If you're like most Pontiac collectors/hobbyists who've been watching the market over the past six years, you likely thought that owning your favorite GTO, Trans Am, or other classic had become impossible. From 2001 to 2006, the collector-car market grew as quickly as the price of gasoline and the skyrocketing prices of houses.
Many insiders blame the collector-car inflation spiral on the out-of-control home refinancing market that allowed homeowners to suck cash out of their home's market value and invest it in other tangible assets. The collector-car market seemed a perfect place to put all that cash, and speculators and nonhobbyists began buying Pontiacs with the sole intention of flipping them for a quick profit.
Soon thereafter, word hit the hobby that a handful of select Pontiacs were fetching six-figures (Ram Air IVs, Judges, '69 Trans Ams, and '73 Trans Am Super-Dutys are some examples), and many who had a Pontiac sitting in their garage thought it, too, was worth more than their mortgage. This furthered the insanity of the escalating market. Day after day, late-'70s Trans Ams hit the marketplace with asking prices in the $40,000s, and Grandma's trusty two-barrel LeMans was advertised as the $20,000 find of the century. Even previously ignored 403- and 301-powered Pontiacs of the '70s and '80s carried asking prices of $15,000 or more along with the promise to be today's hottest appreciating collector cars, just to make sure you thought you were getting your money's worth.
If you've held off buying the Pontiac of your dreams because the thought of spending $100,000 on a car that cost only $5,000 new sickened you, we may have good news for you. The market is in a downturn and appears to have receded to pre-2004 levels. That means popular Pontiac musclecars are available at prices that most collectors would agree are more sensible and affordable.
So which collector Pontiacs do you invest in during this market downturn? We asked four industry insiders-Jim Mattison, Don Keefe, Dana Mecum, and Thomas A. DeMauro-for their market observations and their top picks for you, the High Performance Pontiac readers. If you plan on investing in a collector Pontiac this year, these insights will help you find one that won't break the bank.
Jim Mattison is wholly qualified to comment on the Pontiac collector-car market. His company, PHS Automotive Services, provides copies of buildsheets and invoices of Pontiacs manufactured from 1961 forward. Jim assesses the true rarity of surviving Pontiacs on a daily basis and gives seminars throughout the year on the "State of the Hobby."
The "high-water" mark for the collector-car market was reached in 2006," Jim says. "At that time, a car could be posted on eBay on Monday, sold on Friday, reposted on Monday, and flipped for a profit the next Friday. There were a lot of speculators in the market who have since moved on to other things.
"That said, I firmly believe that old cars, and specifically Pontiacs, are still an excellent investment. Many are starting to find their way back into the marketplace as people reach their retirement years or change their priorities, and there are now excellent opportunities to pick up some great Pontiacs. In the current market, if you do your due diligence, a collector Pontiac is a better investment than stocks or money in the bank. Here are my top picks listed in order by year.
'65 GTO: "All cars, and especially Tri-Powers, equipped with the four-speed transmission. The '65 GTO is a beautiful automobile. It featured minor updates from '64, but most of the styling concerns of the first year were corrected to create a timeless example of Pontiac in its prime. It's the first year of the power bulge hoodscoop, which became the GTO trademark through 1967 and was the first year of plentiful performance options for the GTO including close-ratio four-speeds, 3.90 and 4.33 rearends, and over-the-counter Ram Air late in the year."
'67/'68 Firebirds: "All models, especially Ram Airs. I think the first two years of the Firebird are tremendously undervalued compared to their counterpart, the Chevrolet Camaro. All examples are great finds, but the bigger the motor the better. Look for Ram Air 400 cars if you can find them. There were 65 produced in 1967 and 523 built in 1968 (413 Ram Air and 110 Ram Air II)."
'69 Judge: "All cars. The '69 Judge came across right in the middle of the 'Flower Power' years and was an instant hit. Although the market was down for Pontiac's flamboyant flagship in the late-'70s, it has been the most popular and desirable Pontiac to own to this day. Its standard engine was the 366 hp Ram Air III, and if you find an example with the optional 370hp Ram Air IV, it's better than money in the bank."
'76 T/A 50th Anniversary ...
