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50 years of classified ad dreaming

Old Cars is celebrating 50 years of bringing the old car hobby to you. We take a look back at past classified ads and dream of finding deals like in the good old days.
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Cruising and comparing classifieds in the first Old Cars

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Daydreaming through decades-old classified ads can be a dangerous past time. Hours can quickly be wasted, and finding $500 CCCA Full Classic after Full Classic can make one lose their grip on reality, at least when it comes to today’s collector car values.

The classified ads of the first issue of Old Cars, dated October 1971, are filled with rare bargains. There’s a $1,500 1933 Ford coupe, a $2,800 first-year Cadillac Eldorado and a pristine-sounding 1960 Lincoln for just $500. It was also possible to buy one-owner 1930s cars, evidenced by a 1938 Chevrolet coupe offered by the person who drove it home from the dealership during that recession year.

In a sign of how the hobby has changed in 50 years, the classified ads of that first issue of Old Cars are heavily weighted toward prewar cars with postwar cars in the minority, and there are a number of cars listed that are almost forgotten today. Ever heard of a Trumbull? One Wisconsin seller offered a 1914 Trumbull roadster, and a hopeful Connecticut buyer placed a want ad for a 1914-1915 Trumbull coupe.

The prewar car listings in the classified ads included many Classic Car Club of America Full Classics. Packard was heavily represented, with advertisements for a 1940 victoria with one-of-a-kind Bohman & Schwartz victoria coachwork and a 1939 Darrin Victoria. Famed Duesenberg historian Ray Wolff advertised a few non-“Big D” cars from his collection in that first issue. Included was his ad for a 1953 Aston Martin “special bodied convertible,” a 1955 Porsche “rare continental coupe” and a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 190-SL. There were no prices mentioned, but we’re sure Wolff would have been happy to haggle toward a Duesenberg Model J.

Perhaps we’ve said too much already. To minimize the danger of paging through 50-year-old classified ads, we have chosen a few ads from the pages of that first issue of Old Cars. If you find yourself wanting to torture yourself over opportunities lost, the entire first issue of Old Cars is posted online at www.oldcarsweekly.com, classified ads and all. Just keep in mind that inflation over the last 50 years is about 577%.

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1920 Cadillac touring car, $5,000

A 1920 Cadillac touring car at $5,000 was a fair amount of money for a collector car at that time — about $33,850. Since this Cadillac is advertised as having an old but “still very good” restoration, it was probably in Old Cars Report Price Guide #2 or #3 condition (restorations before 1971 were rarely, if ever, up to today’s standards). Today, OCRPG put #2 and #3 1920 Cadillac seven-passenger touring cars at $47,100 and $30,250, respectively, so this Cadillac beat inflation and would have made a good investment.

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1957 Cadillac Sedan deVille, $500

A 14-year-old Cadillac is and was essentially a used car, but $500 still seems cheap. In today’s dollars, that $500 is about $3,350. A 14-year-old 2007 Cadillac DTS sedan with about 55,000 miles is about $6,500, so, in retrospect, that 1957 Cadillac looks like an even better deal today. OCRPG puts a #3 condition 1957 Cadillac Sedan deVille at $15,750 and a #1 example at $35,000, so this low-mileage Caddy is one worth firing up the time machine.

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1916 Chevrolet 490, $3,500

As Chevrolet’s low-price competitor to the Ford Model T, there were many 490 models built, but how often do you see them today? There were two listed in Old Cars’ first classified ads, both touring body types, with the more expensive a 1916 that was a “1st place National Winner,” and its $3,500 price reflected its quality. Its asking price would be about #23,700 today, and with a OCRPG #1 price of $31,000, this old Chevy beat inflation — if the subsequent owner(s) kept it in top shape.

