Twice-Plus As Much

  • December 6, 2023

Thirty years ago, when I was young guy in his 20s, I bought the Great Pumpkin – my 1976 Trans Am – for $5,400. It seemed like a lot of money back then.

It’s a lot more now.

Adjusted for what they call “inflation” (as if it were some sort of natural change in things rather than a purposeful devaluation of the buying power of the money the public is forced to use to buy things with, done by the private banking cartel that has the legal power to increase the money supply, thereby devaluing the money in circulation and so requiring more of it to buy the same thing) a young guy today would need just shy of $12,000 to buy something like the Great Pumpkin.

Actually, he’d need 2-3 times as much, because Pumpkins have gone up in actual value at the same time a dollar’s buying power has gone down – making a Pumpkin purchase by a young guy in his 20s today even more pie-in-the-sky than the purchase of a new Corvette – because the ‘Vette could be financed for six years at a manageable interest rate. While financing is available for classic muscle cars like my Pumpkin, the loans are generally 2-3 years shorter and the interest is 2-3 times more, so good luck making those $600 monthly payments.

Back in the early ’90s, accumulating $5,400 was doable, even for a young guy in his 20s. This meant it was possible to avoid a loan – and the paying of interest. People used to do just that, commonly – for used cars generally. And young people specifically. It was usual for a teenager or college-age person to own their car, which they were able to do because it was possible to pay cash – and not much – for a car.

Even a car such as the Pumpkin.

When I look back and reflect, I marvel at this – and thank the Motor Gods I was born in time to experience an America that was like this. Cars like my ’76 Trans-Am were once as common as $50,000 trucks are today – with the difference being that cars like my Trans-Am were not usually driven by guys in their 50s, as is very much usually the case today (because it is mostly only guys in their 50s today who have the means to afford a car like my Trans-Am today).

I am the second owner of my Trans-Am, which had 52,000 miles on it when I bought it and in just-shy of what classic car people refer to as a “number one” condition, meaning a car that is in almost as-new condition, with nearly perfect paint and interior and all mechanical systems in excellent working order. It is still a very solid “number 2” condition car today, 30 years later – because I’ve kept it with the kind of care Medieval monks lavished on rare books.

But the point is that 30 years ago, all it took to buy an almost “number one” condition muscle car like my TA was $5,400 (just shy of $12k in today’s devalued-buying-power dollars). One could buy a solid driver – i.e., a car that wasn’t almost-perfect, either cosmetically or mechanically but that was drivable – for a third as much as that or even less. Anyone old enough to remember those years will confirm this.

Imagine it. A young guy in his 20s – or younger – could realistically entertain the hope of driving his very own V8 powered muscle car. Maybe the paint wasn’t great; maybe it had a lot of miles. But the point is it was a V8 muscle car. The kind of car that – today – is beyond the reach of most guys under 40.

It’s not just because of the devalued money, either.

The used muscle cars that were abundant and inexpensive back in the ’90s hadn’t been all that expensive when they were new. In 1976, for instance, a new Trans-Am could be bought for just shy of $5k – equivalent (interestingly enough) to just shy of $12k today. What kind of car can you buy new today – or recently, even – for $12k? Certainly not a V8-powered muscle car. The 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T for instance, lists for $39,940. A new Camaro SS starts at $39,900. A new Mustang GT stickers for $38,345.

Even 50 percent depreciated, these are still $20k cars – or twice as expensive, in inflation-adjusted dollars – as a brand-new 1976 Trans-Am was. The latter – after it had lost half its value – was within the budget of a young guy in his 20s. The former aren’t. At least, not without financing – and the debt albatross that comes along for the ride.

Yes, of course – the new muscle cars are much more powerful and they all come with features and equipment that was either exotic in the once-upon-a-time or inconceivable. But what does that matter if you can’t afford it – even second-hand?

It makes me grateful for what I’ve got – and sad for what the young of today will mostly never know they missed.

. . .

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