Booster Masthead

Restoration Blvd.
November 2006

Columnist — Allen Wright

The Tricks and Treats of Classic Cars Over the Years

Trick or Treat!

Halloween is closing in. Don't be tricked by the views and insights of this writer! And if there is a treat to be had, it is a piece of information you can use. It's kind of like finding the 12mm pearl in the washtub of oysters sold by the outdoor vendor at the fair.

Speaking of the fair, I went out to the Los Angeles County Fair at Pomona. They had a parade including some classic cars. There was a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere two-door hardtop in the parade that, according to the owner, was Grandpa's pride and joy. I had to check it out. It was a stock machine, completely. The printed auction price was a low of $18,500 and a high of $37,800.

This was unbelievable to me. Those beauties used to sell for $500; $1,000 for a good one in the 1960s.

I can't remember dates anymore without a Day-Timer but I can remember the cars I owned, bought, and sold quite clearly. I thought it might be fun to share with you the cars I owned over the years and today's value.

Believe it or not, my love of old cars started with a 1928 Model A Rumble Seat Coupe. My Mom and Dad bought it for me at age 15 and I loved to work on it. They did the same for my brother but he never got the car bug.

My Model A had consistent generator issues; the battery seemed like it was always dead. Parking on a hill was always a good idea for a jump-start. The purchase price was $200. Today's value for #2 car condition: $10,500.

By the way, for the values I am using The Old Car Price Guide, December 2006 issue.

The next car I owned was a 1955 Plymouth convertible. It was a chick magnet. Convertibles and cars with removable tops always seem to attract the women.

The '55 had some issues. The V-8 used oil; every time you started it, a burst of smoke would come from the tailpipe. It also had serious body rot — commonly known as cancer — on the door sills. Pennsylvania used salt on the roads and many classics have been lost because of that practice.

Did you ever see an ad for a collector car that said it was "a Pennsylvania car"? No. Most ads claim they are California cars or Arizona cars, the premiere area for collector car storage.

The '55 Belvedere convertible lasted for two years. Today's value: $21,700. I sold it for $50.

My next car was another Plymouth Belvedere. This time it was a 1959 four-door hardtop. I paid $300 for that one. It had the same issue as the '55: body rot. Bondo was my friend.

The '59 Plymouth had gorgeous fins and an aggressive-looking front end. It was a sight to see. I put over 100,000 miles on it and regularly drove it from Pennsylvania to Iowa where I was going to college. Sailing across the Interstate system in a big, heavy Plymouth with a 318 engine was great.

Back in those days, dual glass packs and reverberation was the hot ticket for long drives. Reverberation was a system you could install that delayed the sound usually heard from the rear speaker to give an echo effect: the poor man's stereo.

Another great feature of the '59 Plymouth was the push-button transmission, called by some the typewriter shift or typewriter transmission. As I recall, push-button transmissions started in 1956 and ended in 1964.

I left the Plymouth at my parents as I planned to someday fix it up. After several years, my Dad had it towed to the junkyard. Today's value: about $9,000.

Now, the reason I left the 1959 Plymouth at my parents was my grandmother gave me her used car when she bought her Lincoln Town Car. By the way, Grandma gave the Lincoln to my brother very shortly as she could not navigate the Lincoln and kept hitting things. Grandma was on a first-name basis with about everyone at Norristown Lincoln.

Grandma's used car that she gave me was a 1960 Ford four-door Galaxy hardtop with very few miles. The car could run fast. On my first trip to Iowa from Philadelphia I cut my travel time and ran 100 miles-per-hour plus on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Ohio Turnpike.

The Ford had an am/fm radio that made life even better. Unfortunately, Grandma never drove the Ford at high speeds and the high-speed trip to Iowa broke its heart. Major engine problems showed and I had to rebuild the engine.

The really good part of the 1960 Ford was the trunk. It was huge. Hiding two additional couples in the trunk was the easy way to save money at the drive-in movie.

One night, while unloading the college student bodies from the trunk at the Fairfield Drive-In Theater, the manager caught me. It was probably because I came in alone and the cashier ratted me out to the manager.

The manager gave my date and other couple a choice. They could pay up. The police could be called (this was a big crime). Or we could pick up trash at the drive-in after the Friday or Saturday night show, the trashiest nights at the theater.

As it turned out, by the end of the incident the manager, Bernard Kelly, liked me and hired me as the assistant manager. And the cashier that ratted me out ended up some years later as my wife, Mrs. Wright #1. Picking up trash at the Fairfield Drive-In started a 10-year marriage and a pretty good job.

Back to the 1960 Ford, as I recall, I sold it cheap. Today a four-door hardtop Galaxy is worth about $12,600. Believe it or not, that was pretty close to the cash settlement for divorce #1.

My mind really doesn't recall the details but in 1965 I ended up with my Mom's 1963 Dodge 330 four-door sedan with a slant six engine and, once again, a push-button transmission.

My brother, in 1968 or 1969, inherited my Dad's 1964 Chevrolet 409. My brother got the best of the deal but he wasn't married. The four-door Dodge slant six was a perfect family car...for the family that never happened with Mrs. Wright #1. Its value today: $8,170.

Working full-time and having a wife working in 1966 allowed for some luxuries. In cars it was a 1963 Thunderbird with a 390 cubic inch 330 horsepower engine. This car was a highway missile. Over 100 miles per hour on a deserted Iowa road was everyday stuff. It had power everything.

The only trouble is in Iowa it gets pretty cold. The Bird did not like cold and revolted with all types of problems. The worst was the power windows. The power window gears would shear off at 60 miles per hour when it was zero degrees Fahrenheit and so cold it would freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

Today the two-door hardtop is worth about $17,500. In 1966, the Thunderbird was traded for one of my all-time favorite cars: a 1965 Oldsmobile 442 two-door hardtop with a four-speed. Today's value: $27,000.

I could write a book about the 1965 442 from its drag racing days to its military life at Ford Leonard Wood, Missouri.

However, I promised a pearl in this oyster of information. Today, I read on the internet that CSK, the parent company of Checker, Shucks and Kragen, had accounting errors of $90 million. Okay, accounting errors happen. My checkbook often needs a little adjustment to get it in line. But I am talking about 90 cents. If you take $90 million and divide it by the number of stores, you have an accounting error per store that is, in my mind, in direct correlation to the cost of goods.

As you can see, the cars over the years have increased in value and I have always sold on the low side. Cars, auto parts, and almost everything for sale needs to have an acceptable margin for the seller. Today, with the big business approach and mass sales transactions, important details like this somehow get lost.

Trick or Treat! When you sell too cheap, you go broke. It seems simple to me.

Originally published in the November 2006 Automotive Booster Magazine.
Copyright 2006 by KAL Publications Inc.

Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.