Jerry Heasley
July 1, 2005

"Mustang prices are cheap!" Boston Bob, on the other end of the phone, paused as he gauged our surprise. Cobra Jets, Bosses, and especially Shelbys have been escalating, some in an almost vertical fashion, over the last year and a half. How can they be termed cheap?

Then, the New Englander hit us with the payoff. "They're cheap compared to other cars, like the Mopars."

Bob Brisbois restores old New England houses for a living. His after-hours passion is restoring Cobra Jets, such as his '69 convertible, on course for MCA Thoroughbred status. He's Cobra Jet crazy.

As Bob points out, classic high-performance Mustangs are part of a broader musclecar market that includes Chevrolets, Dodges, Plymouths, Pontiacs, and other American iron of the '60s and early '70s. When a '69 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 sells for $100,000, how can a Boss 302 be much less? They're rivals and street counterparts of their Trans-Am twins on the track. Or, when a '70 Hemi 'Cuda coupe fetches $250,000, what's a '70 Boss 429 (a hemi-powered ponycar) worth?

American muscle is hot. So, yes, as sardonic as Bob's comments sound, some Mustangs, though they've jumped wildly in price, just might be undervalued.

But how high can they go? How high will they go? Will they level off soon? What's the future hold for prices?

Bob Perkins, head Mustang Club of America national judge and full-time Mustang restorer from Juneau, Wisconsin, jumped into the fray with both feet, "I can tell you that, in my opinion, Boss 302s are the hottest thing going. Good ones are bringing in the $60,000 range."

By "good," Bob means either restored or excellent original. Like Boston Bob, Wisconsin Bob used musclecars as his point of reference for the current escalation of prices inside the Mustang hobby.

"I think any nice musclecar right now is going to command more money than they ever have. The Boss 302s are underpriced from the last jump in the late '80s." Perkins was referring to another time in the collector car hobby when prices soared. In those days, the Boss 302s did nothing.

He continues, "Now, all of a sudden the Z/28s and Boss 302s are really starting to get popular. I think the price of a '69 Z/28 has driven up the price of Boss 302s."

The 60-grand figure sounds regal, but is still one-third less than a Boss 302 brought this past January in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction. Bidders can get carried away at an auction. Perkins is a Boss connoisseur who knows the nuances, but maybe a wealthy buyer does not.

Perkins says, "The car at Barrett-Jackson was a perfect example of people not knowing what they were buying. After commissions, the price was like $90,000 and the car wasn't even painted the original color."

Furthermore, Perkins points out the seller had also chosen reproduction Firestone F70 tires, which is the wrong size for the Boss 302. He lamented the sale with the mantra of "people paying too much for incorrect cars." Nonetheless, the published reports of this price spread the word of $90,000 Boss 302s. He appraised the Barrett-Jackson Boss as a "$40,000 car."

Perkins opines top-notch Boss 302s should bring $75,000. Although these prices may worry some collectors-especially people who have procrastinated about buying their dream machine-he sees higher prices in a positive way. "It's to the point now that people can restore a Boss 302 correctly and not be buried in the car. It used to be they brought $35,000. You couldn't put all the correct parts on them and come out on the car. You'd spend too much money. Now, a top-notch 302 with correct parts, tires, and exhausts will probably bring $75,000 plus."

Restoration costs have long been the bugaboo of the hobby. Put $50,000 in a car, and it's only worth $25,000 to $35,000 the day it's done. This is no longer true with certain muscle Mustangs.

The Boss 429 falls into this category, as well. Perkins gave us a rule of thumb that is sure to excite Boss 429 owners who have held off restoring their cars. "If you can drive them onto a trailer, Boss 429s are worth $100,000, even if they are missing the good stuff."

If a driver is $100,000, how much is a restored Boss 429 worth? A benchmark was set last Labor Day when a black Boss 429 from the Woodhead Collection in Minnesota sold for $240,000. Numerous $200,000-plus prices at auction have backed up the price. However, there's a caveat, says Perkins, "If you've got a black one, it's worth probably $50,000 more."

It's amazing, but black is the rarest of the Boss 429 colors, and more important to price than an S-engine or T-engine, for example. A black Boss 429 has to be restored right or be an excellent original to look good because black shows imperfections more than any other color.

The Boss extended into the '71 model year in the longer, lower, wider body. Nevertheless, the Boss 351 is pure Boss, and prices reflect this heritage. Finding a top-notch Boss 351 is actually tougher than finding a Boss 302. Both will fetch about the same money-$75,000 in concours condition. The difference is the average Boss 351 brings less than the average Boss 302, say $20,000-$25,000 versus $30,000-$35,000.

