Special Report

13 Cars That Cost More Than They Used To

The One. Cars Selection
Source: Thinkstock
 Every year, car manufacturers tinker with their lineup and introduce new makes and models in order to reach new customers and keep the brand image fresh. While this practice is important for automakers, it is the tried-and-true legacy brands — such as the Ford F-Series, the Toyota (NYSE: TM) Corolla and Camry, and the Honda (NYSE: HMC) Civic — that represent the biggest sellers in the U.S. auto market.

Many of the auto industry’s long-running models have been available for sale in the U.S. market for decades. While the actual look of many vehicles has been updated so much that they are nearly unrecognizable compared to their initial design, manufacturers continue to use them because they appeal to new and loyal buyers alike. As these vehicles’ looks have changed, so have their price tags. A Ford (NYSE: F) F-100 cost around $6,100 in 1980, which in today’s dollars is about $8,700 less than the cost of its modern equivalent, the F-150. With some other long-tenured brands, the difference was even greater. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 13 legacy car models with soaring prices.

Click here to see the 13 cars that cost more than they used to.

Every model sold today and that was available 35 years ago is more expensive now than it was in 1980. However, after adjusting for inflation, some models cost less, some more, and some far more. These 13 models cost thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands of dollars more than they did 35 years ago. In 1980, a Chevrolet Suburban had an estimated price tag of roughly $24,100 in 2014 dollars. The equivalent model sold in 2014 cost more than $47,000.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book (KBB), explained that one reason for the differences in prices among these car brands is that despite still sporting the same names, the vehicles themselves have in some cases changed dramatically. “A lot can happen over 35 years in the auto industry.” For example, “The [Dodge] Challenger was a muscle car when it first came out [in 1969], in order to compete against the Camaro and the Mustang, and then [in] 1978-1983, it was sold as a little sub-compact car. In 2008, it was brought back as another kind of a pony car.”

The significant changes in the size of the vehicle, the quality of materials, the features and specs, and the target demographic can all potentially result in price changes over a 35-year period. The Toyota Land Cruiser, too, changed so much that the differences may explain its price increase. Through most of its earlier generations from its introduction in 1976, the Land Cruiser was a mid-size, off-road vehicle. The current version of the vehicle weighs roughly a ton more than the original car and is marketed as a full-size luxury SUV.

For the most part, automakers don’t keep a model around for decades unless it is popular. It is not surprising, then, that nearly all of these models with substantially increased prices are among the most popular vehicles in the country at the moment. Of the 13 models on our list, five are the most popular cars sold in the U.S. market, and 10 sold at least 50,000 units in 2014. Of the legacy models that declined in price or had less than a 20% price growth, half sold less than 50,000 units.

In order to determine the 13 cars with rising prices, 24/7 Wall St. considered historical model prices provided by Kelley Blue Book. To make the list, these models needed to have a 1980 and 2014 versions available for sale in the U.S. market. The 2014 model in each case had to be at least 20% more expensive than the 1980 retail price adjusted for 2014 dollars. Analysts at KBB provided price change estimates for each model based on their determination of the most similar versions of each model in 1980 and 2014.

These are the thirteen cars with surging prices.

13. Accord
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 24.9%
>1980 retail price: $6,349
>2014 U.S. sales: 388,374

The Accord, introduced by Honda in 1976, is one of the most recognizable auto brands on the market. By the late 1970s, Honda was already selling more than 100,000 Accords annually, and by the mid-1980s, the Accord was one of the top-selling cars in the country. Initially, the car was just a small, two-door hatchback, weighing roughly a ton. The current version comes in many configurations and trims, and even the basic sedan weighs at least 1,100 pounds more than the original. It may be that the car’s increased popularity and size have contributed to its increasing price over the years. A 1980 version of the sedan cost $6,349 — roughly $18,250 in today’s dollars. Last year, an Accord cost nearly 25% more than that.

