Are Cars Too Expensive?

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

Even more important than the cost of the car itself is the ratio between income and car prices.In 1968 a new Dodge Charger cost $2860, when the average family income was $8630. Today with average family incomes at $55,132, a new Charger costs $27,99— neither is an RT or Hellcat ($62.295.) A new Charger is 51% of a family’s income, versus 33% in 1968, so somebody is going to have to do without something.

charger 2

At the time, the cost of my 1971 914 represented only twenty percent of my annual income. Compare that to today’s prices and you will see that even the least expensive cars costs many times the median family income.

Porsches are truly wonderful sports cars but most people’s income has not kept up with increases on prices of the few remaining sports cars. What about the Mazda Miata you ask? It’s not all 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 month’s story isn’t just about money. I believe it’s important to drive the kind of car you really want. Let me explain: Back in the day, my friend John always wanted to own a Porsche and although he could afford it, he didn’t want to spend “all that money” to actually buy one. 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. “John,” she said, “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. Drive the car you want — even if it does seem a little expensive.