Grandpa's ride gets respect from collectors

Chicago Tribune

It was bound to happen.

With trucks accounting for nearly 50% of all new-vehicle sales, pickups are beginning to make their mark in the collectible market.

"I'm starting to see some '40s- and '50s-model Ford and Chevy trucks that you could buy a year ago for $7,000 sell at auction for $25,000," said Dean Kruse, owner of Kruse International, the Auburn, Ind.-based auction house that specializes in collectible vehicles.

When a new vehicle attracts attention, it revives interest in older vehicles of that type, and trucks have been the beneficiary, Kruse said.

"Trucks are becoming popular as collectibles for two reasons: They basically are cute, and they basically are easier to restore than cars because the parts are more readily available, especially for old Chevys and Fords," he said.

That's why, for the first time, Kruse's annual Dean's List of collectible vehicles expected to appreciate in value this year includes a pair of pickups: a 1948 Ford and a 1950 Chevy truck.

In general, the market for collectible vehicles has been soft for almost two years.

"The market was hurt by 9/11, but that had an impact for only about 30 days," Kruse said. "What hurt more is the economy. Sellers were asking unrealistic prices for their cars in a weak economy, and that hurt because no one has to buy a collectible car.

"The market for collectible cars should stage a comeback this year," he added.

The question about collectibles, however, is how older models will be affected by decisions at General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler to develop high-performance versions of existing cars. Why buy a vintage performance car when you can get a modern one?

"It's the best PR they could do for collectibles," Kruse said. "Bringing out new cars like the Impala SS or Pontiac GTO always helps develop interest in the old versions. But even when the automakers no longer offer a car, like the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, it helps increase the popularity and demand for the older ones when you no longer can get the new ones."

And which performance car coming out this year and next will be the best bet for collectors to grab?

"The Ford GT," Kruse replied. "It will be an instant collectible."

But enough of the new. Here's the '03 Dean's List, Kruse's cream of the crop among the collectibles and his comments on each. The values represent cars that have been restored, not those found behind a shed that need work from the ground up:

* 1931 Chrysler Dual Cowl Phaeton. Several have been restored recently, and with Darrell Davis (former Chrysler chief financial officer) showing them at Pebble Beach (Concours d'Elegance) last year, there is renewed interest in this car and its value could rise 20%. We will see prices from $250,000 to $400,000 this year.

* 1948 Ford pickup V-8. Folks enjoy the distinctive styling of the 1948 Ford trucks. And, backed by the reliable Ford V-8, this utility vehicle saw many years of service at homes and farms across America. A chance to experience your granddad's ride will cost $12,000 to $18,000.

* 1950 Chevrolet pickup 6-cylinder. "Like a rock," the Chevrolet pickup is one of America's workhorses. The attractive design of the 1950 Chevy truck was repeated through most of that decade. Restored examples are escalating in value and soon should see $12,000 to $18,000.

* 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk. Orphaned cars, such as Studebaker, usually are overlooked on most collectible lists. One never to be forgotten from the South Bend, Ind., firm is the supercharged 1957 Golden Hawk. Rated at 275 horsepower, the 289-cubic-inch V-8 was a magnificent performer wrapped in a timeless body style. Fewer than 4,400 were made. Expect the Golden Hawk to follow the values of other cars of the era, such as the '57 Chevy, and hit $15,000 to $22,000.

* 1960 Chevrolet Impala convertible 348 Tri-Power/4-speed. The predecessor to the 409 was the 348. Examples with the three-two barrel carburetion setup and a 4-speed manual can be difficult to find in today's market and are highly sought after. The 1960 Chevrolet with the large fins and aircraft styling is an icon. Prices from $35,000 to $45,000 will be seen this year.

* 1964 Chevrolet 409 convertible. Made a household word by the Beach Boys song "409," this powerful, early muscle car saw many wins on the street and drag strip when new. A 409 convertible sold at last year's Auburn fall auction for $64,000. Terrific examples will fetch in the neighborhood of $35,000 to $45,000 this season.

* 1968 Chevrolet Corvette L-89 427/435 horsepower. Corvette is one of the strongest names in collectible vehicles. The big-block cars are the ones enthusiasts hold dear. The L-89 option is the L71 427/435 engine combined with aluminum heads. Only 624 were produced, and today they command a premium.

Expect a top-shelf convertible with matching numbers (engine block and VIN, though matching engine block, transmission and rear-end numbers would be ideal) and two tops (convertible and hardtop) to escalate to $80,000 to $100,000 this year.

* 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429 Fastback 429/375-horsepower 4-speed. Ford hoped to produce 500 Boss 429 "semi-hemi" Mustangs in 1969. Instead, 1,358 Boss 429 orders came in, largely because of the popularity of the Boss 302. The actual production total for the 1970 model year was a scant 499, creating an instant collectible. For 2003, the 'Ultimate Boss' will run a tall $80,000 to $120,000 for fine examples.

* 1972 Ford Mustang Mach I, 351 HO. In the late years of the muscle-car wars, Ford continued to produce some of the top performers, echoing its world-racing domination of the 1960s. As a last-ditch effort to squeeze horsepower out of the 351, the HO (or high output) version was offered in the Mustang. Producing 275 horsepower, the V-8 posted a zero-to-60-mph run by Car and Driver magazine of 6.6 seconds in a 1 1/2-ton Mustang. A new Mustang is coming for '05, a car a lot of people are waiting for with great anticipation. That car not only will help Ford roar back in the marketplace, but also will renew interest in the older ones. Excellent restored examples of the '72 Mach I will fetch $18,000 to $30,000 in 2003.

* 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 W-30 convertible. By the '70s, the W-30 442 option was engraved into the minds of muscle-car enthusiasts. It combined luxury and performance into a good-looking package. A Hurst/Olds 442 convertible paced Indy in 1972. With Oldsmobile soon to be phased out by GM, this collectible marque should increase in market value. Watch $20,000 to $30,000 values being placed on this desirable Cutlass.

A final hint from Kruse: "Always remember, when it comes to collectibles, that when the top goes down, the price -- and value -- goes up."

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