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12. Malibu
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 27.5%
>1980 retail price: $6,324
>2014 U.S. sales: 188,519

Chevrolet introduced the Malibu to American drivers in 1964, over five decades ago. The sedan came in several styles, including a popular muscle car version, the SS, or Super Sport. Declining sales led Chevy to retire the nameplate in 1983. However, the Malibu returned in 1997 as a smaller sedan. Even with a 13-year hiatus, the car has gone through eight generations, with a ninth expected in 2016. Chevy sold roughly 188,500 Malibus in the United States in 2014, and roughly 80,000 so far this year. In 2014, a Malibu was roughly $5,000 more expensive than it was in 1980 after adjusting for inflation.

11. Corvette
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 27.9%
>1980 retail price: $14,694
>2014 U.S. sales: 34,839

The Corvette is one of the oldest and most recognized car brands in the country. This famous line of sports car has been sold in the United States — uninterrupted — since 1953. While the Corvette has kept its name and much of its styling over the course of 62 years, much has changed as well. The original Corvette had six cylinders generating 150 horsepower. The 2014 Corvette Stingray coupe, the seventh generation of the car, comes with a V8 engine, and 460 horsepower. The Stingray also costs close to 28% more than a Corvette sold 35 years ago, adjusting for inflation.

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10. Camaro
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 32.7%
>1980 retail price: $6,439
>2014 U.S. sales: 86,297

First introduced in 1966, the Camaro was Chevrolet’s answer to the Ford Mustang. While Chevrolet took the vehicle off the market in 2003, the fifth generation of the Camaro was introduced in 2010 and has been in continuous production since. With more than 80,000 units sold in each of the last two years, the Camaro is now more popular than the Mustang. The 1980 base model Camaro came with 155 horsepower and cost $6,439, or $18,498, in today’s dollars. Now, having borrowed some style features from its first generation predecessor, the Camaro comes standard with more than 300 horsepower and a list price of $24,550. After adjusting for inflation, the Camaro costs $6,051 more today than it did 35 years ago, a 32.7% increase.

9. Impala
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 32.8%
>1980 retail price: $7,253
>2014 U.S. sales: 140,280

Since it was first introduced in 1957, Chevrolet has taken the Impala in and out of production several times. The Impala’s longest stretch on the market started with its debut and lasted until 1985. After nearly a decade-long hiatus, the Impala came back in 1994, only to be discontinued again two years later. After a much shorter break in production, the Impala was reintroduced in 1999 and has remained on the market ever since. Out of all the vehicles that were in production in both 1980 and 2014, the Impala is one of the most popular, selling more than 140,000 units last year. The Impala is now also more than $20,000 costlier than it was in 1980. Even after accounting for inflation, consumers can expect to pay $6,832 more today for the full-size sedan model than they would have in 1980.

8. Regal
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 39.3%
>1980 retail price: $7,228
>2014 U.S. sales: 22,560

Unlike many of the cars with soaring prices, the Buick Regal is not one of the most popular models in the country. Buick sold less than 23,000 Regals last year in the U.S., which is roughly half the number of units it sold in 2011. The Regal was introduced in 1973 as a low-cost family car. However, in recent years, Buick has sought to attract younger buyers to its traditionally older group of customers. The Regal, which was retired from the U.S. market in 2004, was reintroduced in 2011 with a more modern look. Although Buick did not introduce a new generation of the Regal, the 2014 model includes a host of modern features including a version with a turbocharged V6 engine. The 2014 four-cylinder Regal costs nearly 40% more than a similar version did in 1980, adjusting for inflation.

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7. Corolla
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 41.1%
>1980 retail price: $4,348
>2014 U.S. sales: 339,498

Introduced to the American market in 1968, the Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car in the history of the industry. Toyota has been manufacturing the Corolla longer than any other model in its current lineup other than the Land Cruiser. In 1980, the Corolla had 75 horsepower and a price tag of $4,348, which is $12,492 in today’s dollars. Now in its 10th generation, the Corolla is equipped with 132 horsepower and cost $17,625 in 2014. The difference in price over the course of 34 years is more than $13,000 without accounting for inflation, and $5,133 more after accounting for inflation.

