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Chryslers are going up in value, but it might not be the ones you think

By Terry Parkhurst (January 27, 2008)

At this writing, the annual feeding frenzy of Arizona collector car auctions is taking place. Looking back at 2007, the trend with vintage Chrysler muscle cars seems to be that the money being paid has stayed about the same as the two years prior: roughly six-figures with a few cars going into the million dollar category.

"I've noticed that, over the past year, those cars haven't appreciated as much in years past," said auctioneer Mitch Silver, who stages one of those Arizona auctions and also the Hot August Nights auctions in Reno. "But they've remained stable in value."

Indeed, at Silver's August auction, a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda coupe, equipped with a 426 cubic-inch Hemi-head V8, original to the car, topped by twin four-barrel carburetors, and backed by a close-ratio four-speed manual transmission, sold for $230,000 (plus eight percent buyer's fee). However, at the same auction, a 1947 Chrysler Highlander Town and Country sedan, sporting real wood sides and just 50,000 original miles, sold for $75,000 (plus same buy fee).

So the auction action involving Chrysler products doesn't lie solely with the muscle cars, anymore. The big-finned cars, circa 1958 through 1962, are ones to watch, given what happened in the year now past.

At the auction in August, several other significant Chrysler cars sold, among them a 1960 DeSoto Fireflyte (that's how that now defunct division of Chrysler spelled "fire flight") for $19,000; a 1966 Plymouth Formula "S" two door fastback for $18,400; a 1941 Dodge two door convertible for $33,000.

But the real time machine was a car the auctioneer called "a true survivor," a 1925 Dodge business coupe, with all its original sheet metal, a redone interior and running gear that worked, for just $5,500. Who said old cars are expensive?

Well, they might be if they're Chrysler cars with fins that have rare options and are restored to at least condition two or better levels of restoration. Consider two cars that sold at an auction conducted by the Worldwide Group in Hilton Head, South Carolina on November 2 and 3, 2007.

A 1958 Dodge Coronet Super D-500 two-door convertible, one of only eleven built sold for a $220,000 (including a 10 percent buyer's premium). It was equipped with a 361 cubic-inch wedge-head V8, topped by dual a four-barrel carburetor that was backed by an automatic transmission. Moreover, it sported just 50,308 original miles; so the red and white exterior and red and white vinyl (combined with black cloth) interior, was in good shape.

Not far behind that outstanding Dodge, was a 1961 Chrysler 300G convertible that also sold at $159,500 (again, including a 10 percent buyer's fee). This car was reportedly restored by White Post and sported just 34,000 original miles. It came equipped with a 413 cubic-inch V8 engine, topped by dual four-barrel carburetors and had an automatic transmission. Additionally, it featured a tan leather interior.

The only Chrysler from the Eighties I ever see at auctions seem to be the early K-car convertibles with faux wood sides and a couple of pickups: a 1991 Dakota convertible, and a 1983 Dodge Rampage (it didn't sell). There are Shelby Dodges out there; but I have never seen any show up at auction.

The Chryslers that are selling for the most money are those with documented race history. Probably the best example of that was the 1971 Plymouth Barracuda drag car, once campaigned by the team of Sox and Martin; driven by Ronny Sox. While the 600 horsepower, 426 cubic-inch hemi-head V8 in its engine bay most likely was a replacement - don't expect original engines to have survived those record runs - it still sold for a whopping $885,000 at the Mecum Auctions sale in Belvidere, Illinois over the Memorial Day weekend.

As publisher and editor John Iafolla wrote in the October 2007 issue of Collector Car Market Review, "After a strong and extended rise, things have certainly cooled down a bit for most muscle. Sure there are certain muscle cars that are doing fine, but the days when you could pick up any big-block Mopar and realize a 20, 30 or 40 percent gain within a year are gone - at least for now. Of course, if you pick up a distress sale, which is popping up with more frequency, you might still manage a decent return. Distress sales, by the way, serve as a brake on the market, and the more there are, the more effect they have overall."

Chrysler sales at auction in 2007, notable for their affordability:

  • 1934 DeSoto Airflow two-door Brougham sedan sold for $47,500 at the RM Amelia Island concours auction on March 10, 2007
  • 1969 Dodge Dart GTS two-door hardtop, equipped with 383 cubic-inch V8 (not original to the car, but car was VIN coded a 383 car) and four speed manual transmission, sold for $14,500 at the Silver Auctions sale on February 10-11, 2007
  • 1969 Dodge Coronet Super Bee two-door hardtop, equipped with a 330 horsepower, 383 cubic-inch V8 backed by a four-speed manual transmission, sold for $26,000 at the Kruse International auction held in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 8-10, 2007
  • 1967 Plymouth GTX two-door hardtop, equipped with a 375 horsepower, 440 cubic-inch V8 backed by a TorqueFlite automatic transmission, sold for $29,000 at the Silver Auctions sale in Bellevue, Washington on June 9, 2007.
  • 1994 Dodge Viper R/T10 two-door roadster, sporting just 10,000 original miles, sold for $35,000 at the Silver Auctions sale in Puyallup, Washington on February 10-11, 2007

You also shouldn't be surprised if some of your favorite Chryslers disappear from the country where they were built. It's a question of liquidity, all those other forms of currency that now can buy more in terms of the beleaguered dollar than we Americans, armed only with our home currency can.

The truth of what Iafolla wrote has started to show even at that benchmark of big-buck muscle, Barrett-Jackson's Scottsdale, Arizona auction. On Saturday night, January 19, 2008, a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda coupe, equipped with a matching numbers (original to the drive train) 426 cubic-inch hem-head V8, topped by dual four-barrel carburetors sold for $155,500 (bid of $150,000 plus buyer's fee). That was despite having a broadcast sheet professionally decoded by noted Chrysler restorer Galen Govier.

Admittedly, that's still a considerable amount of money. But it does indicate that the days of crazy money for Chrysler muscle may be over. The Chryslers styled by then studio head Virgil Exner in the late Fifties and early Sixties will most probably continue to match the increase seen in 2007, since like the Dusenbergs, Auburns and Packards of the Thirties, they stand as examples of automotive art that we will never see the likes of again.

Terry Parkhurst has covered collector car auctions since 1982 for publications that have included Old Cars Weekly, AutoWeek, Sport Cars Market and Collector Car Market Review.

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