Continuing my series on cars mined from my visit to Arizona Auction Week in and around Scottsdale in January, I’ll profile the best low mileage cars I found there and try to answer the perennial question, “how low can you go?” My last article was on unrestored, original condition cars, so there is some overlap in concept here. Some of those vehicles also had low mileage, but for the most part not as low as you’ll see here. We’ll count down in descending order of mileage.
These are cars that have defied time, normal use, and normal parking. You don’t get vehicles in this condition after decades parked in a driveway, carport or even a typical garage. I would speculate these cars have spent the bulk of their lives either in climate-controlled storage or serendipitously resided in a windowless garage in a local climate perfectly suited for automobiles.
As I saw how implausibly little driving has been asked of the cars in their lives, I got to thinking about the purpose of such vehicles. Who spends money on a brand new premium model automobile and then rarely drives it? Some were clearly purchased as collectibles, others it’s hard to see how that would be the case. On the accidently preserved car, what circumstances led to the owner leaving it perpetually parked?
If these cars could talk they would probably have fascinating stories of the unusual characters who owned them, the long periods of cloistered boredom, and all the places they never went…
#18. Getting to the cars, first up is a 1970 Cadillac Eldorado with 26,952 miles. I’ve always liked first gen FWD Eldos in black, but considering the Spanish meaning of the model name, the Byzantine Gold Metallic color is totally fitting and quite striking in person.
The interior is where the car’s preservation really shines, though. Cadillac dashes and steering wheels had been getting noticeably cheaper looking for a few years. For 1970, all Cadillacs got a black steering wheel, which was rather dour-looking compared with the optimistic, elegant wheels of a few years earlier. Seeing a 1970 interior in near-new condition puts it in its best light and it almost looks appealing. Stick your head in the open window and you feel like you’ve entered a happy place, where anything is possible and time has no dominion.
Love those bladed rear fenders! $26,400
#17. 1963 Corvette Sting Ray 23,315 miles. I’m starting to really like blue for a Vette color. It’s not the color one tends to associate with mid-years, that second generation Corvette masterpiece. Of course, they would still look great in hot pink, poop brown or any other color. The hood, fender, and B pillar vents are fake, but on later models all the vents would be functional.
The split window is a big deal for collectors and it was to Bill Mitchell, too. He was said to have told Zora Arkus-Duntov, who didn’t like the bifurcated backlight, “If you take that off, you might as well forget the whole thing.” Perhaps that was a bit of petulant designer drama, because the more practical Duntov prevailed the next year, making the 63 an almost instant collectible. Despite Mitchell’s assertion, nobody forgot the whole thing and all the mid years are beloved today.
I never thought the split made that much difference. However, this time seeing one in the
metal ‘glass made me appreciate Mitchell’s styling vision. The uninterrupted line running from the roof to the tail really sets the car apart. Counter point: if ever there was a car that didn’t need any further setting apart, it’s a mid year Corvette.
The seller didn’t provide much information on the car’s write up. He doesn’t state whether it’s restored or original, or a little bit of both.
He does state that the air conditioning is not original to the car. Judging from the engine compartment, I’d say it’s either an original car or an old restoration, but I’m no Corvette expert. The description doesn’t even specify which 327 it has and states it has a 3-speed automatic. Since the Powerglide was the only automatic and it was available only on the lowest-rated two of the four engines, the car either has a non-stock tranny or the seller is mistaken about what is in his car, and the engine is either the base 250hp or optional 300hp 327 (update: Paul notes that the gear shift looks non-stock, indicating the car may indeed have a later THM swapped in).
The 63 Corvette is one of the few collector cars where a convertible is cheaper than an equivalent hardtop (this was true of the original list price also). Naturally, there were a lot of Corvettes at B-J. Just in Split-Windows, there were 13 and this was the 2nd cheapest one at $165,000! Buyers love that window divider: the only other mid-years that sold at anywhere near that level were big-blocks (starting in 65) or customs.
#16 1966 Cadillac De Ville convertible 18,110 miles. The 63 Corvette was a masterpiece but it was hardly the only great GM design of the 60’s. Bill Mitchell and co. went from triumph to triumph in those years, and in my opinion the 65 Cadillac was one of them. The earlier 60’s models were great, too, but their ostentatious styling was much busier than the clean and confident 65, which was made even a little cleaner for 66. Rear end styling set the pattern that would be more or less followed for the next 30+ years.
