« Lee and Maria Friedlander Meet Joel Coen and Frances McDormand | Main | 'Classic' Camera? »

Thursday, 04 May 2023


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

In general, I am not a "car guy." I don't know how to define that term. . . I have a twinge of envy when I see a zippy little Miyata on the roads around my home, even though I know I have no practical use for the thing. But I don't lust after cars the way I have lusted after cameras -- totally different amount of mind-share used for the two. And most of the cars I have owned, I have bought used with an eye to function, not aesthetics, and I don't see that changing. I did buy one new car when I was 36, for $20K. The most recent used car I bought (this year) was well in excess of that. Still, this year's new (to me) car was half the price of a brand new one of the same model. Inflation is no joke.

The first car I bought, in 1970, was a pretty 1968 Chevy Camaro convertible, white with blue top, front stripe and interior, for $1600. In 1977, my dream purchase was the BMW 2002tii, but $6300 was out of reach based on my new job at that time. Instead, I settled for the $4700 Toyota Celica GT. It wasn’t until 1982 that I finally was able to buy a small new BMW, the 320i, which at that time pushed $20k fully loaded. Mine was not that expensive, but I distinctly remembered the the seemingly, ridiculously, low price tag for the Bimmer I missed out on just 5 years earlier.

But wow, was that 450 SEL a beautiful car!

I wasn’t aware that Mitsubishi still sold cars in the U.S. When I looked up the Mirage in my 2023 Consumer Reports car issue I found it had a road-test score of 35 out of 100 and CR referred to it as tinny, clumsy and depressing. I don’t recall ever reading such a negative review in CR before. For a few bucks more you can pick up the Ford Maverick Hybrid pickup which is a CR top pick and starts at 22,500. It’s nice to see that there are still a few affordable options out there. I read the other day that the average price of a new car in the U.S. is just north of $48K but I’m guessing this is due to the folks who spend $100K on a full size pickup skewing the average.

I won't be 50 for quite a while, but it seems like my sense of money got stuck when I was growing up on a rural Missouri farm in the 1980s-90s. We didn't have much, and most of what we did have was used or hand-me-down within our large family (my dad had 12 siblings, by mom had six, all living within a 30-40 mile radius). My grandparents suffered through rough times during the Great Depression and that was definitely passed on to their kids and grandkids. I have no memory of buying things with my own money until college, simply because until that point I never had any money. Don't get me wrong, I worked all the time, but it was just part of life and my pay was getting a bed and being fed.

One of the most common things my wife says to me (just after "You're wonderful!") is "Things cost money." This occurs whenever I scoff at the price of groceries, or pants, or electricity, or dog food, or whatever.

So, I just keep muddling along in my thrift store clothes, scratching my head in wonder at the crazy world around me. I've never had a new car. The computer I read this blog on is 13 years old but works fine after OS, RAM, and SSD upgrades. My camera (Nikon D700, bought used) is even older, and most of my lenses were also bought used. When we closed on our house a few years ago my wife just clubbed me over the head and manipulated my hand to put an "X" on the signature line of the paperwork. I'm joking. Maybe. Everyone is happy this way.

Lots of things start calcifying about 50, but that's neither here nor there. Cars are stupid expensive just now, beyond the normal steadily increasing prices. Last year we had a Honda dealer offering to buy our 4 or 4 5 year old Fit for more than we paid for it, even with not quite 100K on the odometer. Then we thought about how we'd replace it, and that ended the conversation.
For a while, cars were getting significantly better. I remember fuel injection and airbags as being derided as too expensive to ever go in a family car, and I doubt you can buy a car without them now. Cars are much safer now, though the drivers compensate by driving more dangerously.
But I wonder if cars have tipped over into decadence. In one sense they have become an appliance, nearly indistinguishable from one another, differing only in subtle luxury details. There doesn't seem to be a way to make them better at being a machine for driving, and in fact, the latest advances take the driving part away from the human.

Then there's the $1000 car ....


I have a slightly older friend who shakes his head at the obscenely high price of new vinyl records these days, but in reality LP prices seem to have barely kept up with inflation, despite the market having shrunk drastically, production capacity even more drastically, and material costs like paper having skyrocketed. And from what little I've seen first hand, quality is higher--there was some really crappy product 40-50 years ago.

But cars are a special case. It seems car prices have shot upward in the last 5-6 years thanks to a heap of factors on top of inflation.

Dad, can I borrow your car, please. I'm old enough.

No. The car is not old enough.

Small suggestion: maybe just remind us of the no-longer-sticky post with a brief link and blurb at the start of each new post? Has the same purpose and shouldn't cause too much interference. Perhaps it compromises some of the archival aspects of each new post, but I wouldn't think too much.

