc.) are significantly worse.

      I can’t think of a downside to American independence when you do an apples to apples comparison. With that said, “when a long train of abuses and usurpations. . .evinces a design. . .[to place the citizens] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

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