Back Page: A Tale of Two Cars

  • Sheila J. Gibson

While offering a glimpse into the future, this issue also includes a new ongoing feature, one that looks at Robb Report’s past. As we considered the candidates for this month’s page, we couldn’t resist a telling pair of automobile ads from our October 1981 issue. A comparison of the two items seems particularly appropriate for our Private Preview theme because it so clearly demonstrates the value of knowing what’s coming down the road, and in this particular case, what will remain on the road.

At the top of one page is a listing for a 1964 Carroll Shelby AC Cobra, black with gold stripes and “In excellent condition!” Its asking price was $35,000 (which, including inflation, would be equivalent to more than $72,000 today). Another ad, below the Cobra, lists a 1981 Oldsmobile Toro-nado custom convertible, with a maroon exterior and a maroon leather interior, priced at $34,900.

Although they once shared roughly the same price, needless to say, the Cobra and the Toronado took decidedly different paths in the intervening two decades.

“I’ll take 10 Cobras at that price,” says Tim McGrane, the vice president of marketing and media relations for Barrett-Jackson, the Scottsdale, Arizona based collectible car auctioneer. Today a 1964 Cobra 289 two-door roadster would command no less than $106,000 and perhaps as much as $201,200. “The market is as hot as it ever was,” says McGrane, adding that the 289 has actually grown more popular than the 427 as a collectible because, unlike the 427, it has not been replicated.

And the Oldsmobile Toronado? Well, that’s another story. To be fair, it satisfied the needs of those who wanted a new convertible in an era when no major American manufacturer was making them. The aftermarketer was Hess & Eisenhardt (now called O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt), which was and still is best known as a provider of armored vehicles to diplomats, heads of state, and several U.S. presidents. In 1978, the company introduced a line of custom convertibles, beginning with the Cadillac Eldorado and including this Toronado.

Despite the fact that it was one of only 100 built and that it was, as the ad states, “loaded with every possible option,” this particular car, if it still exists, has virtually no collectible value. An unmodified 1981 Toronado in mint condition will fetch $6,625 at the most.

McGrane, charitably calling the vehicle “nondescript,” says the extra amenities do nothing to save it from automotive oblivion. All of which leads us to conclude that for car collectors at least, luxuries can be fleeting, but power, as demonstrated by the lasting value of a Cobra, is eternal. 

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