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I’m not a car guy. It will probably come as a surprise that the vehicle I’ve spent the most time researching over the last decade is an obscure limited-production coupe that retailed for around $30,000 back in 2008. Not exactly the prototype for a car worthy of a childhood bedroom poster and I’m surprised to see that Matchbox bothered to produce a die-cast model.
I’m speaking about the 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe. Since this production run coincided with GM’s demise, there were only 1266 of the cars produced. What would otherwise be a footnote in the kind-of-embarrassing story of American automakers is actually a highlight. The car was gorgeous with lines that were ahead of its time, the GXP model performed well, and thanks to the GM Kappa Platform, there are still thousands of similar cars on the road along with a dedicated enthusiast community. Chiefly over at the Pontiac Solstice forums.
Our Pontiac Solstice Coupe
My connection to this car is that my father purchased one all the way back in 2008. As far as I know, this was the most expensive purchase he had ever made and this car meant a lot to him. No cynicism on my end either, the car was seriously cool and, as the years ticked by, it got just as much attention as the day he bought it. My father would often go to car shows and be overwhelmed by the amount of attention that the car received.
Fairly quickly we realized that the coupe was produced in very limited numbers. So the adage goes–cars aren’t good investments. Maybe, just maybe, this unintentional scarcity coupled with the car’s dashing good looks meant that there was some value in turning it into a garage queen.
Regardless, cars that attract attention also attract negative attention. We lived in a so-so neighborhood with the only driveway on the street. Weeks into owning the car, my dad watched a neighborhood kid spit on the car as he walked by. You really can’t make this up. Into the garage it went.
The idea that the car was an investment took hold and the car was only brought out for special occasions and car shows. The former case made no sense as then whoever was driving the car would be gripped by a sense of anxiety and dread. What if that spiffy dress shoe slipped off the brake? What would an accident do to the value of the car? Personally, I drove the car four times. Once when I red-lined it down Suscon Road and had the car completely airborne at one point. The rest of the time spent behind the wheel was during semi-formals and proms for the back half of my high school career. Driving the car was the highlight of those nights.
With only about 6000 miles on the car, we decided to sell it during the summer of 2021. That experience and my thoughts on that process comprise the rest of this blog post.
Taking Inventory of Solstice Coupe Sales
The first step here was price discovery. This was a process I had been preparing myself for for years. Whenever you want to sell something, you probably want to see what else is out there. I work in trading so this tendency is innate but a surprising amount of people out there, especially in the car world, seem to make a hobby of just pulling numbers out of thin air. That wasn’t my approach.
The first place you’d probably want to check is the Kelley Blue Book. There’s only good news here. The suggested KBB prices for the Pontiac Solstice coupe don’t take into account its scarcity and it is easy to verify that completed sale prices can be as high as 2-3x the KBB estimate.
The suggested KBB prices for the Pontiac Solstice coupe don’t take into account its scarcity and it is easy to verify that completed sale prices can be as high as 2-3x the KBB estimate.
Cutting to the chase, the private party sale price for an excellent coupe is $9,500 – $11,500, but we sold for effectively double that price to a dealer. It is safe to say that the KBB is useless when dealing with coupes, but is probably right on when it comes to convertibles. The total Pontiac Solstice production output exceeded 65,000 cars.
To do actual price research, you have to check out more obscure places on the internet. Chief among them will be the Looking For a Coupe Now? thread where nearly every listed sale is compiled and commented on. From here, it will take a significant amount of work to determine the time each coupe spends on the market, what the market factors are, and what prices the coupes actually sell for. Often, negotiations won’t be made public even if listings are marked as completed.
Just because there are 5 GXPs for sale for $30,000 doesn’t mean that you can easily sell your GXP for $30,000. The coupes are so rare that there has been an effort made to account for all of them. This is a great resource when it comes to understanding mileage, trying to contact other owners, or getting an idea of the market.
Beyond this, you can also check completed sales on eBay, FB Marketplace, and various automotive websites. The issue is that most of these results are scrubbed at regular intervals. It’s very hard to plot a graph of how prices have changed over the years unless you run your own web scrapers or have inside info on every sale.
I’m sure at least one person reading this article just wants to know how to list the car. I think that the range for low-mileage non-GXP coupes is $18,000 – $23,000 while the range for the more fully loaded GXP coupes with low mileage is a bit wider at $22,000 – $30,000.
The Actual Selling Process
One of the most amusing articles written about the value of the coupe was penned by Doug Demuro. It’s a 2017 Autotrader column where he is asked: Will the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky Be Future Collectibles?
With that said, let’s not delude ourselves here. The Solstice Coupe is not going to someday be worth big money. The Solstice Coupe will forever be looked at as the odd, rare stepchild to the regular Solstice, and it won’t be worth dramatically more than a standard model, no matter how much the people on the Solstice Coupe Forums obsess over the fact that they have one of just 26 cars with a certain exterior color, interior color, transmission, engine and cigarette lighter design. It just isn’t special enough.
