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How Much Did Cars Cost?


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I have an inquiring mind¬†ūüėɬ†I know my 1979 Tenth Anniversay Trans Am had a sticker price of around $11,000. when brand new. That translates to a bit over $40,000. in today's money.¬†

 

My question, is there a list somewhere that shows how much cars cost new? I tried doing a couple of google searches and only get older cars that are for sale now.  

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well that depends on how a car is optioned or accessorized, my 1953 Pontiac Chieftain Custom Catalina had a base price of $2,446.00, but with all the options and accessories that were added, the actual price was more like $4,200.00

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All of the calculations for current vs. old prices are unreliable and the older things get, the more unreliable they are. This is because they are calculated using a variety of common values ...things like the price of food, or housing or gold and all of these are variable at different times in relation to income. The best you will get is a rough estimate...when you get back to the early 20th century the numbers are often questionable. There is an academic program I've used in the past that gives multiple values based on what you are researching - like labor costs or housing costs. These can often be radically different.

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42 minutes ago, West Peterson said:

But... I'll say again, the Standard Catalog series gives factory prices for all cars, and in many cases prices for accessories.

 

Going by the invoices posted by Terry B I guess a premium of about 20% should be added to that factory price?

 

Soon after I bought my 1965 Pontiac Bonneville in the late 1970s I was able to contact the original owner. He told me he paid $3995 for it at the dealer in Seattle WA. The Standard Catalog quotes $3362 for the same model so I guess that 20% figure is about right? The car has very few options so I guess most of the difference was freight and taxes. Mine was built in California so the freight bill would not have been very much. I do have the PHS sheet put away somewhere that obtained many years ago. I would think that a few more options would bring the price up into the mid $4k area.

 

Looking through options in The Standard Catalog I think even for the Bonneville automatic transmission was an option so that added $231. There are other things that may or may not have been standard on the Bonneville like power brakes ($43), a tilt mirror ($4) and the pushbutton AM radio ($89). It has a tinted windshield ($29) but it has been replaced at least once so I don't know if it had that from new. The car does have a tilt steering wheel which is not listed in the Catalog but I guess was an extra.

 

Because of the few options the car has, along with the fact it was built in the first few days of production, my theory is that they were putting cars into the showrooms at the lowest possible price at model introduction time to get people to buy them.

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2 minutes ago, nzcarnerd said:

Because of the few options the car has, along with the fact it was built in the first few days of production, my theory is that they were putting cars into the showrooms at the lowest possible price at model introduction time to get people to buy them.

 

I think it was unusual for a dealer to put a stripped-down car in the showroom to attract attention. Accessories was a major way of making money on the cars. The low base price was, in my opinion, used for advertising. If a customer came in looking for a base-price car, it was no where to be found... but he could order one and wait the six weeks for delivery. That's when the salesman could walk the customer over to the decked out car and say, "But you can have this one today."

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Just now, West Peterson said:

 

I think it was unusual for a dealer to put a stripped-down car in the showroom to attract attention. Accessories was a major way of making money on the cars. The low base price was, in my opinion, used for advertising. If a customer came in looking for a base-price car, it was no where to be found... but he could order one and wait the six weeks for delivery. That's when the salesman could walk the customer over to the decked out car and say, "But you can have this one today."

 

Unfortunately I don't know exactly when the car was bought new, and I also don't know what the model introduction date was. The car was built in the first week of September 1964 and its serial number is 824 so I guess would have been available for sale very early. Btw the car is not 'matching numbers'. The engine is 821, three out from the chassis number. The original owner was a New Zealander who worked for an international company. He shipped the car home on the ship Canberra and it was registered in NZ 26 November 1965. He sold it a year later with 22,000 miles on it.

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$4,187.20.  1960 Pontiac Bonneville Vista 4 door hardtop.  My Great-great aunt and uncle bought it new in Park Rapids, MN from McGrane-Enfield Pontiac in early August 1960.  Near the end of production. 
 

729757C2-F24F-4F5F-980B-BAA9B6FD0B4F.thumb.jpeg.0b96a32b3569161065fd7727fc0e50d4.jpeg

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Just a note but as a degreed engineer in 1975 & living outside of Austin TX was supporting a family for $750 take home per month. A nice home on an acre was about $20k & VA loan was 7%.