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1948 Chrysler Town & Country, $1,450

Woodies have bounced up and down in value over the last few years, but regardless of where the market is today, $1,450 for a driver-quality 1948 Chrysler Town & Country woodie sedan sure sounds like a deal. If you plug the seller’s asking price into a calculator, that $1,450 is about $9,800 — about $3,800 more than the current OCRPG price of a parts car. The seller’s description makes this woodie sound like at least a #3 in the OCRPG condition scale, which would put its current value about $68,000. For perspective, the Town and Country sedan has beat inflation enough that you could invest in seven of them at $1,450 in 1971, and the current selling price for one would equal your total investment in all of them 50 years ago.

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1937 Cord Beverly, $1500

“Restorable” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but there’s no denying that $1,500 for a restorable 1937 Cord 812 Beverly sedan is worth a call to learn more. That $1,500 in 1971 is about $10,000 today — the approximate current OCRPG value of a #5 1937 Cord sedan.

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1937 Cord Beverly, $1500

“Restorable” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but there’s no denying that $1,500 for a restorable 1937 Cord 812 Beverly sedan is worth a call to learn more. That $1,500 in 1971 is about $10,000 today — the approximate current OCRPG value of a #5 1937 Cord sedan.

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1933 Ford coupe, $1,500

No matter what planet you’re from, $1,500 for a 1933 Ford coupe is cheap, regardless of its condition or number of windows. With $1,500 equating to $10,000 today, that sum would now buy just a set of good, used window garnish moldings and maybe a few coupe body panels. For additional perspective, VanDerBrink Auctions just sold a 1933 Ford three-window coupe body shell in #6 condition for $48,000, and a similar, #6 condition 1934 Ford five-window coupe body shell for $20,000. If you can go back to 1971, buy as many of those early Ford V-8 coupes and roadsters as possible and you won’t regret it.

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1966 Ferrari GTS, $15,000

Perhaps the most exotic postwar car in the classified ads of that first Old Cars issue was the 1966 Ferrari GTS with right-hand-drive and 19,000 miles, offered at a “no quibble sale” price of $15,000 ($101,500 in today’s money). A buyer would have done handsomely to have purchased the V-12 roadster at $15,000 back in 1971, as similar examples have been selling in the territory of $1.5 million to $2 million — an incredible rate of return.

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1939 Ford convertible sedan, $3,000

This 1939 Ford convertible sedan’s $3,000 asking price is about $20,000 in today’s dollars. Advertised in “unusually good condition,” it sounds like a well-maintained original, which would put it in OCRPG #3 territory with a $32,500 price. If one had bought that final-year Ford convertible sedan for $3,000 back in’71, they’d have had 50 years of pleasure and beat the inflation calculator.

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1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 Sc, $7,900

An incredible find in the classified ads of the first Old Cars issue is the first 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 Sc roadster, which bore body number 55-00001. This car was priced at $7,900 back in 1971, and not surprisingly, its price easily beat the rate of inflation. With the buying power of $7,900 in ’71 dollars equating to $53,500 today, one would have done well to buy the 300 Sc back in ’71 and tuck it away. When this same car crossed the auction block at RM Sotheby’s January 2021 sale, it sold for $775,000.  

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1940 Studebaker Commander, $150

Judging by the description, this 1940 Studebaker Commander was in #4 condition, and it certainly looks and sounds like it was worth giving some love. At $150 in 1971, it was priced at today’s equivalent of $1,000. However, buying a $1,000 1940 Studebaker today and spraying a $10,000 professional paint job and installing a $5,000 interior will quickly bury the owner, as an OCRPG #3 example is currently worth just $10,000 or so. Hopefully, a buyer snatched this one up back in ’71 and made it shine before the cost of materials increased out of reason for such a lovely independent. 

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Where to Bid

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Worldwide Auctioneers to offer up the Ron Thorne Collection in Scottsdale January 26th

Worldwide Auctioneers will offer up 35 outstanding cars from 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗥𝗼𝗻 𝗧𝗵𝗼𝗿𝗻𝗲 𝗖𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 at their upcoming Scottsdale Auction on January 26th.