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Mark Gregory

1931 Car prestige compared to 2013

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How would a $2,800. dollar car in 1931 compare to a 2013 car . I worked out on the dollar to inflation it comes out around $40,000. but it does not make sense . As a $800. Ford works out to around $11,000. Would the car be equal to a Volvo ? Lexus ? Thanks , Mark

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A 2800 car in 1931 was a lower end Luxury car. Reo Royale was around 2400, L29 Cord around 3k, An Auburn V12 was under 2k.

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How would a $2,800. dollar car in 1931 compare to a 2013 car . I worked out on the dollar to inflation it comes out around $40,000. but it does not make sense . As a $800. Ford works out to around $11,000. Would the car be equal to a Volvo ? Lexus ? Thanks , Mark

A standard Ford was less than $500 in 1931.

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Auburn was the real bargain in 1931. Prices for cars with a straight-eight engine started at $945 and maxed out at $1,395. Cadillac V-8's started at $2,695 for a coupe and ranged upward to $3,795 for the 5-passenger All-Weather Phaeton.

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I was going to say you could buy a Cadillac for that kind of money in 1931.

It is difficult to make a comparison. For the average American, the standard of living was more like what we would consider 3d world or underdeveloped today.

America may have been the richest country in the world at the time but there has been a lot of progress in the last 80 years.

So, most Americans could not afford a car. Those people did without, they walked or took a bus or train and did not think anything about it. Many people with good jobs and homes did not own a car. They preferred to spend their money on other things. As far as having a second car or third car that was not thought of.

Those who could afford a car and wanted one, usually bought one that suited their financial and social standing. In 1935 or 36 Packard introduced a new lower priced line. It sold in the $1000 - $1500 class. One of their executives remarked, "we have the Presbyterian market, now we are going after the Methodists" and that was about the size of it.

Owning any kind of car meant more, and carried more prestige than today. Now, a car is just another appliance. The average person would no more be proud of his Toyota than he would of his toaster or vacuum cleaner. Back then it was different.

So, owning a Cadillac or a car in the Cadillac class really meant something. It represented the peak of financial success and achievement. It meant you had arrived.

Of course there was also that thin upper crust of society that accounted for less than 5% of the population. The old money people. To them, a $2800 car was the lower limit of acceptable transportation and Cadillacs were for characters from the wrong side of the tracks.

These people drove Packards at minimum, Duesenbergs or Pierce Arrows if they were really loaded.

That describes things going into 1931. That was the year of the locust when the money and jobs went down the drain and the Depression set in for real. October 29 may have seen the stock market crash but business, jobs, and employment held up pretty well through 1930. 1931 was hell. 1932 not much better. In 1933 the economy was starting to recover, by 1934 things were pretty well back to normal. By 1936 things were booming so much the government got scared, they were afraid of another boom and bust so they deliberately caused the "Roosevelt recession" of 1937 - 38.

To answer your question. A $2800 car in 1931 would be more in the Mercedes or Cadillac class today. Even though cars do not mean as much as they did back then.

Edited by Rusty_OToole (see edit history)

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Cadillac prices. I was not sure if $2800 would buy a Cadillac in 1931 so I did a little checking. These are the prices for a V8 Cadillac with standard body. Of course if you wanted a V12 or V16 with custom body the sky was the limit.

Coupe - $2695

5 pass sedan - $2795

7 pass sedan - $2945

Imperial sedan - $3095

There were other cars in the Cadillac class for similar prices like Packard Eight, REO Royale, Chrysler Imperial, Lincoln V8.

Edited by Rusty_OToole (see edit history)

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A 1931 Chrysler standard Imperial 5 passenger 4 door sedan listed for $2745, and the 7 passenger was $2945. The semi custom and custom were $$ more.

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I agree with most of the comments above. I will stick with my general comment that 2,800 dollars in 1931 was the bottom edge of the luxury market. A Duesenberg or Mercedes chassis alone would be 11,000 in 1931. A RR Phantom II could be more. Those cars were sitting at the top of the market. In between was the Marmon V16, Caddy V16, Packard, Pierce, etc.

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Thank you every one for responding to my question . I know you do not calculate prices like this into the year 2013 . But a Ford workers yearly wages were cut from $1,600. in 1929 to $800. in 1931 . That means it would take $11,000. divided by $800. = 13.75 Years of wages to be able to purchase this car . So fast forward to 2013 . 13.75 years of wages X $60,000. average UAW workers wage = $825,000. for the car chassis alone . One expensive car . My grandfather made .10 cents per hour and they cut it down to .8 cents per hour I was told in 1931 . Thanks Mark

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Your statement about wages did not add up to me so I did a quick search and found this:

" Concentrated in the Detroit area, the industry produced 5,337,000 vehicles in 1929......(Then) U. S. vehicle production plummeted. In 1930, production declined to 3,363,000 vehicles. In 1931, production fell to 1,332,000 vehicles, only 25% of the production of two years before.[1]

As a result, unemployment in Detroit skyrocketed, and the wages of those still working were slashed. In 1929, the average annual wage for auto workers was $1639. By 1931, it had fallen 54% to $757.[2] By 1932, there were 400,000 unemployed in Michigan."

This article refers to the auto industry in general, not just Ford. Many employers attempted to avoid laying off workers by reducing the work week from five and a half, to 4 days or 3 days per week. Unemployed men might find work for a few weeks or months then be laid off for a period of time. So saying earnings dropped by half, does not mean employers cut wages that much. A worker might have been making almost as much per hour, but in 2 years have gone from working 40 hour weeks + overtime, to working 24 hours a week, or being out of work for weeks at a time and only employed half the time.

