Classic Car Values

1963 Buick RivieraMy father showed me an article on the 1963 Buick Riviera. It was the first year that it had the new boxy design. And it sold for $4,333 at the time. That struck me. People tend to think of restored vehicles as being worth a lot of money, but given my intuition about inflation, it seemed like in inflation adjusted dollars, the car would sell for more or less what it now does as a “classic.” I decided to check.

Using yearly inflation data from, I created a spreadsheet and calculated the inflation adjusted price of the 1963 Buick Riviera at every year from then until now. So in 1970, it was worth $5,493. In 1980, it was worth $11,669. In 1990, it was worth $18,520. In 2000, it was worth $24,405. And last year, it was worth $32,565.

But I ought to point out one thing about inflation that I learned recently reading Social Security: the Phony Crisis. Inflation doesn’t just measure how fast prices rise. It adjusts for improvements in products. So a 1963 car really should be worth quite a lot less than the inflation rate would indicate because the car hasn’t improved over the last 50 years. But still, I think this exercise is a valuable one.

So now I knew that the 1963 Buick Riviera would cost $32,565 dollars in 2012 dollars. How much were fully restored models actually selling for? I went over to Hemmings Classifieds to look. Of course, it doesn’t list what the cars are selling for; it lists what people are asking. There where four in basically new condition: $19,900; $19,995; $22,900; and $24,495. In other words: a lot less than the car sold for originally.

I guess this doesn’t mean that much. I had noticed before that the value of cars tended to be right about the cost of restoring them. But with all the buzz about “classic” cars and all the celebrity collectors, I am still a little surprised that the cars don’t retain at least their sticker value.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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