Reader Question: The Future of Classic Cars?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Jerry asks: With the way mpg and safety requirements are going, what is the future of classic cars? PS: I have a 1971 Triumph TR6 and my wife has a 1996 BMW Z3.

My reply: Well, the good news – at least for now – is that saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety, mileage (and emissions) laws do not apply to classic cars. That is, to cars eligible for classic/antique vehicle registration and license plates. Which – generally – means cars at least 25 years old in most states.

Well, with a caveat. The law generally requires that a given vehicle conform to the standards in effect at the time of its manufacturer. Thus – as an example – my ’76 Trans-Am is supposed to have a catalytic converter. But it does not have to have an O2 sensor and a computer/EFI. In other words, it doesn’t have to conform to current emissions (or saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety) standards.  So, no air bags – and so on.

However, I worry that some filthy animal politician will eventually go after “dirty” and “unsafe” olds cars and suggest (that is, mandate at gunpoint) they either by modified to meet current standards or taken off the “public” roads because of the “threat” they present to the Earf and, of course, “our children.”

Even if that doesn’t happen, the long-term threat is  the clock, the passing of time. Go to a car show today and look around. The majority of people there – both car owners and spectators – are middle-aged and older. This is Bad News for the future of the classic car hobby.

Part of the reason for the graying of the hobby also has to do with new cars – modern cars – not being “classic” and probably never will be, no matter how old they get.  By “modern” cars, I mean most cars built since the ’90s, which are all computer-controlled and (the newer you get) anodyne, homogenous and generally uninteresting except as transportation appliances. Which don’t get kept once they are no longer useful as such but instead tend to get thrown away.

There are some exceptions, of course – but far fewer than there once were. I can’t think of anything modern that is analogous to (as an example) an old VW Beetle or Datsun B210 or Chevy Nova. Mind, these were economy cars when they were new and  nothing special – yet people loved them and preserved them and still do today.

I can’t see (and have yet to see)  anyone preserving/restoring a ’90s Dodge Neon or Chevy Cavalier. Even the Honda Civics and Acura Integras that “ricers” were into back in the ’90s are throw-aways.

Meanwhile, the cost of classics – the ones made before the ’90s – is getting higher all the time because of speculators/investors and also because, well, there are only so many and they aren’t making any more.

Back in the ’80s – and even as recently as the ’90s – once could still find roadworthy, “driver condition” muscle cars like my Trans-Am for a couple thousand bucks. Today, cars like my TA generally come in either of two conditions: Excellent/restored/near-show-quality (like mine) and so considerably more expensive than a couple thousand bucks . . . or basket case, which won’t cost much to buy but a fortune to resurrect.

This winnows out most of the under-30 crowd, which can’t afford either.

I think – I am certain – the hobby will continue to exist, just as there are still people into steam locomotives. I just think that it will be like the steam locomotive hobby. Small, a backwater eddy.

Not like it used to be.

Times change.

Sometimes, unfortunately.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Starting in about 1987 the busy bodies started attacking the old car hobby. Some wanted every pre 1980 or 1982 car crushed. Imagine that, the mass crushing of cars that were more than about 7 years old. It took years of fighting but by 1996 their efforts were largely stopped. There were still some “clunker” laws but their intensity had been blunted. The orgy of “cash for clunkers” was a warning sign to me the attacks on old cars could resume at any time.

    Today the hobby is stronger, bigger, and more people with money to fight are involved. But the problem is that its going to be a very hard fight for the little guy. The government will carve out exceptions for those with money to comply but everyone else is out of luck. Also as hobbies and such mature people naturally want it to be exclusive. Which causes them to die. This is a dangerous stew.

  2. One thing that will severely limit classic car ownership in the future… the clutch. For years manual cars were desired and demanded a premium, so autos were not saved as often.

    Manual transmissions will prevent ownership by all but the grey hair crowd. Hell, my 17yo niece was confused by my Jimmys automatic selector stalk on the column. Her dads Dodge truck has only a little radio dial on the console. Forget trying to explain what a third pedal is for.

    • I have found it rather odd how once cars become old everyone wants an MT example but when they were new practically nobody did. Maverick clutch pedal assemblies and linkages are rather valuable. People retrofit Fox body clutch assemblies into older Fords. It’s really interesting the lengths people go to in order to make their old cars MTs.

      • I think it was a feedback loop.

        Less manuals originaly. Rarer is perceived as greater value in the market.

        That and the macho thing that goes with muscle cars and the mid life crisis men. Autos are for girls, right?

  3. Eric, I agree.
    Perhaps… there might be a few individuals in the years down the road… those who find the confinements of socialism not fitting to their natural yearning to be free. Maybe and just maybe they might find the freedom to move freely and without permission from authority via classic motorcycles. Today classic bikes are somewhat affordable and still restorable within the knowledge base available.
    We have a young man who joined our greying Norton Motorcycle club who gives me inspiration that perhaps there are few young people who don’t like be dictated to and told how to live their lives and be free.

    • Hi Hans,

      There are a few… I helped to hereticize one! But for every kid who isn’t a doped up (by the government, by the schools) rote-conditioned, gadget-addled lunkhead there are probably nine others who are.

      The future doesn’t look good.

      It seems pretty clear that the country is almost at the critical mass, and will go overtly (and much more virulently) socialist within the next ten years and likely sooner.

      I really ought to cash out of my house and at least move to Wyoming or Nevada or some such place where low population density is in your favor… but I’ve had enough stress/hassle over the past three years to last me for the rest of my years.

      Let them come. Like Eight. I’ve saved a good bottle of whiskey for the occasion.

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