Just went to an inflation calculator and punched in the cost of a Nikon F2 Photomic at $1040.
In todays money to comes to just over $7000 which is close to the price of a Z9.
I ended up buying a 1973 vintage F2 in 1978 for $250 gently used.
I still have it and it still works fine at 50 years of age and it is still a relevant photographic tool
As for a Z9 who knows?.

We're looking at cars now. It's surprising that 1 to 3 year old used models are almost as expensive as the new models. The difference is you can drive the used model off the lot today. A new model may take weeks to month for delivery.

And we have mostly over-50 congresspersons deciding how we should fight inflation! 20 years ago I paid $40K for a 2 year old BMW. 4 years ago, I paid the same for a new Subaru! I'm 72 and have mixed feelings about the next car.

Camera value might have the same effect, but at least for the new digital ones, I generally equate them with buying a good personal computer… from Apple.

The federal pollution controls, increasing luxury features and the popularity of SUVs and trucks have made cars more expensive and a smaller piece of the pie.

I remember my uncle telling me that his dad was flabbergasted when he told him he was buying a '66 Corvette and it cost more than $4,000. He did make that money back when he sold it. :>)

Nowadays, the Corvette is practically a bargain, compared to foreign sports cars. Pickup trucks can cost more than $100,000 when loaded with options.

Times sure have changed from bare bones pickup trucks without power steering or radios.

Those three cars that cost less than $20,000 are probably miserable to drive. (Remember the Yugo?)

My current car is the best Impala GM has made in at least twenty years. "That consumer magazine" rated it the best family car. So, naturally, GM barely advertised it on TV commercials and retired it. I guess I'll have to be vigilant with the inevitable rust and keep a stash for a rebuilt engine, once that time comes.

[Rant begins] Now, the politicians are pushing electric cars despite the hazardous non-recyclable materials in the batteries. NY state is going to ban natural gas from most new buildings. Where do they think they will get the extra electricity from? Coal-fired power plants? (Only China is building those.) Maybe a million of those non-recyclable windmills that are eyesores and kill plenty of birds. [Rant over]

I'm glad I'm not a young person.

There's a simple reason for the "calcification" of price perception you mention. When we are young we tend to fall into the lower earning brackets and increase our earnings as we age through a combination of raises, promotions, and bonuses At some point though, around age 50 perhaps, we top out and the upward progression slows, often not keeping up with inflation. Some us just get tired of "chasing a buck". Then we retire and the upward progression on pension for many of us stops. In the first 5 years of my retirement on a state pension, I lost over $10K in purchasing power to high inflation and that has likely doubled since. Social Security keeps pace pretty well with inflation but by design is meager. It was always intended to keep seniors from abject poverty, not to make them well off. One of the reasons that changes have been proposed to "expand" SS is that at its minimum benefit level, SS isn't even above the poverty level. So yeah, everything is too expensive from my perspective.

Related: https://robservatory.com/mazdas-magnificent-miniaturized-marvel-mx-5-miata/ Miata price and size evolution.

FWIW, based on the CPI, your grandma payed about k$151 in 2023 money for that car. Even in real dollars, that's more than all the cars I've ever purchased (5 in total, 3 bought new) put together!

New vehicles. Try getting one with a Front Bench type seat. Instead of the shoehorned in bucket with center console that traps you in claustrophobia hell.
A good bench seat allows you to stretch out from time to time if you want. Your girl/boy friend or partner can sit next to you. Your dog can lay there with head on your leg while he naps and you drive.

In some you can even lay down for a nap.

Room to roam and relax. Easy to get to the passenger window for photographing out that side, something impossible in the bucket seat trap.

Would love a SUV type but now Pickup trucks are pretty much it. Still a few full size cars come that way but they aren't too good on dirt roads and farm fields.

My last "new" car/truck was a 1998 Chevrolet Silverado Ext cab, 6.5FT bed with all the basics and manual transmission for 19.5K. That same truck today obviously looks different and is over 3X more money. Insane dollars regardless of the "technology". The sheet metal is no where near as good. I am quite sure I will never purchase a new car or truck again.

Long story shortened.
My dad bought my mom a Cadillac typically every four years. Late 1970's he decided that a diesel Oldsmobile was a better choice during the fuel crisis so he purchased a diesel Toronado (basically a Caddy). After six months he noticed it leaking oil so he took it to the dealer who basically blew him off and said it was normal- this went on for months. After about a year the engine blew (lack of oil)and he had it towed to the dealer where he fought with GM for 6 months to have it repaired at their cost. After the settlement, they split the cost 50/50, he picked it up from the dealer and drove it right to a Mercedes dealer and bought a new 1980 300 SD Turbo diesel for $30k- they loved it and drove it for years. Meanwhile, several years after GM was involved in a class action lawsuit where they were sued for using engines originally designed for gasoline as diesels.

