Sunday, May 15, 2016

Will the Classic Car Craze Fade Away With the Baby Boomer Generation?

Will the Classic Car Craze Fade Away With the Baby Boomer Generation?
-Alan Arnell

The topic of the future of the car hobby usually comes up when ever car guys get together.   The type of guys who just like to open the door to their garage to just look lovingly at their car/s, muse over what they fear will happen in a few years.  Many believe that the over time the most desirable collector cars will become available as Baby Boomers leave the hobby either by their own decision or because their time has ended.  The booming sales at the Mecum Auctions have  pointed out to those who will listen as an tell tail sign. Even the casual viewer of the TV auction show notices that entire collections are on the block with increasing numbers..

Still, many believe it is a little early for the boomers (oldest group is 71, younger ones are about to reach 55) to be checking out of the auto hobby in mass. Give it ten more years for the post war babies, and 20 more for the late 1950's and 1960's kids.  Of course, some baby boomers are dying, and so are some 13 year olds and 22 year olds. But as of today Baby Boomers are still hanging in there.  The generation that is sadly coming to an end are great people born in the 1920's, and working on the 1930's.

Baby boomers are people born during the demographic post–World War II baby boom approximately between the years 1946 and 1964. This includes people who are between 52 and 70 years old in 2016. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the term "baby boomer" is also used in a cultural context.

It is quite evident that in this part of the 21st century that the average car collector is a part of an older demographic. People select a car they have some attachment to when they collect. Tri-Five Chevys for example are from the late 50s. They appeal to people from that time up until the mid 60s. One would think that at least the crash of the collector cars still left should not happen for another 30 years or so before the loss of people that have had first hand memories of Tri-Five Chevys as contemporary cars.

Invariably in a discussing the fate of the classic cars someone will ask the group how the present car guys could activate a young audience.  There is always that guy that will chime in with something to the effect of, “Tell ’em to go buy a used car and start working on it, like I did.” That brief exchange speaks volumes about the collector car industry right now: There are no cheap cars available to the common youth to work on and today’s cars more than likely would benefit better from buying a computer than a ratchet to have the most effective tool for hot rodding.

Sixteen years into the 21st century everyone that plays or works within the collector car hobby can plainly see a  “graying of the hobby.” While gray hair is certainly nothing to be ashamed of as many of us chrome domes wish we had more of it to comb. None the less, as we slap on the Rogaine our minds invariably wander to what may happen to the classic car hobby if the younger generations are not drawn to the cars we love.  But why do so many worry about the passing of the torch and why does anyone really care? I wonder?  It can’t all be about the money, can it?


Psychologist write that a person’s hobbies may reflect their inner most desires, help them fulfill their unmet needs and make them feel special.  Some people start to collect stuff because they are too attached to the past. This usually happens with people who prefer their past over their present. The hobby of collecting stuff allows people to ease the insecurities that arise when good things get taken from them. It is as if they are locking their good memories in a cupboard in order to protect them from being taken away.  Whatever!  All people, without exception, have unmet needs however not all of them try to satisfy these unmet needs.  

But then, people who blame others, act like victims or have external losses of control are less likely to develop any hobbies even if they have certain important needs.  I’ll take that as a complement.  Us car guys must be pretty much together people to put so much time and effort to the hobby.

Getting back to bringing in new younger people into the car hobby.  Truth be told, it seems many of the old gray hairs only give our young souls out there little more than a passing glance.  Then they wonder why nobody stops by to pick up a wrench, or show interest in what might happen to the collection they’ve invested so much sweat and equity into after they’re gone.

If we want young or even additional members to join the car hobby, of course there is promotions and fun activities.  However, you might want to maybe pay them some attention if they show interest.  Get out of you clicks of people you know.  If you want young people involved, talk to them, invite them to a car show, help them work on their car they have, ect.  Interaction is the way to go.  The car hobby is so cool, who would not want to tag along to a classic car event.  

I was born near the end of the Baby Boomers dates of birth.   I am old enough to have children that are  23 and 28 years old.  I have daughters who really don’t like customized or old cars.  Now they would drive a sports car in a minute if they could afford one. So, by my inviting them to my car club events must have worked, maybe a little?

