Guest Blogger Ken
Hello, CEP listeners and the followers of these blogs. I have asked to write a guest post to address the issues raised by Nick and Andrew in the previous posts. In specific, I would like slip into my cardigan and sneakers and provide some thoughts that might calm their concerns about the future of car culture and their chosen canary in a coal mine, car shows.
My take on car shows differs from theirs in some significant ways. Being older, I feel comfortable stating that there are more car shows than previously, not less. They may be smaller and deal with more specific types of vehicles, but it’s possible to go to organized shows or gatherings on almost any weekend when the weather is good. Last weekend I saw a collection of Hudsons that would have been an extremely rare sight previously. I was not planning on seeing them, but I have run into, at this same hotel, without planning on it, a gathering of classic Fords and a gathering of BMW motorcycles that looked like they escaped from a museum. There are several reasons for this increase in these events. Not only has the increase in wealth and free time given many more people the means and time to engage in their passion for cars, but the value of the cars is also increasing, making them more desirable. The more commonplace shows that NIck and Andrew are describing are a reflection of the democratization of the hobby. And, yes, that means that the cars may be less interesting. To me. To Andrew. Perhaps, reader, to you. But not to the people who are so excited about their cars that they will bring them out to a parking lot or county park or a hotel far from home just to show them to others.
Andrew is not wrong. All of the stereotypes he discusses are quite apparent at these types of shows. But why is that an indication that car culture is dying? People so excited about their cars that they want to show them off? A person that spends hundreds of hours restoring a car is an indication passion, in my opinion. I have gone to dozens of these shows, old cars with their proud owners, little signs stuck to windshields or on little stands in front of the car and a poster board detailing the history of the car or the steps taken to restore it. And yes, they are usually old cars and also, usually, old men telling the stories of those cars, discussing the cars with other old people that remember them. That’s because you don’t have to go to a show to see a new car. They’re everywhere. Car shows are, often, populated by older people desiring to get a glimpse of something from their youth. I was taken to my first non-major auto show by my father-in-law to see his cars: 1920’s and ‘30’s Packards, Duesenbergs and the like. This was a much higher level show than I’ve been discussing. It was a juried concourse on the grounds of Allstate Insurance and some of the cars were brilliant. But the interest in these cars, although still significant, has started to fade. Cars from the 50’s and 60’s are now commanding the attention at these high end shows as the generation of depression era young men gives way to a generation of post World War 2 young men.
So, do I believe that the “circle of life” will continue? Will the generation that contains the CEP podcast hosts someday go to a show, big or small, to see cars from their youth? Will anyone sit in a lawn chair next to their meticulously cared for or restored Veloster, STI or C7 and turn their heads? I can’t guarantee it. Although every generation tends to turn against the orthodoxy of the previous generation, It seems to me that my children’s generation hasn’t just turned against the perceived “dad’s car” but cars in general. I could not believe how reluctant the kids were to GET THEIR DRIVER’S LICENSES! (OK, boys. I’m willing to show may age and admit that, in my generation girls were, for the most part, left out of car culture). We were tripping over ourselves to get our licenses. No details, but I literally blackmailed my parents into letting me get my license. I initially thought that I had personally failed as a father because my son did not seem to be in any hurry to get his license until I realized that 99% of his friends weren’t getting theirs either. My explanation was that by so demonizing the automobile, rightly so in many ways, there is an entire generation that has rejected cars as a general category.
But, am I correct? Perhaps not. There have been periods in history before where the enthusiasm for and the desirability of cars has faded. The Great Depression killed numerous brands, particularly high end and niche brands, and the following war completely froze the industry for a decade. But the revival afterwards created many truly iconic cars, not only in the US, but around the world. A couple of decades later concerns about the availability of oil and air quality in cities created another generation (mine) that was concerned that the automobile would disappear or be replaced by mundane appliances that would leave us with nothing to be enthusiastic about. In both cases, the industry reacted (eventually) by creating amazing products that are now cars that are showing up in shows. Will it happen again? Let’s face it, “enthusiasts” in the car world have always been in the minority. Most adults just get in their mundane transit options and rarely care much beyond getting from point A to point B. We, in the enthusiast community grumble about why we don’t have more exciting options but car companies exist to make money. But by of small groups of engineers, managers or marketing people, either by design or accident, the companies always seem to come up with cars that are amazing. I hold out hope that where there are amazing cars, there will be enthusiastic owners and admirers.
Is “car culture” dying? Certainly. Just like the car culture surrounding side valve engines, brass kerosene headlights and the debate between 3 speed manuals and 2 speed automatics. As the generations pass, the car culture will change to accommodate the interests and technology of the car fans. 30 years from now, no doubt, there will be a car culture around early Tesla, Prius and other early electrics. And grumpy, pre-electric fans will be the ones that are being ridiculed for wasting their time at shows of cars that are of no interest to the new generation. So it goes. The world turns and we either adapt or continue in our ways. But I feel confident that kids like the ones running the Check Engine Podcast will carry on.