How Much Is This Busted Dodge Daytona Really Worth?

Does algae demand a $50k premium? The Drive’s classic car expert weighs in on this year’s hottest barn find.

byDavid Traver Adolphus|
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About a decade ago, a strange thing happened in the old car world. As the recession crept in, people with expensively restored cars, especially muscle cars, found themselves with more money invested than their cars were worth. There was nothing strange about the sell-off that followed, and prices plummeted, especially on high-end Detroit Iron. Some million-dollar Hemis lost 75% of their value.

So people went looking for cars that’d already lost all their value; the Only Original Once Movement, which had been quietly percolating for a while, really took off. And then someone asked, “What if a car was even more original? Wouldn’t that be even more better? What if instead of carefully preserved and loved original cars, we started hauling heaps out from under old boxes and bales of hay? Would those be any good?” It turns out, they were.

Original and restored cars have, more or less, a known price—it’s this car, in this condition. But any additional money in a barn find only exists for a brief moment. You haul it out and there’s an aura around it. Someone gets this amazing vehicle that’s been hidden away, and it’s like finding treasure. Except, what do you really have when the magic wears off? It’s not a car you use. Where do you go from there?

Teddy Pieper, Courtesy of Mecum Auctions

“I’m as enthused as anybody,” says self-professed father of the Barn Find Movement, Tom Cotter, author of Barn Find Road Trip. But to him, a “barn find has always been the beginning of a restoration…I don’t understand why they’re worth more in really horrible shape than one that’s been restored.”

Still, the money keeps coming. So the cars keep emerging. Some are more special than others, though, and you don’t see many Mopar wing cars, certainly not a 1969 Charger Daytona, like the one that came out of a small town in Alabama this year. It really was an unknown car, under the stewardship of its current owner since 1974, the same guy who had flames painted on the Mopar when he drove it to spring break. The powertrain isn’t exotic, either—a base Torque-Flite and 440 Magnum, no Six-Pack or Hemi. It hasn’t run in a four years; there’s vegetation, and what appears to be a spider megacolony, under the hood. The iconic nose is dented.

Teddy Pieper, Courtesy of Mecum Auctions

If this were a routinely neglected Charger Daytona, even with total one-year-old production of 503 examples, it’d maybe be a $120,000 car. Maybe. But with feature stories in Mopar Muscle and Hot Rod, Mecum is thinking it could fetch $180,000 at their January Kissimmee, Florida, auction. They’ve even posed it in a more photogenic barn than the aluminum carport it came from.

Then what? It’s hard to imagine anything other than a full restoration for it, which is at least $50,000 job and probably $100,000 or more.

Teddy Pieper, Courtesy of Mecum Auctions

“I’m so thankful that these cars are finding their way out into the public, instead of wasting away in a shed somewhere,” said Cotter.

But there are literally thousands more waiting out there, and they all have a story. They all also have rust and when you get it home into the garage, that’s what you’ll have paid extra for.