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My brand new, graduation gift, ordered from factory with some basic and weird options 1969 Cutlass, was slightly under $2000....my 73 Cutlass Salon coupe when I graduated, somewhere in the $3500 range...

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Don't want to get too sidetracked from the OP's request for an original price resource, but since others have posted similar things, here are the original receipt and docs for my '54 Ranch Wagon (which I have owned for 18 years), and the original window sticker for the '61 Mercury Monterey (which I've owned a few years less than that.)

 

You can get a general sense of how new prices increased for FoMoCo products in that seven year period. Both cars are rather basic, but the Ranch wagon more so, with a radio delete & manual trans. w/OD. Both have factory 2bbl. V-8's, though. Mercury was priced a little over Ford, too. Sorry if the photos aren't oriented correctly...hard to know how they'll show up on the forum.

 

 

 

54receipt.thumb.JPG.07b8b0f98978299cc92e88141f1df2c9.JPG

54receipt-2.thumb.JPG.902e9d55f8632f2d26d8388059242a62.JPG

61receipt-1.thumb.JPG.80a71628ed7fc67730c15fa3c442a04a.JPG

Edited by JamesR (see edit history)
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1 hour ago, AURktman said:

$4,187.20.  1960 Pontiac Bonneville Vista 4 door hardtop.  My Great-great aunt and uncle bought it new... 

 

If the 1960 Pontiac was a typical sale, it would have

been substantially discounted below the sticker price,

especially if your family were good negotiators. 

 

Ideally, we would see an invoice that shows the

retail base price, the options added, and then the

actual discount (without a trade-in) that was applied. 

From the few data I've seen, it appears that discounts

used to be greater than they became in later decades--

but does anyone have such statistics to share?

 

Be aware, too, that dealers often manipulated the

trade-in's value, so if a trade-in is on an old invoice,

we likely aren't seeing the true cost of the new car. 

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One of the items that I picked up years ago¬†is a car salesman ‚ÄúRed Book‚ÄĚ April 1929 edition. ¬†¬†It is a quick reference for car salesmen to appraise cars. ¬† In the list of individual car specifications is the original factory list price of the car. ¬†Here are some examples. ¬†

59598E58-F0A9-4313-A88D-19D7B28EB80D.jpeg

03EF5841-8CBD-4E26-B036-48C6D5768647.jpeg

93CC1887-64FD-497B-8AAD-65C9983CBB85.jpeg

BAD7EA55-CF83-4398-AC7E-F481EE7F29B7.jpeg

F41F5F07-86ED-4260-B8C5-93891DAEEAFD.jpeg

Edited by Mark Huston (see edit history)
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1 hour ago, John_S_in_Penna said:

 

If the 1960 Pontiac was a typical sale, it would have

been substantially discounted below the sticker price,

especially if your family were good negotiators. 

 

Ideally, we would see an invoice that shows the

retail base price, the options added, and then the

actual discount (without a trade-in) that was applied. 

From the few data I've seen, it appears that discounts

used to be greater than they became in later decades--

but does anyone have such statistics to share?

 

Be aware, too, that dealers often manipulated the

trade-in's value, so if a trade-in is on an old invoice,

we likely aren't seeing the true cost of the new car. 


 

I wish I had more of the sale paperwork, but the only item I have is the window sticker.  I have no doubt Hugh Woodford was a good negotiator, not sure what he traded in though. This was the last car he owned, he and Maude drove it until he passed in 68, then she drove it until she passed in 81.  I’m not sure if they ordered it, but I suspect the did as that was the type of people they were.  The dealership is long gone, McGrane passed away about 10 years ago otherwise there might be a slim chance he had some paperwork. 

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3 hours ago, West Peterson said:

 The low base price was, in my opinion, used for advertising. If a customer came in looking for a base-price car, it was no where to be found... but he could order one and wait the six weeks for delivery. That's when the salesman could walk the customer over to the decked out car and say, "But you can have this one today."

 

My first new car in 1966 was one of those stripped base models -- a Pontiac Catalina 2-door post sedan with  no accessories. No power steering, no power brakes, no AC. It had the base 389 cubic inch low compression engine with a 2-barrel carburetor, 3-speed on the column. blackwall tires and dog dish hubcaps. I did add an AM radio.

