Jalopy Jealousy: Is Your New Car Worth It?

Owners of the "old" Mini have included entertainers Peter Sellers, Tim Allen, Ringo Starr, Bill Cosby, James Garner, Steve McQueen, David Bowie and Frank Sinatra.

McHale says it's difficult to compare the costs of the old Mini to the new MINI. At $700, the 1959 Mini Cooper came with no options whatsoever, not even heating. Today's MINI has an air conditioned glove compartment.

He says money spent on environmental issues also pushed new car prices beyond inflationary rates. "The new MINI is 25 times cleaner in its emission discharges than the old Mini. It gets a four-star rating in crash tests — all these improvements cost money in production."

Perhaps ironically, the tiny new MINI is being marketed to a very different driver than the Mini of yesteryear, which was aimed at families looking for an economical vehicle during an era of high fuel prices.

"We have become richer as a society, you can now afford cars for different things," McHale says. As a consequence, he expects some of the new MINI buyers to purchase the $17,000 car as a third vehicle for their garage.

"Households can now afford cars for different things — a commuter car, an SUV or minivan and a fun car; that's where the Mini comes in."

And it seems that cars like MINI Coopers and Ford T-birds are high on the list of cars to covet. Waiting lists mean people won't be driving their new cars for months and as the envy factor kicks in, those lists are only expected to grow.

MINI dealerships even have waiting lists for test drives with potential drivers booked in for specific windows of time. The high demand means there is no negotiation on price.

Make Room in Your Garage

Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, agrees with the growth in three-car garages. He said there was data indicating people were increasingly buying third cars and that significant numbers of new car sales were taking place within six months of people buying new homes as their lifestyles changed.

"The three-car garage is a strong growth area we're very interested in," Taylor said.

He also endorsed auto manufacturers use of "retro" cars such as the Mini and the Thunderbird to promote their brands.

"Flagship cars bring people into dealer showrooms and if they're cars that are on a platform they'll continue to produce anyway, then the startup cost can be justified," Taylor said.

As for the cost of "now" versus "then" on cars, Taylor says the costs that push today's sticker prices well beyond inflationary increases are almost entirely a result of environmental and safety requirements on the modern auto.

"However, the U.S. is going through an era [with luxury cars] that is similar to the 1920s and 1930s when you had cars like the Duesenberg and the Cord."

Taylor said car purchases in that era were booming as buyers sought out the best available. He said cars like the "new retros" were achieving similar adoration and that household incomes were strong enough to drive sales to the point where waiting lists would remain long on niche cars like the Ford Thunderbord and the more expensive luxury vehicles like Ferrari.

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