Muscle Hustle

Feb 7, 2011

Three prime aspects of the muscle car market are converging like no time ever before.

With the new generation of these cars firmly on the streets, manufacturers churning out thousands of products and an improving economy, the time will be right for many owners to pull the trigger on those parts they’ve been seeing and hearing so much about.

We wanted to get a read on this “perfect storm” for retailers, so we asked some industry experts for their input.

The consensus: if you’re willing to hustle, there’s money to be made in automotive muscle.

Looking Ahead

Our first question: What’s the outlook for the muscle car market for 2011?

Cragar’s Howard Cook tells us, “I believe 2011 is going to be a good year. The economy has made a turn for the better, and I believe we will see consumers start to spend money again.”

Flaming River Industries’ Jeanette Ladina adds, “Very positive. Muscle cars cover a broad range of price categories and can be used for racing or as a daily driver.”

Whether it’s the new generation of these cars or the classics, the popularity of muscle cars is holding strong.

“There’s no question that for late-model muscle cars, the market will continue to climb-especially with Dodge’s release of the new SRT8 392 Challenger, the return of the Mustang 5.0 and the Chevy Camaro Z28,” says Lou Lobsinger Jr. of Specialty Auto Parts. “I see prices for the 1960s and ’70s muscle cars at the (January) Barrett-Jackson auction have been steadily rebounding as well. I’m certain as the economy continues to pick up steam, consumers will get off the fence and discretionary spending will pick up this spring.”

Vortech Superchargers’ Gil Cormaci has a similar projection.

“We have a positive outlook for 2011 as a result of the late 2010 introduction of our PowerHat carburetor bonnet blow-through systems,” he says. “We were able to reduce the price point on Chevy small-blocks and offer greater power potential with easier tuning. Sales have been brisk through our warehouses.”

And Tony Bicknell of RideTech adds, “The muscle car market is still as hot as it has been for the last five years, and I do not personally think we are going to see it taper down. In fact, I actually think that the market will increase, but you are going to see an increase in the more obscure vehicles of the eras expanding into the 1978-’88 G bodies, all the way into the modern muscle cars.”

What to Watch For

The second question we asked was about the hot products for 2011.

Cook from Cragar tells us, “The hot products will be the easy-to-add accessories: wheels and tires, spoilers, engine appearance items, sound systems, exhaust systems, etc.”

Ladina from Flaming River adds, “Rack and pinion cradle kits are becoming available for an increasing number of applications, as well as tilt steering columns. Both groups of products are helping to modernize and improve performance in classic muscle cars.”

And looks are important, too.

“We see the trend continuing in the dress-up category,” notes Specialty Auto Parts’ Lobsinger. “Every year, muscle car owners want to effectively freshen up their engine bay. And the easiest way to do this is with a new set of valve covers, air cleaner, etc. The hot look for Chevy this year is aggressive looking slant-edge valve covers in the traditional Chevy Orange. Same for Ford: a progressive-looking valve cover with a dynamic angular design. Look for more carbon fiber products and custom-designed products as well.”

Of course, what’s a good muscle car without power?

“We believe that boosting solutions for muscle cars will continue as a popular category for 2011,” says Vortech’s Cormaci. “With what we offer, the addition of 125 hp over stock at a modest $2,000 investment appears to fit within the budget of most owners looking for a triple-digit power increase. Our small-block Ford system featuring the PowerHat bonnet was introduced in January, and early response has been quite favorable.”

Bicknell says buyers are looking for the complete performance package.

“Right now our hot new product is our new Monotube Coil-over, which we are now utilizing in our application-specific coil-over conversion kits for all of the popular applications,” he says, the result of a joint development between RideTech and Fox.

“This market is definitely a performance-driven market,” he adds. “No longer is the focus of a vehicle directly related to fender gaps and layers of paint, but has morphed to pure function first and aesthetics second. Now the primary goals are high-performance suspension systems, modern high-horsepower fuel-injection motors, multi-speed transmissions or GearVendor gear splitters, complex data logging and digital control systems and functional cockpits.”

I’ll Take One of Each

So, when your shop targets the muscle car market this year, which vehicles are you likely to see most?

Ladina points out, “All generations of the Camaro continue to be popular, but we’re seeing an increase in demand for the second-generation Camaros. Also, Impalas have been coming on stronger.”

Lobsinger says, “In late-model cars, it’s assuredly the new Mustang 5.0, the Camaro SS and Z28, and the new 392 SRT8 Dodge Challenger. For older muscle cars, the Camaro, Mustang, Challenger, Charger, etc., all remain popular at auctions. Also, look for cars like the Buick Grand National and Regal as well as the ’80s Fox Body 5.0 Mustangs to come on strong.”

