Sunday, May 1, 2011

1957 times 20.

Yesterday, I concluded a deal on a new BMW. It was a long time coming, since I always feel it's necessary to do extensive research on any major purchase, specifically cars. So this wasn't an easy decision. But once I had the research finished and weighed all the options, the BMW won handily over the noble competitors. That activity reminded me of a a previous purchase.

It was 1958 when my family went to the Ford dealership to buy a new car. At that time, our family car was an old blue Nash. Everything was going out of it, including the brakes. So it was time. But it wasn't a quick decision.

My father was a subscriber to Mechanix Illustrated and he was a faithful reader of Tom McCahill, MI's auto guru and reviewer. There were a lot of cars my father could pick from, but his research had led him to the 1958 Ford Fairlane. I remember quite well that the radio (AM only in those days) was an option, and the my dad paid an additional $90 for the heater. At least that's the figure that's stuck in my head. If I remember correctly, the whole transaction amounted to less than $2,500.

Now, let's put that into perspective with what's happened since then. The '58 Fairlane had a new technology at that time—windshield washers. I thought that was the niftiest thing ever invented. You just turned them on and they squirted water on your windshield. Fifty-three years later, the 2011 BMW has rain-sensing wipers. You don't even have to turn them on! They know what to do without your help. But it all comes with a price which is about 20 times what the Ford sold for. Of course, there are those who would argue that we're comparing a car that is inherently higher priced than the Ford. Quite true, but in 1958, the Ford was equally higher priced than the VW, so we may be comparing apples to apples after all.

That multiplicity in the price of cars seems significant, but it is not really so much out of line if we compare it to other items. For example, my parents purchased our family home, brand new, for $11,000 in 1957. My wife and I downsized eight years ago and moved into a smaller home. The cost was $220,000, which is 20 times the price my father paid. So we've got the same multiplier in real estate. Candy bars are the same. Hershey bars were a nickel in 1958, and they're about a buck today. Twenty times the price.

On a closely-related subject, i.e, the price of gasoline, we have a similar situation. In 1957 gasoline was around 20 cents per gallon. Twenty times that amount would put us at $4.00. Not far off from where we are today.

So there you have it. As Bob Dylan said, the times are a-changing. But they're actually remaining the same comparatively. Perhaps Einstein was right with that relativity idea. I'd love to read your comments.