1931 really was the worst year of the Depression, when unemployment was at its highest. For someone to be able to buy a luxury car that year would be much rarer than buying the same car 2 years earlier, in 1929.

Furthermore your math is wonky. You equate $800 to a year's wages even though it reflects long periods of unemployment. Then you change $2800 to $11000 for no reason.

It would be more accurate to say that in 1929, an auto worker made $1600 a year and $3000 - $5000 a year would be a middle class, executive or professional man's salary. No way would a manual laborer ever be able to buy a $2800 car but a successful businessman, professional man or senior executive would.

Someone who was lucky enough to be fully employed in a white collar executive or professional position, could buy a $2800 car for less than one year's wages.

This would be the equivalent of a modern day doctor, lawyer or executive making $75000 to $100000 a year,, buying a Lincoln Navigator, Jaguar, Mercedes or BMW.

And if he did it at the bottom of the real estate crash and stock market panic in late 2008 - early 2009 it would have been similar to buying a $2800 car in 1931.

Or to look at it another way, if minimum wage is $8 an hour in 2013 and your hours were cut to 24 per week thanks to Obamacare, it would take you 10 years wages to buy an $85,000 Corvette.

So, that is why you see so few new Corvettes in the employee parking lot at your local McDonald's compared to the executive parking lot at Microsoft or the players parking area at a professional sports stadium.

If you take a look at the kind of people who drive Corvettes, BMWs, Mercedes and Cadillacs you will have an idea what kind of people drove $2800 cars in 1931.

Edited by Rusty_OToole (see edit history)

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Rusty very good response to my question . The $11,000. was the value of a Duesenberg chassis . I thought most of the employees were laid off and only a few working . I did not know they rotated the work to everyone . The comparison of the value of Corvettes , BMWs , Mercedes and Cadillacs is the comparisons I wanted . As people ask me where a Reo Royale car stood in 1931. Now I can tell them the status the car held . The Duesenberg frame was very expensive indeed . Thank you , Mark

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Duesenberg chassis was more like $5000 - $6000. $11000 would be for a complete car such as a big touring, limousine or sedan with custom built body. The most expensive Duesenberg I know of was the "Twenty Grand" show car supposedly worth $20,000.

A Duesenberg would be in the Rolls Royce class. Closest equivalent today would be a top of the line AMG Mercedes, supercharged Bentley, Rolls Royce, or Bugatti. These are $200,000 cars.

The $2800 car in 1931 would be more like the $50,000 to $75,000 class today.

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In 1931 the Model J chassis was around 9500 but otherwise I agree. I think the cheapest complete Dusenberg was the Murphy Conv Sedan which was 12-13k. My 11k number was wrong before.

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When I use the Steam Car website, which gives car prices in terms of today (?) 's prices, I find roughly that $2800 would be equivalent to $45000 in today's exchange values. I do not know how Steam Car arrived at their prices, or how old the data is. Hemmings Classic Car magazine was giving the money cost of

goods for various years a while back. Do not know if they still are, as my subscription lapsed. I felt I could get a good feel for, say, the price of a loaf of

bread in 1933 at $4.00 per day wage rate. Keep in mind though, that there were few monthly recurring debts as there are now, and things deemed necessities were truly necessities. In most cases, only a mortgage was on installment debt, at 4% or less.

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Reo Royale was top of the Reo lineup. They were an expensive, quality car selling against Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard, Chrysler Imperial and similar cars.

Equivalent today would be Cadillac, Lincoln, Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar class of cars.

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This thread is very interesting because there are not many modern comparisons regarding the great price chasm between regular cars and the "fine" cars of the day. This 1931 Lincoln was priced new at approximately $4750, about 10 times more than a Model A. The least expensive Lincoln was the Lebaron roadster at $4,100. The most expensive new Lincoln today is not 10 times more than the least expensive new Ford. Some 1931 custom Lincolns were over $7,000. Did you get 10 or 15 times more car than the Model "A"? There is evidence that the Lincoln Motor Company lost money on every one of these Lincolns in 1931. Apparently there are old invoices that show the cost of the custom bodies that were supplied by Lebaron, Judkins, etc, that are more than the retail price of the entire car! Apparently the final purchaser got the body less than cost and the chassis and assembly for free! Ford had no shareholders to answer to so they could get away with it. a Duesenberg probably cost as much as it did because the company needed to make money. Edsel built the best cars regardless of profit or loss. Another interesting observation is that I'm currently selling this car, and the market says that it is only worth about 3 or 4 times what a Model A is worth.

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I stand corrected. It appears that in 1931 a Lincoln cost nearly twice as much as a Cadillac.

The Lincolns were nearly twice the price of the V8 Cadillac, but not V12 or V16, which were priced between $3945-$9200, and the Lincolns were priced between $4600-$7400. These cars were aimed the wealthy, or very comfortable to say the least.

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I guess my wording was lame, sorry. I intended to say that Lincoln only had a V8 in 1931, priced between $4700-$7400, and it's price point was comparable to the V12 and V16 Caddy, among other super high end cars of the day. In 1932, Lincoln brought out a V12 of their own to stay competitive. In hindsight it is simply amazing that most all the luxury makers got sucked into the cylinder wars during the worst economy ever, of course many were lost in the "war" with the survivors never again creating the grand machines that were priced in the stratosphere.

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