Perkins is not a Shelby man, and in fact, there is a rivalry between Shelby and Boss enthusiasts. Initially, in 1965, Shelbys were royalty. They carried the racing colors and had the hottest engines. But the Boss cars took over the reins in Trans-Am. They were the hottest of the small-blocks and not available in the Shelby line. By 1970, Ford dropped the Shelby Mustang altogether.

Today, Shelby prices are rising at what Drew Alcazar calls an "accelerated" pace. In contrast, he sees Cobra Jets going up at a "standard market escalation rate."

Twenty years ago when Drew was a skinny teenager, we featured his blue 428 Cobra Jet Mach 1 on these pages. Later, he restored Mustangs at his Concours Restorations shop in California. Today, he's owner and president of Russo & Steele, an auction house specializing in sports and musclecars. They sell cars in Arizona in January, alongside Barrett-Jackson, and also in Monterey, which is their big sports car event.

Drew has gone big-time. With success came a few gray hairs, but the boyish smile is still there, along with his enthusiasm for Mustangs. Drew spoke to us about Shelbys, starting with 6S0001, the first '66 Shelby built. The selling price at his Scottsdale auction was $280,000.

Aknowledgeable Mustang enthusiast, he warned, "Does that instantly translate to all '66 GT350s making a huge, dramatic jump in value? Guys will call me and say they've got a car exactly like that. Well, first of all you can't have a car exactly like that because there's only one '66 GT350 with serial number one on it."

Drew refused to hype prices and called the sale an "anomaly" that auction houses like to "wave the banner over." He knows Shelby Mustangs from 20 years of experience in the hobby. He sounds like a Mustang enthusiast first and an auction person second.

He posed the question, "What are the two Shelbys at the top of the bell curve since the beginning of time?" His answer is the '65 GT350 and the '68 GT500KR convertible. According to Drew, those two Shelbys are "neck and neck for the top-dog spot."

Then, Drew said, "It depends on if you want an early Ricky Racer with a buckboard suspension and sidepipes howling in your ear that you put a license plate on. Or, whether you want a car that's got some cushy, comfort amenities with woodgrain on the dash and a kind of GT cruiser thing.

"The '67 GT500s have eclipsed both the rough-riding '65 and the cushy KR for the top spot, pulling from $135K to $175K. Nobody will forget the $280,000 the '67 GT500 with the 427 Shelby aluminum engine brought at Barrett-Jackson in 2004. Meanwhile, '65 GT350s are "around $150,000 to buy a concours-type car," Drew estimated.

Drew's surprise for us was the KR, dethroned and in the $100,000 to $125,000 range for a documented, restored, no-stories car, now deemed his dark horse. As high as Shelbys have risen, he feels the KR is under-valued. "Everybody is so gee-gawed about Eleanor cars and '67 this, that, and the other. I remember the days when '67 Shelby Mustangs were red-haired stepchildren."

No more. Price wise, is the '67 GT500 the king Mustang musclecar? Or does the title go to the Boss 429?

Meanwhile, Cobra Jets follow what Drew calls "a standard market escalation" seen in all kinds of musclecars. Prices are high, but not wild.

Perkins says, "Top-notch Cobra Jet Mach 1s are going to bring $75,000-$85,000 with all the stuff on them. But one missing tires, exhausts, and all the trick stuff under the hood? No."

Times do change. Mustangs were once mainly collectible to the Mustang community. Now, with the popularity of musclecars, it's open season on Shelbys, Bosses, and Cobra Jets.

Will prices level off? Roger Gibson, who mainly restores muscle Mopars, says, "Right now, it's a hard market to figure out what cars are worth."

Perhaps owners are holding, afraid to sell with the market accelerating. So are muscle Mustang prices cheap? Roger says the key is to compare Mustangs with other marques based on rarity and desirability. Boston Bob says ultra rare is a car they made 12 or 15 of. Roger agrees and adds Mustangs were made in large numbers. The '71 Hemi 'Cuda convertible that brought $3,000,000 at Scottsdale this past January was one of 11 built. It is the king of musclecars. Had Ford built a Boss 429 convertible in such numbers, we would have an apples-to-apples comparison.

Meanwhile, Drew sold a Parnelli Jones-driven Trans-Am Boss 302 for $500,000. That's ultra rare. It's got race history, same as the '65 Shelby Mustang GT350R.

Will prices level off? Boston Bob says no. Roger says, "Well, it has to do something."

