Jalopy Jealousy: Is Your New Car Worth It?

Car envy — that feeling of desperate desire when your dream car pulls up alongside you and your rusting, less-than-trendy jalopy.

No matter what they drive, most drivers have had car envy, but doing something about it can be expensive.

Oddly, the car you covet may look a lot like the car you traveled in as a kid. Retro cars are back, or coming back, in droves — but without the retro sticker prices.

The original Ford Thunderbird sold for $2,695 in 1955. Today's T-bird won't leave much change out of $40,000. But the consumer price index reveals that $2,695 in today's terms should only come to $17,879.

So, has the price of cars outstripped inflation, or are buyers just prepared to pay whatever it costs for the cars of their dreams?

ABCNEWS.com used some of the latest cars to emerge from the auto time tunnel to see how much bang there is for the bucks being laid out on new cars.

This week's international auto show in New York City also offered an insight into the appeal of flashback fashion on four wheels.

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

J. Mays, the head of Ford's Living Legends division is at the forefront of retro vehicle production. He's the person behind the new Thunderbird and the upcoming GT40, a throwback to the race-winning Ford of the 1960s.

Mays says a significant chunk of the higher costs go on environmental and safety features unnecessary in decades past.

"There's no such thing as a bad car today … no car is unreliable or unsafe," Mays says. He points to tough government requirements and a discerning public who can pick and choose from dozens of auto deals offered every year by manufacturers.

"Fit, finish and quality, onboard navigation systems, lighter-weight materials, architecture, crash ability, airbags … none of these were an issue in the '50s and '60s," Mays said.

Beetle-mania

Before working for Ford, Mays was with Volkswagen and was one of the key designers behind the "new" Volkswagen Beetle which sold well above its sticker price when it launched because of huge demand in the United States.

Now, four years after the "new" Beetle was introduced, Volkswagen is forced to offer rebates and special financing deals to draw buyers in. But Mays says, from a manufacturer's viewpoint, this is a good thing.

"The worst-case scenario is that the cars sell at a premium for three years and if they have to rebate them after that, the company is still ahead."

But even then, are the "new retro" cars, with high research and development costs, worth it to auto companies?

"There's an immeasurable amount of influence these cars have as goodwill ambassadors that replace millions of dollars in advertising every year," Mays told ABCNEWS.com. He said the cost was easily recouped in sales and the indirect influence such cars had on exposing the brand.

Mini Me?

Perhaps one of the biggest buzzes of the New York auto show this year is over the MINI Cooper … a new generation of the classic Mini Cooper that was named the car of the 20th century. The original British-built Mini was not sold in the United States in significant numbers, but today has a cult following among the owners of the roughly 12,000 Mini Coopers registered with U.S.-based enthusiast clubs.

"We believe there are about 12,000 Minis in the States today …. which is impressive considering only 10,000 were officially imported," says Michael McHale, spokesman for the new MINI. McHale says private enthusiasts probably imported the others.

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