In 1978 you could walk into a dealership with $3,679 and walk out with a Subaru 2-Door Sedan, complete with a 1.6-liter engine and front-wheel drive. Today you can drop in on Philadelphia Craigslist and buy that same car with a mere $680 less in your pocket.
This listing turned up on Classic J-tin and caught my eye, wondering how a humble Subaru could have lost so little total value over so many years while the rest of the internet gawks over Lamborghinis and AMG Mercedes depreciating by the tens of thousands of dollars in instants.
This is, of course, equal parts surprising and a complete waste of your time to even consider as noteworthy. A ripe $680 is not a lot for a car to depreciate over the course of 42 years, sure. That only measures things in total, though. Percentage-wise, this is a significant loss, around a fifth of the original cost. (If you’re curious, NADA Guides keeps that original MSRP online.)
And this leaves out inflation in general. Your $3,679 in the start of 1978 had a lot more buying power than it does now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics figures it was worth $15,185 in today’s money.
That and someone has to actually buy this 1978 Subaru in 2020 for the Craigslist asking price of $2,999. And we know how that goes.
The point then is not that there’s some bizarre and freakish appreciation for 1978 Subarus out there (though this particular one does look to be a great example of an early FWD import), it’s more that there’s a floor for the value of some low-end cars, and you can’t really scrape too much off it, even over the course of four decades.