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High-Horsepower Muscle Cars of the ‘60s Vroom Back Into Popularity : Automobiles: Baby boomers snatch them up for nostalgia and because they are good financial investments.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The mega-horsepower “muscle cars” of the 1960s, driven from the highways by their thirst for fuel and unchecked emissions, are enjoying a return to favor as they flex their power among newer, lesser cars.

Sheer love of horsepower, however, is only part of the story of the popularity of cars that rolled off the assembly line with twice the number of cylinders as most of today’s cars.

There is plenty of nostalgia, but more is involved. Many of these cars are excellent investments.

Cars with the roar of power are hot with the baby-boom generation, said Don Williams, president of the Blackhawk Classic Auto Collection in Danville, Calif.

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“I’m talking about people 35 to 55,” said Williams, who puts together auto collections for wealthy people around the world.

“The boomers have the money now to buy the cars of their youth, the cars they couldn’t afford then.”

Williams, 45, said that when he entered the business in the late 1960s, “everybody wanted, say, a Model A or a 1936 convertible.”

His personal favorite was a 1957 Plymouth Fury.

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“My father couldn’t afford to buy one, so I wanted it,” he said. But tastes do change, he added, predicting that “ten years from now we will be talking about the cars of the ‘70s.”

Tom Corcoran, editor of “Mustang Monthly,” agreed about the pull of the past. But he also mentions financial and road stability.

“Nobody lost a dollar on a V-8 car of the 1960s,” said Corcoran, whose Lakeland, Fla., publication has 60,000 subscribers. “Also, you can really survive on the highway in cars like a Mustang.”

“Mustang Monthly” stays on top of developments among lovers of the Mustang. Its landmark birth as a 1964 1/2 model inspired the term “pony car,” which covers the sporty, powerful class of auto which later included the Chevrolet Camaro, the Plymouth Barracuda, the Pontiac Trans-Am and others.

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If your taste is more universal, there is “Musclecar Classics.” Its pages are filled with details on such giants as the Thunderbird, the 1969 Pontiac GTO and 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix.

There is no way to tell the exact number of muscle cars still on the road in California, according to Bill Madison of the Department of Motor Vehicles. “We’d have to check our computers for every year and make. We don’t keep those cars in a separate category.”

But for Bill Kingsbury of Auto Priceline, the cars are in a class by themselves.

The Priceline provides current values of almost any car, based on make, model, year, mileage, location and optional features. The service recently added over 5,500 listings of collectible cars--most dating between 1946 and 1972--to almost 10,000 in its computers, said Kingsbury.

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“Over the last four years, the top percent increase has been the 1969 Ford Boss 429 Mustang fastback,” he said. “There’s been a 342% increase.”

The word “Boss” brings sighs from Mustang fans.

“That’s because they were made to race, but in order to qualify as stock, Ford had to make a limited amount for sale,” said Paul Spakowski, who restores classic cars at his Polish Motors in San Francisco.

Among his restorations are a 1947 Buick Roadmaster convertible, a 1957 Corvette and a 1946 Chrysler New Yorker.

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“By today’s standards, they were overbuilt,” said Spakowski, who owns a 1963 Dodge convertible with 230,000 miles on it. “People didn’t worry much then about gas prices and smog. They just built them for raw power.”

One of the cars he has helped restore to “mint condition” is a 1969 Dodge Coronet RT owned by Richard Solin of Pacifica.

“I like the older cars better,” Solin said. “They have fewer problems and I like the comradeship on the road. I see someone in an older car and we give each other the thumbs-up salute.”

Although not technically a baby boomer, Solin, 32, pretty well bears out the theories on nostalgia and investment.

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“I was just a kid, but I remember the guys in high school driving big cars down the street and people admiring them,” he said.

Solin bought the car in 1978 for $1,000 and spent $4,500 to restore it.

“Now its worth $25,000,” he says.

Solin spends $3.75 a gallon for racing gas, which has the higher octane his unsophisticated engine demands.

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“I only get 7 miles per gallon,” he says, pointing to the Dodge’s 400-plus horsepower Hemi engine and huge dual four-barrel carburetors. Current cars, with complex combustion chamber designs and computerized engine management systems, can easily match the ‘60s cars for performance while tripling Solin’s mileage.

The muscle car is centerpiece of the Vintage Museum auto collection in Oxnard. The Dodge Ramcharger, ‘Cuda, Cobra Jet and more are all there.

The muscle car, according to museum literature, represented that “brief moment in American automotive history when marketing and advertising departments ruled . . . high horsepower was the crown prince.”

The era ended with a clank in 1972 in the face of the triple specters of high insurance costs, rising gasoline prices and ecological concerns.

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American drivers learned they could not have it all.


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