Classic car values: A Jay Leno story
For 30 years I’ve written the bimonthly Values Guide for Collectible Automobile, which for 40 years has consistently turned out quality articles and fine photography on collector cars. (To subscribe, click here.) I write this column without a byline, hoping to avoid being denounced by owners who think their car is worth a lot more than the market says it is.
My most amusing gaffe was when I badly underestimated values for the Monteverdi Hai, a 1970s Swiss exotic with a 7-liter Chrysler Hemi mounted right behind its twin bucket seats. The irate owner protested, saying he had it from his friend Jay Leno that his car was worth three times as much.
Now I happened to know a lifelong friend of Mr. Leno, who visited him frequently. “We’ll see if this guy really knows Jay Leno,” I told my editor. I phoned my friend and asked him to ask Jay.
That night the phone rang, and it was Jay Leno himself. Couldn’t have been nicer. “Yes,” he laughed, “I know the owner, and he’s right—you did low-ball the value of his car. But do you know what really upset him? It was when I phoned him offering to buy it for what you said it was worth!”
Values: clunkers and others
None of these behemoths are worth a lot of money. In reality, only a thousand or so dollars separate the trim variations. Among 1980 (non-Mark) Continentals, the “Collector” trim is most desirable, followed by the “Town Car.” In 1981 the Continental name applied to coupes in Town or Signature trim, while the sedan became the “Town Car” or “Signature” trim. And so on. (If you’re confused by all this, you should be.) A handful are on the market (they were considered “downsized” from the monsters that had gone before). Does anyone want a 40-year-old Lincoln in the age of $7 gas (maybe $10 by the time this is in print)? Good question. Anyway, the gauges are down by your knees, where you won’t have to look at them.
1968-73 Datsun 510
2dr sedan $5,000-10,000….$10,000-15,000….$15,000-23,000
4dr sedan & wagon $4,000-7,500….$7,500-11,500….$11,500-15,000
The 510’s rally heritage marks it as a cut above average among cheap econoboxes, and good ones can command handsome prices. At the moment a sharp two-door painted Resale Red and showing under 25,000 miles is on offer by a Tennessee dealer for just under $23,000. That’s the top of our values range. If it’s as good mechanically as it looks physically, well, maybe. There’s a website specializing in 510s, which you should bookmark if you are in the market: www.510forsale.com. There you’ll find modified examples running upwards of $50,000. Which is a lot to pay for a Datsun.
1957-59 Chrysler 300
1957-58 300C/D convertible: $30,000-70,000….$70,000-100,000….$100,000-135,000
1957-58 300C/D hardtop: $20,000-40,000….$40,000-60,000….$60,000-75,000
1959 300E convertible: $25,000-60,000….$60,000-90,000….$90,000-120,000
1959 300E hardtop: $18,000-35,000….$35,000-55,000….$55,000-65,000
Long considered a blue-chip collectable, the 1957-59 letter series seems to have leveled off. Not according to the value guides: Collector Car Market Review still has convertibles around $150,000. The Old Cars Report Price Guide is even more optimistic, reaching $188,000 for the 300E. Hagerty is roughly in between. All three peg the best hardtops around $90,000.
We could not, however, find recent sales or auction prices anywhere near these values. For example, in 2019, a condition 1 hardtop sold for $22,000. At Scottsdale in 2017, a like-new restored convertible was all done at $104,500. Checking current for sale ads, the highest 300C ragtop we found was priced at $95,000, the highest 300E at $50,000. The top 300D does better ($125,000), but rarity is a factor since only 191 were built in that recession year. Clearly the value guides are not reflecting current market trends, which may be showing the effect of ever-increasing gas prices and/or, a diminishing number of collectors who remember these potent beasts when they were new. Our own values above reflect these considerations. Evidently it’s a buyer’s market for letter series Chryslers.
1967 Chevrolet Camaro RS convertible
Engine options add: 15% (275hp 327; 295hp 350); 40% (325hp 396); 60% (375hp 396).
Indy Pace Car Replicas (about 350 built): Triple the above prices.
This is an easy car to shop for, so a-shopping we went. Starting us off at $38,900 was an RS/SS 350, fully restored but painted non-factory Harley Davidson Blush. At just short of $60,000 were two four-speeds: a sweet red RS/SS 350; and a metallic blue RS-only with under 28,000 original miles. $62,000 buys a mostly original automatic RS. $75,000 nets a striking red restoration with performance modifications. We found no RS convertibles under those prices, suggesting that quite a lot have already been restored or, if original, are not widely marketed. These strike us as pretty high prices for a late Sixties (non-Z/28) ponycar. But think of the thousands of collectors who pined for one as a kid! Fortunately we were grown up by then.