The answer is, essentially, no. However, it’s well known especially in enthusiast communities that beloved cars fetch outsized resale values. How appropriate, then, that Doug himself now runs an enthusiast car auction site: Cars & Bids. Our Pontiac Solstice coupe was the first coupe to ever be listed on the site!
Doug’s Take on the car meant a lot to my father. I found it to be really neat, too. I occasionally watch his videos on YouTube and his excitement for the world of cars is just genuine enough to lure someone like me in. It’s impossible not to like the guy. It’s also interesting that he wasn’t afraid to set the record straight just 4 years ago and that most of what he had to say back then was somehow fully congruent with the praise he heaped upon our listing.
All said and done, the auction was a bust. We didn’t meet our reserve price (which was approved by C&B staff). You can plainly see the result of that. I was stuck doing all of the legwork in the 11th hour, working the phones and calling dealers who I knew would take the car at a firesale price. Getting into the mid-20s was a pipe dream. Now, some people suggested that I shot myself in the foot by listing on Cars & Bids compared to Bring a Trailer or something similar, but in the end we just wanted to get rid of the car. Truly–investment be damned.
My Take on The Pontiac Solstice Coupe as an Investment
What’s fascinating about this car is that it does not follow a normal depreciation schedule. In fact, based on anecdotes that I’ve seen online, there might even be an opportunity to buy the car, drive it, and then sell it for what you paid after you put on a few thousand miles. There are definitely classes of condition and such, but the one thing I kept noticing is that there’s really no difference between 11,000 and, say, 17,000 miles to most people buying coupes in this space. Granted, you could apply this same logic to many used Toyota’s in today’s market. As Doug said all those years ago, this car isn’t special enough.
Is there any chance that that coupe your father has in his garage is going to be worth more than 2008 MSRP when adjusted for inflation? Absolutely not. $30,000 in 2008 is like $38,5000 today and that’s with official inflation numbers. The most desirable fully-optioned GXP coupes were probably scratching $34,000 back then. You take into account the fixed costs that come with owning a car, even one you aren’t driving, and it’s almost guaranteed that all original owners will be selling the cars for a sizeable loss.
Based on the data I have compiled over the years, there has never been a Pontiac Solstice Coupe sold for a premium over MSRP accounting for inflation.
Of course, in the world of eccentric car guys, I’m sure some 0-mileage museum-quality coupes will sell well into the $30s. With inflation the way it is and eccentric millionaires mostly having moved on from obscure gasoline-powered cars, I don’t think it’s a winning proposal. I think that a lot of children and wives are getting tired of their retirement-aged fathers and husbands talking about this rare car, because there have been a lot of them on the market since summer 2020.
Overall, it’s a beautiful car that met an unfortunately premature ending. If you’re lucky enough to own one, drive it!
An Update Following the Historic 3/29/22 Sale:
This morning, an untitled Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe sold for $57,000 on Bring a Trailer. Again: an untitled Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe sold for $57,000 on Bring a Trailer. This sale crushed the previous record of $45,250 from 2019. And–to be honest–I completely missed this previous record when I first wrote this article. There was also a February 2022 sale of a titled car for the same price: $45,250.
These sales are still major outliers. Here’s the BaT price history, which I did not consult when I first wrote this article (though, the prices for completed auctions for titled cars track almost exactly with the ranges I provided, aside from the very-recent $45,250 sale): https://bringatrailer.com/pontiac/solstice-saturn-sky/.
There will surely be at least one article written about this historic sale published on a major enthusiast site. This sets a standard for high-end “museum quality” sales and should provide a bump to all coupe sales from this point forward. It’s exciting; it’s good news. There were a number of fierce bidders who participated in this auction suggesting the market for these cars is probably a bit beyond the gloomy projection I provided above.
While I’m genuinely happy for all parties involved, I fall back on the opportunity cost guidance. An untitled car provides no utility at all and undoubtedly takes up time and space when stored and maintained for 13+ years. A $30,000 sale price adjusted for 2022 inflation is equivalent to $40,000. If you consider the actual settled price of the car, listing fees, and then paying taxes since you realized a gain on an asset, even the sale back in 2019 would have been at an absolute loss.
When considering the stock market performance since 2008, obviously, anything that wasn’t an equity seems like a bad investment. The S&P 500 has 2-5x’d depending on what point in 2008 you compare against. During that same period, Pontiac Solstice Coupes didn’t necessarily appreciate on any reliable pattern. Data is too scarce. We can estimate the rate of return on untitled cars at 7-7.5% with the simple logic that it appreciated by roughly $27,000 over 12-13 years. However, the 2019 sale realized only $15,250 over the hypothetical original price of $30,000, which is more like 5% annually. That’s comparatively crappy. As I learn more about collectible markets, it becomes more clear that these items follow staggered and, at times, totally bizarre, appreciation schedules. There is nothing reliable or smooth about them.
Again, thanks for reading!