'76 T/A 50th Anniversary Edition
'76 Trans Am 50th Anniversary Special Edition (S/E): "This is my dark-horse choice. It's a car that has been somewhat ignored to this point. Pontiac created this Trans Am to celebrate the Division's 50th anniversary, and this black and gold special edition led the way for the Bandit cars of 1977-81. There were 1,947 produced in hardtop and 643 with Hurst T-Tops. The rarest and most desirable is the 455ci, four-speed, T-top version, of which 110 were manufactured."
'77-'81 Trans Am Special Editions (S/E): "The younger generation seems to be going after the Bandit cars, thanks to the icon status of Smokey and the Bandit. Although more than 40,000 Bandit cars were produced between 1977 and 1981, the value is strong. The most popular are the '77-'79s with the Pontiac 400s. In my opinion, their values will continue to escalate."
Don Keefe Don Keefe has immersed himself in all things Pontiac for more than 25 years. A frequent High Performance Pontiac contributing editor and the editor/publisher of Smoke Signals, the Pontiac Oakland Club International (POCI) monthly magazine, Don's knowledge of experimental Pontiacs, collector trends, auction results, and market activity is unmatched in today's hobby.
"I think we saw the crest of the wave regarding the collector-car feeding frenzy in late 2005," Don says. "From there, things cooled off slightly but managed to maintain fairly strong numbers well into 2007, when uncertainty about the economy started to make a dent in the collector car 'bull market.' Though the 'cream of the crop' vehicles were still posting strong numbers, the $35,000-$100,000 market started to show some stress.
"The '08 season was a challenge for both sellers and buyers. Sellers were holding onto their cars if they could, though supply still seemed to outstrip demand in several areas and prices continued to drop.
"From what I've seen, the market is down 30-plus percent in general, more in some areas and less in others. If I were to choose the cars that might represent good investments, I would be looking at prime, restored, numbers-matching examples of the following:
'57-'58 Bonnevilles: "Fuel-injected con-vertibles. These are rare and beautiful machines and represent better values than their Chevy counterparts."
'59-'60 Bonneville Convertibles: "Original Tri-Power cars, preferably with bucket seats. These are substantial and impressive cars, and can be had with a variety of options and color schemes."
'60-'61 Ventura: Tri-Power, preferably with four-speed, bucket seats, and 8-Lugs from the factory. Each year has its fans, and both cars ushered in some serious performance for Pontiac.
'62 Super Duty Catalinas: "Original, steel-bodied machines, single and dual four-barrel. These cars are rare and interesting. They're easier to maintain than the more fragile aluminum front-end cars, yet are more affordable. Value-wise, they'll always play second-fiddle to the aluminum cars but will appreciate at similar rates to their more desirable brethren."
Dana Mecum is the president of Mecum Auctions, which has sold more than 50,000 collector cars in the past 23 years. He has sold some of the rarest Pontiacs on the planet, including Super-Dutys, Ram Air IVs, race-pedigree drag cars, and factory experimentals.
"Interest remains high in collector cars in general, and Pontiacs in particular continue to generate much attention," Dana says. "Although prices have corrected somewhat from the rapid spikes of several years ago, values still remain high compared to the late-'90s through 2000. This is a great time to seek out and purchase the collectible Pontiac of your dreams, as prices may never be lower. We forecast continued demand for these great cars and would like to mention several Pontiacs that we feel are especially worthy of consideration."
'62-'63 Super Duty 389 and 421 Catalinas: "These cars have now emerged from the traditional Pontiac fan base into serious mainstream collections. These Camelot-era track terrors are being acknowledged and appreciated by savvy performance enthusiasts who strive to obtain examples of vehicles that were both innovative and successful in the record books."
'69-'79 Firebird Trans Ams and Formulas: "The First-Gen '69 Trans Am has always been sought after and certainly continues to climb in value. Worth watching and increasing in value are the '70s versions beginning with the '70 1/2 Ram Air III and Ram Air IV, '71-'72 455 H.O., '73-'74 SD-455, and all years through 1979. The mid- to late-70's Trans Ams are currently a great buy in collecting, plus we've seen both demand and values increase recently. A real sleeper now starting to gain attention are the slightly more subtle '70 1/2-and-later Formula models, which are rarer than the Trans Am and could be equipped with the same high-performance engines and equipment."