1953 Buick Skylark
Hardtop (prototype): …. ….$126,500*
Highest value guide price for a condition 1 Skylark is $180,000, but most guides settle around $130-140,000. Recent auction sales haven’t made that, but some came close. There’s always an exception, however. One sold for $73,700 just four years ago, and it certainly looked to be in fine condition. No fewer than six are offered in the current Hemmings Motor News, and five are bunched between $91,000 and $110,000. (The sixth is $139,000.) It seems safe to say a top quality Skylark will probably cost you under six figures, if you shop around.
*About that second entry: Buick built one Skylark hardtop—rather ungainly in our eyes—as a concept car in 1953, but it never entered production. After a full restoration in 2010, it won an Amelia Island Concours in the “Cars You Never Knew Existed” Class. It was auctioned by Barrett-Jackson at Scottsdale the following year, making $126,500.
1965 Mercury Comet Caliente convertible
V8, 200 hp: $6,000-11,000….$11,000-23,000….$23,000-30,000
V8, 271 hp: $10,000-20,000….$20,000-37,500….$37,500-50,000
The best one we could find (Resale Red, naturally) was a flawless C-code 289 V8 automatic with under 30,000 miles. It looked factory new and should be at “$39,000 negotiable.” Yes, let’s negotiate. That’s a pile of loot for a glorified Falcon (and we thought Camaros were pricey). You might do better at auctions. A lookalike ’66 (also red with the 289) auctioned in 2017 for $20,900. If you don’t mind a white one and like to shift gears, there’s a beautiful four-speed for $19,800 in the current Hemmings. (We told you $39,000 was a bundle.) By the way, the Old Cars Report says not to pay over $25,000.
2022 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing: future collectible?
Wow, it’s sure not grandpa’s Eldorado—whoever thought there’d be Cadillacs like this? The Blackwing is only the grown-up, long-pants version of the much-admired CTS-V, but with new, swoopy styling and interior, aimed squarely at competition like the BMW M3 and Mercedes C63. Car and Driver says it “definitely lives up to the hype and roars to the top of this segment of hot four-doors, claiming a 10-Best title and an Editor’s Choice nod on its way up.” Okay, and low production will make it collectible in the future, if there are still gas pumps in 2072.
1970 Dodge D100 Adventurer pickup
“Adventurer” was too good a name to die with DeSoto. So Dodge used it for a premium trim package with comfort and appearance upgrades in their light trucks. One collector writes: “The ‘D’ stood for duct tape, because that’s all you need to fix one when on the road. They were stiff and bouncy and the 4×4 had one of the worst turning radiuses around, but they still keep chugging along.” We found a ’68 “condition 2 1/2” at $16,000 in the classifieds. Restored D100 Adventurers bring handsome prices—up to $40,000. If you don’t want to be bothered with a fixer-upper, a Phoenix dealer has a sharp ’68 with a custom blue and silver paint job that they describe as “stout and stunning.” It should be, at $39,000.
1984-87 Audi 5000
Values: Good….Excellent (Restorable: don’t even think about it)
1984-87 sedan &wagon: $3,000-5,000….$5,000-7,500
1986-87 Quattro sedan & wagon: $5,000-7,000 $7,000-11,500
Cheap wheels indeed: Audi 5000 values never quite recovered from the “unintended acceleration” fracas that bracketed these model years. Some lawsuits are still unsettled, though a good case has been made for driver error—stomping the wrong pedal. (Of course it’s Audi’s fault. Humans never make mistakes.) These cars are expensive to service and parts may be non-existent or priced in the stratosphere. So if a 5000 appeals to you, look for the lowest mileage, cleanest example you can find. Paying a top price for the best one around will save you money in the long run.
P.S.: Jay Leno, autoholic
I actually had two calls from Jay that night. He’s a charming gent, a dyed-in-the-wool autoholic. (Check out his podcasts.) In the first call he waxed eloquent about the joys of driving a Monteverdi with 426 cubic inches of Chrysler Hemi roaring behind your right ear. In the next he went on about his latest acquisition, a Stanley steam car. (One of these set the Land Speed Record of 127.66 mph in 1906.) Then he asked what I owned (a 1936 Packard at the time.) He bent my ear extolling Packard virtues I didn’t even know existed. By then it was 11:30 pm Eastern Time. I was fascinated, but also tired out.”If Jay calls again,” I told my wife, “tell him I’ve gone to bed.”