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The Most Expensive American Muscle Cars Sold at an Auction

Muscle cars from Detroit’s golden age hold a special place in the heart of many auto aficionados. Almost every enthusiast has his or her own favorite classic muscle cars, and many of these enthusiasts actively follow the latest news and sales of these iconic treasures of American history. Although most vehicles decrease in value as they age, some of these classic cars are valued quite highly and can fetch a princely sum at auction. In this article, we’ll highlight some of the most expensive American muscle cars ever sold.

1967 L88 Corvette Convertible sells for $3.2 million

As one of the most recognizable American muscle cars, the Chevrolet Corvette is a favorite of many gearheads. With its iconic Stingray styling and aggressive performance, the Corvette has held its value quite well over the years. However, few Corvettes have ever matched the price of this convertible 1967 L88 Corvette. Its black-on-red paint scheme had been meticulously restored, and its body was a perfect representation of the famous Stingray styling.

Photo by Sfoskett~commonswiki / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo by Sfoskett~commonswiki / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

However, those factors alone wouldn’t have been enough to justify its jaw-dropping price tag. Like all of the other entries on our list, this vehicle is truly unique. Most importantly, it’s one of the few L88-model Corvettes from the 1967 model year; that year, Chevrolet only produced 20 of these highly sought-after vehicles. The L88 trim level was a secret model for Chevrolet; it didn’t advertise the option to the public or to its dealers, and most of the L88 vehicles from that year were sold discreetly to race teams. The L88 option turned the Corvette, already a powerful muscle car, into a bona fide racecar. Its engine was rated at 430 horsepower, and a warning sticker plastered in the center console of the vehicle warned drivers that the premium engine under the hood required specialized racing fuel. A number of other race features were installed in the L88, including powerful brakes, a heavy-duty transmission and more.

This particular vehicle was modified and used as a drag racer until 1970, when it was returned to the stock L88 specifications. It retained all of its iconic features, including the warning sticker for the fuel, and numerous racing slips and other documentation proved its prestigious pedigree. After the bidding had ended, this unique production racer changed hands for a cool $3.2 million.

1971 Hemi Cuda Convertible 4-Speed — $3.5 Million

The 1971 Dodge Barracuda is a classic muscle car, and the Cuda Hemi variant is considered by many to be the pinnacle of classic muscle car design. Its long hood and short deck evoke power and passion, a simple design that’s instantly recognizable to any muscle car enthusiast. Originally introduced in 1970, the Hemi Cuda served as a halo car for Dodge, driving sales of its lesser cousins through its impressive performance.

Photo by Sfoskett~commonswiki / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Pictured: 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda. Photo by Sfoskett~commonswiki / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Hemi Cuda only enjoyed a brief moment in the sun, however; shortly after its introduction, surging gas prices and new government regulations took an axe to demand for classic muscle cars. Accordingly, despite the robust sales numbers from the 1970 model, there were comparatively fewer vehicles sold in the 1971 model year. Only 119 Hemi Cuda vehicles were produced in that year, and only 11 of those vehicles were convertibles.

This particular specimen is the only surviving convertible that retains its original matching-number parts. It still has its original Hemi 426/425 V8 engine, and it’s the only Hemi Cuda in existence with the 4-speed manual transmission with the original Hurst shifter. Its first known owner was Russ Meyer, a famous cartoonist from the Southwest; he sold it to an Oregon man for $250,000. When it was later seized in connection with a drug raid, it was sold at auction for $405,000. The vehicle was then restored to pristine condition by Julius Steuer; under his guidance, this beautiful vehicle, in its original B5 Bright Blue color scheme with blue paint, black top and matching blue seats, was returned to its former glory. When it was sold in 2014, this unique vehicle fetched $3.5 million at the auction block.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 2 Door Coupe — $3.85 Million

The second 1967 L88 on our list, this vehicle shared many of the features that helped its sister vehicle fetch such a high price. Although it doesn’t have the documented race time that the convertible did, its heritage was verified by GM thanks to its original tank sheet. Of the 20 L88 Corvettes produced in the 1967 model year, this was the only vehicle with a matching red-on-red color scheme.

Pictured: 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 (427). Photo by Chad Kainz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Pictured: 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 (427). Photo by Chad Kainz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The vehicle was outfitted for high-performance drag racing, with a heavy-duty suspension, 430-horsepower engine and a transmission tuned for maximum performance on the quarter mile. Despite its astronomical price tag, this vehicle possessed few creature comforts; it had no radio, no heater and no air conditioner. The engine on the L88 is deliberately underrated; in independent tests, the L88 Corvette delivers more than 560 horsepower.

With the strength of its NCRS awards, this vehicle was able to surpass the sales mark set by its convertible cousin. Although both vehicles earned a regional NCRS Top Flight award, this vehicle exceeded the convertible by winning a national Top Flight award and the Duntov Mark of Excellence award. Its price of $3.85 million returned the Corvette sale price record to the Barret-Jackson auction company.

1962 Shelby Cobra CSX2000 – $13.75 million

The Shelby Cobra has a long and storied reputation in the archives of American muscle car history. With its bold styling and aggressive performance, owning a vintage Shelby Cobra is a dream for many muscle car enthusiasts. This particular vehicle was battered by its passage through the years, with dents and dings throughout the bodywork, mismatched paint colors hiding in layers all over the chassis, and an interior that definitely looks its age. Despite these flaws, however, this vehicle sold for $13.75 million in August 2016, making it the most expensive muscle car and the most expensive American car ever sold.

Photo by Jaydec at English Wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo by Jaydec at English Wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

To understand why, look no further than the chassis number: CSX2000. In other words, this was the very first Shelby Cobra ever assembled. Its multiple different layers of paint are a relic of its first year of existence; to create the illusion that production was well under way on his new line of muscle cars, Carroll Shelby had the vehicle repeatedly repainted and shipped to different events around the country. This aggressive travel schedule is also the reason for most of the damage that the vehicle had suffered. The vehicle, which remained in Shelby’s possession until he died, bears many other signs of its early heritage. Instead of the usual radial tires, the original Cobra rests on skinny cross-ply tires. It holds a 260-cubic inch V8 engine instead of the 289 and 427 engines that later Cobras would be known for.

Vintage muscle cars are always a treat for car enthusiasts, but rare vehicles can go beyond the prestige of their model to capture truly impressive prices. With an impeccable restoration, a rare muscle car can go from an oddity collecting dust to a multimillion-dollar investment. Collectors are willing to pay top dollar to own a piece of automotive history.

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