Iconic Car Prices Then and Now

August 3, 2015 by Sam Stebbins

Red Hot Rod Vintage Car
Source: Thinkstock
 In the last 35 years, much has changed in the auto industry. Each year, in an effort to stay fresh in the eyes of consumers, manufacturers tinker with their lineup of cars, adding, removing and modifying models and makes. Some models are a flash in the pan, lasting only a few years before they are discontinued. Others go in and out of production over the years, while a few, like the Ford F-Series (NYSE: F) and the Toyota (NYSE: TM) Corolla, remain popular year after year.

Many of the most popular vehicles available to American motorists today have been around for decades, and all have been redesigned over the years. Some models have been redesigned to such an extent they no longer look and feel like their earlier versions.

Not only have designs changed, but so have prices. There is a significant sticker-shock factor when the cost of a new car today is compared with the cost of the same car in 1980. For example, a new Toyota Corolla in 1980 cost just $4,348 — over $13,000 less than the $17,625 price of a new Corolla last year. With some other long-tenured brands the difference was even greater. 24/7 Wall St. compared the costs of 25 legacy car models in 1980 and in 2014.

Click here to read the prices of 25 iconic cars: then and now. 

Every make and model of a vehicle available to American drivers had a far higher price tag last year than in 1980. After adjusting for inflation, however, the cost of many cars in real dollars was less in 2014 than it was in 1980.

Inflation was the biggest contributor to soaring sticker prices, but it certainly was not the only reason for the change. Aesthetic and technological improvements were also significant factors. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book (KBB), explained that despite sporting the same names, these vehicles have changed dramatically — as did their price tag. “A lot can happen over 35 years in the auto industry,” Fleming noted. He gave the example of the Dodge Challenger, which was actually known as a muscle car in 1969, when it was released. In 1978-1983, the Challenger was rebranded as a subcompact car. In 2008, it was yet again brought back as a pony car.”

In order to determine the changing prices over between 1980 and 2014 years, 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. 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.

1. Land Cruiser
> Make: Toyota
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$72,242
> 1980 price: $8,288
> 2014 price: $80,530

The Toyota Land Cruiser exemplifies how much can change in one industry in three and a half decades. What was a smaller all-terrain off-road vehicle in 1980 is now a high-end luxury SUV weighing roughly one ton more than the original. Not surprisingly, the price has gone up dramatically since the vehicle’s early days. A 1980 edition of the Land Cruiser cost just $8,288, while a 2014 version of the car had a price tag of more than $80,000. With a price roughly 10 times the 1980 price, and with an entirely different target market, perhaps the only thing that has not changed in the Toyota Land Cruiser is its name.

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2. S-Class
> Make: Mercedes-Benz
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$63,032
> 1980 price: $30,793
> 2014 price: $93,825

The S-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s flagship full-size sedan. In 1980, a comparable S-Class sold for $30,793. In 2014, a new, fifth-generation S-Class cost $93,825. Like most other cars reviewed, inflation contributed the most to the relatively large price difference of $63,032. The 1980 $30,793 price tag would have cost $88,468 when adjusting for inflation.

3. 911
> Make: Porsche
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$57,595
> 1980 price: $27,700
> 2014 price: $85,295

The Porsche 911 was an icon almost immediately after its release in 1964. It has remained popular as a powerful sports car and racing vehicle. In 1980, the same year the German automaker pulled its Turbo edition 911 in the United States, a new fifth-generation 911 cost $27,700. In 2014, the Porsche 911 was in its 11th generation and cost $85,295. Even after adjusting for inflation, a Porsche 911 cost nearly $6,000 more last year than it did in 1980.

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4. XJ
> Make: Jaguar
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$50,095
> 1980 price: $25,000
> 2014 price: $75,095

The Jaguar XJ is the only British vehicle that was sold in the U.S. market in both 1980 and 2014. In 1980, the luxury sedan sold for $25,000. In 2014, the XJ had a price tag of $75,095. Along with the price, the aesthetics of the car changed significantly during those 34 years. The 2014 model was the first generation that abandoned the antiquated style in favor of a sleeker, more modern look.