The 66 has perhaps the last great Cadillac interior. 1967, while still nice, really began the process of dechroming and upplasticking.
The car was one of a set of three 1966 Cadillac De Ville convertibles from the same collection (because you can never have too many 66 Caddy drop-tops). The baby blue had the lowest mileage by a good margin, but it was my least favorite color. My favorite was the Ember Firemist with white interior. OOLaLa! Even my poorly focused photo can’t hide how great it looks.
The Mist Blue sold for $63,800. The Ember (52k mi) $66,000. The Flamenco Red (76k mi) $44,000
#15 1979 Cadillac Coupe De Ville ~15,000 miles. On the subject of Cadillac high points, 1979 deserves a mention. 1966 had set a record for division sales, but it was just one of many record years over the next decade . The downsized 1977 models were a big hit and the future looked sunny indeed, especially when 1979 rolled around and Cadillac sold 381k cars for the model year (compare to 196k for 1966). Yet another record.
Sadly for Cadillac, 1979 would prove to be almost the high water mark. The early 80’s were rough, but Cadillac managed to climb back to just over 79 levels one more time in 1985. It was a long downward slide after that, and obviously the division has never approached those sales numbers again. Caddys would be more “exclusive” in the future, mainly because less and less folks wanted one. So, this 79 Coupe De Ville would be a fitting acquisition for a Cadillac collector to commemorate Peak Cadillac and Peak Coupe De Ville.
Peak Coupe De Ville? 1977 was the #1 year for the CDV, but 79 was a close second. The coupe handily outsold the sedan, as it did throughout the 70’s, a trend which would be forever reversed starting in 1981.
1979 was also notable for being the last year for a big, old-fashioned Cadillac V8. The 425c.i. engine making 180hp/320 lb-ft was standard in the De Ville, with a 195hp/320lb-ft fuel-injected version optional as well as the delightful 125hp/225lb-ft 350c.i. Olds diesel coming available midyear. A downsized version of the Caddy V8 would roll out for 1980 before the Cadillac Powertrain Dark Ages started the following year. The seller didn’t say it has the F.I., so it could be assumed it’s the standard engine here, which is considered better from a durability standpoint.
I have an idea that I would like to buy this car and actually drive it. Drive the wheels off it, in fact. Downsized 425 Caddys were some of the best driving luxury cars of the era, with their lighter weight, competent chassis, and bulletproof engine with a power/weight ratio quite good for the times. I’d drive it really fast to pick up my disabled little brother, selling bags of silencers , dodging helicopters, testing the brakes with panic stops (I definitely wouldn’t want to be like the other owners of a 79 CDV in that movie). $24,200
#14 1955 Ford Thunderbird 14,322 miles. One of 13 two-seater T-birds at B-J, this wouldn’t have raised my eyebrow much at all, except for two things. One was the low-mileage original condition, the other was that it was very similar to the 55 T-bird that I used to drive for Harold. Except for the hubcaps and the hardtop, it was exactly the same as that damned beautiful car that I spent so much time and sweat trying to get started.
Of the 13 T-birds, three of them sold for the exact same price of $44k, which I would consider pretty reasonable for the apparent quality of the cars. One of them was an original condition pink 57 with even lower mileage (13k) from the same seller, but that car must have been off at the auction block when I was there because I unfortunately never saw it. 57 is my favorite T-Bird.
By the the time I got to the T-bird, it was late in the day and, suffering from a bit of AAO (acute awesomeness overload), I neglected to take an interior photo. I didn’t notice the paper (?) on the door panels, but I suppose I could have missed it. I don’t know what’s going on there. None-the-less, those early T-birds sure have pretty interiors, don’t they? The flowing of the dash into the doors and/or console was a Thunderbird hallmark from the very beginning. $44,000
#13 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 12,529 miles. Low-mile Cadillacs, Corvettes, end even the occasional Thunderbird are not too unusual to find at auction. More unusual are musclecars that are unrestored, unmolested, and pristine, given they were conceived and bought to be used and abused. We saw a couple in the previous article that likely were driven mostly one quarter mile at a time and that way escaped the era with few miles, so maybe that’s what happped here, too. But this one is another order of cosmetically perfect.
