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Then and now...

I recently took my granddaughter to McDonalds for an after school snack. As we were enjoying our french fries and cokes, I mentioned that a McDonald hamburger only cost 15 cents when I was first dating her grandmother. I then added that a fountain coke was only 10 cents so you could get the whole meal for just a quarter. My granddaughter was surprised and thought it was cool that things were so inexpensive in my youth. I then mentioned that my comparison had neglected to mention something called inflation.

My granddaughter says that I am good at giving long answers to short questions and I used this opportunity to explain inflation and how today a McDonald's hamburger costing 89 cents was about the same amount of money as the 1965 15 cents hamburger.

Later that evening I thought how we all like to think about the good old days when life was simpler and a McDonald hamburger cost only 15 cents. These long-passed days of our youth often occupy a special place in our memories as the best days, not because they were actually better, but simply because they were simpler.

When we are engaged in comparing the then and now across forty-plus years, we tend to remember the past in the context of today without adjusting for things like inflation. I then considered my favorite subject of cars and wondered about what type of car I could buy today for the money I spent in 1965.

In the 1960s, I dreamed about owning cars that were always out of reach. I first wanted a Corvette. Then in 1962, my girlfriend loved the new Jaguar XK-150 and I agreed with her as long as the color would be British racing green. When it came time to buy our first car, we wanted one that would be sporty, fun, different, and affordable. We bought a 1965 Corvair Corsa Turbo and headed out in life still wanting something else but greatly enjoying what we had.

I don’t have the specifics of what our 1965 Corsa cost so I will use the information I have on a similar 1966 Corsa. A 1966 Chevrolet Corsa Turbo would carry a list price of $3,190.80 as you can see from this window sticker replica. For this money, you got a car that looked great, handled exceptionally well, and was reasonably quick especially at highway passing speeds once the turbo spun up. I have one of these cars today in my collection and find it remarkably modern in its looks and agile and supple in its handling. It is a fabulous car.

Let’s see what the equivalent money gets us today. Using an inflation calculator, the Corsa’s $3,190.80 price equates to about $18,693.44 in 2005 dollars. I took this amount and went shopping online. I was using the same criteria that I used in 1965. I wanted something sporty, fun, different and affordable. I picked a 2006 Mini Cooper.

A 2006 Mini Cooper Hatchback has a list price of $18,000. I added front fog lights and the stability control to get a total of $18,650, which is remarkably close to the 1966 price of the Corvair Corsa in today’s dollars. For this money, you reap the benefits of forty years of automotive technology improvements and get a quick car with air conditioning, air bags, advanced stability control, ABS brakes, excellent fuel economy, and go-kart reflexes.

Is the 2006 Mini Cooper a better car than the 1966 Corvair Turbo Corsa? My wife would say say heck yes because she drives one and loves it. I would beg the question by answering that I shouldn't compare cars that are forty years apart in technology. I can say that both cars meet my original purchasing criteria. They are sporty, fun, different, and affordable.