With gas prices staying reasonably level, it certainly comes as no surprise that sales of new trucks are on the uptick. But America’s love affair with pickups is spilling over to the classic and collectible vehicle market as well.
Classic and collectible pickups today are starting to regularly bring in six figure bids on the auction block. And with stalwart companies like Chevrolet and Ford celebrating 100 years of truck production this year (2017), it’s only adding fuel to the selling fire.
However, there’s a lot more to this emerging trend at auction than meets the eye. Turns out, it’s as deeply rooted in our American psyche as an apple pie cooling on a window sill.
“A lot of people grew up in rural America with trucks, and a lot of people still live in rural America, so there is a lot of nostalgia to it,” says Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction Company. “There’s also a utility to them. For years, pickup trucks have been one of the fastest appreciating vehicles.”
“We noticed vintage trucks and SUV’s heating up the market place five to six years ago, and that trend continues to expand,” adds John Kraman, TV commentator and analyst for Mecum Auctions. “Perhaps the popularity and sales dominance of new trucks, combined with the availability of aftermarket parts for old trucks, has led to increased interest. Supply and demand will drive market prices, and right now lots of buyers have a vintage truck in mind.”
Indeed, at the most recent Barrett-Jackson Auction in Las Vegas in October, more than 60 classic Chevy trucks crossed the auction block.
“Part of the appeal of a vintage Chevrolet truck is the opportunity to build the custom truck of your dreams,” says Sandor Piszar, marketing director for Chevrolet Trucks. “Solid trucks can be found for relatively low costs, but the sky is the limit in terms of body work, chassis and performance upgrades.”
“‘Quiksilver,’ a 1957 Chevrolet Custom Truck, sold at our 2016 Scottsdale Auction for $214,500,” says Jackson. “We also had a 1971 Chevrolet Custom K5 Blazer sell for $220,000 at Palm Beach earlier this year.”
A 1960 El Camino Custom Pickup sold for $126,500 at the Palm Beach auction as well. Customized from stem to stern, it’s every bit the beast, with a GM ZZ 502 cubic inch crate engine under the hood with a Ram Jet fuel injection system. Inside, its owner sits on a full custom leather interior. And if you crawl underneath, or see it at a show with a mirror underneath, you’ll find a highly detailed and fully-painted undercarriage.
“There are many possible factors that affect the value of any collector car, and trucks are no different,” says Jackson. “It’s about the provenance, how well it’s been taken care of, or, for a Resto-Mod, the quality of the craftsmanship. The personal connection that a person has always plays a factor as well.”
One of the first trucks to command six figures at auction was a 1955 Chevrolet 3100 Custom Pickup, which crossed the auction block in 2006 for $132,000. After six different appearances in national magazines and numerous awards, hot rod and custom build fans might recognize the Kandy Orange coat on this truck, complemented by a tan interior.
Meticulously detailed by Cimtex Rods in Jarrell, TX, it was named Goodguys’ Truck of the year in 2002/2003 and was a Boyds Pro Pick in Scottsdale, AZ and Columbus, OH. It’s also taken home top awards at ISCA events and Super Chevy shows.
Another pickup, a 1957 Chevrolet Cameo, sold for $159,500 in Scottsdale, AZ back in 2007. Wearing full custom Orange Pearl paint, this masterpiece is home to a 500-horsepower Big Block Chevy monster married to a 400 transmission with electric overdrive. Inside, it houses a full leather interior, vintage air conditioning, power steering, power disc brakes, power windows and a 400-watt stereo.
While Resto-Mods seem to be commanding top dollar, at least for now, there are some other emerging trends in the market. Modified trucks usually have the most value, but high quality back-to-original restorations have plenty of fans too, says Kraman. Stock/original/restored and Resto-Mod builds all have different appeals for different buyers. However, younger buyers seem to gravitate toward the Resto-Mods with cool vintage looks and modern drivetrains, chassis, brakes and comfort features, he says.
“As is typical with the car guys, truck buyers usually have a brand preference, with Chevy and Ford being the most popular,” adds Kraman. “There are less Dodge trucks on the market, but the Mopar fans will prefer those!
“Even the orphans, such as International and Studebakers, have appeal, perhaps tapping into a combination of nostalgia plus Americana.”
But is there any one rule of thumb?
“As with any collector vehicle, rarity is highly sought after,” says Jackson. “The key to the value of any Resto-Mod has always been the amount of money and effort put into it. But, at the end of the day, each vehicle is unique, and you can’t really make a blanket statement that one version will always be more valuable than another.”
In general, stock trucks tend to be a rarer and may be a better investment over time because they see so much work and abuse during their service life.
“It is difficult to find an original truck that is not beat up from a lifetime of use, so those are definitely at a premium,” Jackson says.
So trucks with the original patina, or classic restorations with matching numbers, may be increasing in value a little more dramatically today – especially those with unique features.
“Some of the most desirable trucks are those built in the 50s, like Ford and Chevrolet models that have unique window configurations,” says Jackson.
However, the current trend of increasing value for stock trucks may be short lived.
“Over the last several years, trucks have become as much of a status symbol as they are utilitarian,” says Jackson. “This has been a trend that has really grown across urban America.”
Like the new 2018 Ford F-450 Limited, which is as luxurious as it is functional, featuring a leather interior and technology previously only found in luxury sedans. It’s commanding almost $95,000 right out of the gate if you check off every option box. And there will be some who see it as an investment as a future collectible.
“It’s probably safe to say that some of today’s best-built trucks may never even see a dirt road, much less haul a cord of wood,” says Jackson. “Even stretching back a few decades, you can find trucks that have been well cared for at a relatively low cost.”
Which will no doubt spur a collectors’ market for an even younger generation of truck fans, who appreciate stock trucks as well as more modern Resto-Mods.