My first new car was a Datsun B-210 it was a two door with a four speed, $2710.
My first car I purchased was a used 1960 Jaguar Mark 2 3.8 sedan, white with red leather and wire wheels in 1968 this went for $600. Of course the automatic transmission had issues and the car was sold before long.

So you unstick the sticky with a car post to increase traffic then mention passing. Subliminal code in motion here I think.

I had a Benz 450SEL, Euro edition and it was one hell of an automobile! To bad your dad was so cheap, err frugal, ya that's right, frugal ;)

I bought my then wife a Benz 300SD with a paint job that closely matched her hair. The car lasted longer than she did.

Here in the UK the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2030. Currently the cheapest Golf sized electric cars are priced around £40000. I am retired and that is way beyond my means. I guess they want us all on the woefully inadequate public transport system. I know that it's necessary, but no I don't think that I am stuck in the past.

My first car cost £10. None of my next three cars cost more than £100. They ranged in date from 1929 to 1956. They seemed expensive enough to impoverished me at the time ... late 1960s. Now when I read of cameras costing literally thousands of £££/$$$, I can't clear my brain of perceptions of the value of money that were drilled into me all those years ago. Now a mainstream APSC or FF camera costs more than an new executive car did when I was a student. Which is why I am a bit tight-fisted when it comes to gear.

A roll of Kodak Ektachrome E100G in 120 is now selling for $32.98 in Canada.

This used to be the price of a 5-pack in the early 2000s. I'm not 50 yet, but my wallet is too calcified to open for this.

Americans are so funny. Kia Rio in Denmark: starting at $33.000 ... Petrol: abt. $8.5 per gallon ...

I do this comparison every now and then, and I have decided that you actually get more car for the money today. You can get a new Honda Civic for less than $24K, or a Corolla for less than $22K. Either is a much better car than the comparably priced Mercedes from 40 years ago - the 190E at $24K. Either is probably also a better car than the 1983 Mercedes 380S, which was priced at $48K. Inflation might not mean what you think it does, and I for one am glad to live at a time when so many quality goods are so inexpensive.

The Chevy Bolt EV starts at $26500 and qualifies for the full $7500 US tax credit. Good luck getting one at that price, but it's a great value even with a few upgrades.

My wife and I always get our American dog food (we live in Australia) on sale if we can. Saving maybe $20 a bag. We'll go to some considerable effort to achieve that.

But if there's a house or car expense running into the thousands, we just shrug and go "Oh well, it just is".

The same applied when my sister in laws dog needed stomach surgery. She didn't have the cash, so we covered the extra 5K as a gift. Never considered for a moment any other course of action.

I bought my first new car when I graduated from college in 1974. It was a red Fiat 128 sedan and it cost $3,000 which, according to an online inflation calculator, is equal to $18,367.30 now. The three cars listed in your post are very close to but less than that number. It would appear that the relative cost of a “cheap” entry level car has remained pretty constant over the last 50 years. However, I would say that the value for that money has increased substantially due to marked improvements in quality. I had to tune my Fiat every 12,000 miles and it rusted through in 5 years despite the additional rustproofing I paid for. Cars now don’t need new spark plugs for 100,000 miles and tune ups are ancient history. Gas mileage for equivalent cars now is easily triple what I got in that Fiat.

My first, and only, new car was a 1998 Saturn SW2 small GM-made station wagon. Cost, $15,600 complete with good dual overhead cam engine, sports suspension, AC, 5-speed stick shift, 36 mpg on the highway, and a good stereo system.

It was generally very reliable, never had any rusting problems, and I gave it away only two years ago with 343,000 hard Alaska miles on it and still counting. I still see it around town. Excellent vehicle and good on snow and ice. Easy to repair using standard high-grade parts like. Monroe struts, etc and the dealer actually tried to help you rather than cheat you.

No wonder Saturn was shut down by GM. We’re still driving two other Saturn Vue SUVs, both bought as reconstructs from someone we knew and trusted. They’re still running well,

Back in high school in the 1960s my two fantasy cars were the Porsche 911 and the Shelby 289 Cobra. They were each priced at the absurdly out of reach $5000.

And, now at least you can say that you've written your AutoBiography. (Sorry...someone had to say it.)

In response to the mention of the Mitsubishi Mirage by @Jim Arthur above. My first car was one of those -- a standard shift model that I bought used with about 96,000 miles on the odometer with the aid of an avuncular cousin who is a machine guy. The thing ran like a top -- completely without issue for three years until I had to sell it (moved to a city with perfectly good mass transit). We called it the "Sherpa" because it hauled us and our stuff around with such dependability. I like Consumer Reports. . . but occasionally they are just wrong, or one's specific example outperforms the mean.

