Why are Classic Trucks So Expensive?

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Notice anything strange about the used car market lately? Classic pickup trucks, which were once a dime a dozen, are now nearly impossible to find for a reasonable price. It’s hard to believe that even rear-wheel-drive longbeds from the 1990s aren’t immune from this trend, as I implore you to find a half-ton OBS Ford in decent condition for less than $5,000.

So what happened, and why aren’t classic trucks affordable anymore? Here are a few reasons why old trucks aren’t the bargain they used to be.

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“Grandpa Trucks” are Drying Up

The amount of clean one-owner classic trucks is finite, and the availability of these vehicles dwindles every year. I’ll explain why with a little math.

Up until recently, it was pretty easy to get a clean Chevy C10 squarebody or Ford dentside from the local old guy. These trucks were the jackpot, as they were usually well-maintained, bone stock, and free of idiotic modifications. But these vehicles are all but gone in the 2020s and the reason why is simple.

Let’s say a man named Fred walked into a Chevy dealership in 1979 and purchased a brand new C10 for about $6,000. Fred had to be at least 18 at the time. But $6,000 was a lot of money for a kid ($21,300 today), so Fred was probably at least 30.

That means that the youngest Fred could be in 2021 is 60, but he’s probably closer to 70 or 80 years old. That’s not to say that all the Freds are dead—there are plenty of Freds still around, but many of them are simply too old to mess around with a 40-year-old pickup truck.

A decade ago, many of these guys were entering retirement and selling off their old cars and trucks. After all these years, the supply of cheap and clean grandpa trucks from the 1960s and 1970s has simply dried up.

Instagram Inflation

Social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube are another driving force behind these absurd price hikes. In 2010, classic trucks were still a niche automotive market. It consisted of the hardcore truck enthusiasts, the country boys, and the local kid who just wanted something cheap with a 350 in it.

Then came Farmtruck. A couple of guys from Street Outlaws bought a rusty 1970 Chevy longbed, dropped a 632ci V8 in it, and started smoking Ferraris on the dragstrip. Millions of views and thousands of copies later, it seems everyone now wants a 70s sleeper truck.

Don’t get me wrong—Farmtruck is cool. The camper shell is a nice touch, and who doesn’t want to see a pickup truck do wheelies? The issue is that it looked cheap and easy to replicate, and it drove enthusiasm (and thus, demand) for classic trucks through the roof.

Similarly, classic truck pages have become increasingly popular on other platforms such as Instagram. Trucks are hot in a lot of social circles right now, especially amongst college-aged people. I personally recall this trend taking off around 2014 and picking up steam rapidly from 2018 and onward.

Economics of the 2020s

The final contributing factor seems to be simple economics. The events of 2020 have left millions of Americans practically bankrupt, leading many people to sell off their toys (such as classic trucks).

It would seem safe to assume that people would sell for lower prices during economic hardship. After all, lots of people make the mistake of liquidating stocks during a market downturn, so why not apply the same rule to classic trucks? I made that assumption last year. Oddly enough, it seems like the exact opposite happened. People listed their trucks for more money instead of less.

I have a couple of theories about why this occurred. If someone needs the money but really doesn’t want to sell their truck, it makes sense to jack up the price to make the sale worthwhile. Another possibility is that the market never had a chance to adjust from 2019 levels.

When the economy was good, people had more money to spend on extras like classic cars. People could sell them for more (so they did), and people were willing to pay. I’d be interested to see classic car sales data from 2020 to see if these theories have any merit. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough data available yet. So until then, it’s just some food for thought.