The End of Classic Cars?
C’mon, give me a break.
By Brendan Moore
There was an article that I perused on MSNBC.com on August 15, titled, Cruisers worry days of classic cars are over.
The lead-in underneath the title was, “Sadly, drivers say, today’s cars just don’t measure up to wonders of old”.
The article is partly about the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, advertised by its sponsors as “the world’s largest one-day celebration of car culture,” since it began 15 years ago.
If you’re not familiar with the cruise, it entails thousands of breathtakingly beautiful hot rods, cruisers, custom cars, resto-rods and carefully restored cars driving slowly up and down Woodward Avenue in Detroit’s suburbs.
What the MSNBC article is mostly about, though, is the participants in the cruise talking about how the days of classic cars are over and how there won’t be any classic cars in the future because, well, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
The guys that are commenting on this sorry state of affairs in the MSNBC piece are 60-something and 70-something attendees at the Woodward event.
A couple of thoughts.
First, of all, I’ve owned a lot of iron that is considered “classic”. I’m old, like a fossil, and I’ve owned dozens of cars and trucks in that category. I’ve also attended very many classic car shows – some large, some small. So I’ve had a great many conversations with overweight old guys dressed up in Fifties clothing and sporting a ducktail haircut. That is, the ones that still have hair. Sometimes their wives are there in period regalia as well. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a 63 year-old women with an extra seventy pounds in a poodle skirt.
Now, most people in their sixties and seventies don’t go that far at shows; they’re dressed fairly normally. But, talk to them long enough, and you will undoubtedly hear some version of how everything was better “back then”.
Yeah, yeah – the cars were better-looking, had more horsepower, the girls were prettier and the beer was colder. I hear you.
Well, I’ve owned lots of cars from the Fifties and Sixties, and I’ve driven almost everything from those two decades, and it just ain’t so. There are some great-looking cars from that era, but, there are some great-looking cars in every era. The American cars went through a long drought there in the late Seventies through the Nineties when there wasn’t much to choose from in terms of looks, but, that time has been over for years.
And, it’s worth mentioning that the muscle cars of old were very needy in terms of maintenance, they rattled, they overheated, they burned oil, the assembly quality was very uneven, they were loud (inside) they had lousy brakes and they didn’t handle very well. And, finally, the horsepower was measured in gross horsepower, not net horsepower like today, leaving some muscle cars looking pretty puny next to performance cars of today.
I’m not showing disrespect to the cars from that era; hell, I spent my own money on them. I still love those cars. But the love I have for those cars does not blind me to their faults.
Also, I vividly remember collector car enthusiasts in the Sixties, before I hit my teenage years, standing around saying the same thing about the hobby then that these guys are saying now, except that they were talking about how the cars of the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties would never be equaled for their beauty and grace. Never, just couldn’t happen. Those guys were 60, 65 years old then.
The point is, those cars were the important cars to those men; the ones from their particular youth. From their point of view, those cars, and the moments in time that went with those cars, never could be equaled.
It’s the same thing with that 66 year-old man at Woodward – those classic cars are the best, period. He drove that car in high school. Or, he wanted to drive that car in high school. He was young and strong, a world-beater. His girlfriend was beautiful in the way that young women have always been. The world was awash in great, almost fantastic possibility.
Now the world seems to be closing in on the auto industry, with tough safety and emissions requirements for all new cars, and the financial health of the automakers themselves seemingly curtailing any design flights of fancy. The men at Woodward point to these things and say that there won’t be any more great cars, the kind you call “classic” years from now. This situation is most acute if you are focusing on the output of the American automakers, as many of these men are.
I think the nostalgia these men have for their era has taken a toll on their current aesthetic sense as well as their abilities to think logically.
There will always be a company willing to do something wonderful with sheet metal; there will always be a company that wants to roll the dice on a new look, whether that is inside the car or outside the car. That possibility always exists for the way cars are produced now.
Additionally, the new developments in powertrain type may allow automotive designers to really stretch the envelope in terms of design; the same goes for the new composite materials actually used for an automotive body.
Last, but not least, important cars are now being designed in every corner of the globe, not just in Europe and America, as in the Fifties and Sixties.
The future will see an incredible expansion of possibility for automotive design, not a reduction.
I can’t describe to you how much I am looking forward to the next twenty years of new car production. I think it’s going to be wonderful.
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