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'Muscle Cars' retain their magic.

By Tom Incantalupo Although prices for most collectible Detroit muscle cars have been coming back to Earth, Americans' love for these beauties from the 1960s and early '70s seems still to be intensifying. Experts say prices are cooling off because there are too many cars available. "Basically it was saturation," said Phil Skinner, collector car market editor for the California-based auto information company, The Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com). "When the market starts meeting demand, prices start to level out." Kevin Smith, editorial director of the auto information company edmunds.com, says prices for many models began softening several years ago. "There were just some stratospheric appreciations in muscle cars," he said. "It did just reach the point of silliness. I think what we've seen over the past few years is something of a settling and a return to rationality." Experts say the market collapsed in the early '90s with the departure from the scene of many investors who had gotten into car collecting strictly for the money. It recovered in ensuing years, thanks in large measure to baby boomers like Joe Andreoli of Deer Park, NY, many of whom now find themselves empty nesters and with cash to indulge whims like old cars. "When I was a teenager," Andreoli, 51, said at a recent show, gesturing toward his 1970 Dodge Charger, "this was the car." Richie Gioia of North Bellmore, NY, 60, had owned a 1965 Pontiac GTO when he was in high school, purchased new for about $3,100 and sold two years later. Five years ago, the retired letter carrier and still-active landscaper bought another one, a convertible with a 360-hp. V-8 and a "four on the floor" stick shift. A friend restored it for him. He says he bought the car for $8,000 and invested $80,000. "I was offered $100,000 for this car, and I didn't take it," he said. Although prices have cooled, most muscle cars still aren't cheap--not if they're the genuine article in good original or restored condition. Prices can run into the millions of dollars for rare models like a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with a 427-cubic-inch Hemi engine, one of which fetched $2.1 million at an auction in January. Experts think prices for the beloved GTO "Goats", Firebirds, Camaros, the various Mopars from Chrysler and the hottest Mustangs will remain strong unless the economy slips into recession. Skinner and Smith say there's been an overflow effect, too, from buyers priced out of genuine muscle cars: an increase in interest in--and prices for--less aggressively powered pony cars, like V-6 Mustangs and Camaros and even some of the mid- to late-1970s and 1980s performance cars that were declawed by new clean-air regulations. No matter what the year, to be valuable to serious collectors, muscle cars have to be genuine, factory-built performance cars, not imitations cobbled together from the parts of multiple cars. Skinner and Smith say Americans' love for these cars continues even as rising gasoline prices and worsening traffic congestion erode the fun of driving. More proof of the continuing allure of the American muscle car is General Motors' decision, announced Aug. 10, to bring back the Camaro, which was discontinued in 2002. The new Camaro, due in early 2009, is still rear-wheel drive, with six- and eight-cylinder engines available and aesthetically based on the 1969 model. It'll be aimed at young buyers and the older folks. Smith, of Edmunds, thinks the attention this model has garnered in the media could increase values of the older ones. "Just by getting it into the news, I have to think it has some impact," he said, "even though the new car is completely different from the old car." Further evidence that the formula still works is the warm reception for the redesigned Mustang that debuted last fall. And Chrysler Group announced recently the revival of the Challenger, a car that mechanic Andreoli is intent on acquiring. Longer term, some experts in car pricing believe interest in muscle cars could cool as baby boomers, the generation that perhaps loves them most for their nostalgic value, age and begin losing interest in cars, or at least the ability to drive them. "I would have to assume that will play some role," said Smith, an aging boomer himself. "As the boomers kind of move out of their spending years, or as we die off, it seems likely there would be a cooling in that interest." But he notes that interest is surging nowadays in pre-World War II models among collectors not even born when these cars were in showrooms. In any case, with the youngest boomers only 42 years old, the generation has decades of driving ahead. A*Latwp News Service 'Muscle Cars' retain their magic

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Sep 29, 2006
Words:808
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