Many young men today are not into hot rodding cars as guys were in my age group.  The most I have seen out of them is driving a lowered Honda with the bolt-on muffler and chrome tip courtesy of the accessories aisle at Pep Boys.  But, then what choice do they have?  Don’t exclude or make fun of them because they are sake jockeys.  They are the future buying market for you when you long classic car ride is done.  Now if they are playing loud Rap music, well, I can’t defend that!

I want to Hear You Scream---Play Some Rap Music

The trend for the new kids and old kids these days is the “Youth Mode” generation: We don’t identify with what’s generally accepted as the standards of our actual age, as much as we identify with the cultural movements we value.

When my dad was 44, he was considered middle-aged  He was halfway through the mortgage on the house, had a few cars in the driveway and was just starting to think about what he was going to do in 20 years when he was ready to retire from the school district, that he had dedicated his life.

When I was 44, I was still wearing the same brand of sneakers I wore 20 years ago, which also happened to be the same shoe the kid down the street with the skateboard was wearing. We both wore them for the same cultural statement they made. That’s an example of living in Youth Mode: simultaneously respecting the responsibilities of middle-age and the energetic power of youth.

So, here we are at this crucial point in the collector car continuum: The originators are a quickly-diminishing group, and the newest members don’t seem to realize they’re losing a valuable resource and knowledge base. They are creating their own interpretation of what the Old Guys created for them so many years ago.

What does that look like in the real world? Well, it means that important, private car collections are being auctioned off instead of being passed to the next generations to privately curate. It also means that a beautiful tradition of the mastery of the mechanical world is quickly being lost. It means that kids find more value in experiences than pride of ownership.  They’re more inclined to use their smartphones to organize and attend a giant party at the beach then figure out how to buy and restore a classic car that could literally and figuratively become the vehicle for such a great experiences.

But I contend that all is not lost. I believe that car guys in the middle of the age spectrum need to  become the bridge between two ends of the collector car spectrum that, for a host of reasons, that don’t talk to each other.

It is not gonna be easy to get them both in the same room at the same time, but as the living bridge, it’s up to my generation to actively participate as storyteller, ambassador, cultural attachĂ©, archivist, creator, curator and mentor. In the future, will the last remaining Hispano-Suizas and Iso Grifos of the world be relegated to museums like FabergĂ© eggs?

One of the major defining aspects of a burgeoning Gen-X and Gen-Y-as-collectors movement is the practice of tying a car’s value directly to its representation of a cultural movement.

There’s a real renaissance right now among youth culture and it’s called “Maker.” You’ve probably heard the term. Chrysler is even used the reality to endear the valuable 20-something consumer base to their retooled 200 model in corporate TV spots.  Making things defines the term “Hack,” too.

Make or Hack, it really boils down to the central theme of modifying and/or building something to fit one’s personal tastes and values. And whether it’s website code, a motherboard, a can of paint and a bare wall, a vintage Puch moped, a pair of jeans, a Stromberg carburetor or a ’29 Model A roadster, the value for Gen-Xs and Gen-Ys comes in the experience those physical things help produce.

As long as we can foster their participation in the collector car world on their terms, the DNA of the industry's way of life will never be threatened.

If you are old enough and have been involved with collecting cars for decades you are undoubtedly concerned with many of the points made in this blog,  Everyone wishes to have a crystal ball to look into the future to know which cars will be of interest, will people sell off their car collection making the bottom fall out of the market.  No one wants to buy high then sell low!.

25 years ago the majority of the auctions and museums were classics, pre 40's cars.  If you were talking to a 40 year old in 1960 he was looking at a Model A.  If you were talking to a 50 year old in 1970 he was looking at a 57 Chevy.  If you were talking to a 60 year old in 1980 he was selling his car to pay the inflation price of 14% on houses.

Today there are valid concerns with the upcoming buyer’s attitude of not needing a car.  Many have the attitude that they will move to the city and instead of driving a car they plan to use mass transit. The baby boomer generation was an anomaly in the birth rate and the Millennials will be a large group as well.  But still, it is easy to understand that the the pool of new up and coming potential classic car buyers will get smaller in the future.  There maybe even be smaller numbers of new adults that can drive a car, let alone, know how to fix a car and even want one!  Today’s, school systems with core learning test are making little attempt to foster Career and Technical curriculum. Today, public schools are geared towards putting students on the college track and not the so called blue collar track.