Cook says to keep an eye on the big three.

“I think the Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers will still be strong throughout this year.”

And Cormaci adds, “The small-block Chevy should continue in the top spot as far as popularity. However, during the week-long Hot August Nights Muscle Car cruise/car show in Reno last fall, we had many Mopar owners comment that finally someone is offering a supercharger system for the BB 440 Road Runner, which was the car we had on display in our booth.”

Bicknell notes that the popular models stand the test of time.

“There is no doubt that the first-generation Camaros, Mustangs, Chevelles and ‘Cudas will remain the most popular of the muscle cars, just like the iconic ’32 Ford.”

Fox Body Muscle

When it comes to classic muscle cars, much of the buzz in the industry these days surrounds Fox Body Mustangs.

“I believe that market is still strong,” says Cook of Cragar. “Those cars are still popular, plentiful and affordable. The aftermarket items for them are still available and I believe it will stay that way.”

Cormaci of Vortech Superchargers says his company is seeing success in the Fox Body market.

“We have supercharger systems under the Vortech and Paxton brands for the 1986-’91 fuel-injected Fox Body Mustang. These systems continue to be a popular product because of the low price point, easy installation and the affordability of these cars. We offer a special low-boost (5 psi) system for these higher-mileage Mustangs that will still deliver a safe 50-hp increase.”

And it’s not just on the street, notes Ladina of Flaming River Industries. Fox Bodies are plentiful at the track as well.

“This is still a very popular platform due to the weight, motor and affordability that it offers,” she says. “It continues to be a major racing standard.”

Bicknell of RideTech agrees.

“Fox Body Mustangs, the SN-95 platform, and 1978-’88 GM G bodies and third- and fourth-gen Camaros all go together like peanut butter and jelly,” he says. “You can still find them, they are inexpensive and you can make cool, fast hot rods out of them.”

All in all, it’s a market niche to keep an eye on.

“The Fox Body Mustang market has been steadily growing over the years, based on the iconic 5.0,” says Lobsinger Jr. of Specialty Auto Parts. “Do you remember the Vanilla Ice song? I used to own a 1991 5.0 Mustang GT convertible, (before it was stolen in L.A.!) and I’ve been looking for another one for years. The prices on these cars have been creeping up since 2002, and as the Gen-Xers get older and more influential, they’ll drive up the demand for cars like the Fox Body ‘Stang much like the baby boomers did with the ’69 Camaro.”

Customer Trends

When customers love their vehicle, it’s important that they walk away happy. We asked about spotting any customer trends for this year.

“You’re definitely going to see a surge in the dress-up category, simply because it’s an easy and relatively inexpensive way to upgrade your muscle car,” Lobsinger says. “We’re also seeing a strong trend in the GM LS engine category. Although these motors aren’t as easy to tinker around with as, say, a 1970 Chevy small-block, the LS engines are reliable, plentiful and affordable.”

Cook also sees a trend toward looks.

“The customers will be purchasing the more simple-to-add items, more appearance items, than performance,” he says. “I believe we will also see the size of wheels and tires start to shrink. I believe that the ‘bigger is better’ will slowly go away.”

Of course, when it comes to customers, cost is always an important issue.

“More value for each dollar they spend” is what clients will be looking for, says Cormaci. “No big surprise. We feel that more and more consumers will become DIYers.”

Ladina also believes muscle car owners are partial to sticking to their American roots.

“Customers are always looking for quality and value, but most importantly, we’ve seen an increase in demand for American-made products,” she says. “Also important is that the customer feels satisfied with the service and warranty available for the products they’re purchasing.”

Up to the Challenge

Lastly, we asked about the challenges muscle car shops will face this year.

Bicknell is quite the optimist. “I don’t foresee any challenges,” he says.

Cook says, “The economy, even knowing it is getting better, will still be a challenge. Getting orders may still be a hurdle. But overall, I believe they will see a better year.”

Cormaci adds, “Promoting the personal, face-to-face contact with the consumer. Differentiate themselves from the Summits and JEGS mail-order performance retailers.”

Shops should stay on top of their finances.

“Proper budgeting is always a necessity,” says Ladina, “as well as being able to keep up with demand.”

Lobsinger says it’s about money and more.

“It’s a battle for discretionary dollars,” he says. “As consumer confidence increases, we’re going to have to compete with everything from a new set of golf clubs, to a new guitar, to a new flat-screen 3-D television (a bit much, if you ask me!). All you need to do is plug back into that passion for cars. A friend recently asked me if America was losing its love for the automobile and I nearly decked him. Not at all true. The car is our last great refuge; our last great freedom. And let’s be honest-¦ freedom is a whole lot more exciting in a fast car.”

We couldn’t agree more.