Jerry Heasley
May 1, 2010

Has the recession affected Mustang prices? Are they down? Or, like gold, have Mustangs-at least selected classics-gone up in value?

Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, said, "I don't think regular Mustangs-the high-production number cars-have taken much of a hit. They didn't take a big run up and they didn't take a big run down." On the upper end, he hasn't seen "huge escalations" in prices either. Instead, there's been a "leveling off and thinning out."

Barrett-Jackson President Steve Davis compared cars like the '65 Mustang convertibles to "blue chips that haven't been affected by a wild swing one way or the other." By blue chip, Davis didn't mean stocks. As 401k holders know all too well, stocks have taken huge hits since the recession began in late 2007 and early 2008. Davis said buyers are looking for a Mustang as both an investment and a driving enjoyment that is not subject to "someone sneezing on Wall Street and having half your investment evaporate."

Historically speaking, jitters on Wall Street push investors into other "hard assets," including collector cars. Certain classic cars are commodities. Davis alluded to "Wall Street types" who now much more readily recognize collector cars through the market place created by nationally televised auctions like Barrett-Jackson.

George Waydo, owner of K.A.R. in Columbus, Ohio, retails '65-'73 Mustangs on an almost daily basis. More than a salesman, George is an astute purveyor of the Mustang market. He speaks more like a college professor than a vendor. The soft-spoken Ohioan restricted his initial market analysis to the "plain Mustangs," referring to the '65-'70 fastbacks, convertibles, and hardtops that "most hobbyists own if they don't have the money to buy a Shelby or a Boss." He continued, "Our experience is the basic cars, like GT and non-GT fastbacks, coupes, and convertibles. They haven't seen any drop off in value versus a couple years ago."

Waydo was talking about'65-'68s in stock condition. He has noted a discrimination in quality, saying, "The really nice cars have had no drop off. If anything, they command a slight premium." For a Mustang to command a premium in the worst recession since the Great Depression of 1929 has to be very heartening for owners and enthusiasts. Their cars are drivable investments.

Appearing to be on the same page with Jackson and Davis, Waydo backs up his statements with specific examples. "We sold a primo '68 390 fastback and it brought the same kind of money, high 30s, that it brought a year or two ago. And we've sold some '65-'66 non-GT convertibles in the $32,000-$34,500 range, the same kind of money they brought a couple years ago."

Bob Perkins, expert on all things Boss Mustang and a master of concours Mustang restorations, added, "A lot of average cars dropped in price," he said in reference to average Bosses and other more expensive Mustangs, such as Cobra Jets and Shelbys.

There is little doubt that the high-dollar cars have dropped in value. Waydo did not mince words: "The Boss, Shelby, and Cobra Jet Mustangs have dropped dramatically. Based on what we've seen, the high-end market has taken the biggest hit."

Waydo gave an example of a '69 Shelby convertible he sold for $175,000 in September 2008. "That same Shelby today would be hard pressed to bring $100,000. That's how much that market has dropped. And the Bosses that were bringing $80,000-$90,000 are having a real hard time bringing $50,000 today."

Perkins echoed the same sentiment with the upper end classics when he said, "Everything is a little softer. But the economy has hurt the average cars more than the really good stuff." He was talking about average Boss 302s, cars that were perhaps painted 10 years ago and have had nothing done to them since. These cars-with "pretty nice workmanship"-sold a few years back for $100,000-$110,000; they are now down to around $80,000. And the Bosses that used to bring $80,000-$85,000 are now selling for $50,000. Perkins claims these average Boss Mustangs were overpriced in the boom times because they got "dragged up with the good stuff."

Perkins believes that, with the economy down, average cars don't sell as well as the top cars. His reasoning is simple. People with disposable income buy the best Mustangs.

As an example, Bob mentioned the black '69 Mach 1 Cobra Jet that sold at last January's Barrett-Jackson for $128,000. While other Mach 1s with the 428 Cobra Jet brought half that value, this black Mach 1 set what might be a world's record.

Bob knows the car well. He said, "That was Ralph Papa's old car. Drew Alcazar restored it first. We upgraded it for Dick Bridges to Thoroughbred standards and did some detailing on it." Perkins has a reputation as a Thoroughbred Mustang restorer. There's no question his workmanship increased the value of this stunning Mach 1. Meanwhile, other 428 CJ Mach 1s brought $50,000-$80,000.

Another upper end classic bringing near world record money at Barrett-Jackson was a red '66 GT350. I stood a few feet away from the auction block and watched this car sell for $195,000. The buyer also has to pay a 10 percent commission, increasing the total to $214,500. Waydo said, "Barrett-Jackson is not the real world."