Hey Mike, maybe late but just one more data point from Florida.

Today, May 6th, I just bought a 2023 Nissan Sentra for cash for $27,800. The cost on the window was in the $25,000 range, and then they add the Florida sales tax.

The 14 year old Nissan Altima that I've also bought new in 2009 for $18,000 died today and I said I'd drive it until the wheels fell off. Mission accomplished.

This new car is more computer than car and will have a steep learning curve for an old guy like me, buy if history is consistent, I'll need $50,000 for my next car.

OK, I'll join the auto life list crowd. (There are other life lists that have melted into the mists of memory, but cars stand out better.) Back in the day, we could start driving on our sixteenth birthday (unless you lived on a farm where driving started earlier) and I did. I did some damage to our '55 Ford station wagon determining its acceleration abilities, so I spent my summer earnings on a lovely '52 two-toned Ford hardtop, decorated with two chromed spotlights, police interceptor style, and installed seat belts, which were entirely optional at the time. My parents insulated me from the realities of the expense of insurance. Unfortunately, it failed to get me all the way home from a Junior prom, burying its nose in some parked car. But the seat belts helped. That was followed by a '50 Chevvy coupe, with a GMC 6 engine driving a '39 LaSalle transmission with a massive stick shift. No more automatic transmissions for many years after that. I went off to college in a spanking new '59 Ford Anglia, paid for again by working at the Ford dealership. When I finished college, I picked up a Volvo 544 (the one that had the lines of a '44 Ford, but slightly reduced in size -- remember the Ken Josephson picture?) in Europe, delivered it to Goteborg to be shipped to Boston and drove it for the next 12 years, crossing the country twice, until it rusted out. A lovely redhead that I tried to impress while driving her home from her college to Delaware told her friends later that it looked like an upside down bathtub, but I loved that car for its general ruggedness. As it began to die, I bought an empty Dodge van that a cleaning company had worn out, painted an orange racing stripe around its middle and used it as a camper for long trips. Then, with new wife (and a house in the lovely upper Westchester woods costing $18,000!) we slowly acquired two early Subarus, a coupe and a station wagon. The station wagon burned up in the hands of its servicing dealer and was replaced by a boxy Isuzu station wagon that carried a lot and lasted quite a long time. The final addition was a Ford Probe GT, the most powerful and best-handling car I ever owned. Wife #2 (we got together in the late 1980s) didn't care much for manual transmissions so we drove a brief series of family handmedown sedans before acquiring, in Israel, a Mazda Premacy, predecessor of the Mazda 5. After a sabbatical in the US in 2007-8 (Ford Explorer) we got an actual Mazda 5, replaced a few years ago by a Hyundai Tucson. Both were excellent cars. Moving back to Boston during the carless days of the pandemic, I was able to get a new Subaru Forester at an inflated price of about $40,000, also proving to be trouble-free. But our block now has two Mustang-E (it's actually an SUV-E) and I expect to go in that direction about 5 years from now, when charging on the road is no longer just a dream.

I grew up in a Mercedes family. We picked up a 180 at the factory in Stuttgart in 1958, no idea what that cost (I was 4 at the time), drove it in Europe for a year and then brought it to the US (I hear there were huge benefits to importing it as a used car). Then did that again in 1966 (a 200 that time; the bottom model both times). My parents kept that car until 1984, when inability to get premium leaded gasoline finally convinced them to sell it to an enthusiast. (They actually took it back over to Europe in 1973, they spent that year over there too but couldn't afford a new car that trip.)

Those models weren't actually that expensive, certainly not for what you got.

I had no idea what "car trouble" was as a child. These things never broke. The regular maintenance schedule was expensive (and looked kind of like an airplane engine maintenance schedule). Ran up through at least replacing the head gasket on time or mileage (not waiting until something failed).

Never understood spending a fortune on car after car after car by people pretending to be rich. Got a VW Rabbit in 1972 and eventually replaced it with a Volvo 745 GLE Station Wagon in 1990 and used it until I stopped driving, but amazingly still runs and sits in our driveway with the battery on a trickle charger. Our state now designates it as a 'classic car.'

Re: car price inflation not being as bad as housing inflation:

Housing inflation tends to be worse than almost any other good because there hasn't been much labor productivity efficiency / automation improvements in our lifetimes, and the land inflation component of housing goes up faster than goods inflation.

Cameras/cars/computers/electronics/etc are built in factories, with lots of robots and Kaizen. Plus, components and subassemblies have moved to lower labor-cost regions over time.

Houses, not so much.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007