This Chevelle is so immaculate it’s almost incredible, by which I mean actually lacking in credibility. I was looking it over for quite a while trying to find flaws, with another guy doing the same, and he pointed out an area of thinned, worn paint on the left C-pillar which is visible in the above photo. The paint is so glossy, so lacking any chips or even swirl marks, I believe it was professionally touched up, polished and either given the world’s best wax job or possibly clear-coated. This would still allow the seller’s explicit claim of original paint to be technically true.
The chrome is flawless as far as I could see. Refurbing the trim wouldn’t make the seller a dissembler, but it would go against the spirit of his claims.
The seller says this is a “original survivor car” and “numbers matching”. The engine compartment is so perfect, I think that the description leaves enough wiggle room to allow for the compartment to have been refurbished and maybe even the engine rebuilt. This is the L78 396, rated at 375hp and backed by the M40 4-speed, said to be one of 612 made with that drivetrain. Motor Trend tested one with this combo and got 14.9 @ 96.5mph. If you look at the underside photos provided on the B-J page, the chassis looks more original. It’s still amazingly clean for the age of the car, but there is at least some patina and wear.
The seller also explicitly states the interior is original. It’s possibly more perfect than the exterior. $121,000 (which is actually less than I might have expected for this level of condition, originality, and engine rarity, so maybe bidders were also a little skeptical.)
#12 1972 Pontiac Luxury LeMans 10,455 miles. In the arena of GM B-bodies, MAG offered something as completely different as another A-body could be. My glary pictures don’t really do the dark green color justice, which is perfect for the image of an upscale early-70’s cruiser.
Luxury LeMans was a new model for 1972, Pontiac jumping even deeper into the brougham trend sweeping over Detroit. Only one out of five LLM’s were coupes this year, but those proportions would flip for the next year’s Colonnade model as the 70’s broughamization and coupification process took full effect.
Adding the “Luxury” to your Lemans got you an interior with upgraded upholstery patterns, door pulls, upgraded steering wheel, and bright pedal trim. The buckets and console, air conditioning and auto transmission were optional. This has the base 160hp 2-bbl 350c.i. engine, but 400 and 455 were available.
Green guts perfectly compliment the exterior and look very well preserved. $30,780 (Lofty price seems commensurate with the lofty condition.)
#11 1993 Mitsubishi 3000GT ~8,500 miles. Japanese makes weren’t completely left out of the low mile party when this exceptional 3000GT showed up at MAG ready to get down and do some limbo.
Unlike many sellers who write descriptions with varying degrees of ambiguity, vagueness and glossing over, the Mitsubishi’s seller explicitly claims the only thing not original on this car is the battery.
In the 90s and 00s, Mitsubishi dedicated a lot of resources to sporty cars. Cars like the Eclipse and Lancer Evolution offered good value for buyers who wanted to look stylish or move with a purpose, respectively. For the more upscale buyer who wanted to do both, they came up with the 3000GT (and the Dodge Stealth twin). Top models had 300hp, all-wheel drive, 4-wheel steer, and active aerodynamics. In Japan it was called the GTO, to conjure up some of the vintage Ferrari’s glory. That trick had, of course, already been done by Pontiac with a car that even less resembled a Ferrari. Clearly that wouldn’t do for the market here, so we got the agonizingly generic “3000GT”.
The SL that we have here had none of those cutting edge features, but was still quite capable with 222hp from a naturally aspirated 3.0L V6, 5-speed manual, adaptive suspension, and anti-lock brakes.
A VR-4 with this low mileage would surely command quite a bit more. The $28,080 it fetched seems like a win-win. The seller got a substantial amount of money (less than the original sticker, though, especially factoring inflation). The buyer got one of the best surviving 3000GTs without breaking the bank. That’s what auctions are all about.
Join us tomorrow for the rest of the list. We’ll play an automotive version of Limbo and see how low cars can go.
That first Eldorado is beautiful! And familiar: https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1970-cadillac-eldorado-4/
I agree and I’m amazed that Cadillac let one out the door without a vinyl roof.
Thanks, good catch! Looks like it sold at BJ for significantly less than it did in 2020. I was hoping the linked article would shed a bit more light on the story of this car, but doesn’t offer much useful info. Tons of great pictures, though.