 

As Wes said, these price leaders were highly advertised but practically none to be found. I was shopping in Dallas Texas. I insisted on that particular model, but the dealer was "unable" to find one. He said he searched all the Texas regions as well as Little Rock and Memphis and there were none to be found. I left empty handed, went across town to another Pontiac dealer and they had three on the lot to choose from; a white car with a red interior,  another white with a blue interior and a silver one with the blue interior. I don't recall the sticker price, but I drove home in the silver one for $2500 total out the door.  I considered it a good deal for a nice looking full-sized mid-level car with plenty of torque and a durable drivetrain (If the 389 could handle the high performance tri-power setup this detuned version should last forever.)

 

Don

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I agree that using CPI can often be unreliable, but some models have stayed in about the same range when matched against CPI. For example, Corvette base prices remained in the same $29,000 to $38,000 range in today's dollars for almost a quarter of a century between 1953 and 1979. There was a significant rise between 1979 and 1990. Since 1990 (now over thirty years), base prices have been relatively consistent in the $55,000 to $65,000 range (again, in today's dollars as set by CPI).

Edited by J3Studio (see edit history)
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4 hours ago, hidden_hunter said:

My 1922 cadillac has a receipt for $4250 for it, which works out to around $66k today which really isn't that far off the cost of a new caddy these days

My new Escalade was a bag lunch shy of $100k, and it's neither the full-size or Premier edition.  You can another $20 for those.  And that's after about $15k in rebates, discounts. etc.  So it's about 50% of the cost of a new one today.

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4 hours ago, George Cole said:

My new Escalade was a bag lunch shy of $100k, and it's neither the full-size or Premier edition


I would have said that something like the Escalade would be the equivalent to the 7 passenger suburban which cost over $6000 new in 1922. The 5 passenger coupe (even though mechanically identical) was a mid tier car like a ct5 or similar

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2 hours ago, hidden_hunter said:


I would have said that something like the Escalade would be the equivalent to the 7 passenger suburban which cost over $6000 new in 1922. The 5 passenger coupe (even though mechanically identical) was a mid tier car like a ct5 or similar

According to the The Standard Catalog of American Cars, there were 3 different versions of the 1922 7-pass Suburbans (just like there are multiple versions of the Escalades today.  They were priced 3990, 4250, and 5190.  As I said above, my Escalade is not the more expensive extended version or Premier Edition, so it is more closely comparable to the 3990 one for 1922.  With that, today's prices are approximately 100% higher than 100 years ago.

Edited by George Cole (see edit history)
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Interesting discussion but some of it does not jive with my history in the business.  Maybe i did not understand the posts but the "manipulation" of the trade-in is news to me as a sales tactic.  Dealers always tried to start with the retail price and THEN the trade-in does come into some manipulation as actual cash value of the trade-in was inflated with the discount if there was any and that was called the over allowance.  So if there was a trade-in involved sales invoices almost always started with the retail price.  No trade, then it could have been written up to show only the discounted price or the retail and the actual discount depending on how the dealer liked to do his paperwork.  This was how virtually every dealer I knew operated. 

 

When I left GM and got back into retail (mid-70's) profit margins where in the low 20% range.  Gradually they were reduced to the point that when I closed our store in 2003 10% was the highest mark-up of any new car in the line and if memory serves me right 9% was closer.  Yes, the factory has an allowance for holdback which helps but when you do not get the money immediately it sure can make things tight at times. Glad those worries are over.

 

Now to get back to the original poster's question.  West gave a good answer on older cars but newer ones should not be that hard to find using spec books like Joe found and I believe NADA guides use to have the base MSRP but my memory is failing me.  If it helps the MSRP on a 1901 Olds was $650! :) 

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12 hours ago, trimacar said:

My brand new, graduation gift, ordered from factory with some basic and weird options 1969 Cutlass, was slightly under $2000....my 73 Cutlass Salon coupe when I graduated, somewhere in the $3500 range...

 

Reminds me of my brother's 1968 Cutlass "S" convertible. It is so stripped down, it even has the six-cylinder engine. Only a few hundred were built, so you know that dealers weren't buying them to "bring in traffic."

When a set of rally wheels were found, he had to dress it up a little bit.

