One evening last fall, a man in Marble Falls, Texas, listed a 1989 Ford F-250 for sale on Craigslist. Not so long ago, a brick-nosed boxer pickup might have caught the attention of a construction worker or roofer looking for a cheap work truck. Even for Ford fans, the truck was nothing special. “They’ve always been less desirable, because they have this ugly front end. It’s just a cool ’80s, but I dig it,” Stephen Bellick, a 39-year-old filmmaker and vintage truck lover, told me. s.M. On Saturday, for $2,300 – almost double what it would have sold just a few years ago, almost. Bellek collected the coins and appeared at the listed address at six o’clock the next morning. The seller handed over packages of hundreds without bothering to take the truck for a test drive. By the time the deal was done, six interested buyers—many of them “the Austin-lovers type,” Bellick said—were there, staring at him. “I’m the bad guy because I got there first. But that’s how cruel it is,” he said. “It’s a lot like Austin real estate.”
Bellick grew up in Austin. In high school, he drove a late-model Nissan two-seater with a subwoofer in the trunk, and dreamed of escaping to somewhere really going. “Austin felt like a humble town,” he said. “Maybe it was Amarillo.” When he was living in New York, in the mid-2000s, everyone dressed like a lumberjack from the Pacific Northwest, and he felt like an eccentric in the shoes of Roper Wranglers. He returned to Texas in 2009, and worked building a small hotel for a few years. His boss drove a short-bed Ford F-150 in the early 1990s. “Everyone who worked under him, the first thing we did was try to find a truck like John, because he was the coolest guy,” Bellick said. On Craigslist he spotted a 1991 F-150, which he bought from a stonemason for $1,200. “You never let me down,” he said proudly. “Well, it did, eventually.” Keep searching online for cheap trucks. He and his father bonded them together—the first step was usually peeling off the NRA bumper stickers—and selling them enough to warrant buying another couple.
Meanwhile, his hometown quickly became below average. Between 2010 and 2020, Austin and its suburbs gained more than half a million new residents, making it the fastest growing large city in the country. Many of the newcomers work for technology companies that have opened satellite headquarters or campuses in the city, including Google, Facebook, Apple and Tesla. The influx escalated during the coronavirus pandemic, when the median home price in the city rose $100,000 in twelve months. “Now it feels like the link of everything,” Bilyk told me—and his denim-and-shoe aesthetic was suddenly, and uncomfortably, in fashion. Truck flipping has become a lucrative business — buying a car for a few thousand dollars in a small town on the outskirts of Austin, then driving it into town and unloading it two or three times. “People move out of L.A., and the first thing they do is they go to Maufrais and get Stetson, and they go to Tecovas and they get shoes,” Bellick told me. “Then they started searching Craigslist for a truck. They can afford more than most of us can afford.”
While Austin is deeply felt, the hunger for beautiful old trucks is a national phenomenon. Old truck prices have risen more than fifty percent in the past four years, twenty percent more than the vintage car market as a whole, according to data from collectible auto insurer Hagerty. The trend was evident long before the current shortage of microchips was driving up used car prices. Blake Quinn, who travels between Austin, Phoenix and Los Angeles, selling imported Mercedes-Benz G classic cars, told me: “Everyone wants to be a cowboy, right?”
The cowboy dream created a thriving market in stature. In 2008, you can buy a 1970 Ford Bronco for about twelve thousand dollars; Since then, the price has increased more than sevenfold, while high-quality Broncos products of the 1970s sell for more than two hundred thousand dollars. Classic car auction house Barrett-Jackson hosted its first Texas sale this fall, in Houston, where a 1956 Ford F-100 sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars, and several other pickup trucks sold for six-figure sums, including the Chevrolet K10. 1972, Ford 1968 F-100, and 1956 Chevrolet 3100.
Randy Nonnenberg co-founded Bring a Trailer, an online marketplace for collectible vehicles, in 2007. “There’s been a huge increase in the enthusiasm about these vehicles, and the vision around these vehicles,” he told me. In mid-November, he visited Austin. “It was eighty-two degrees and a brown CJ-7 Laredo was passing by, and the top was scattered,” he said. “The hotel I was in had a scout parked in front of it. There was a cafe there and people were standing in vintage Toyotas. It’s just everywhere.”
Trucks and SUVs became ubiquitous during the 1990s, the formative years of millennials and Gen X-ers, the age groups driving the trucking boom. And if an Italian sports car reminds of a baby boy in the midst of a midlife crisis, a thirty-year-old Land Rover or Chevy Blazer suggests a different kind of escape: road trips, national parks, off-road adventures. “Those younger enthusiasts want it Act It’s also still much cheaper to buy a Bronco as your condition vehicle than a Ferrari.
Ferrari, of course, is an engineering marvel in a way that the F-150, despite its utilitarian charm, is not. “I’m not a car guy in a sense, like the people in them are for the love of internal combustion,” Quinn told me. “I am not an auto mechanic. To me, it is more about aesthetics and romance than actual knowledge of how a machine works. Why invest my time becoming an internal combustion engine expert when they are out of business in ten years?”
In Austin, as in the Bay Area, Nunnenberg tells me that tech workers make up a large percentage of buyers. “People are spending a whole bunch of money to buy a 1964 Ford pickup truck, which is very primitive in its construction, design and capability,” he said, and would joke about spending a fortune on what amounted to a tractor. “But, frankly, I think the extreme analog nature is attractive to people who sit in front of a screen all day.”
Fans of vintage trucks I spoke with tended to agree that cars became considerably less attractive in the 1990s, a time when manufacturers adopted more standards and automation to reduce costs and meet new safety guidelines. Designs became more general; The systems were computerized. Today’s cars are safer, more efficient, and more comfortable than the cars of thirty years ago – and enthusiasts argue that they are less emotional. The more our lives are handed over to the rounded corners and elegant efficiency of the digital aesthetic, the more we seem to favor unstable, choppy, and inept things.
Romance between vintage trucks and SUVs thrives on Instagram, where filters give everything the kind of patina that an old truck honestly comes with. It was no surprise that influencers bought into the trend; Scroll through the hashtags #roadtrippin or #campvibes and you’ll come across photos of International Scouts in prairies or on cliff edges. This is the new life of an old truck – it’s still business after fashion, but instead of manual labor, the business is content creation.
One afternoon, Bellick took me for a drive on his latest purchase, a 1990 Dodge D250 that was originally owned by artist Donald Judd. (The glove box still contained papers from a sales agent in Midland, filled with Judd’s slightly confusing streak.) The truck had a broken odometer and a warm, sunny trim, gleaned from years of sitting in the West Texas sun. The truck was undoubtedly analog, with a noisy engine and a broken radio. Bielik fiddled with the knobs, frowning: “Put that on the to-do list, I think.” We wandered the back roads of Texas Hill Country while Bellick researched potential projects. When we passed a bump, the radio came back to life. “Here you are,” said Bilyk, smiling.
Despite the abundance of buyers, there are still plenty of potential customers sitting in weed yards and cobbled walks, waiting for someone to give them love. “You try to buy it and the guy always says, ‘I’m working on it, I’m about to put a new engine in it,'” said Bielek. “We slowed down to admire the square brass body of the mid-’80s GMC Sierra Grande, the hood stained with rust. It’s priced at fifteen thousand. Bellick also saw potential in a nondescript red GMC 1500—”it has a certain modular appeal,” he said—and Eddie Bauer’s forest green Bronco Edition. “Nobody wanted a ’90s Bronco, because that was in the newspaper,” he said. Official.” “But you get prices for the coolest thing in the world, so you have to lean on the next coolest thing.”