5. SL-Class
> Make: Mercedes-Benz
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$48,795
> 1980 price: $36,130
> 2014 price: $84,925

First introduced to the American market in 1954, the SL-Class is one of the oldest continuously produced models in the auto industry. While the SL-Class’s price tag was nearly $50,000 lower in 1980 than in 2014, the inflation-adjusted price was actually $18,876 higher in 1980 than in 2014. This significant drop in price may be the result of the German automaker’s attempt to make its luxury vehicles available to a wider market.

6. 7 Series
> Make: BMW
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$46,005
> 1980 price: $28,945
> 2014 price: $74,950

BMW’s 7 Series line of full-size luxury sedans is now in its fifth generation, with the sixth scheduled to hit dealers’ lots in soon. Thirty-five years ago, a new 4-door BMW 733i went for $28,945. Last year, a comparable 7 Series cost $74,950, or roughly $46,000 more. The inflation-adjusted price of the 1980 7-series was $8,200 cheaper.

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7. 6 Series
> Make: BMW
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$43,525
> 1980 price: $32,825
> 2014 price: $76,350

First introduced to the U.S. market in 1976, the BMW 6 Series was a solid option for those interested in buying a luxury 2-door sedan. The car was produced for over a decade. After a 14-year hiatus, the car was reintroduced in 2003 and is now available in 4-door and convertible models. Even though the price tag of a BMW 6 Series was much higher in 2014 than it was in 1980, the actual cost of the vehicle after adjusting for inflation has dropped significantly. In real dollars, a 6 Series Coupe cost $94,306 in 1980, almost $18,000 more than the 2014 cost of a new 6 Series Coup.

8. Corvette
> Make: Chevrolet
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$39,301
> 1980 price: $14,694
> 2014 price: $53,995

Since its introduction to the American market in 1953, the Corvette, made by GM (NYSE: GM) has been continuously produced and sold every year without interruption. While the Corvette has kept its name and much of its styling over the course of 62 years, much has also changed. The original sports car came with 150 horsepower, less than a third of the 460 horsepower of the 2014 Corvette. The vehicle’s price has also changed dramatically. A new 1980 Corvette cost nearly $15,000 in 1980, while in 2014 the price tag was nearly $54,000 — a 267% increase.

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9. Suburban
> Make: Chevrolet
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$38,907
> 1980 price: $8,388
> 2014 price: $47,295

A new Suburban cost $8,388 in 1980. In the 35 years since, both the vehicle and its price have changed significantly. Chevrolet drastically redesigned the SUV in 1981, making it more aerodynamic and 300 pounds lighter. By 2008, all Suburbans came standard with side curtain airbags and updated interiors. These changes came with a higher price tag. In 2014, a new Suburban cost $47,295 — nearly $39,000 more than in 1980. Despite changes in cost and quality, the Suburban has remained one of the most popular SUVs in America since it was first sold in 1933.

10. 5 Series
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$30,300
> Make: BMW
> 1980 price: $20,150
> 2014 price: $50,450

At $50,450, a BMW 5 Series cost over $30,000 more in 2014 than it did in 1980, when a new 5 Series went for $20,150. After accounting for inflation, however, the luxury vehicle was about $7,400 cheaper last year than it was 1980. According to Fleming, many luxury automakers have sought to make some models more affordable. This may be the reason the price of the 5 Series has fallen over time.

11. E-Class
> Make: Mercedes-Benz
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$26,359
> 1980 price: $26,466
> 2014 price: $52,825

Though not officially named E-Class until the early 1990s, this group of Mercedes-Benz vehicles had already been sold in the United States for decades. In 1980, a new Mercedes 280E cost $26,466. By 2014, the comparable E-Class model sold for less than $53,000. The inflation adjusted price, however, was significantly higher 35 years ago than it was last year. In 1980, the Mercedes 280E cost was about $76,000 in real dollars.

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12. 3 Series
> Make: BMW
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$22,090
> 1980 price: $11,810
> 2014 price: $33,900

The 3 Series is BMW’s entry level luxury sedan. In 1980, three years after its introduction to the U.S. market, a BMW 3 Series cost $11,810. Back then, the 320i had an engine that only produced 100 horsepower. These days, the 320i comes standard with 180 horsepower, though upgrade packages for the 3 Series range up to 300 horsepower. Last year, BMW sold its base model 3 Series, the 320i Sedan, for $33,900, over $22,000 more than the same vehicle cost 34 years prior.

