When Did Cars Get So Expensive?

by | Jul 12, 2019

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

As I continue my quest for a new project car, the cost of cars is always on my mind. You can hear me talk about my search on this video. Update: For a short time I was chasing a Mitsubishi 3000GT and found a nice one price-wise but it had too many miles (186,000) and had led a hard, hard life.

And so I am left with this question: When did cars get so expensive? In 1970 my Fiat 850 Spyder cost a little over two thousand bucks but after a year of it’s idiosyncrasies, I traded it for a brand-new 1971 Irish Green Porsche 914-4 (shown above) that cost less than $4000. Two years later when someone crashed into the car while it was parked in front of my house, I went looking for another Porsche and was able to purchase a clean used 1968 912 for under $3000. Try that today.

Even more than the cost of the car itself is the ratio between income and car prices. At the time, the cost of my 914 represented twenty percent of my annual income. By comparison, a 1968 Dodge Charger cost $2860 when the average family income was $8630. Today with average family incomes at $60,336, the base price of a new Charger is $29,470 and that’s not an RT or Hellcat ($65,795) model. Today a new base model Charger represents 49% of a family’s income, versus 33% in 1968, so somebody in the family is going to have to do without something.

Porsches are truly wonderful sports cars but the average person’s ’s income has not kept up with their price increases as well as the prices of the few remaining sports cars that are availble. What about the Mazda Miata? Starting at $25,730 it’s not that expensive and you shouldn’t have to take out a second mortgage to own one but even used Miata prices—and used car prices in general— seem higher than in the past.

The point of this post isn’t just about money. I also believe it’s important to drive the kind of car you really want (and hopefully can ford.) Let me explain:

Back when I lived in Maryland, my friend John always wanted to own a Porsche and although he could afford one he didn’t want to spend “all that money” to actually buy a 911. Instead, he drove a series of Volkswagens. One day, when returning home from a road trip after seeing a friend in Pennsylvania, he received a phone call from his friend’s wife. She told him, “Bill had a heart attack and died the day after you left.” The next day, John went out and bought a new Porsche. Life, as they say, is much too short.

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