Old trucks for new money
One evening last fall, a man in Marble Falls, Texas listed a 1989 Ford F-250 for sale on Craigslist. Not so long ago, the brick-nosed square pickup truck might have caught the interest of a bricklayer or roofer looking for a cheap work truck. Even for Ford fans, the truck was nothing special. “They’ve always been less desirable, because they have that lousy front face. It’s just great ’80s, but I love it, ”Stephen Billick, a thirty-nine-year-old filmmaker with a passion for old trucks, told me. The truck was listed at 8 P.M. on a Saturday for twenty-three hundred dollars – about twice as much as it would have sold just a few years ago. Billick picked up the money and showed up at the address listed at six o’clock the next morning. He handed the seller a wad of hundreds without bothering to take the truck for a test drive. By the time the deal closed, a half-dozen interested buyers – several of them “hipster Austin types,” Billick said – were there, staring at him. “I’m the bad guy because I got there first. But that’s how ruthless it is, ”he said. “It’s kind of like real estate in Austin.”
Billick grew up in Austin. In high school, he drove a recent two-seater Nissan with a subwoofer in the trunk and dreamed of escaping somewhere where things actually happened. “Austin felt like in this mediocre city,” he said. “It might as well have been Amarillo.” When he lived in New York, in the midst of the 2000s, everyone dressed like a Pacific Northwest lumberjack, and he felt like a nutcase in his Wranglers and rope boots. He returned to Texas in 2009 and worked as a builder for a boutique hotel for a few years. His boss drove a short-bed Ford F-150 from the early ’90s. “All of us who worked under him, the first thing we did was try to find a truck like this one. John, because he was the coolest guy, ”Billick said. On Craigslist, he spotted a 1991 F-150, which he bought from a stonemason for twelve hundred dollars. “It never let me down,” he said fondly. “Well, it did, eventually.” He kept scouring the Internet for cheap trucks. He and his father would rip them off together – the first step was usually to remove the NRA’s bumper stickers – and sell them enough to justify buying a few more.
Meanwhile, his hometown was quickly becoming less mediocre. Between 2010 and 2020, Austin and its suburbs gained over half a million new residents, making it the fastest growing large city in the country. Many newcomers are working at tech companies that have opened head offices or satellite campuses in the city, including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Tesla. The influx increased during the coronavirus pandemic, when the average price of a house in the city increased by a hundred thousand dollars in twelve months. “Now I feel like everything is at the center of everything,” Billick told me – and his denim and boot aesthetic was suddenly, baffling, in fashion. Rolling over trucks has become a lucrative business: buying a vehicle for a few thousand dollars in one of the small towns on the outskirts of Austin, then driving it around town and unloading it for two or three times as much. “People are leaving LA, and the first thing they do is go to Maufrais and buy a Stetson, they go to Tecovas and buy boots,” Billick told me. “Then they start looking for a truck on Craigslist. And they can afford more than most of us.
Although keenly felt in Austin, the thirst for beautiful old trucks is a national phenomenon. Prices for vintage trucks have risen by more than fifty percent in the past four years, twenty percent more than the vintage vehicle market as a whole, according to data from the car insurance company from Hagerty collection. The trend was evident long before the current shortage of microchips pushed up used car prices. “It’s the romance of the southwest, the adventurer, the four-by-four, the camping, the weird ghost towns,” Blake Quinn, who travels between Austin, Phoenix and Los Angeles, told me. imported vintage Mercedes-Benz G wagons. . “Everyone wants to be a cowboy, don’t they? “
The Cowboy’s Dream has created a booming market for prestige ruggedness. In 2008, you could buy a working 1970 Ford Bronco for about twelve thousand dollars; since then the price has more than sevenfold, while premium ’70s Broncos sell for over two hundred thousand dollars. Vintage-car auction house Barrett-Jackson held its first Texas sale this fall in Houston, where a 1956 Ford F-100 sold for over a quarter of a million dollars, and several more Pickup trucks sold for six-figure sums, including a 1972 Chevrolet K10, 1968 Ford F-100, and 1956 Chevrolet 3100.