13. Regal
> Make: Buick
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$21,707
> 1980 price: $7,228
> 2014 price: $28,935

In 1980, Buick sold new Regals for $7,228. Last year, a new Regal went for $28,935 — a 300% increase. The price was not the only difference between the 1980 and the 2014 Regals. After halting production in 2004, Buick reintroduced the Regal in 2011. The newest generation was a modernized interpretation of its rather antiquated predecessor. However, the vehicle’s modern style and amenities were not enough to garner a steady following. Buick sold less than 23,000 Regals last year in the United States, which was roughly half the number of units it sold in 2011.

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14. Challenger
> Make: Dodge
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$20,988
> 1980 price: $6,502
> 2014 price: $27,490

Introduced in 1969, the Challenger was taken out of production after just five years on the market. Reintroduced in 1978, the second generation Challenger was not quite the muscle car its predecessor had been. The new Challenger, made by Fiat Chrysler (NYSE: FCAU) was a less powerful coupe that had a price tag of $6,502 in 1980. Dodge halted production of the Challenger again in 1983. However, in 2008, Dodge brought the Challenger back — once again as a muscle car. In 2014, a new Challenger cost $27,490, nearly $21,000 more than it did 34 years earlier.

15. Impala
> Make: Chevrolet
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$20,417
> 1980 price: $7,253
> 2014 price: $27,670

Introduced to American motorists in 1957, the Impala has gone in and out of production multiple times since. Chevy halted production of the full-size sedan in 1985 and again in 1996. The car was reintroduced to the market in 1999 and has remained in production ever since. Over the decades, the price of the car has gone up significantly. Costing just $7,253 in 1980, a new Impala had a price tag of $27,670 in 2014. Out of the vehicles that were in production in both 1980 and 2014, the Impala is one of the most popular. Chevy sold more than 140,000 Impalas last year.

16. F-Series
> Make: Ford
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$20,130
> 1980 price: $6,090
> 2014 price: $26,220

The Ford F-150 boasted in 1980 a more aerodynamic design and more legroom than its predecessor. Back then, Ford’s flagship pickup could be driven off the lot for $6,090. Last year, with modernized amenities and style, a new F-150 came with a price tag of $26,220, or over $20,000 more than the 1980 price tag. Through June, Ford has sold more than 357,000 F-Series pickup trucks this year, over 80,000 more than the Chevy Silverado, the next best-selling vehicle in the country. The F-150 is on pace to be the most popular vehicle in America for the 34th straight year.

17. Camaro
> Make: Chevrolet
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$18,111
> 1980 price: $6,439
> 2014 price: $24,550

A new base model Camaro was equipped with 155 horsepower in 1980 and had a price tag of $6,439. Last year, the Camaro was in its fifth generation, with a list price of $24,550. When it was first introduced in 1966, the the muscle car was Chevrolet’s answer to Ford’s Mustang. The Camaro has come a long way since — Chevy sold more than 80,000 Camaros in each of the last two years, making it even more popular than its rival.

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18. Mustang
> Make: Ford
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$17,688
> 1980 price: $5,647
> 2014 price: $23,335

Ford’s iconic muscle car cost $17,688 more last year than it did 35 years ago, a 313% increase. While the cost of the Mustang has gone up over the years, sales have slowed. When it was first introduced to the U.S. market in 1964, Ford sold a remarkable 126,538 Mustangs. In 2013 and 2014, the American auto manufacturer was only able to sell 77,186 and 82,635 Mustangs, respectively.

19. Malibu
> Make: Chevrolet
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$16,841
> 1980 price: $6,324
> 2014 price: $23,165

Since the Chevy Malibu made its debut in 1964, the vehicle has gone through many changes as well as a hiatus. Initially, the car was available as a muscle car, strikingly different from the comfortable mid-size sedan it is today. Chevy halted production of the car in 1983, only to bring it back over a decade later in 1997. In 1980, a new Malibu came with a sticker price of $6,324, 266% less than its 2014 price tag of $23,165. Since its reintroduction to the market, the Malibu has found its niche as a favorite among rental car services. Chevy sold 188,500 units last year.

