I don’t usually read AARP Magazine but I spotted one in a waiting room recently and a teaser on the cover caught my eye: “Own the Classic Car of Your Dreams”. I figured it would be a bit of fluff about how retirees are squandering their kids’ inheritances on this most rewarding hobby. Writer David Dudley spends a little time discussing the joys of car collecting but quickly shifts to a more serious examination of the future of the hobby. It is not an especially optimistic view.
Dudley isn’t the first to notice that people, mostly men, who collect cars tend to focus on those that were important to them when they were teenagers. That means that baby boomers, a population cohort that has been moving into retirement over the past ten years or so, look to the cars of the 1960s and early ‘70s when they go shopping for a collectible car. Want proof? Watch about ten minutes of a Barrett-Jackson auction and count the number of ‘60s muscle cars that cross the docket.
You still see cars from earlier decades at auctions and car shows but cars from the 1960s, the cars of my youth, dominate. As Dudley notes, those were the cars that sparked our imaginations, that we drooled over as we got our grubby finger prints all over the glossy car magazines of the day. With their nests now empty and their retirement accounts comfortably flush with cash, affluent retirees are going to auctions and it’s no coincidence that so many auctions are in the southwest, a retirement mecca.
The predictable result, as this finite pool of goods is being chased by a growing number of buyers? Prices are skyrocketing and may be creating a bubble that will, one day, burst.
As we moved into the mid-1970s, increasingly stringent regulations strangled performance and altered automotive design and our love affair with the automobile began to cool. I would mark the 1973-74 model years, when new bumper standards began appear, as the beginning of the end.
The generation that followed the boomers wasn’t nearly as enthralled with cars as we were because the cars from their youth weren’t as enthralling. As Dudley observes, it is unlikely that “. . . aging Gen Xers, gripped with nostalgia, will rescue their high school Corollas from junkyards a decade hence.”
Furthermore, as they slide into retirement in the coming years, they may not have as much disposable income as their parents have. They aren’t as likely to feel the same deep emotions about a 1971 Barracuda – let alone an ‘81 Sentra – as guys from my generation do and will be far less likely to feel compelled to shell out 6- or 7-figure prices for one even if they can afford to.
If this is true, Dudley writes, “ . . . this [the current feeding frenzy at the auctions] is less a Super Bowl of car collecting than a jazz funeral – a riotous send-off to a culture lead-footing into oblivion.”
Vestiges of that old love affair – Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, et al – are still with us and probably always will be. But the spark is all but gone and like all lost loves, we’ll probably never get it back again.