Randy Nonnenberg co-founded Bring a Trailer, an online marketplace for vintage vehicles, in 2007. “There is a significant increase in the excitement around these vehicles and the visibility around these vehicles,” I said. he said. In mid-November, he visited Austin. “It was eighty-two degrees and a brown CJ-7 Laredo goes by, without a roof,” he said. “The hotel where I was has a Scout parked in front of it. There’s a cafe there and people were pulling up in vintage Toyotas. It’s just everywhere.
Trucks and SUVs became ubiquitous during the ’90s, the formative years for millennials and millennials, the age groups behind the truck boom. And, if an Italian sports car is reminiscent of a baby boomer in the throes of a midlife crisis, a thirty-year-old Land Rover or Chevy Blazer conjures up a different kind of escape: road trips, national parks, off-road adventures. . “These young enthusiasts, they want to do something with their vehicle, ”said John Wiley, senior analyst at Hagerty. It is also still much cheaper to buy a Bronco as a status vehicle than a Ferrari.
A Ferrari, of course, is also an engineering marvel, unlike an F-150, for all of its utility charm. “I’m not a car guy in the sense that, like, the people who are in it for internal combustion sake,” Quinn told me. “I am not an auto mechanic. For me, it’s more a question of aesthetics and romance than how the machine works. Why would I invest my time in becoming an expert in internal combustion engines when they will be on the sidelines in ten years? “
In Austin, as in the Bay Area, Nonnenberg told me, tech workers are a big part of the buyers. “People spend a lot of money to buy a 1964 Ford pickup truck, which is so rudimentary in its construction, design and capabilities,” he said. They’ll joke about spending a fortune on what amounts to a tractor. “But, frankly, I think the extreme analog nature is appealing to people who sit in front of a screen all day.”
Old truck enthusiasts I spoke with tended to agree that cars became much less appealing in the 90s, a time when manufacturers embraced standardization and automation more to keep costs down and meet standards. new safety guidelines. Designs have become more generic; the systems have been computerized. Cars today are much safer, more efficient and more comfortable than vehicles of thirty years ago and, enthusiasts would say, less moving. The more our lives are spent on the rounded corners and sleek effectiveness of digital aesthetics, the more we seem to fetishize the awkward, the growl, the ineffective defiant.
The romance of old trucks and SUVs thrives on Instagram, where filters give all the kind of patina that an old truck honestly passes. Influencers have, unsurprisingly, embraced the trend; scroll through the hashtags #roadtrippin or #campvibes and you’ll come across images of international scouts in the meadows or at the edge of the cliffs. It’s the new life of the old truck – still a workaholic, in a way, but instead of manual labor, the job is content creation.
One afternoon, Billick took me for a ride in his latest purchase, a 1990 Dodge D250 originally owned by artist Donald Judd. (The glove box still contains papers from a Midland dealership, filled with Judd’s blocky, slightly clumsy handwriting.) The truck had a broken odometer and a hot, sun-baked patina, acquired after years spent in sunny West Texas. The truck was undoubtedly analog, with a noisy engine and a broken radio. Billick fiddled with the buttons, frowning, “Put that on the to-do list, I guess.” We traveled the back roads of Texas Hill Country as Billick searched for potential projects. When we passed over a bump, the radio came back to life. “There you go,” Billick said with a smile.
Despite the glut of buyers, there were still plenty of prospects sitting in grassy yards and gravel driveways, waiting for someone to give them love. “You try to buy them and the guy always says, ‘I’m working on it, I’m about to put a new engine in there,’” Billick said. We slowed down to admire a brassy, boxy ’80s GMC Sierra Grande, its rust-speckled hood; restored, it could go up to fifteen thousand dollars. Billick also saw potential in an indescribably red GMC 1500 – “it has a certain normcore appeal,” he said – and a forest green Eddie Bauer edition Bronco. “Nobody wanted the ’90s Bronco, because it was OJ’s,” he said. “But you’re going to lose the prize for the coolest thing in the world, so you have to look into the next coolest thing.” “