August 16, 2013

In Detroit, classic cars making a comeback

Bloomberg News

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In this 2011 file photo, a red 1971 Corvette Roadster. The price of classic cars has swelled since the worst of the economic downturn. As the economy improves and the value of classic cars rise, more buyers are taking them in for paint jobs, modifications and tune-ups, especially in car-crazy Detroit.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Detroit's hot-rod culture is strong, Ray said. He remembered going to classic-car shows at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills that would fill the employee parking lot because so many workers had a collector car.

"There's a lot of people in all the auto companies who are active with cars, old cars," Ray said in a phone interview, taking a break from polishing his Packard in Au Gres, overlooking Lake Huron. "I think it's what Michigan is all about, and Detroit. The industry's coming back."

Many members of the Classic Car Club of America's Michigan region, including Ray, have some connection with General Motors, Ford or Chrysler, now controlled by Fiat, said director Jay Fitzgerald. The value of the cars the club considers "classics," primarily those built between 1925 and 1948, has gone up the past several years as wealthy car lovers put their money into hard assets to hedge against declining stocks.

Now that the economy is picking up, interest is increasing in the mid-range of classic cars, those a few years newer than the ones in Ray's garage, said Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market and American Car Collector magazines.

"When the economy was terrible, really rich people were buying really expensive cars," Martin said in a phone interview. "The $30,000 to $100,000 range was soft because people were worried about their jobs."

There's more confidence now, he said, particularly in American muscle cars dating from 1955 to 1974. Hagerty's data shows the average value of 15 muscle cars it tracks from 1964 to 1970 peaked at $235,700 in December 2008. It fell 20 percent to below $190,000 in 2010 and has since rebounded 8 percent to about $205,000 in April. The company's index tracking affordable classics, cars from 1949 to 1970 that go for less than $30,000, also is up after reaching a five-year low in 2012.

"It's always said 'people collect what they remember,'" said Martin, who himself owns 15 classic cars. "There are a lot of people in their 50s and 60s now who think it's time to get a Camaro."

Syrocki said he gets the most business every year in the weeks leading up to the Woodward Dream Cruise. On a recent July morning, a mechanic was elbow-deep under the hood of a 1969 Malibu Chevelle at his shop, 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of GM's headquarters in downtown Detroit. A few yards away, a stack of sea-foam leather seats waited to be reupholstered. A dozen more classic coupes were parked in a nearby storage garage, waiting for transmission tune-ups and engine repairs.

"The past two years solid, we've been going up," Syrocki said. "There's more cars every day."


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