We spend a lot of time talking about the future of collector cars. And with good reason. The whole concept of a “collector car” is really a post-war phenomenon that came along with another concept that really wasn’t embraced by the masses till after WWII: Leisure. Even though there’s a giant industry of the automotive aftermarket dedicated to every facet of collector cars and a lot of people rely on them for their livelihoods and take this stuff very seriously, it all still boils down to Fun. Anyone spending time and money on collector cars is doing it for Fun. Like Robert Plant once asked, “Does anyone remember laughter?”
Now, the most active sector of collector cars at the moment is muscle cars. Makes sense, since the muscle car is the realm of the Baby Boomer generation and Boomers are at a stage of their lives where they’ve arguably got the most disposable income to spend on Fun. So, while we’re seeing all kinds of activity around classic muscle, we also know this too, shall pass. As these things go, a’69 Camaro SS that is extremely valuable to one set of collectors is 1) too expensive and 2) not as emotionally valuable to the generations on either side of it.
So, what does the future of the muscle car category look like? It’s hard to detach from our subjectivities when we, as an industry, talk about this. The Millennial generation is now technically old enough to start collecting muscle, but will they? And if they do, what does it look like? We could go on a month-long sweat yurt vision quest out in the desert talking about all this, but let’s have some Fun: let’s put some hard parameters on this talk and see where it goes…
Let’s assume these guidelines to define collectible muscle, and then we’ll apply what we think we know about Millennials to them:
- American marques: the cars must be born of American automakers.
- Rear-wheel drive: that’s fairly self-explanatory, but it also narrows the field, right?
- Cool factor: totally subjective and hard to define, but the car has to possess Fun potential.
- Accessible: the car has to be easy enough to find, buy, own, modify.
That’s it. Everything else is on the table and remember: in the future, “muscle” will be more a state of mind, than a narrow definition, if we want to keep this flame lit. Here we go…
Fox-body Mustangs (’78 – ’93)
Probably the most easily-digestible idea of a muscle car in the future, since, well, these Fords were purpose-built for the category. Sure, you can spend a ton on limited-edition Saleens, GTs, LX 5.0-liters, SVOs, etc., but the fact remains that you can still pick up a decent 3rd-Generation plastic Mustang for under $10K and make it something special. Even the earliest Cobra package Mustangs made from ’79 to’81 have now become collectible, but that doesn’t mean that the solid 15 years of Fox-platform pony car production can’t provide for a cheap point of entry into the muscle category. Everyone knows what a Mustang is and there’s tonnage of aftermarket parts, dress-up stuff and go-fast goodies made just for these cars.
Chevy S10 compact trucks
In a conference room at GM in the early ’80s, a suit must’ve sent down the edict, “Carpet-bomb the country with this new little pickup you guys just designed. And so it was, that from ’82 through 2004, the Chevy S10 (and GMC S15/Sonoma) pickup truck covered the earth. Or, at least, the Lower 48. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a decent used S10 for sale and that makes the little guy a perfect contender for future muscle. And while it’s true that the earliest S10s ran an Isuzu 4-banger, most available these days will sport the unbreakable “Iron Duke” 2.5-liter throttle-body injected 4-cylinder, the 2.8 V6 or the 4.3 V6. GM made a zillion of these things across three decades, so they’re cheap, plentiful, easy to work on and infinitely customizable. Remember; Millennials couldn’t care less what their dads and uncles think a muscle car is, so these minitrucks check every box on their list for something that can be fast, personalized and Fun. Remember Fun?
OK, we’ll admit that the Chevy Monza is sorta rare, since it was only made from 1975 to 1980, which makes it harder to find, thereby possibly more expensive to collect in the future. But right now, we believe these things are just not on the radar of anyone over 50, which makes them attainable future muscle. If we see a Monza, it’s usually been turned into a small-tire drag car and super cool in its jankiness. But it should not be lost on anyone that these things command smiles every time they are seen and it makes sense that this post-Vega H-body is on this list. Whether it’s the 2+2 fastback, the notchback coupe or the wagon, the powertrains were mostly either a 4-cylinder or V6, but you might still find the 5.0 liter or 5.7 liter V8 and a stick transmission in one. Chevy made more than 700,000 Monzas, so they’re out there, somewhere. And to the kid who finds one and builds a turbo LS for it, go the spoils.
