In the February 1975 issue of Flying, I wrote a story comparing a new Bonanza with a used Baron of about the same value. Either a new Bonanza or a four- or five-year-old Baron rang in at just under $100,000 at that time. (A B55 Baron sold for about 65 percent more than a V35B Bonanza, new, in 1975.) Now the airplanes are 31 years older, the times are different, and Aircraft Bluebook shows a 1975 V35B Bonanza to have an average retail of $132,000 as compared with $135,000 for a B55 Baron of the same vintage. In other words, the price differential for airplanes of the same age has evaporated with time. A 1975 E55 Baron, with 285-hp engines instead of 260s, as in the B55, has an average retail of $155,00.
There are no two better airplanes to compare as a single or a twin. The Baron is truly a "twin" Bonanza, though a larger airplane, the Model 50, flew with that name. The first twin with a smaller body was the Travel Air, which was a Bonanza with the power provided by two four-cylinder engines of 180 hp each. Then came the Baron, the body of a Bonanza with two of the engines from the single, which, at that time, were 260s. Doubling the power is still done today with the new G36 Bonanzas and G58 Barons, both with longer fuselages than the Bonanzas and Barons of old that we are talking about here.
The V35 and the Baron 55 might be considered the ultimate personal airplanes, single or twin, your choice. Whereas the 36 and 58 have a "cabin" with its own door, the smaller airplanes are more like a car. They were both fitted with more than four seats in some iterations, but both airplanes are really four-seaters. They are airplanes that were built for pilots who like to take people along occasionally. That's true of the airplanes with longer fuselages, but the emphasis of those airplanes is also on the passengers and, especially in the case of the Baron, the air taxi operators who love the long-body airplanes.
When considering the 35/55 in the used market, there's a wide selection of age, condition and equipment. As they say in Vref, an aircraft value reference, "If it's low time or perfect, it will bring more. Rough, runout with a hodgepodge of radios will be less." Model 55 Barons, straight and A and B, were built from 1961 through 1982. The higher powered (285 hp) C, D and E55s were built from 1966 through 1982. V-tail Bonanzas with 285 hp were built from 1964 to 1982. The Bonanza G36 and Baron G58 are still in production with Garmin G1000 glass cockpits, including a complete flight control system. However, the price and age difference between old and new probably means that not a lot of potential buyers are thinking either old 55 or new 58.
I noted that prices of 1975 V35Bs and B55s are close to the same. On airplanes built prior to 1975 that remains pretty much true, but on the latest models (you can't really call a 24-year-old airplane a "late" model), the Baron sells at a higher price. According to Aircraft Bluebook, a 1982 B55 has an average retail of $199,000 compared with $175,000 for a V35B from that year. That last 1982 E55 brings a premium $228,000. The B55 Baron price is, incidentally and according to Vref, 77 percent of what it costs new, where the Bonanza is at 95 percent of its new price. So as far as retention of value goes, the single still wins.
As far as supply goes, there are 1,532 55s A and B on the FAA registry compared with 2,431 285-hp V-tails. There are also 745 C, D and E55 Barons registered.
Vref shows greater demand for the V-tail Bonanzas when compared with the Barons. They sell within six to seven months, while the Barons take eight to 10 months before they are sold at a discounted price. As an aside, the long-body Bonanzas and Barons are much more in demand and bring substantially more money.
With a relatively low price that is apparently hard to get because there is no strong demand, is the Baron 55 a pariah? Hardly. It is one fine piston-twin with great handling qualities and performance. Compared with the Bonanza, the Baron has greater payload, cruises faster, climbs better and, on average, probably flies in the used market with better equipment. Many of the Barons have radar and ice-protection equipment, while few of the Bonanzas have these items.
The Baron also has two alternators and vacuum pumps though these are still single electrical and vacuum systems. They just have two power sources. There are systems available for standby power on the Bonanza.
Most of the Baron's attributes stem from the fact that the B55 flies with a total of 520 horsepower, while the V35B Bonanza goes along with 285. The fact that the Baron's power is provided by two engines is the primary reason its purchase price in the used market is a bargain in relation to the Bonanza. What used to be considered a major asset has become somewhat of a liability.
For years everyone thought twins were "safer" than singles. That included the insurance underwriters who sought out twins to insure and gave them lower rates than singles. Then, one fine day, the underwriters looked at the subject in depth and learned that twins had a bad accident history. The result became a reluctance on their part to insure twins without fairly rigorous experience and training requirements.
The "twin" part is important. Every year we lose a number of twins in accidents that would not have happened if the pilot had straightened up and flown right. In fact, when you look at the twin accidents where control was lost after an engine failure, in almost every case you have to think: "Why did he do that?" It is usually just a lousy job of flying. So, the insurance underwriters have every justification for training requirements for twins. While the training is going on, IFR procedures can be checked because they, too, are a big factor.
It is, today, hard for a pilot to work up through airplanes the way it used to be done: Learn in a Beech Sport, make the retractable move to a Sierra. Then get a Bonanza, and finally step up to a twin, first a Baron and then a King Air. The reason it is hard to do this is because of two insurance stumbling blocks, the retractable and the twin.