Value Dive of the Tri-Five

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-dr hard top
Sold at $56,000
RM Sotheby’s, Phoenix, AZ, January 18-19, 2018, Lot 219
VIN: VC570163461

One of the more controversial moments of this year’s ACC Insider’s Seminar at Barrett-Jackson came when Carl Bomstead called out Chevrolet’s Tri-Five cars as one of his two “Sell” picks in the current market.

There’s probably no more iconic classic American car than the 1957 Chevrolet, and for years, they’ve been safe bets in terms of value. But as Carl pointed out, the market is changing, and despite the icon status of those ’57 fins, prices aren’t moving up. The buyers who used to chase these cars are thinking more of selling than buying these days, and the next generation collector doesn’t have the sentimental memories of poodle skirts, sock hops, and drive-ins that initially pushed prices up on the ’55s, ’56s and ’57s.

Case in point is this 1957 Bel Air sold at RM Sotheby’s. The car had been restored by a noted Tri-Five expert and presented really well with a number of rare options. It had the dual-carb 270-hp 283, a 3-speed manual, and had been fitted with factory Chevrolet-built Continental Kit components. Overall, it was a great car and a fantastic presentation, yet it sold for $56,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement of the model.

The market spoke here at RM Sotheby’s, at least for this car, and I do think we’ll see more of this happen in the future as the market continues to shift to a younger demographic. But I don’t think that spells doom for the Tri-Five — I’ve always wanted one, and I know I’m not alone. There’s a group of buyers who have been waiting for these cars to become a little more affordable, and they’ll be jumping on them as prices come down from the clouds, as was the case here.

For now, this was a lot of car for the money, and I’d say that makes it very well bought.

6 comments

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  1. I am a vintage and collector car appraiser, and I agree with the article. A lot of the old metal is slowing losing value with the odd exceptional car. The younger generations are interested in tuners and more fuel efficient cars, which are more affordable for them both to buy and operate.

  2. Same old story… The people that have these now are the ones that wanted them when they were kids. As this demographic dies off, the values will crater. Just the way it goes.

    1. I don’t think prices will need to “crater” before a new market starts to embrace these cars. I’m not a member of the demographic that drove values up on Tri-Fives, but I still really want a ’55.

  3. Let’s not lose track of our great hobby… if you want to invest your money, go to the many Wall Street opportunities. If you want to have fun… driving, washing, waxing, showing and working on your favorite toy, the collector car market could be for you. It is too often that we get hung up on the value of our rides. Car collecting is like all hobbies, it costs money to have fun. Drive, shine and have fun!

  4. I’m not so sure the values will tank because of a shifting demographic alone. The 55-57 Chevys have been selling high over the last ten years in my opinion. A lot were made and a lot are still around. Not rare cars with limited production. The market moves up and down until supply and demand determines value. Hard to imagine a car enthusiasts of any demographic not wanting a 55-57. Now, you know what I can’t understand ? The value placed on resto-mods. That’s another discussion.

    1. Resto-mods have really shot up in value over the past several years — and I think we’ll see more of them built because of that temptation of added value, but also because they’re often so much easier to drive than stockers in modern traffic. Should they be worth more? That’s a tough question — but a good discussion for an upcoming ACC.