Olds 1.JPG

IMG_0753.JPG

IMG_0752.JPG

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Not really. Selecting one model (Escalade - a TRUCK) out of an entire range of Cadillac product is hardly representative ‚ÄĒ or comparable.¬†
My 2018 Buick LaCrosse (decked out) cost more than 3 different 2018 Cadillac models (base models which would have had to be special ordered - few, if any were ever sent to dealers). I could cherry pick that fact and claim that Buick costs more than Cadillac yet that’s not quite true is it?

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18 minutes ago, West Peterson said:

 

Reminds me of my brother's 1968 Cutlass "S" convertible. It is so stripped down, it even has the six-cylinder engine. Only a few hundred were built, so you know that dealers weren't buying them to "bring in traffic."

When a set of rally wheels were found, he had to dress it up a little bit.

Olds 1.JPG

IMG_0753.JPG

IMG_0752.JPGI really like that car!

I really like that car! ¬†I owned a ‚Äė69 convertible,¬†the same trim¬†except for engine, in the mid 1970‚Äôs. ¬†Nice color combination, and the six is so different. ¬†Tell him if he ever gets tired of it......you know the rest...dc

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4 minutes ago, trimacar said:

I really like that car! ¬†I owned a ‚Äė69 convertible,¬†the same trim¬†except for engine, in the mid 1970‚Äôs. ¬†Nice color combination, and the six is so different. ¬†Tell him if he ever gets tired of it......you know the rest...dc

 

I still remember you telling me that from several years ago. I believe you have first refusal.

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2 hours ago, Ben P. said:

....(Escalade - a TRUCK)...

Not sure what you're smoking to think an Escalade is a truck.  I'm sure Cadillac would beg to differ with you, as do I.

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The point is it is their top line model (but it is¬†an SUV, hardly a car and not a sedan¬†‚ÄĒ which I consider a TRUCK, yesūüôā). They‚Äôve got models from 35K and up. Not at all fair to compare only the top line model.

Entirely different product....

Edited by Ben P.
Typos (see edit history)
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24 minutes ago, George Cole said:

Not sure what you're smoking to think an Escalade is a truck.  I'm sure Cadillac would beg to differ with you, as do I.

I own a '97 Chev K2500 Suburban diesel, it sure does ride like a truck!

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4 minutes ago, TexasJohn55 said:

I own a '97 Chev K2500 Suburban diesel, it sure does ride like a truck!

Are you comparing a 1997 2500 Suburban to a current model Escalade?   I suppose they do have the same number of doors, wheels, and cylinders.

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1 minute ago, 39BuickEight said:

Are you comparing a 1997 2500 Suburban to a current model Escalade?   I suppose they do have the same number of doors, wheels, and cylinders.

I really hope that they do not compare, still it is a truck chassis, a fancied up suburban (Tahoe XL?).

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24 minutes ago, TexasJohn55 said:

I really hope that they do not compare, still it is a truck chassis, a fancied up suburban (Tahoe XL?).

Yes, a 2500 rides on a 3/4 ton truck chassis. I know. I've got a 1999 Suburban K2500 4x4 as well. A new Escalade is not a truck.

 

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None of the new Caddys ride like a luxury car. Escalades and Suburbans share the same platform. Anything smaller in the Caddy lineup rides & drives like a tin can Chevy. I've driven them all. They're not comfortable, not plush, not much of anything. I gave my 2002 Eldorado to my son a couple of years ago. THAT rode and drove like a Caddy...I guess those days and expectations are over.

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2 hours ago, TAKerry said:

Until very recently there was a Burkholder used car lot in Willow Street. Wonder if it was related? 

I never could find out if they were related however I did hear from a forum user a few years ago that he was reasonably sure this dealer was a relative of his.

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17 hours ago, West Peterson said:

 

I think it was unusual for a dealer to put a stripped-down car in the showroom to attract attention. Accessories was a major way of making money on the cars. The low base price was, in my opinion, used for advertising. If a customer came in looking for a base-price car, it was no where to be found... but he could order one and wait the six weeks for delivery. That's when the salesman could walk the customer over to the decked out car and say, "But you can have this one today."

Back in 1980 when I went shopping for my VW, the dealer had the loaded cars in the show room. I found the only base model in the back of the dealership covered in snow. They tried the upsell B.S. but I was a poor college student so it was the cheap, base model or nothing. I chose the base model and the rest is history. To this day when a certain manufacturer introduces a new model they make a point to mention the cheap, base model. What they fail to mention is how few they make of them. Finding one is like winning the lottery.

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