Ninth-Gen Thunderbirds (’83 – ’88)
Remember the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe? A Millennial doesn’t. Which makes the plastic Thunderbirds built between ’82 and ’88 a curiosity to which they assign no baggage. These narrow, Fox-platform coupes were transformed from luxury cars to performance machines (hey, it was the ’80s – go easy on ’em) in their 9th generation and they can still be picked up for relatively little investment. These things embodied the aerodynamic styling that Ford was focused on in those years and we’d suggest that the Thunderbird was one of the coolest things in the showroom at the time. These ‘birds came standard with a 3.8 liter V6, but the Turbo Coupe was a turbo 4-cylinder and a 5.0 liter V8 was available in some models, too. And while most of them were automatics, some can still be found with a T-5 manual. Pick one up for under $10K, open up a Mustang performance catalog and melt a credit card. And then have Fun.
Chrysler 300 (’05 – ’10)
Before we dig into the Chrysler 300, let us say that we’re including the Dodge Magnum wagon and the Charger under this header, too: the LX platform ran across and under each of these, which makes for a kick-ass performance aftermarket. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what Chrysler did when it reintroduced the “300” badge for the 2005 model year. Yeah, it was a full-size, 4-door luxo barge, but it had gobs of attitude and style in those early Aughts. It looked like a gangster sitting still and it reintroduced the iconic Chrysler Hemi V8 in a passenger car. But almost immediately upon release, the ballers-on-a-budget got their hands on the 300 and the aftermarket exploded. What other brand-new car could be modified with aftermarket grilles, headlights, taillights, door hinges, wheels and tires quite like the 300 could? Nothing had been seen like it in a generation. Now, nearly a decade after that 1st-Gen LX platform was released, these cars are available and near-infinitely customizable. Start with a 5.7 Hemi and things get respectably fast after that. And we’re not even talking about the 6.1 liter Hemi SRT models. YET.
Now, here’s where we’ll veer from the formula just a tad: the Cadillac STS-V was also a 4-door sedan (albeit smaller than the Chrysler 300), produced between the 2006 and 2009 model years. It fits all the parameters we laid out above, but the price tag on a used one is probably higher than anything else in this list. Why? Because it’s a factory supercharged 4.4 liter V8 that makes just shy of 470hp, that’s why. So, while a kid might spend much more on one of these than, say, a used S10 on the other end of this list’s spectrum, it’s hard to argue with that much power at a used Caddy price point. The most easily-noticed difference between the V and the regular old garden-variety STS was the wire-mesh grille in the V, as well as the domed hood and the 6-lug wheels. Spot one of these and act like it’s no big deal when you go make an offer. Then hold on to it – and your backside – as long as you can.
Ford F100/F150 (’73 – ’79)
On one hand, the fact that we’ve listed the 6th-Gen Ford 1/2-ton trucks here is a protest to the nearly-insane numbers their Bow-Tie brethren are pulling these days. On the other hand, these shortbed dentside Ford pickups are becoming quite the staple at car shows all over the country. And guess who’s building them? Millennials. The kids are laughing at the rest of us, spending a big comma on Chevy square-body trucks, when they can nab one of these Fords with either a straight-six or a smallblock Ford in it, then – without much effort – bolt a stout 360 or 390 or even a 5.0 liter to the frame rails and smoke the tires for days and days. FUN. Ford built so dang many of these things between ’73 and ’79 that it’s hard to spend more than $100 on any one part for them. It’s also hard to not find anything needed for one of these trucks at any parts store. And that’s before a kid even has to go online, looking for actual speed parts. Another point that Editor-In-Chief, Terry McGean brought up: the microtrend of lowering a shortbed F100 or F150 body down over a Ford late-model Crown Victoria drivetrain and chassis. Turns out, the wheelbase is the same and everything gets a whole lot easier from there.
So, there you have it: our theory on what’s coming to the evolution of collectible – and enjoyable – muscle cars. As you can see, we’re talking mostly about cars that are actually accessible, can be customized, loved, run hard and used as a point-of-entry to collector cars, in general. What say ye? Are you seeing different trends? Poke holes in our theories? Have at it – the best thing we can do is take a step toward the next generations of collectors, instead of waiting for them to come sit at our feet and listen to us drone on about the precious, original Muscle Car Era. We need them a whole lot more than they need us.