Sticker Shock, Revisited

Sure, the cost of automobile ownership is an upwardly moving target. And don’t get us started on gas prices. But adjusted for inflation, the picture isn’t so bad. Here’s some auto-related number crunching.


2012 Koenigsegg Agera, $2.1 million (price is an estimate)


Some of the Most Expensive Cars

Artist Jeff Barnes, known for his work on the American Chopper cable TV series, wants to build a $70-million, one-off Rolls-Royce, readily laying claim to being the world’s most expensive automobile — though the first Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost has been insured for an impressive $50 million. As rapidly as automobile prices have risen in recent decades, collectors continue bidding up historic rarities like the 1957 Ferrari Testarossa Prototype, gaveled off for $16.39 million — an all-time auction record. Yet even $1 million was unheard of until recently, especially at the dealer showroom, until the 1992 debut of the McLaren F1, with its “base” price of $960,000 plus taxes, making it the first model to officially nudge into seven figures. By comparison, a Bugatti Royale that today might command $10 million at auction went for a mere $43,000 in 1927 – though that was about 40 times the average American’s income at the time.

Here’s a look at some of the most expensive cars of the last century at the price original buyers might have paid:

Most Expensive Retail Cars

2012    Koenigsegg Agera, $2.1 million (price is an estimate) Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport, $1.8 million
1994    Jaguar XJ220 $580,000
1992    McLaren F1, $960,000
1981    Rolls-Royce Wraith, $140,000
1979    Cadillac DeVille, $11,728
1979    Clenet II Convertible, $67,500
1975    Lamborghini Countach LP400, $74,500
1970    Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, $19,750
1960    Cadillac Biarritz Convertible, $7,401
1949    Lincoln Cosmopolitan, $3,186
1940    Cadillac Series 40-75 Town Car, $5,115
1940    Delahaye 135 MS Cabriolet Pourtout, $20,000
1936    Hispano-Suiza Type 68 J12 Cabriolet, $32,000
1933    Duesenberg, SJ Arlington Torpedo Sedan“Twenty Grand,” $20,000
1927    Bugatti Royale Type 41, $43,000
1923    Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, $15,500
1910    Lozier Briarcliff, $7,750
1906    Cadillacs, i.e. Model K “Tulip,” up to $6,000

Five Most Expensive Cars Ever Sold at Auction

1. 1957 Ferrari Testarossa Prototype, $16.39 million
2. 1957 Ferrari Testarossa, $12.2 million
3. 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster, $11.77 million
4. 1968 Ford GT40, $11.7 million (most expensive American car ever sold at auction)
5. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder, $10.9 million





Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport, $1.8 million






Jaguar XJ220, $580,000






Lamborghini Countach LP400, $74,500.





1979 Cadillac DeVille





1957 Ferrari Testarossa Prototype, $16.39 million




Average Gas Prices

In the early years of the 20th century, automakers offered a mix of steam, electric, and gasoline-powered automobile. Gas won out when the first Texas gushers came in, helping drive fuel costs down from 30 cents in 1920 to just 20 cents a decade later — the equivalent of dropping from an inflation- adjusted $3.47 to $2.77 today. Over the next half-century, gas prices remained surprisingly flat at the pump, actually declining in terms of real value. Until the twin oil shocks of the 1970s, anyway, when the petro-equation permanently shifted. Even then, we’ve continued to see plenty of ups and downs, but most experts believe the future will point up — with $5 and even $6 an eventual reality as demand from emerging markets like China put more pressure on an ultimately diminishing global supply. This chart tracks nearly a century of what Americans have paid for regular gas (regular unleaded in recent decades) at the pump.

Note: Price is for regular gasoline (unleaded since 1991) Primary source: U.S. Dept. of Energy through 2000; U.S. Energy Information Administration from 2005-2011.

Year    Price    2012 (adjusted)   

1920    $0.30    $3.47
1925    $0.22    $2.91
1930    $0.20    $2.77
1935    $0.19    $3.21
1940    $0.18    $2.97
1945    $0.21    $2.70
1950    $0.27    $2.59
1955    $0.29    $2.50
1960    $0.31    $2.42
1965    $0.31    $2.28
1970    $0.36    $2.15
1975    $0.57    $2.45
1980    $1.25    $3.51
1985    $1.17    $2.52
1990    $1.13    $2.00
1995    $1.11    $1.68
2000    $1.49    $2.00
2005    $2.29    $2.71
2008    $3.27    $3.51
2011    $3.53    $3.63


Average New Car Prices

To revise that old adage, three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and higher new car prices. Yet there was a time when American buyers actually could anticipate paying less each year. A Model T that cost $850 in 1908 fell to $490 in 1914 — the year the first moving assembly line went into operation in Highland Park — and a 1925 Ford Runabout went for as little as $295. Odds are, we won’t see that happen again. American automakers could reach a dubious milestone in 2013; the price of the average new vehicle is likely to nudge, and perhaps surpass, $30,000 for the first time — after hitting an all-time high of $28,341 in 2012.

Here’s a look at the average price American motorists paid over the last century:

1900 - $1000
Data unreliable, various sources show anything from $280 to $4,000

1902 - $1,100
Franklin, a mid-range model

1905 - $1,450
Average new car

1908 - $850
Ford Model T, the original Runabout, pre-moving assembly line

1914 - $490
Ford Model T, first produced on the Highland Park assembly line

1925 - $295
Ford Roadster

1929 - $1,895
Studebaker President Eight Roadster

1930 - $640
Average new car

1939 - $700
Average new car

1945 - $1,020-$1,250
Time approximate, first cars after WWII, average new car

1960 - $2,600-$3,000
Average new car

1970 - $3,300
Average new car

1980 - $5,500-$7,200
Average new car

1990 - $16,000
Average new car

1998 - $19,522-$31,285
Average domestic/import according to

2008 - $25,505
Average new car

2012 - $28,341
Average new car

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