Baby boomers who splurged to buy vintage muscle cars that they loved as teenagers may have made a better investment than they expected.
The value of 1969 to 1971 muscle cars from Plymouth, Dodge, Pontiac and Chevrolet has spiked in value in the last 18 months, according to Dave Magers, CEO of Mecum Auctions. His firm recently sold a Plymouth Hemi Barracuda (known as a Hemi Cuda for short) for $3.5 million and another for $2.5 million in two West Coast auctions. Hemi refers to a Chrysler engine with a hemispheric combustion chamber and became the trademark name for that powerful V-8.
Mecum's biggest auction, opening today in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando, will sell some 3,000 collectible cars -- including at least five muscle cars estimated by the auction house to be worth $1 million or more. We'll take a closer look at two Plymouth Hemi Cudas plus a Dodge Hemi Challenger, a Pontiac Trans Am and a Chevrolet Camaro.
The base market for these cars is American baby boomers, Hagers told CBS MoneyWatch in an interview. "They come into some wealth, and they end up owning the car they have dreamed about since they were 16 years old."
European, Asian and Australian collectors have also begun bidding on muscle cars, helping boost their value into the same range as Ferraris from the 1960s, Magers said. But the rarest of Ferraris from before World War II still can bring in $25 million and up.
Magers expects 10,000 buyers and sellers at the auction, running through Jan. 24 at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimee. He also expects about 90,000 spectators (daily admission is $30). In addition, some of the proceedings will be televised on the NBC Sports channel.
Mecum, based in Walworth, Wisconsin, plans 13 vintage car auctions this year in various parts of the U.S. In addition, the firm stages auctions for vintage motorcycles and antique farm tractors.
Here's a closer look at five of the million-dollar muscle cars.
1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible
Price estimate: $2.75 to $3.5 million
Only 14 cars were built with this combination of convertible body and the Hemi 426-cubic-inch V-8. Of those 14, this convertible in the "Lemon Twist" color was one of only four built with a four-speed manual transmission. The rarity of that combination helps boost the value of this Hemi Cuda to the highest estimate in the Kissimmee sale, said Mecum CEO Magers.
The car has a so-called Shaker hood, with ducts for maximum fresh air induction. The odometer shows just under 27,500 miles. The body has mostly original sheet metal.
Originally built in 1969 in Hamtramck, Michigan, for export to Canada, the car reportedly was bought by a man in British Columbia as a graduation present for his daughter. It was brought back to the U.S. and restored in 1999 by a well-known collector named Harold Sullivan. In 2006, it won Best in Class in a competitive show in Ohio.
1971 Hemi Cuda Convertible
Price estimate: $2.25 to $2.75 million
This "Sno-White" convertible with the 426 Hemi was one of five built with an automatic transmission for 1971 -- the final year of production for the Hemi Cuda model.
The white color with only a black accent for the Shaker hood makes this car unusual in that it's much more restrained in color and body markings than the typical Hemi Cuda. A man in Kansas originally put in a special order for it -- possible in those days -- with a black top and interior. The grille is painted the same white color as the rest of the body.
The previous owner acquired the car in 1977 and started on his own restoration. In 2003, he decided to sell it before completion. It then went to well-known restorer Julius Steuer in Chatsworth, California, who spent over a year bringing it to its current condition.
1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T Convertible
Price estimate: $2 to $2.5 million
This Dodge Challenger shares the Chrysler Hemi engine also used in the Plymouth Hemi Cuda models. R/T was the designation for the high-performance version. Only nine R/T convertibles with the Hemi engine were sold, and only four of those with an automatic transmission. This is one of those four.
Inside, this Challenger featured bucket seats, wood-grain trim and a dash with a tachometer and a speedometer that goes up to 150 MPH. True to the era, it has an eight-track tape player. Outside, it is painted "Sublime Green" and features a trunk-mounted luggage rack (which presumably wouldn't be in use if you were pushing the speedometer toward its limit).
This car has 1,170 miles on the odometer since it was restored. After the restoration, it was featured in a 1999 issue of Mopar Muscle magazine (Mopar is the name of the parts division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles).
1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Convertible
Price estimate: More than $1 million
This Trans Am convertible was one of only eight built, and it's the only one that was a "triple white" -- with white exterior, interior and convertible top.
With one of the most interesting and well-documented histories at this auction, this car is a rarity since Trans Ams like this are hardly ever sold at auction. For that reason, Mecum executives said it's very difficult to set the estimate, adding that this car could auction for as much as $3 million.
Originally ordered as a Pontiac division company car, the convertible was then transferred to Arnold Motor Co. in Houston, Pennsylvania, with 9,725 mile on the odometer. Robert Lauze of that same town traded in an earlier Firebird and took the car home in April 1970 for $3,295.
Owned since by several different collectors, the car was restored by Pontiac specialist Scott Tiemann. It has been on display at Floyd Garrett's Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, Tennessee. And it has appeared twice in Hot Rod Magazine.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Price estimate: $800,000 to $1 million
This Camaro was No. 18 of 69 Camaro ZL1 models built and one of 10 in the "Dusky Blue" color. The ZL1 engine was developed especially for drag racing. The ZL1 street model sold for a then-expensive $7,200.
This Camaro is one of the few of its vintage to still boast its original engine. Drag racer Edward Sanderson of Lynchburg, Virginia, raced it for a few years and eventually sold it to Bob Porter Chevrolet in Ligonier, Indiana. Porter restored it to its original condition in 1988. In 1993 it was the grand prize in a raffle run by the U.S. Camaro Club.
It has been owned by a couple of collectors. Most recently it has been on display in Las Vegas as part of the collection of real estate developer Brett Torino.