Thanks for the photos, the writeup, and reminding us that you’re the CC-er who looked after your Harold’s T-birds. I read Hemmings monthly but don’t really keep track of prices; offhand, that last Mitsubishi seems as “well bought” as anything featured. That Pontiac really looks just-right in the green, and seeing it instantly takes me back fifty years.
That Luxury LeMans is to die for! That color may have been called “Verdoro Green”, but the buckets/console/Rally II’s/fender skirts/whitewalls tick ALL of the boxes for me!! I could live w/o the vinyl top, but I’d not kick this one out of my garage!! 🙂
Excellent selection. An ultra low mileage wonder would be a tough one for me to own. Could one use and enjoy it knowing the miles were going up and perfect condition is at risk? Its probably not for me but I am glad that some people are able to preserve them so well however.
That Thunderbird sure seems to offer a lot of value compared to the other sales. A victim of demographics and changing preferences I think.
Thanks! Early T-bird prices have probably softened a bit, and I think you’re right that demographics are at play. The number or people alive who were teens or young adults in the 50s when they came out is sadly declining, and that has probably always been that car’s biggest fanbase.
I’ve never heard the term “mid year Corvettes” used for the C2. Is that something new?
That ’63 coupe’s shifter knob is not original, with that button on top, so presumably it did have a THM-350 swapped in.
Good catch on the gear shift. I updated the text with your observation.
It’s an old nickname dating back to when the C3s were still in production but before Corvette generations were referred to C1/2/3, so the what we now call C2s were known as mid years since they’re in between the early 53-62s and the shark 68+ bodystyle . I’ve heard other explanations but that makes the most sense to me.
The ’63 Vette is also missing the chrome shield over the distributor.
Great write up again. You captured some beautiful cars on camera.
Thanks! There were plenty to pick from…
Wow. Just a fantastic group of cars! I’m a Cadillac guy, so I like them all. But the red 79 and the blue and red DeVille convt’s are really nice too. Now, just like I’m a Caddy guy, I’ve never been a Pontiac guy. However, that Luxury Lemans is gorgeous! That may just be my favorite of the group. But rest assured, I wouldn’t refuse any one of the cars you showed.
Ultra low-mile originals are the collector cars I geek out over most of all. Like you, I always wonder what was the story on such a car – how could someone buy it then barely use it through the decades. Even more, how could it not get passed down to a grandson or nephew who takes it to college and wears it out?
The unique thing with these is most ultra-low-mile originals I see are plebian cars like Falcons, or maybe the occasional Plymouth Savoy sedan. All of these are up-market versions in popular trim combinations.
I remember hating Cadillac interiors of 1969-70 because of the terrible cheapness, but the gold Eldo kind of appeals to me anyway. And I was never really into the 65-66 because it lacked the eye candy of the earlier cars, but I really like them now.
I too am suspicious of the SS-396. That car is simply too pristine for what it is. But the Luxury LeMans looks perfect! I remember seeing that repeating swirl-pattern on a clean, shiny GM vinyl roof back when those were common. I may go against the grain here, but my ideal version would be the four door hardtop. It was one of these 72s that made my mother think to go look at one in 1974 when our Olds dealer could not get her a 4 door Cutlass. Looking forward to the rest of the countdown!
Right, lots of potential survivors got passed down or sold off and subsequently worn out. It’s the remarkable fluke of fortune that makes the ones that do survive so special. How do some people avoid disease, accidents, and malevolence and live to 100 years old? When it happens, we admire how bizarrely fortuitous it is.
I agree a Luxury LeMans in 4 door form would be just as cool, if not cooler. I think large luxury type cars are usually best with 4 doors, where smaller sporty cars are best with 2. The LLM kind of straddles those categories.
That’s the first Cadillac wheel I’ve seen in a long time without any fake wood falling out of the rim. But the A/C didn’t work in 2020.
There was a push to reduce glare in the cockpit in the late 60s, which explains the deep binnacle and black (which also cut costs). Unfortunately, the plastic protrusions felt hollow and cheap compared to previous years, but it was probably easier on the head in a collision than steel covered in dense foam.
Honestly I think the 64s losing the 63s bright hood vents was a bigger visual loss than losing the split window, gotta go with Zora on that one. Concept designs always get a little diluted for production, and while the split window is a neat little artifact for 63 it doesn’t make or break the design whatsoever.
