There is no doubt the car hobby is evolving because it’s been evolving since the day a guy bolted an Olds straight 6-cylinder into a stripped-down, fenderless Model T and found out he went a lot faster than his Model T brethren.
Call it Darwin’s natural selection with an automotive flair.
That was 100 years ago so where is the hobby headed in 2019?
The elephant in the room is found in the demographics because the car hobby really took flight under the Baby Boomer’s watch. They had the nostalgia—and more importantly—the cash to profoundly affect the car hobby. That’s why the million-dollar Hemi ‘cudas became a fact of life on the auction block.
Unfortunately the Baby Boomer generation is shrinking and the evidence is found in estate sales. If you’re immersed in the car hobby you’re going to a lot of funerals and you’re seeing a lot of beloved cars listed for sale by widows with less enthusiasm for the classics and more enthusiasm for the equity they represent.
That’s a fact of life but the upside is many of these car guys left more than a ’57 Chevy as a legacy. They also leave a deep enthusiasm for the car culture and it’s often passed down more than one generation. I’ve met hundreds of proud grandparents who have one (or more) grandson or granddaughter in tow at a car show.
These kids are heavily invested in the hobby before they’re even old enough for grade school. Also, a number of these lucky grandchildren are named in the will for Grandpa’s beloved old Mopar.
The next generation of car guys will go down their own paths. They’re going to lean more into vintage Japanese and European and they’re going to embrace technology.
Surprisingly enough, new tech is even making a big impact with older car guys so you’re seeing classic muscle cars with disc brakes all around, state of the art suspension , fuel injection, overdrive and yes—air conditioning.
This new tech stuff will be a big factor with old iron because the next generation may love the look of an old truck but they’re not going to love three-on-the-tree manual transmissions, manual steering and tractor-like handling. In other words, they’ll embrace the cool factor but that old truck better handle like a Subaru.
Legislation is probably the biggest minefield for the hobby because we’re always at the mercy of politicians who are driven by votes, not common sense. For example, you might see a day where you’ll see laws that will essentially outlaw carbureted vehicles because they pump out too many greenhouse gasses.
There’s only one side a politician will take on this issue—the side that gets him or her elected. A strong, well-funded lobby group could kill a vintage Vette faster than a gas fire. Lobby groups have killed national oil pipelines in Canada so a ‘kill the carburetor’ lobby would be a light workout for them.
Other minefields are always there—like retro safety laws. If an old Studebaker is involved in a fatality and a motivated, ambulance-chasing lawyer gets involved you might see a court case that could rock the hobby—and eliminate old iron from most roads.
Never underestimate the power of a shark-like lawyer; a sensational case; media taking a side on the issue and a highly-motivated, opportunistic group of legislators. Fortunately there are well-organized groups on the good guy’s side of the issue so for now the hobby has a wing over it but—like the culture itself—the next generation has to pick up the torch.
Will it happen? There’s no way to really know but if car shows are a barometer, there’s definitely hope for the future.
By: Jerry Sutherland
Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.
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