How will the surge in gas prices - and the imploding economy - affect the classic car hobby?

One upside is that certain classic cars - muscle cars from the '60s and '70s - will almost certainly become more affordable.

At least, for awhile.

Though we've seen some of these - such as Hemi-equipped Chryslers - top $200,000 at auctions, these cars are fundamentally blue collar (and middle class) cars. While the value of especially rare ones - the aforesaid Hemi 'Cudas and Chargers; 427 Super Yenko Camaros; Boss Mustangs, etc. - will always be high, the overall "price of entry" is probably going to drop for some of the more bread and butter late '60s and '70s-era muscle cars cars. The value of '80s-era stuff such as SS Monte Carlos, 5.0 Mustangs and IROC-Z Camaros is likely to dip even more.

Even now - with the full extent of the economy's troubles likely only beginning to dawn on most of us - one can buy a regional show winning example of something like an early '70s Camaro or Chevelle for well under $30,000. Even GTOs are becoming more reasonably priced - most of them, anyhow. (Convertible Judges and RA-IV models are still commanding Monopoly money prices.)

But overall, things are looking up.

A quick survey of Hemmings classifieds, online classic car stores and the local Old Car Trader turned up several late '60s/early '70s Goats for $25,000-$30,000 or so.

The number of ads in the $50,000 range and up seems to be declining. And $10,000 and under "drivers" (from the '80s especially) are not hard to find.

This is bad news for the speculator class responsible for turning what used to be a hobby into an "investment opportunity" - but it's very good news indeed for the rest of us, especially those of us who were too young to get in on muscle car ownership the last time these things were semi-affordable, back in the late '80s/early '90s.

Yes, $30,000 or so is still a lot of money - but it's not out of sight. With financing (readily offered by most classic car stores) it's a very doable thing.

And that's for for the more desirable late '60s/early '70s stuff - and for better condition stuff, too. Look around and you'll see that solid "drivers" (cars with visual flaws that might not win a show but which are nonetheless presentable and can be easily fixed up to much better condition) are going for much less. Even $15,000 or so can buy you something very nice (and legitimately collectible) to play with, such as a late-'70s Z28 350 4-speed in solid No. 2 condition.

The downside is that just as muscle cars are becoming more affordable for average people, average people are less and less in a position to buy one - or feed it.

Unless you're very comfortably middle class - at the least - buying a classic car is hard to do. Especially if the wife gets wind of it. You want to spend twenty grand on ....what? There's a mortgage to pay, bills to fret - the kids' college fund. Not many of us have twenty or thirty grand in discretionary cash laying around - or can afford to fill up the 21 gallon (and premium unleaded only) tank of the typical V-8 muscle car. (My Trans-Am sucks my wallet clean of nearly $90 for a single fill-up.)

Still, the financial pendulum is swinging back toward affordability; you might not be able to drive it much - but you might be able to buy the thing. When a 383 GTX was going for $45,000 that was not gonna happen.

Now it can.

So, if you've long wanted to own something cool from the classic era, you ought to be looking around - and scraping together whatever available cash you can. B ready - and jump on the opportunity when it presents itself. Because $4 gas and a downward trending economy notwithstanding, the dip in muscle car prices is probably temporary. They're not building any more of them, for one - and when the "investor class" recovers its nerves (and figures out a new way to fleece the rest of us) they'll be back.

And when they are, it'll be harder (once more) for average hobbyists to get closer to one of these greats than a glossy calendar posted in the garage... .