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How Muscle Cars Work

Muscle Cars and Baby Boomers

Muscle cars have never gone away, but the seminal 1960s fire-breathers did go out of style for a time. By the late 1970s, they were viewed as just decaying "used cars," cheap to buy but rather impractical at time of record gas prices.

The Rarest
Muscle Cars
Rarity is key to the value of classic muscle cars. To learn about some of the lowest-production muscle cars of all time, see:

Since then, classic muscle has been rediscovered by the leading edge of the Baby-Boom generation, which was just starting high school when the first GTO hit the streets. Now these folks are 50-somethings in their peak earning years, and many are scrambling to possess what they could only dream of as teenagers. Call it Muscle Mania II.

The growing prominence of classic muscle is the latest trend in a multifaceted collector-car hobby that began modestly in the late 1940s and is now big business. It engages millions of Americans from all walks of life who may own one or two favorites or enough cars to fill a warehouse.

Whatever their interests and income, old-car lovers support a thriving industry of restoration specialists, parts locators and fabricators, enthusiast magazines and websites, memorabilia vendors, vehicle appraisers, and auction houses, plus businesses and organizations devoted to vintage-auto racing.

People gather up and preserve old cars for many reasons. Some hope to buy low and sell high, perhaps with the proverbial long-lost gem accidentally found in some crumbling barn. For most folks, though, the motivation is emotional, a desire to recapture part of their youth.

Classic muscle fans are no different. As Business Week magazine noted in its February 6, 2006, issue: "For many drivers who came of age when high-performance...engines ruled the road, potent powertrains trump the pedigree of traditional collector cars. A growing number of these buyers are paying top dollar for restorations of the coolest cars from their youth."

Actually, restoration isn't always a plus. Many classic muscle fans prefer cars that are most "factory-original," paint flaws, misaligned trim, and all the rest. It's part of the charm, a reminder that Detroit workmanship wasn't so good way back when.

As for "paying top dollar," keep in mind that prices for all collector cars vary widely depending on condition, available supply, and current market demand. That said, classic muscle machines are hot right now, thanks to boomer interest, so they routinely go for six-figure sums, and the rarest models often sell for much more.

For example, at the February 2006 Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, a 1970 Plymouth Hemi-Cuda convertible -- one of just 14 built -- went for a princely $2.1 million. But that's the exception that proves a rule. As comedian and car collector Jay Leno puts it: "If you make money in this hobby, you're doing it wrong."

1970 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda
The poster child for muscle car nostalgia among Baby Boomers might be this
1970 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda, one of just 14 built. It went for $2.1 million
at the 2006 Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Of course, such wisdom won't deter those who just know they can beat the stock market by "flipping" a muscle machine or some other golden oldie. But if not the easiest way to make a fortune, old cars are a wonderful investment in nostalgic fun, not to mention one that preserves a part of automotive history. And when all is said and done, shouldn't that be enough?

Return to Muscle Car Information Library.

For more cool information on muscle cars, see:

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  • Plymouth muscle cars spanned the spectrum from fanciful to fearsome -- and sometimes displayed both qualities in a single model.