The End of Classic Cars?

C’mon, give me a break.

By Brendan Moore

08.17.2009

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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.

And now?

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 disagree.

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.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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16 Comments

  1. You are right, their glory days are over, but the desire to have something you couldn’t have when you were a young man will never go away from middle-aged and elderly men.

    It will just be a different set of men that want a different group of old cars.

  2. Hope I don’t get stupid when I get old. How can these guys be so close minded.

  3. Nostalgia always overpowers logic. *Right now* is the golden era of the automobile. *Right now* is when the cars will have the most horsepower.

    The inevitable crush of future ‘green’ regulations will have us ‘driving’ highly automated, electric pods with no soul. (Unless you get off on the whine of electric motors…)

    Cherish it while you can.

  4. i’m tired of the 50s look, geting tired of 60s look too.

  5. The magazine Collectible Automobile do on each issue, a feature about which car who could be a “Future collectible”. Some imports like the Mistubishi Eclipse/3000GT, last-gen Supra might be on the list as well as Corvette, Viper, Mustang and more recent models like the CTS-V,Charger/Challenger SRT-8, Neon SRT-4,etc… but unless having psychic habilities or reading the tea leaves, it’s hard to know. http://www.popularmechanics.com/automotive/jay_leno_garage/4312877.html

  6. I agree, we’re at the end of a golden age right now. Great cars available for sale right now, but the immediate future looks cloudy for fans of performance cars.

  7. What become classic cars of 80s, besides sports cars like Ferrari or Corvette? Galaxy 500 and Impala (even the one from 90s) are still classic cars. Will Camry and Accord be classic cars of future? Or Solara, or Nissan Z? What about Chrysler 300 Hemi? Is Civic a classic car?

    Americans used to own cars based on style not resale value. Modern Americans consider cars as appliances and Asian make best appliances in the world, no matter is it TV set, toster or car.

  8. As cars these days are far more complicated than their older brethren and the specialist skills required to fix them when they do eventually break (they may break down less but when they go they often go big time) means that way too many modern cars will live a lifespan not much greater than that of your average computer.

    Certainly not long enough to make them classics….they’ll be classics in words and pictures rather than in the flesh.

    On the positive side, all those busted classics get reduced to scrap, sent to China and recycled into new classics (or perhaps toasters)….and the cycle begins again.

  9. Seano, I’m not sure you’re right on either count.

    In the sixties ans seventies, engines and transmissions would fail completely sometimes. And suddenly, like a rod being thrown. That used to happen, boom. Those things never happen any more, it’s more like a slow sludge death like in the Toyota Camry. Which was Toyota’s fault, but could have been prevented by a more attentive owner than the warranty coverage called for.

    And there isn’t rust on the bodies like there used to be, either. Some British cars and Italian cars would rust out in a couple of years here in America because of the harsh weather conditions. You never see that anymore.

    Second, because cars are so much better in all the little ways, I think the cars of today will be around a long time if the owners want them around.

    I think today’s cars are better in terms of single one-time failures happening AND better in terms of complete build quality.

    Nothing personal, but I have to disagree with your statements.

  10. No worries.

    But think on it. Yes engines and drivelines don’t fail like they used to (except when a timing chain gives out!) but that’s not the issue. With modern cars it’s often complicated electronics that fail or worse a cascade of computer and mechanical failure that leads to significant damage. Granted these things are rare but when something goes wrong it is inevitably complicated. A driveline failure in a current classic car is usually fixed by simply rebuilding and/or replacing the components. Whereas in many current cars, such replacements are often not straightforward due to integration issues and quite often parts are not easy to come by due to the constrained nature of just in time manufacturing….which means that even when new, the parts inventory for a vehicle is kept small and is maintained only over a limited timeframe – often less than a decade. My own vehicle (a 2001 VW van) has many (often quite visible) parts that are now deleted from stock and are very difficult to come by unless I import direct from European aftermarket supplier or can find a recycled supply.

    Who’s to say that a potential future classic (like the Honda S200 for example) hasn’t already suffered a similar fate?

    Classics owners of the future will need far more specialist skills (or have the capacity to pay for them) than even current owners do……and that will regretably limit the retention (or worse, the driving) of future classic cars.

  11. There will be classic cars until cars stop being made.

  12. Difference Maker, you might be right, but a classic electric car stretches my imagination.

  13. There will always be classic cars, but some eras are better than others. Nearly every American car from the 50s through the early 70s is considered classic. Any tri-5 Chevy, even a 150 four-door with powerglide is worth inordinate amounts of money. And even humble cars like the Ford Falcon have a following.

    They styling was often over the top, as in the late 50s and early 60s, but it represented a very exuberant and confident society, looking forward to a bright future of space travel and atomic power. Cars of the 70s are not without their charm–an no enthusiast of the time ever thought that opera windows and half-vinyl roofs, powered by emasculated, inefficient smog-control engines, would become “classic.” But some people like them–although many probably just disconnect the emissions equipment, which is often impossible to find spares for anyway.

    But, for whatever reason, the FWD cars of the 80s and 90s, for the most part, don’t seem to have much of a following. Does anyone collect 80s Ford Escorts or Tempos? Is there a market for 1986 Delta 88s? FWD cars with some significance, like K cars have attracted a small, but devoted, following. But most have not. Even the first generation Taurus attracts little interest, excepting the SHO.

    It is hard to know what will stick in the imagination. In the UK, the once-ubiquitous BMC 1100 has little collectors interest, and the Marina, Allegro and Princess (wedge) are considered little more than curiosities. But humble Ford Escorts, in mark I and II versions, are highly sought after.

    I’d guess that Honda Civics will be classics eventually, given how many young guys do performance work on them. Most will likely not. Cars used to sell on styling and performance (or at least the perception thereof), as noted above. Now, they sell on reliability and value. That makes for better daily drivers, but does quench a bit of the lust for collectors. One of the most reliable cars I ever had was a 2000 Chevy Lumina. I doubt many people will ever seek one out at a collector auction the way nearly all Chevrolets of 1955-1970 or so are still sought out.

  14. There were a lot of foreign cars that were sold in the 80s and 90s that will be collector cars. Many weren’t sold in America, but that doesn’t take away their appeal.

  15. I’ll take a Porsche 928 S4 from th Eighties or Nineties any time if you’re talking collector cars from that time. It will never be worth what a current Ferrari California will be worth, but it’s a wonderful car.

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