1922 Rochester Newspaper Ad Shows How Car Prices Have Changed Over 100 Years

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle is still around, but brand-new cars for $400 sure aren't.

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This intersection leads to a bridge, if you take a right, and I lived just on the other side of it
This intersection leads to a bridge, if you take a right, and I lived just on the other side of it
Photo: Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE , via Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a Wednesday dreary, while I posted, weak and weary,
Blogging many a quaint and curious volume of Toyota lore
While I typed there, keyboard singing, suddenly there came a Slack ding,
As of someone gently pinging, pinging the Jalopnik horde.
“’Tis some Twitter link,” I muttered, “pinging the Jalopnik corps—
Only this and nothing more.”

The Twitter link was to this, a page from the August 27, 1922 issue of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The D&C has been one of Roc’s hometown papers since time immemorial, but it’s interesting to see a page from precisely 100 years ago — just after the creation of the garbage plate. Even better, it’s a list of car prices at various local dealers.

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To my knowledge, none of these dealers are around anymore — certainly, none under the same names. Even many of the automakers listed here have fallen into obscurity, ruin, or whatever Buick’s whole deal is now that it can’t cheat off Opel’s work. The world of western New York has changed, but a few of these automakers are still around. How different are the prices?

I can see my (old) house from here
I can see my (old) house from here
Photo: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2782660
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Of these 33 automakers listed, only one in 11 remain: Buick, Cadillac, and Chevrolet. Out of curiosity, I checked what’s now holed up in the husks of their former Rochester dealerships:

  • C. L. Whiting’s Buick dealer, just off the infamous corner of East and Alexander, is a recently-defunct oriental rug shop.
  • Mabbett Motor Car Co, former Cadillac dealer, became the health insurance office across the street from my old apartment.
  • A. H. Boyce Chevrolet, even closer to East and Alex, is now an addiction recovery facility.
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It’s wild to imagine East and Alex, now a neighborhood known for insufferable undergrad debauchery, as a quiet little row of car dealers. That honestly sounds better.

The bar that’s in this building, Brass, is very bad. But the adjoining bar-slash-coffee-shop-slash-brunch-joint, Locals Only, rules. Most Instagrammed bathroom in the world, apparently.
The bar that’s in this building, Brass, is very bad. But the adjoining bar-slash-coffee-shop-slash-brunch-joint, Locals Only, rules. Most Instagrammed bathroom in the world, apparently.
Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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Anyway, you’re here for cars, not me complaining about a row of bars I went to once between a Joywave show and a gig at the Bug Jar. So, how do these prices compare to a modern dealership selling 2022 Chevy, Buick, and Cadillac models?

Let’s take a look at West Herr Chevrolet, right around the corner from my college. We’ll take Vision Buck GMC and Valley Cadillac as well. For each, we’ll look at the most economical and most extravagant model on the showroom floor today, and see how time and inflation have hit the three GM brands. Those 1922 prices include destination and freight charges, along with a war tax, so we’ll include destination fees for our modern offerings to make things roughly equal.

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The cheapest Chevy you could buy in Rochester 100 years ago was the Model Superior Touring, for a mere $356 — and it was “fully equipped,” at that. A quick inflation calculation puts that at $6,278.23 in 2022 dollars. West Herr’s cheapest new car, a blue Chevy Spark 1LT, costs nearly three times as much — $17,595 including destination.

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The most expensive Chevy of 1922, the Model F B Sedan, came in at a whopping $1,497 — $26,400.31 in today’s money. West Herr’s priciest offering is a Corvette Stingray, also in blue. It costs $89,865, which is only slightly more than $26,400.

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Back in 1922, Buick’s cheapest car was the descriptively named Two-Passenger Four-Cylinder Runabout. It cost $950, or $16,753.70 in today’s bucks. Now, the cheapest Buick on Vision’s lot is this Encore Preferred with a “sale price” of $28,255 — which is $1,500 over MSRP.

In 1922, Buick’s most expensive model was the Seven-Passenger Six-Cylinder Sedan at $2,345, or an inflation-adjusted $41,355.19. That’s much closer to modern car prices, but pales in comparison to the most expensive Buick on Vision’s lot: This Enclave Avenir, for $61,515.

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No, this didn’t upload wrong. This is actually how small the images are on Cadillac dealer websites.
No, this didn’t upload wrong. This is actually how small the images are on Cadillac dealer websites.
Image: Valley Cadillac

Cadillac’s cars, even in the Roaring ‘20s, were considerably pricier. The entry-level model was the 2-Passenger Roadster at $3,491, or $61,565.45 today. In a twist, that’s actually more expensive than the cheapest Cadillac on Valley’s showroom floor — a Luxury-trim XT4, listed for a mere $45,710.

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The priciest Caddy of the bunch was the 7-Passenger Imperial, at $5,051. That model name could easily apply to an Escalade, and the inflation-adjusted $89,076.79 price tag wouldn’t be too far off — at least, from a base model. But Vision goes beyond the base, offering a V-Series Escalade as its most expensive new vehicle, to the tune of $153,965. Ouch.

If you’re in the market for a deal on a new car, you’d be better off shopping in 1922 than you would be today. Across the board, prices are up, aside from the luxury market aiming to get more buyers into its brands. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s Labor Day. I have garbage plates to eat.