The Grand LeMans is amazing in its condition but that boy PLC brougham package on this sleek body deserves every bit of criticism the Charger SEs of the same period gets. Pontiac was rudderless without Delorean, the whole Muscle car thing was coming to a close but I don’t think Pontiac going the formal way of Buick was the right direction either.
Yeah, I always discounted the design significance of the split window, too. I still don’t think it’s anywhere near as big of a deal as the $ values would suggest most people do, but like I said in the article, it does cut a dashing and unique figure. I have actually never been a fan of the bright fake hood vents on the 63.
I can’t blame Pontiac too much for going in the luxury direction. That was certainly the way the wind was blowing and trying to sell the sporty performance image that worked in the 60s was unlikely to work in the 70s.Their sales weren’t bad, either, even if they couldn’t be #3 again. And they kept that performance pilot light burning with the Firebirds, the 73-74 Super Duty, and when the Trans Am started catching on big in the mid70s, they cranked up that flame to big success. Speaking of which, stay tuned for tomorrows article.
I recall seeing an article in one of the car magazines, in 1963, on how to remove the “split” in the rear window. The biggest downside, at least until the ‘64s rolled around, was that one needed to use plexiglass for the rear window. There was also the matter of fabricating the window edge trim, exterior and interior. One had to really want that split out of there, to go through all that.
How’d you like to be one of the guys who went to all that effort only to find out a year or two later that the split window is now what people want and significantly increases the resale value! Oops!
I’m personally mostly indifferent to the hood vents but I do find their presence or lack thereof more impactful to the design than the splitwindow. Those were there on the 59 Stingray roadster concept, you’d actually think Bill would be more protective of those
I’d agree they make a big visual impact. More than the window? Maybe, but I personally was aware of the window issue well before I noticed the hood issue. The window is more blatantly obvious, the hood is more subtle but once you see it you can’t unsee it.
A 60-year-old in 1970 whose 90-year-old parent died and left him a boatload of an inheritance goes out an buys the new car of his dreams, a Cadillac Eldorado. The 60-year-old only uses it on special occasions, dies at 90, and the car is inherited by his own kid who does the same. In 2023 the grandkid(s) or their heirs want money more than an old, very low mileage car.
Doesn’t quite explain the Chevelle and the Mitsubishi even less so. My dad had seven aunts and only two of them married. The other five lived together, traveled the world together, and later bought a ’55 four door Bel Air six cylinder/PG brand new. Teenaged me used to drool over it in the 1970s, looking at its odometer showing ~25,000 miles. I was way too far back in the pecking order to have a chance at it.
I like your story! Sounds very plausible.
Do you know the fate of the 55 Bel Air?
Yeah, it went to a closer nephew in ~1980. I wasn’t heartbroken because it was a four-door post but still it was a neat car. Two tone, dark green on the bottom and I think light green on top. Like the car below but no skirts.
They were something. All five of them went together to find relatives in Stettin, Prussia (Germany) in 1938 (Szczecin, Poland, now.) Apparently a whole lot of people with their (and my) surname lived there and rolled out the welcome mat. I still have a woman’s mirrored compact with “The Isle of Cuba” engraved on the front that they must have gotten when they visited in the early- mid-fifties?
I saw in the late 70s a 57 Ford Ranch wagon at a local garage in for its biannual safety inspection showing a little over 5,000 miles, I mentioned the car to my dad , he knew every car in the area and certainly knew that one, it was a retired hearse and never used for anything else, rarely used cars arent good drivers thing sieze up and decay if left unused for years at a time, my Superminx needed brake a radiator repairs after standing 5 years and vibrated badly from flat spotted tyres, I had to replace the battery though bought new not long before the car got parked up didnt like being used half a decade later, Id rather buy a good ex daily or at least monthly driver.
Good points. The ultra low mile collector are horribly impractical and appeal to people for their own reasons. An emotional appeal of direct connection to the past. An original untouched artifact from another era. A link to a society that no longer exists. Lots of objects that are old can do that but the car is such a complicated and fragile thing it’s highly unusual for one to survive like that. And cars make an emotional connection with people anyway.
And the act of maintaining one in operable condition despite the challenges of age and disuse is an impressive feat. The cars tomorrow are even more remarkably unused.