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Anthony Young - Classic Cars, Classic Audio and the State of Things Today
     Every year at Pebble Beach, California some of the most beautiful and lovingly restored classic cars compete for some of the most coveted awards in the hobby of classic car collecting, if you could call it a hobby. It is a rich man's hobby, and you have to have very deep pockets to restore a supercharged straight-8 Duesenberg or V-16 Cadillac or Packard.

1929 Duesenburg picture. Click for larger image.     The reason the wealthy spend untold sums restoring these classic cars is simple. During the 1930s, car makers like Cadillac, Duesenberg, Cord, Auburn, Packard and a few others built cars of astounding beauty, unparalleled quality, superb engineering and breath-taking performance.

    A very curious thing happened to these expensive cars during the 1940's and 1950's. They were, essentially, discarded. Many a Duesenberg or Packard sat in garages and old barns, victims of the post-war economy and the new annual model change. A Duesenberg restorer I spoke with in Connecticut in 1980 told me he began buying Duesenbergs right after WW II and could often pick one up for $500 to $800, repair it on the spot, and drive it home!

     At the time I spoke with him, he said he had been restoring Duesenbergs for about fifteen years and the average cost of restoration for a “Duesie” was between $250,000 to $500,000, depending on the car’s rarity and condition. Some of the finest examples today go at auction for well over one million dollars.

     There are many parallels that can be drawn between the Classic Car Era and what we would call the Classic Audio Era, sometimes referred to as vintage audio equipment. Rick has eloquently written the all too brief history (70's Audio Article) of what I like to refer to as the Silver-Era of stereo equipment. So, there is no need to repeat that here. However, it is important to recognize we lived through the classic era of audio equipment and perhaps didn’t realize it at the time.

     Like the owners of the classic cars of the 1930's who discarded their cars for something new, we sold “that big, old heavy receiver” for something new, thinking something new was something better. We realized, eventually, that these new stereo components weren’t better, they were poorer. These new components of the 1980's and 1990's were cheaply built and no effort was made at making an attractive piece of equipment. You could have any color you wanted as long as it was black.

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StereoManuals Note:  Anthony is the owner, author and webmaster of the several audio "Reference Sites" including the terrific Silver Pioneer Reference Site.

     Incredibly, that mindset still exists today. Recently, I walked into a Sound Advice store in Miami, Florida. I knew pretty much what to expect, and in that respect I was not disappointed. I walked over to the section of *Top of the Line* (TOTL) receivers from Pioneer, Yamaha and Kenwood.

     You truly could not distinguish one from the other. What did surprise me were the numbers on the price tags. I looked at the Pioneer Elite VSX-47TX surround sound home theater receiver, with a price tag of $2,499.95. I touched the volume control knob and it was... PLASTIC!

     Of course, it is a technological electronic wunderkind, but Pioneer can sell this kind of product today because the new consumers in their 30's and 40's have no other choice. These components, with their invisible looks and 50 button remote controls, are meant to be heard and not seen. Pioneer has no desire to *build ‘em like they used to*.

     Yes, the market demands are different, with home theater driving everything, but there is no corporate desire to build the likes of the SX-1250 or the SX-1980 receivers as there was in 1976 to 1980.

 Pioneer SX-1250 Receiver. Click for larger image.

    That’s why we must recognize this is really the best of times in terms of collecting vintage Pioneer equipment. Of course, if you are reading this, I am probably preaching to the choir. But, at some point this collectible equipment is  going to continue to get more expensive as these components are recognized as the best ever built by more and more people. Let me give you a personal example.

     I recently won the bidding on an SX-780 receiver. It was in flawless cosmetic condition and functions perfectly. I got it for my daughter, and it set me back only $56.00. I hooked it up to the speakers I bought for her and smiled when I started the CD. My daughter invited her friend over and when they saw the receiver, all they could do was stare with their mouths open. They had never seen a stereo receiver like that, but at 12 years old, how could they? Sadly, they can’t go to the store and buy one.

   Like the Classic Car Era, the Classic Audio Era has come and gone. Fortunately, some of us have come out of the fog, and are now diligently acquiring these handsome and beautifully-sounding components. Just think of them as Duesenbergs for your eyes and ears.

Anthony Young,

Note:  My personal collection of Classic Pioneer equipment includes an SX-727 receiver, SA-9500 integrated amp, CT-F9191 cassette deck and RT-1020L reel to reel tape deck.
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