In June of 1970, Bill Reardon of Clarksburg, West Virginia went to the Shreves Plymouth-Dodge dealership and special-ordered the car of his dreams – a 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda. Finally indulging himself with the car he had always wanted at the ripe age of 62, Bill’s ‘Cuda was ordered with Tor Red paint, black interior, a Torque Flight automatic, a Shaker hood, color-matched wheels with dog dish hubcaps, Goodyear Polyglas GT tires and, of course, a 426ci Hemi V8 with dual quads stacked on top.
Once the car was built and delivered you’d rightfully expect that Bill hit the streets immediately to raise hell in one of the most incredible muscle cars ever made. Instead, Bill immediately set about making the car into a drag strip terror, but crucially, he was also quite meticulous about retaining and stowing away the original parts for later use.
The original carburetors, intake, exhaust, rear end, rolling stock and suspension were removed and replaced with military grade go-fast parts, and Bill is reported to have made approximately 30 passes at his local drag strips over the course of that first season with a few time slips in the high 10 second range to show for it.
Sadly, Reardon would pass away the following year, having only racked up numbers on the Plymouth’s odometer a quarter mile at a time. When Reardon’s widow also passed away in 1977, the couple’s son decided to sell the car, along with all of its original parts, to a man named Marvin Dillion, who returned the car to its original configuration. Shockingly, Dillion drove the car less than a single mile in his 16 years of ownership. I think you know where this is going.
By 1993, the value of original Hemi cars was already becoming a well-known commodity, and though the car went through three different owners in the subsequent years, it had only amassed a grand total of 61 miles on the odometer before renowned Mopar restoration specialist John Arruza of Thomasville, North Carolina purchased the car and gave the car a thorough refresh, only putting miles on the car in the interest of dialing it in on the road. When all was said and done, the car’s grand total of travel in four and a half decades of existence came to a paltry 81 miles. Simply put, it’s the lowest mileage 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda known to exist, and it’s going up for bid later this month at the Mecum auctions at Indianapolis, Indiana on May 12th.
Mecum estimates this car will bring in between $600,000 and $800,000. That’s certainly not chump change by any means, but it’s still a far cry from some of the multi-million dollar Hemi transactions from years past. We’d assume the auctioneer’s conservative estimate comes from the car’s lack of a four-speed manual transmission and a convertible top, both of which are perhaps the two most valuable options to be had on original Hemi cars. But how much rarer does it get than being the lowest mileage Hemi ‘Cuda on the face of the Earth? Let’s take a look at how the value of original Hemi cars has fluctuated over the last decade or so.
While the value of muscle cars on the whole as steadily risen ever since the 1980s, in wasn’t until the early 2000s that things really started to go bananas, with values not only soaring into the stratosphere for the “blue chip” cars, but also with the pendulum of worth swinging fairly wide back and forth over the years, largely due to outside factors.
It may seem like an obvious answer, but the subtext is perhaps a little more nuanced: blame the economy. But going a little deeper than that, we’d say blame the housing market specifically. If we look at a time line between say, 2000 and now, we can see a steep rise in values that follows closely along with the housing bubble, and drops off just as quickly.
What do the two have to do with one another? Expendable income, that’s what. When your home is suddenly worth a lot more than you paid for it, you can cash out some of that equity and buy toys, and many muscle car enthusiasts did exactly that. Suddenly by 2006 or so, the muscle car market – much like the housing market – hit unsustainable levels of price inflation – not only for blue chip cars, but even for less valuable cars like the Plymouth Satellite, Ford Maverick, Pontiac Tempest and so on.
The data backs this up – check out this chart from Hagerty, a company that specializes in insuring high-buck vintage muscle cars. The trajectory of the median home price and muscle car values are nearly identical – and that trend continues to hold true today, as muscle car values are now back up to pre-recession levels, much like the housing market.
So what’s this 81-mile Hemi ‘Cuda worth today? In January of 2007, a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda convertible with only 300 original miles sold for over $2.4 million at the RM auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. Granted that car is a ’71, which is considered the most desirable year for ‘Cudas, and it included those two incredibly valuable options we mentioned before (the three pedals and the drop top), so that one is essentially a best case scenario for a Hemi ‘Cuda.
The year prior, a ’1970 Hemi ‘Cuda hardtop sold at Barrett Jackson for a cool $670,000, and while it had a manual gearbox and a sinister triple-black color combination, it was a restoration rather than a survivor car with double digits on the odometer, reducing its collectability by a considerable amount in comparison to something like this upcoming car.
So what is Bill Reardon’s 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda hardtop survivor car with 81 original miles worth in 2015? To be honest it’s really anyone’s guess – this is, to a large degree, uncharted territory. There’s a significant chance we’ll never see a Hemi car with such low original miles up for auction for the rest of history, and that’s not hyperbole. And if you haven’t been keeping up on real estate prices, they’re close to the level they were at in 2007 before the floor collapsed on the opportunists in the industry.
That might make this look like we’re currently in a blue chip muscle car seller’s market, but it could also be perceived by some as a bad time to pull the trigger, as many investment-level buyers who were bitten by the recession might be less eager to jump in with both feet at a point that could turn out to be the top of the market. If history decides to repeat itself, those buyers could stand to lose a substantial amount of coin.
Ultimately, when it comes to auctions like Mecum, Barrett Jackson, RM and the rest of them, it’s really a guessing game – the incredibly low mileage of this car could be a turn-off to some because of its time capsule-like fragility, which prevents anyone who’s looking to retain as much value as possible from their investment from actually driving it at all, more or less. But then again, the lowest mileage 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda known to exist is a buying opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. Our prediction? This one is headed into seven figure territory.
All images courtesy of Mecum Auctions and Hagerty Insurance