(Bloomberg) -- It takes a special truck to get someone to turn down a killer pad because it’s difficult to park said rig on the steep hillside out front. In LA’s pressure cooker of a real estate market, most people would take the apartment and find another car.
But Michelle Faucheux couldn’t bear to let go of her 1966 Ford F-150. Painted a faded sunshine yellow, it was her beloved daily driver, which she had long ago christened “Delilah.” Sure, the apartment was in the hills above the trendy Silverlake neighborhood, in a 1920s building with a glamorous Old Hollywood fireplace and rooftop patio. But the house hunting had to continue.
“I knew I was never gonna be able to park the truck there easily,” says Faucheux, a commercial producer based in LA and New Orleans. “I had already gotten trapped up at the top of the Hollywood Hills going to a party where I had to do a three-point turn in a cul-de-sac with a long-bed pickup truck. There’s no power steering. There’s no power brakes. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
Faucheux paid less than $10,000 when she bought Delilah in 2010, but thanks to a boom in the market for classic pickups (those made before the year 2000), the old truck is worth far more now. So far this year, Ford trucks from 1966 have sold from a low of $16,750 to a high of $32,000 on the online car auction website BringaTrailer.com.
“The pickup truck craze is a large segment” of the collector car market, says Randy Nonnenberg, the founder of BringaTrailer.com, which saw more than $1 billion in sales last year. “They’re definitely on the top of the hot list right now.”
Old Faithful on the Rise
Old pickup trucks never used to be status symbols. Companies like Ford, General Motors and Toyota built them as workhorses for blue-collar folks during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. With mechanically simple and inexpensive-to-repair engines, they had capacious truck beds and payload muscle that helped power Iowa’s corn farms and Texas’s cattle ranches. By the late 2000s, work trucks were a different animal: They’d evolved into six-figure rolling offices valued for their rugged capacity for cargo and humans, with all the interior comforts of a luxury car, to worksites from Santa Barbara, California, to Staten Island in New York City.
Sometime in the last few years, classic trucks started popping up outside of coffee shops and trendy markets scattered across Seattle, Portland, LA, Austin, Nashville and Brooklyn, New York. Now, instead of workhorses, they are collectors’ items. In the first quarter of this year, the average sale price of a classic pickup hit $45,030, up 33% over the previous quarter, according to data provided to Bloomberg by Classic.com. In 2018 the average sale price of a pickup hovered around $25,700.
Elana Scherr has seen the market change firsthand. The senior features editor at Car and Driver first started buying old trucks—a 1978 Dodge, a 1965 Ford—a decade ago. Then last year, she bought a 1984 Ramcharger and noticed a different playing field right away. “The price jump has been extreme,” Scherr says. “Our first dually [a truck that has dual rear wheels on each side] was maybe $3,000 in 2004, and our yellow one we bought a few years ago was $10,000. I’m positive we could sell them for way more now.”
Even though they’ve gained significant value, percentage-wise, over their four-figure price tags from several years ago, many trucks are still relatively affordable. On May 29 a 1982 Ford F-250 in “Wimbledon white” sold for $10,000, and a 1973 Ford F-100 Ranger XLT in a shade of limestone green sold for $17,250, both on BAT. But prices on some heavy-duty trucks including long beds, four-wheel drive vehicles and 3/4-ton models in particular have seen a dramatic surge. In March a 1969 Ford F-250 Highboy 4X4 sold for $69,000 on BAT, thousands of dollars more than similar trucks had fetched late last year. Then in May, a 1979 Ford F-350 Ranger Lariat sold for $122,000.
The average has been boosted by even bigger sales, such as a 1968 Chevrolet K10 Custom pickup that sold for $330,000 on Jan. 28 at a Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. Last August a 1964 Dodge W200 Power Wagon sold for $282,000 in an online auction at Bring a Trailer.
Nostalgia and Goodwill
Several factors have contributed to the rise in prices. When the cost of old Land Rover Defenders and classic Ford Broncos became prohibitively high, people started looking for less expensive options that offered the same capable engines, towering ride heights and rough-and-ready style. (Average sale prices on Land Rover Defender 110 Hard Tops jumped by 88% in 2022 to $61,791, according to Classic.com.) Pickup trucks were the natural alternative.
