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By August 22, 2014 1 Comment Read More →

Get ready for the aftershocks: Pebble Beach signals generational shift for classic car community

The new 'face' of classic cars? 1972 Nissan Skyliner GT-R | Masuda Kazuhisa photo for RM

The new ‘face’ of classic cars? 1972 Nissan Skyliner GT-R | Masuda Kazuhisa photo for RM

Scientists didn’t report any earthquakes last week on the Monterey Peninsula, but a tectonic shift took place and the aftershocks will reverberate throughout the classic car community for the foreseeable future.

The obvious evidence came Sunday when those oh-so-proper, every-nut-and-bolt-must-be-factory-original judges at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance awarded best-in-show accolades to a car built — wait for it — after the conclusion of World War II.

O.K., some people are making a big deal of the fact that car was a Ferrari, the first product of the Prancing Horse so honored at Pebble Beach. But more significant than the marque is the vintage. Not since 1968 had a car built after 1938 been selected for what is considered the highest accolade available to a vehicle considered to be collectible.

Still, the winning Ferrari is 60 years old. Hey, that makes the winning 375 MM by Scaglietti a baby boomer, just like so many classic car enthusiasts. Seems about time that a car from the post-war generation finally wins at Pebble Beach.

And this figures just to be the start. Now that the Pebble Beach judges have conferred such acclaim, look for the folks wearing sports coats and straw hats at a concours near you to follow suit and so honor other post-war sports cars or — no, this could never happen (or could it?) — a beautiful ’57 Bel Air, a stunning Split Window Corvette or perhaps even a pristine Pontiac GTO.

We all may have been stunned by what happened Sunday afternoon on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach, but perhaps had we been paying attention just a few days earlier, we might have been prepared for such a surprise. It was just last Thursday that those harbingers from Hagerty Insurance noted that we’re on the cusp of change in the classic car community with a seminar entitled: The Generational Shift in Car Collecting.

At least two of the statements I heard during the 90-minute panel discussion stick with me:

  1. Just as baby boomers nervously covet the Porsche 550 Spyder because of James Dean’s death at the wheel, so the next generation of car collectors find the same fearful appeal in the Porsche Carrera GT because of the death of latter-day pop-culture star Paul Walker.
  2. Speaking of Walker, those people just now becoming old enough to apply for their driver’s licenses have no memory of a world without the Fast & Furious movie series that made Walker famous.

But don’t think that means the next generation of car collectors is interested only in computer-tuned and neon-colored imports with huge wings and big coffee can exhausts.

1966 Lincoln Continental | Auctions America photo

1966 Lincoln Continental | Auctions America photo

The Hagerty panel discussing the car collecting world’s generational shift featured three golden oldies — Dave Kinney, Rob Sass and Donald Osborne — but also three real, live, next-gen car enthusiasts — Ezekiel Wheeler, the Art Center-educated editor of Automotive Styles; Dan Stoner, founder of Autocult and now director of new marketing for Hemmings; and Rory Carroll, executive editor of Autoweek or AutoWeek or AW or whatever my alma mater calls itself these days.

Cars of collecting interest to Wheeler, Stoner, Carroll and their ilk include such things as the Lincoln Continental (note that they’re talking about the 1960s version, as featured in the TV series Entourage), Dukes of Hazard-era Dodge Chargers, air-cooled Porsche 911s (and, it turns out, for the same reasons their generation is buying vinyl records), Toyota 2000GTs (O.K., so this one is sort of the grandfather of all those super-tuned imports), 1980s BMW M3s, first-generation Audi TTs, Nissan Skyline GT-R, and — believe it or not — not only things such as ’60s and ’70s Olds 88s but late ’70s Chevrolet Monte Carlos

Reasons for the popularity of such vehicles include pop-culture connections — Lincoln, Charger — and striking design available for very little money — 88, Monte Carlo.

And then there’s the fact that they’re analog vehicles, which appeals to a generation into vinyl, Burning Man, the Maker Movement and the resurgence in quality craftsmanship.

“Young people are impressed with people who have the wherewithal to take on a mechanical project and make it work,” said Carroll. “The old car thing really feeds into that. It’s a visual symbol of competence.”

Asked what doesn’t interest the next-generation car enthusiast, their answers included ’50s Thunderbirds and ’57 Chevys (though ’55 Chevys are considered cool), ’32 Ford hot rods, resto-mods or anything that’s been customized or personalized (unless they are totally ironic and therefore cool).

I’ve never seen a kid come away from an experience with an old car and not be floored by it.”

– Rory Carroll

 

However, none of this is set in stone. Just as Stoner noted in answering a question from the audience, “Milennials will spend money on an experience instead of things. Can that be translated into sitting in and driving a DeTomaso?

“Well, my friends and I like old speedboats with big-block V8s. It’s an experience and they’re cheap,” he said, adding: “But when they think of car culture, they think of commuter traffic.”

However, the key to changing minds and opening options could be as simple as taking your younger neighbor for a ride in your classic collector car, regardless of its vintage.

“Younger people tend to have a lot of debt and no disposable money,” said Carroll. “But I’ve never seen a kid come away from an experience with an old car and not be floored by it.”

larry-sig

(Want to read more about the psyche of next-gen car collectors, read this article written by Dan Stoner, What Generations X, Y and beyond will make of the old car hobby.)

 

Posted in: Commentary

About the Author:

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the Web and becoming the author of more than 15 books. In addition to be Editorial Director at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times, writes a weekly automotive feature for The Detroit News and is an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State Univeristy.

1 Comment on "Get ready for the aftershocks: Pebble Beach signals generational shift for classic car community"

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  1. Norman says:

    All this stuff is very nice, but please let me offer a bracing reality check: the “car culture” as we knew it is ending, as is mightily shown by the huge dropoff in applications for driving licenses AND the similar dropoffs in new owner registrations for 18-25 year olds. It doesn’t matter what economic condition our young people will be in come 20 years from now: their relationship with “cars” is vastly different from existing generations. I do not say any of this as criticism of them: they merely look at travel and transportation in a very different way than previous generations. Our ambition was to get a car, any car, but if lucky a nice one. A lot of that was a reach for status. Nowadays, that “status” is a handheld device.

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