'64-'72 GTOs: The original musclecar was produced from 1964 through 1974, but the '64-'72 models are collector icons, and are well known and sought after as leading examples of factory horsepower and styling. Tri-Powers, Ram Air, and the 455 H.O. lead the list, while the '69-'71 Judge still rules for the outrageous period appearance. All GTOs of this era are considered desirable, with values very stable and predictable. Quality and rarity also factor in heavily toward what's considered investment level collecting, but collector-car fans have many great choices in all price segments.
Thomas A. Demauro
Thomas A. DeMauro is the editor of High Performance Pontiac. He has been associated with it since 1993 and active in the Pontiac hobby for more than 25 years, having owned myriad collector Pontiacs. As well as conceiving the editorial content of the magazine, providing a portion of it, and assigning and editing the rest, he offers his advice on many topics in Full Throttle each month.
"I concur with the observations of our esteemed contributors regarding the market conditions, so I won't reiterate my opinions here," Tom says. "The reason we chose different people in the hobby to contribute to this story was to see how each one's approach would differ given the same subject-the current state of collector-car market and which Pontiacs could be shrewd picks for the future.
"As a result, Jim Mattison and Don Keefe made very specific recommendations regarding cars that they felt would increase in value over the coming years, thereby providing sound investments to those who have been traumatized by the emasculation of their conventional paper assets. Dana Mecham took a more general approach by specifying the Pontiac lines that historically have performed the best and why they should continue to do so. With those roads already so deftly traveled, I will therefore take the path that I relate to the best.
"My choices cater more to the budget side of the spectrum, and some are in a more eclectic vein. The advantages are that the purchase prices are much lower than those of the rarer, more popular models, and these Pontiacs will make excellent driver/show cars with a minimum of worry or hassle.
"Though they will increase in value, albeit at a slow pace, these choices will not surpass the more popular higher-priced models, now or probably ever. They will, however, provide a pleasurable ownership experience because they are unique, perform well given their eras of manufacture, and are comfortable and user-friendly. My 'closet classics' won't make you wealthy on a bank statement, but they will make you rich in memories behind the wheel."
'65-'67 2+2s: "Like a Goat on steroids, the 2+2 was for the grownup GTO fan who wanted Big-Car status and musclecar grunt. With standard 421 power (428 in the '67) there were no slow 2+2s. Styling was outstanding for the day, and cruising in one can be effortless with optional power steering and brakes. Pristine examples bring real money, but they always lag behind like-year GTOs. Factory Tri-Power-optioned examples are the most collectible in the '65-'66, and for the '67, the 428 H.O. is desirable as is the disc brake option, an upgrade over drums.
'70½-'02 Formulas: "I know this is trip-ping over Dana's forecast a bit, but I must state that there are no 'bad' Formulas. Sure there are some slower late-model Second-Gens with 265s and 301s (I owned one myself) and there were some 350 two-barrels made earlier, but by-and-large the Second-, Third-, and Fourth-Gen Formulas are all spirited-accelerating and -handling Pontiacs. However, they will always be cheaper than like-equipped T/As, even though in many cases they gave up nothing in styling or performance to their big brothers. Be they 350-400 or 455 four-barrel Second-Gens, TPI 305 or 350 Third-Gens, or LT1 or LS1 Fourth-Gens, all can provide Pontiac excitement from the driver seat and should steadily increase in value (the Third-Gens more slowly)."
'73-'75 Grand Ams: "These Pontiacs have been grossly underrated from day one. However, what they lack in straight-line performance, they more than make up for in luxury. Styling is very bold, even for its era, so you will not go unnoticed on the street or at the shows. With 400 or 455 power available, upgrades are easy. Try to get a 455 or a four-barrel version of the 400 instead of the two-barrel if power is a prerequisite. Asking prices for Grand Ams are well under those of GTOs of previous years, yet they offer a Grand Touring experience from the cockpit."
'73-'77 Grand Prixs: "If you don't need to be the quickest one to the party but do like to be the coolest to arrive, Grand Prixs of this era will never disappoint. The 400 and especially the SJ 455 models are preferred by most and increase in value more steadily, but the 350 and later 301s can be bottom-dollar bargains if you don't mind less power under the hood."
'74-'75 T/As: "As discussed in 'Last Man Standing' in this issue, the '74-'75 'shovel nose' Trans Ams have gotten less respect (unless it's a '74 SD-455) than they deserve by collectors over the years. These 400- and 455-powered T/As still have a lot to offer the hobbyist who places more value in the on-the-road experience than the resale potential. As expected, 455 models bring more cash."