Still, it is a proven fact that the future will belong to those that can fix things and those that can sell things!   The lack of training for repair people is a direct result of the fact that most consumers are not prompted to take stuff apart.  Marketing for reason of increased profits and convenience have made items we need  disposable.  There will still be mechanics and sales people.  Not everything, no matter how hard it is worked towards, will be able to be fixed with an smart phone.

Much of the emotional meaning of the car, especially to young adults, has transferred to the smartphone, says Mark Lizewskie, executive director of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, Pa. “Instead of Ford versus Chevy, it’s Apple versus Android, and instead of customizing their ride, they customize their phones with covers and apps,” he says. “You express yourself through your phone, whereas lately, cars have become more like appliances, with 100,000-mile warranties.”

It has been written, that it is fair to say, that the classic car industry itself will level off and maybe even slow down as the boomers die off, but that doesn't have to mean that all prices across the board are going to fall, it just means that  many companies involved in the collector business should be rightfully concerned about their growth coming to an end.  That concern will happen as the collector hobby is not for everyone.  Common sense dictates, that the growth potential for classic cars is limited. That runs contrary to the mindset of American business or corporate philosophy in that if you can't achieve constant growth, then the company is not successful. In that regard there will be slow down.

The auction houses and all the other industries that have emerged to support and profit from the the hobby will most certainly peak and begin to fall in the next 10 years. But that doesn't mean that a strong desire for these cars won't remain among those involved in the hobby. Now and in the future.

In fact some speculate, that it would be a good thing if the car investor bandwagon fell apart. Speculating on cars has become a weight that is both guiding and corrupting the classic car industry. The ideal of classic cars as investment tools unduly inflates car prices.  Many regret that the classic car hobby has now becoming an industry with portfolios, spread sheets and editorials. Making money threatens to ruin the purity of the hobby.  The purity of hot rodding should be about the people who love to preserve and enjoy classic cars, while hopefully making a few bucks in the process. If that means a correction is coming, then so be it, the sooner the better because when that happens the hobby and industry will come back to what it was before all the hoopla.

Since World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the economy and propelled recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.

Why are cars now being viewed a appliances?  Well, half of a typical family’s spending today goes to transportation and housing, according to the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the height of the housing bubble, residential construction and related activities accounted for more than a quarter of the economy in metro areas like Las Vegas and Orlando. Nation­wide, new-car and new-truck purchases hovered near historic highs. But Millennials have turned against both cars and houses in dramatic and historic fashion. Just as car sales have plummeted among their age cohort, the share of young people getting their first mortgage between 2009 and 2011 is half what it was just 10 years ago, according to a Federal Reserve study.

Needless to say, the Great Recession is responsible for some of the decline. But it is highly possible that a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors—from high gas prices, to re-­urbanization, to stagnating wages, to new technologies enabling a different kind of consumption—has fundamentally changed the game for Millennials. The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did—nor on the same things. Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world’s largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.

“As different generations age out, their cars do, too,” says dealer Lichty. “While the owners may die, the cars don’t. Still, they don’t become worthless, but there’s a shift in the types of people who buy them and the types of collections where they go.” The Cadillac V-16s and Duesenbergs survived the shift from the World War II ­generation just fine, Lichty explains, but ordinary mid-1920s and ’30s cars, such as Buicks and Dodges, are stone cold right now. “They’re certainly not worthless, just hard to get rid of,” he says.

Some baby boomers did embrace the classics of their parents’ era, rightfully recognizing them as objects of art and pieces of history. This was helped by the sheer volume of boomers, enough to absorb the best collector cars that became available, while also preserving the cars of their own era. But we shouldn’t expect this phenomenon to be repeated. Not only has the sheer volume of collector cars grown, but the next generation in the line of succession, the so-called Generation X, isn’t as large or as enthusiastic as the boomers

Car collecting as a pastime won’t fade away, horses still enjoy an enthusiastic following more than 100 years after being displaced by the car. But the hobby will certainly evolve. The internet continues to transform it, ameliorating the scarcity of parts, bringing owners together to share information, and increasing the supply of cars. Many of the old rules about what defines a collector car and the relative ­values of different types are likely to be challenged. The Holy Grail or Hemi ’Cuda of the next generation may well come from abroad, such as an E30 BMW M3 or an Alex Zanardi–edition Acura NSX. One thing won’t change, however: The happiest people in the hobby are the ones who buy what they like first and let the market worry about return on investment.

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