Time will tell.

Running On Empty?"We're at the bottom of the barrel," says Rick Parker of Signature Auto Classics in Columbus, Ohio. Rick had a taste of today over 10 years ago when he went to a shop to see a friend.

He tells us, "My friend was working on a '37 Ford. I don't want to call anybody's car a piece of junk, but the thing was in horrible condition. There was nothing left. He was building a street rod. He says, 'Don't laugh, this is where you Mustang guys will be in 10 to 15 years.' He was right. We're now building cars that were parts cars 10 to 15 years ago."

Does this illustrate that we're running out of cars? In the '70s, the street-rod industry began building Model A bodies, then Deuce Coupes, and so on. Those first bodies were fiberglass. With Mustangs turning 40, we're about as far out as the cars of the late '20s and early '30s were in the '70s, when the industry started making those bodies.

Hot Rod magazine reported last October on the new '69 Camaro body from CARS (Classic Automotive Restoration Specialists) in Belews Creek, North Carolina. We visited with Jim Barber there, who verified the '69 Camaro will soon be joined by a '67 Mustang fastback. The estimate is in the $15,000 vicinity-no higher, but possibly lower. For this money, you'll receive basically a shell from the radiator support back, meaning full unibody minus front fenders, hood, doors, and trunk lid.

Who Are The Buyers?In 1989, the big rise in musclecar prices was peaking. The boom abruptly went to bust following America's surprise invasion and war against Iraq in January 1991 (which coincidentally started just as the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction was getting underway).

Boston Bob doesn't think we'll correct like 1991 because "we're years along now." He believes the previous boom was populated with speculators and older collectors more interested in pre-'60s vehicles, compared to people who are now in their forties and fifties and favor cars of the '60s.

Drew Alcazar pegs these 45- to 65-year-old buyers as affluent. George Waydo, owner of K.A.R. in Columbus, Ohio, has a showroom full of classic Mustangs. He says his customers call and ask the price of a car they want. Many are baby boomers buying the '60s car of their dreams. George says they want a "youth-extender," and a musclecar fits the bill.

"They are not conscious of value," George points out. "They don't know if a car is worth $19,000, $29,000, or $49,000. They just know they can afford it."

Are Longtime Owner/CollectorsThrilled With Prices?Dennis Falk owns a pair of Shelbys, both '69 GT500 convertibles. Prices are about $100,000 for fastbacks, and at least 50 percent more for convertibles. One of his Shelbys is an unrestored original. The other is in the paint shop and under restoration.

We asked, "Are you excited because your cars are going up in value?"

He answered, "Me? No. I mean, if I was going to sell it, yes. But I don't plan on selling. It gives me a good feeling to know my investment hasn't gone down. It's like buying a stock. If you're going to hold it, it's only worth what it is when you are ready to sell it. That's how I look at it. Had I bought them purely as investments, yeah, it'd be a nice deal."

Falk is a banker with the attitude of many of us. We don't want to sell and not have a car. His course remains the same as when he bought the Shelbys: "Buy it, drive it, and enjoy it."

Top 10 Known Prices for '64 1/2 to '73 MustangsIn the Nov. '04 issue, we compiled our first-ever, top-10 Mustang price list. Now, after the big winter auctions, six of the original ten have been bumped from their lofty spots. Interestingly, last year's list included a number of restomod-type cars; this year's list is dominated by original muscle Mustangs.

Price Model Notes
1. $280,800 '67 {{{Shelby GT500}}} Barrett-Jackson 2004, Black, aftermarket wheels, aluminum Shelby 427 market engine
2. $260,000 '66 Shelby GT350 Russo & Steele 2004,First ’66 Shelby Mustang
3. ${{{240}}},000 '69 Boss 429 Kruse International 2004, Black, Woodhead Collection
4. $225,000 '65 Shelby GT350 Competition Documented private sale, restored to concours
5. $224,640 '68 Shelby GT500KR Russo & Steele 2005, Highland Green, convertible, SAAC and MCA awards
6. $194,400 '69 Boss 429 Russo & Steele 2005, 20,000 miles, original Maroon paint
7. $194,400 '67 Shelby GT500E Barrett-Jackson 2004, First in the Eleanor Shelby series
8. $191,160 '67 Shelby GT500 fastback Barrett-Jackson 2005, Rotisserie restoration, dark green
9. $162,000 '68 Shelby GT500KR fastback Barrett-Jackson 2005, No information available
10. $162,000 '67 Shelby GT500 Barrett-Jackson 2005,
  fastback 29,000 miles, restored, green