David Wise, whose Wise Vehicle Inspection Reports™ of Mopar vehicles have become an industry standard, is known as the world’s leading authority on most vehicles built by Mopar. He is one of the managing partners of MMC Detroit, which has been in business since 1952. Dave has authored many world-class Mopar reference manuals – the only Mopar manuals continually and regularly enhanced and updated for over 20 years. He is a member of the Barrett-Jackson team of automotive experts.
A change in appetite has been evolving across the auction landscape. Pickups are one of the hottest new segments of the classic vehicle market, and I feel there is still plenty of runway to allow these vehicles to take off. This is also a chance to grab a piece of nostalgia and keep history alive.
If you are in the market for a collectible pickup, have clear reasons and goals in mind. Do you want a working truck or one used for weekend pleasure driving only? It is important to keep in mind that, in general, pickup trucks were often used for their intended purpose, which is to work. They were used for civil service duty, construction, and farming to haul, tow, plow and maneuver over challenging terrain.
At any given Barrett-Jackson auction, many great pickup trucks cross the block. Some will sell for a few thousand, while others will command prices in excess of $100,000. Why such a difference?
Case in point: the Dodge Power Wagon, which has been setting records on the Barrett-Jackson auction block. A 4-wheel-drive light truck produced in various model series since 1945, the Power Wagon was created to fulfill needs for a fast, powerful and rugged vehicle capable of traveling equally well on and off the road. Dodge Power Wagons are still considered some of the toughest ever made, and this was also true when they were conceived in the mid-1940s. Power Wagons were also marketed around the world under the Fargo and DeSoto badges. After the war, former soldiers often sought out Dodge trucks for their ruggedness and nearly unbreakable build quality.
You could say the Power Wagon is the pickup version of a HEMI ’Cuda – it is uniquely identifiable and a great example of a true American engineering product that came right out of the Motor City. People are drawn to the classic Power Wagon because they are not only impressive-looking – making other pickups of the era look toy-like by comparison – but are also very utilitarian, like today’s modern pickup trucks. And when you drive or ride in an old Power Wagon, there’s no denying the sensation of true American power and pride.
At the recent 45th Anniversary Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction, two Power Wagon Trucks each sold for the record-setting price of $187,000. What made these so special is that they still maintain their stock appearance but have upgraded features like the engine, axles, suspension, ignition system and electrical system. Lot #496 was a 1962 Power Wagon that had undergone a nut-and-bolt restoration. It was updated with a brand-new Cummins QSB 4.5-liter turbo diesel engine with a 5-speed overdrive transmission. Simply put, this M37B1 was better than new in every way and ranks among the very finest of its kind in existence. The second, Lot #1061, was a 1944 Power Wagon that was a modernized custom, with no expense spared to make it a true one-of-a-kind. It was upgraded with many extras to make it extremely drivable with all modern technologies, and is powered by a GM LS3 V8 with 480hp and electronic push-button transmission with overdrive.
By contrast, a 1957 Power Wagon, Lot #707, sold at the 2016 Palm Beach Auction for $38,500. Not only was it a slightly different type of truck – a dump style, not a pickup – it was not restored to the same level of detail as those sold in Scottsdale. It had an older and lighter restoration, was showing some age and had no appreciable upgrades to the suspension, interior and/or powertrain – which made it the perfect entry-level collectible with plenty of potential for the future.
There is no simple answer as to why one collectible vehicle is more valuable than another. In the case of pickup trucks, general appeal usually tops the list, but other factors – including curb appeal, options and rarity – can also greatly influence price. Vehicles with a proven pedigree of originality will command higher prices than a vehicle cobbled together from a few donor vehicles, no matter how well-restored. Good-quality pickup trucks are very hard to find; the days of finding an old, salvageable Power Wagon in a barn are almost over.
In general, the most sought-after trucks are early models, and any short wheelbase with automatic transmission and special option packages. Generally, a classic truck will hold its value as long as the mechanical condition is sound. Often people stumble on classic trucks, in good condition, at under market prices.
As with any other collector vehicle, however, a pickup’s restoration quality and attention to detail is important, and can make the difference between a good selling price and a fantastic selling price. Are critical original equipment (OE) parts missing, for example? Considering the rarity and cost, finding good-quality original parts to replace any that are missing could be very challenging. Determine how much, if any, restoration you are willing to take on, keeping in mind that restoration – although fulfilling in its own right – can get expensive. How much sheet metal needs replacing? How much work do you want to do yourself and how much will be contracted out? Do you have enough time, energy and money to complete the job to exacting standards?
It is important to carefully review the vehicle to ensure that it will serve your intended purpose to show, collect or drive. Research is your best friend. Do your homework on what you are buying before raising your hand to bid. Read the car card displayed in the window of each auction vehicle carefully, keeping in mind that the description is the seller’s – not Barrett-Jackson’s. As a vehicle ages, rust can become more and more of an issue. Be wary of the 40-year-old truck with a brand-new-looking paint job, yet an interior in less-than-beautiful condition. This can be a sure sign the owner may have been trying to conceal rust with that new coat of paint. Also, look down the body from front to rear, or vice versa. Look for waves or twists; these are evidence the truck may have had body damage.
Follow the truck into the staging lanes at auction. As the engine runs, listen for any sounds that are out of the ordinary. If the seller is present, ask questions. Do the brakes feel good and stop securely? If it’s a vintage 4X4, make sure the transfer case engages the front differential. If you are looking to buy a stock truck, reviewing the presence and condition of the original parts is very important. Remember, the quality of the restoration and attention to detail is what is important. You need to make sure that no corners were cut and genuine OEM parts were used. If you are looking for a vehicle that is easy and comfortable to drive, look for one with modern upgrades. The comforts and technology used in today’s new-model vehicles can go a long way when present in a collectible.
Decoding the numbers on major components can confirm or correct what the vehicle truly is. A detailed file with receipts and service records is important for modified trucks to give you the correct building blocks for future maintenance and replacement parts.
Whether you are a first-time buyer or seasoned collector, due diligence and an understanding of what to look for are important factors in purchasing any collector vehicle. Visit Barrett-Jackson.com to research selling prices of past auction vehicles and to see what is on offer for the coming auction. There are certain to be some fine pickups crossing the block at the inaugural Barrett-Jackson Northeast Auction at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut this June – perhaps even a Dodge Power Wagon or two. Will new records be set? Only time will tell.