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20. Accord
> Make: Honda
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$16,426
> 1980 price: $6,349
> 2014 price: $22,775

Introduced by Honda (NYSE: HMC) in 1976, the Accord is one of the most recognizable brands on the road today. With over 155,000 unit sales year-to-date, the Accord is currently the ninth most popular vehicle in the country. Much about the Accord has changed over the decades. Initially, the car was a significantly smaller and lighter version of its current self. While the 1974 Accord was a 2-door hatchback weighing roughly a ton, the current version comes in a variety of configurations and trims and weighs over 1,100 pounds more than its predecessor. The price of the car has also changed dramatically over the years. In 1980, a motorist could own a new Accord for $6,349. Last year, a new Accord’s sticker price was $22,775, roughly $16,400 more than it was 35 years ago.

21. Civic
> Make: Honda
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$15,061
> 1980 price: $3,949
> 2014 price: $19,010

Honda has sold more than 158,000 Civics in the United States this year, making it Honda’s most popular model. Since the Japanese auto manufacturer introduced the car to the U.S. market in 1973, the Civic has been an economy car, attractive not only for its low operating costs, but also for its low sticker price. However, despite its classification as an economy car, the cost of the vehicle has risen dramatically over the years. In 1980, a new Civic could be purchased for less than $4,000. Last year, a new cost just over $19,000. Even after adjusting for inflation, the cost of a Civic increased by $7,500 between 1980 and 2014.

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22. Cherokee
> Make: Jeep
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$15,031
> 1980 price: $8,959
> 2014 price: $23,990

A new Jeep Cherokee cost nearly $9,000 in 1980. Last year, a Jeep Cherokee came with a sticker price of $23,990. Over the course of those 34 years, the vehicle’s price went up over $15,000, reflecting not only the effects of inflation, but also the significant changes in the Cherokee. In 1980, the Cherokee was a full-size SUV. However, starting in 1984, the Cherokee became the smaller, lighter mid-size SUV, more familiar to today’s drivers. Perhaps due to its change in dimensions, after adjusting for inflation, a new Cherokee was actually $1,749 cheaper last year than it was in 1980.

23. Corolla
> Make: Toyota
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$13,277
> 1980 price: $4,348
> 2014 price: $17,625

Toyota has sold more than 190,000 Corollas year-to-date. While sales this year are lagging behind some of the other top five best seller, the Corolla is still the best-selling car in the history of the industry. Since the car’s introduction to the U.S. market in 1968, its engine and sticker price have been beefed up. In 1980, the Corolla had 75 horsepower and a price tag of $4,348. Last year, a new Corolla, now in its 11th generation, came equipped with 132 horsepower and a sticker price of $17,625.

24. Fiesta
> Make: Ford
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$9,863
> 1980 price: $5,032
> 2014 price: $14,895

Introduced in the mid-70s, the Fiesta is Ford’s foothold in the subcompact economy car market. In 1980, a new Fiesta was sold for $5,032. In 2014, the vehicle was sold for $14,895 — nearly $10,000 more than it did 34 years prior. Despite the increase in its price tag over the past three decades, the Fiesta is still affordable. Of all the vehicles that were available in both 1980 and 2014, the Fiesta had the lowest sticker price as of last year.

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25. Jetta
> Make: Volkswagen
> 1980-2014 price difference (non-inflation adj.):
$8,865
> 1980 price: $7,650
> 2014 price: $16,515

Volkswagen first introduced the Jetta to Americans in 1979. The German auto manufacturer has sold millions of Jettas in the U.S. market since. Over its three-and-a-half-decade history, the Jetta has undergone many changes — in both price and performance. In 1980, a new Jetta came with a price tag of $7,650. Thirty-four years later, in its sixth generation, a new base model Jetta came with improved efficiency, safety, power, and a sticker price of $16,515. Volkswagen’s best-selling car was nearly $9,000 more last year than it was almost 35 years ago.