Classic-Car Enthusiasts Gather in Detroit

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Antique car enthusiasts gather every year at the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise in Detroit, Mich. While the Motor City's big three have been struggling to sell new cars, the ones they built 30 and 40 years ago are finding renewed interest among old-car fans.


The US auto industry may be struggling to sell new cars, but the old ones are doing fine. American autos built 30 and 40 years ago are finding renewed interest among old car fans. Stuart Cohen spent some time at the world's largest one-day antique car event. It's called the annual Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise in Detroit.

STUART COHEN reporting:

In the 1950s, '60s and early '70s, Detroit's Woodward Avenue was like a scene out of the movie "American Graffiti" with drive-in restaurants and hot-rods and muscle cars cruising the strip all night long.

(Soundbite of horns honking)

COHEN: Now the kids of that era are aging baby boomers trying to recapture their youth. And like Sherry and William Billings(ph), who own a 1967 Camaro, they have the spare cash to do it.

Mrs. SHERRY BILLINGS (Antique Car Owner): Once the kids got through college.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILLIAM BILLINGS (Antique Car Owner): That's basically it. I mean, we were into cars years ago, but then, you know, the kids came along and college came along and now they're on their own. So we're living a little bit.

Mr. DAVE KINNEY (Antique Car Appraiser): If you look at owning 50,000 shares of X,Y,Z stock or owning a Corvette convertible, there's a lot to be said for driving that Corvette convertible.

COHEN: Dave Kinney is one of the top antique car appraisers in the US and an analyst for Sports Car Market magazine. He says many people across the country are now looking at old cars as an investment that's less volatile than stocks and a lot more fun.

Mr. KINNEY: I think a lot of it is the frustration that's happened with people who were involved in the stock market run-up related to tech stocks. And they saw their shares disappear overnight and what they had left was bupkis. But they sure can have something that's substantial when they have a 1967 big-block 427 Corvette convertible.

COHEN: According to the National Auto Dealers Association, the increase in demand has helped push the average price for a classic car from $35,000 to more than $50,000 in the last five years, with some muscle cars of the '60s and '70s bringing record prices in the millions.

One thing more than any other that's helped shift car collecting from a niche hobby to a legitimate investment vehicle is eBay. The Internet auction site now sells an antique car every four seconds. Steve Haas(ph) is senior manager for the collector car division at eBay.

Mr. STEVE HAAS (eBay): Not too many years ago, if you wanted to find an old Alfa Romeo, you may look forever locally in the paper without finding what you want. Today on eBay, there's so many vehicles listed, you're probably going to find what you want very quickly.

(Soundbite of packaging process)

Mr. LARRY WALLIE (C.A.R.S. Incorporated): Packaging up quarter panels for a '55 Chevy hardtop and '55 Chevy Nomad.

COHEN: While new car parts suppliers like Delphi and the Ford spin-off Visteon have been on the skids lately, suppliers of restoration parts have been doing well. Larry Wallie is the owners of C.A.R.S. Incorporated, one of the country's largest Chevrolet restoration parts suppliers.

Mr. WALLIE: You know, where we used to employ 10 people, now we got 50. And we're just moving to a 62,000-square-foot building. So we're over doubling our size.

COHEN: There have been other run-ups in collector car prices, most notably with Ferraris in the late 1980s, but industry insiders say this boom isn't likely to run out of gas anytime soon. They point to a steady stream of baby boomers, many of who will be looking to recapture a bit of their youth.

(Soundbite of horns honking)

COHEN: For NPR News, I'm Stuart Cohen.

INSKEEP: This is MOTOR EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): And I'm Renee Montagne.

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