6. Mustang
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 43.8%
>1980 retail price: $5,647
>2014 U.S. sales: 82,635

The Ford Mustang has been popular in the U.S. market ever since it was introduced to American buyers in 1964. Selling a remarkable 126,538 units in its first year, the Mustang has become one of the most iconic vehicles in America. Not able to top the sales figures of its debut year, Ford sold 77,186 Mustangs in 2013 and 82,635 in 2014. Though sales have fluctuated over the years, the Mustang’s price tag has been steadily climbing. The Mustang cost $17,688 more in 2014 than it did in 1980. After accounting for inflation, the Ford’s iconic muscle car is $7,111 more expensive now, than it was 35 years ago.

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5. Challenger
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 47.2%
>1980 retail price: $6,502
>2014 U.S. sales: 51,611

The Dodge Challenger has gone through many changes since it was introduced in 1969. Originally a muscle car, the Challenger was taken out of production in 1974. Reintroduced four years later as a less powerful coupe, the second-generation Challenger was also short lived, and was discontinued after just six years. However, in 2008, Dodge brought the Challenger back to its roots as a muscle car. It has been in production ever since, selling more than 51,000 units in 2014. Not only has the vehicle changed dramatically in the last 35 years, but so has the price. Costing only $6,502 in 1980, $18,680 in today’s dollars, the Challenger had a price tag of $27,490 in 2014 — a difference of $8,809, or more than 47%, after adjusting for inflation.

4. F-Series
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 49.9%
>1980 retail price: $6,090
>2014 U.S. sales: 753,851

The Ford F-Series pickup truck is far and away the best selling vehicle so far in 2015. With 302,009 trucks sold year-to-date, the F-Series has sold nearly 80,000 more units than the next best selling vehicle in America, the Chevrolet Silverado. As demand for the F-Series has remained steady since its inception in 1948, the price has risen over the years. The F-Series pickup costs $20,130 more today than it did in 1980. When inflation is taken into account, the truck costs $8,724 more in real dollars than it did in 1980, a nearly 50% price increase. The rising cost does not appear to have deterred any potential buyers. Ford sold more than three-quarters of a million F-Series trucks in both 2013 and 2014.

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3. Civic
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 67.6%
>1980 retail price: $3,949
>2014 U.S. sales: 325,981

Since its introduction to the U.S. market in 1973, the Civic has consistently remained a top-seller for Honda year after year. The Civic has always been an economy car, a no-frills utilitarian vehicle designed to reliably get you from point A to point B. Part of the attraction of such a vehicle is not only low operating costs, but also a low price tag. However, despite the Civic’s classification as an economy car, the vehicle has risen by more than $7,500 in price in real dollars over the last 35 years. Regardless of its higher cost in the 21st century, the Civic remains one of the most popular vehicles in America, selling more than 325,000 units in 2014.

2. Suburban
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 96.2%
>1980 retail price: $8,388
>2014 U.S. sales: 55,009

Some of the vehicles on this list have been on the market for decades, but none as long as the Chevrolet Suburban. First sold in the U.S. in 1933, the Suburban has remained one of the top selling SUVs in the country ever since. Before it underwent an exhaustive overhaul in 1981 that made the vehicle more aerodynamic and 300 pounds lighter, a 1980 Suburban would have cost $8,388, which comes to $24,100 in today’s dollars. Last year, a new Suburban cost $47,295, a 465% price increase over three and a half decades. When adjusted for inflation, the Suburban still has seen a significant price hike — a 96.2% price increase since 1980, a difference of $23,194.

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1. Land Cruiser
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: 238.2%
>1980 retail price: $8,288
>2014 U.S. sales: 3,158

Some version of the Toyota Land cruiser has been on dealer lots either in the United States or Japan since 1967. However, the name is almost the only feature the current edition of the Land Cruiser and the 1976 version have in common. The car was introduced primarily as smaller all-terrain off-road vehicles. Over the decades, the Land Cruiser has evolved to add more and more luxury features, with the biggest leap taken with the current generation of the car. This most recent generation of the Land Cruiser is a high-end luxury SUV weighing roughly a ton more than the original. Not surprisingly, the price has gone up dramatically since the early days when it was a smaller, less luxurious model. A 1980 edition of the Land Cruiser cost just $8,288, which is roughly $23,800 in today’s dollars. A 2014 version of the car had a price tag of more than $80,000, more than three times the 1980 retail price.

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