Technological advances have also made it easier and less expensive to swap modern engines into Grandpa’s old truck. Local shops such as Denwerks and Velocity Modern Classics report months-long waitlists for their popular treatments, which vary from light repair and refresh work and consignments to complete restorations, respectively. Velocity Modern Classics is currently taking reservations on its signature F-250 long bed restorations; pricing on those starts at $289,900, but compared with others, that might sound like a deal. On Jan. 14 a restored and modernized 1965 Dodge D200 Custom Pickup sold for $330,000 at the Mecum auction in Kissimmee, Florida. In 2021 a restored 1956 Chevrolet Series 3100 sold for $112,500—more than $70,000 higher than its estimated value, a sum no doubt helped by the fact that the pickup had belonged to Janet Jackson.
Then there’s the pure physicality of pickups, which has attracted a fresh following familiar with their heft. Millennials—the first generation to grow up riding around in SUVs—are finally able to afford a hobby car or two in addition to their primary vehicle, and the seating height and shape of old trucks racks up prime nostalgia points.
“Everyone wants to talk about my car, but I want [to talk about] my yellow truck,” says millennial stunt driver Sera Trimble about the 1982 Toyota Hilux she named Herman. Its plucky four-wheel drive, forgiving steering, no-fuss-no-muss patina and jacked-up seating position make driving it a thrill, she says. “That thing is fricking fantastic. It’s fun to drive, and it just reminds me of an inner me.”View this post on Instagram
It helps that old trucks seem to circulate goodwill around those who drive them. The perception, according to collectors, is that their owner is a humble, decent, hardworking person unconcerned about maintaining the image that comes along with something flashier or with more attitude, like a Corvette. “It’s such a neutral moral ground—like, who doesn’t feel nice about seeing someone drive by with a nice patina on a ’70 Chevy pickup?” Scherr says. “Muscle cars or European classics are more coded to a particular lifestyle.”
Where to Jump In
The good news is that the market for old pickup trucks hasn’t yet peaked. Where many car-buying trends are impelled by rarity, the popularity of pickups is driven by actual demand.
“If you’re looking to speculate on the market, you may a little bit late—it’s a fairly visible and fairly mature market now,” says Nonnenberg. “But we’re still on the way up because of the crazy volumes these things were built in, and there are still plenty of cool trucks to find. The value is based on emotion, not a scarcity mentality; people are buying them based on the aesthetic and the living-the-dream vibe.”
Finding a steal in the $5,000 to $10,000 range is more difficult now than it was five years ago, but a search in the $20,000 to $30,000 range will find exceptional options from a 1959 Dodge W300 Power Wagon to a 1979 Chevrolet K10. “There are so many different ways you can go, you can basically pick your favorite thing, and they're out there,” Nonnenberg says.
Let the Buyer Beware
Some advice for anyone wanting one of their own: Don’t worry too much about potential mechanical problems. Just assume you’ll have them.
“Find a good mechanic first!” Scherr advises. Transmissions go out. Brakes need replacing. Hoses crack. But most repairs on old Fords, Dodges and Toyotas are cheap, and spare parts are readily available, compared with most other vintage vehicles.
Keep an eye out for trucks that were used in the American West—states such as Arizona, Oregon and California—where rust is far less of a problem than in Southern and Mid-Atlantic states. “A lot of these have lived hard lives and are a little rusty, so people want to avoid that,” says Nonnenberg, who has a 1972 GMC Sierra Grande and a 1981 Toyota 4X4 of his own.
Stay open-minded. You may have your heart set on a four-speed 1975 Ford F-250 only to find you hate the way it shifts, or you may discover that the angle of the steering wheel and bench seats in the big Ford F350 Rangers makes your back ache.
“If you’re looking for an old truck, test-drive a lot of them, because a car may look cool, but actually being able to drive said car, it’s a big difference,” says Faucheux. Operating a big rig can be intimidating, even to the professionals.
“When Soho House had just opened, my girlfriends and I drove the truck to meet our rock star manager friend there,” she says. “We rolled up in my huge yellow pickup in pumps and miniskirts and handed the keys to the valet, and he was terrified. He had no idea how to park this monster.”
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