HomeCar CultureCommentaryHagerty wonders: Will there be room on the road for classic cars...

Hagerty wonders: Will there be room on the road for classic cars in our autonomous-vehicle future?


McKeel Hagerty challenges Historic Vehicle Association, classic car enthusiast to act sooner than later
McKeel Hagerty challenges Historic Vehicle Association, classic car enthusiast to act sooner than later

It wasn’t billed as a keynote address, just a few opening remarks at the dinner that welcomed some 70 people to the third Historic Vehicle Association Summit last week in Middleburg, Virginia. But it seems that anytime McKeel Hagerty talks about classic cars, his words provide a thought-provoking, tone-setting perspective on the subject.

“Everything I do is firmly rooted in history,” said the still-young chief executive of the family-owned insurance company that specializes in coverage of classic cars and boats. “But I also think about the future.”

It was nearly a decade ago that Hagerty and some others were thinking about the future and founded the Historic Vehicle Association.

At the time, he told the dinner audience, the big issue that unified everyone from brass-era vehicle owners to hot rodders was “peak oil” and whether there would be enough fuel and lubricants to allow any classic cars on the road, or might everyone need to retrofit hybrid- or electric-power systems into their vintage vehicles to keep them (a) running and (b) legal to operate.

After all, he reminded everyone in the room, all it would take, all it still would take, is one act by a legislative body and classic cars “would be wiped off the road.”

The oil crisis appears to have ended, but Hagerty said there’s another looming issue that needs the attention of those who value our automotive history and heritage vehicles.

“We need to get 10, 20, even 50 years out in our thinking, out past our own time,” he said.

And then he dropped the bombshell:

“Are cars going to matter? Are we going to enter into a post-car world?”

Hagerty assured his audience that cars aren’t going away, but he also told them we are moving from the age of the automobile to the age of “automobility,” when vehicles drive themselves, when all the occupants are passengers.

Not too far down the road, cars not only will be self-powered but self-driving, with various sensors and computers doing the steering and braking in what some promise will be a crash-free transportation system.

However, Hagerty noted that technology can go only so far. “Everything in the car can be upgraded except the people driving,” he said. “The driver is the weakest link.”

So weak, he seemed to fear, that legislation someday could remove cars with human drivers from the roads.

How, he asked, can the classic car community keep its right to drive in such an environment?

Think about it: Will non-autonomous classic cars be banned from public pavement? Could they be restricted to the automotive equivalent of classic car country clubs and rented race tracks? Will you need a special permit just to drive to and from your town’s once-a-year, let’s-get-nostalgic-and-look-at-old-times-and-old-timers at a historic cruise-in? Will you still be able to get your kicks on Route 66?

Nonetheless, Hagerty sees “a very promising future” for classic cars, but the community needs to act now to assure that future. He offered two suggestions for discussion that leads to action:

“We’re going to need great data about our world,” he said. Such data will be vital to convince legislatures and others that classic cars are and need to remain an important part of our cultural heritage — and of our future.

“Who are our alliances with?” he asked, suggesting that the classic car community needs to align with other road users, much as it did more than a century ago when early motorists joined with bicyclists in the Good Roads movement.

“Motorcycles and bicycles may be the salvation,” he said, noting that it is unlikely that autonomously operated motorcycles will be developed and adding that bicycles already are key parts of the transportation system in many communities.

Nearly a decade ago, the HVA was founded in conjunction with FIVA, the now nearly 50-year-old international federation for historic vehicles. FIVA’s president, Patrick Rollet, spoke to the HVA dinner guests immediately after Hagerty.

Like Hagerty, Rollet reminded all that the goal remains “to keep yesterday’s vehicles on tomorrow’s roads.”

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. What will the future of classic autos be? Dramatic changes have occured. The rising ave. age of collectors is noticable. Not many car guys wax poetic about a 54 Mercury Sun Valley. Blue chip, well known autos will have a place. The many new orphans? Not so much. And lack of storage with a work area. Barns, double garages, even assigned parking is dissappearing. Cars are a huge part of America. Lets keep our favorites on the road.

  2. I don’t think there is great cause for concern. Autonomous vehicles ought to be able to deal with the presence of non-autonomous vehicles. An exception might be highly specialized high-speed rights of way that would only be open to autonomous, interconnected cars. But local roads should be accessible far into the future. More likely, people will eventually just lose interest in the sorts of vehicles we have driven up to now, just as they lost interest in riding around in horse-drawn buggies.

  3. When you go to the cities and the inner suburbs, there are moves to reduce the traffic, noise, cars, etc. Get beyond that and there still is a car culture. Cars are not going away nor will they drive themselves. But like everything else, they will change, advance, and provide what the public needs or thinks it needs.

    There will always be a market for classic cars. Cars are so rooted in our history, and more so than in Europe, that the classics and antiques will still be something to behold for everyone. It might take a generation or two for the youngsters to grow up to appreciate what we know today because the culture is different, but there will be someone out there who will get excited about 1970 Charger or Hemi ‘Cuda like I do!

  4. Mr. Hagerty offered a thoughtful visionary look at the future of cars as we know them, and what we need to do to preserve this heritage. His views bring to mind NASCAR, once a pure icon of American automobile racing, it has acquiesced, at it’s demise, to political and environmental correctness. Toyotas instead of MOPAR on the tracks, corn filled gasoline with lower BTU rating and mileage, rules that make all cars look and perform the same have caused all those empty seats that the TV cameras are trying to keep out of our view as they follow the cars around the track. I’m sure we’ll see mufflers, speed limits, and electronic crash avoidance before the NASCAR tracks are eventually filled with battery powered slot cars. Our classic cars may eventually follow the demise of other traditional American institutions as interest decreases and regulations increase, but the excitement I see from people of all ages when I drive or park my ’48 F-1 tells me there is still an enthusiastic appreciation for old cars and trucks that will be tough to legislate away. Stay active, visible and talk to your representatives.

  5. Having recently been to an event with our Model T’s and a 31 Chevy, where one day was open to school age kids from about 11 years and up. It is seems the interest in antique and classic cars is still embedded in the young. Our clubs have younger members added regularly. As said before, local and country roads would most likely not go away. The more critical issue that concerns me, would be if usable fuel would be available. We may have to produce our own or get a schools chemical class to make it. Long live gas and diesel machines. Some form of oil will always
    be produced.

    • Clint , I am concerned as well. Ethanol is an expensive subsidy for corn growers. Results of increasing petrolium conservation by substituting ethanol for gasoline is net zero. Would be better to just cut a check to farmers.
      Ethanol has ruined many 2 cycle engines, autos as well. Vote November 4th! There are many good ideas for the goal of gasoline conservation available. Don’t single minded mandate the how, encourage the reaching the goal!

      • They tell me that high octane 15% ethanol gas is OK, so long as you never go below a quarter-tank. Below a quarter tank, you get all sorts of ethanol-related crap. It might even be a good idea to drain the tank once a year.

  6. “The driver is the weakest link.”- this is the catalyst that must evolve if the classic automobile is to endure as anything more than a museum relic.
    This is the most significant factor of all. An evermore prominent situation faced by the automobile associations around the world whose membership among younger generations is noticeably experiencing sharp decline. As technology and vehicles become more advanced, the gap of interest between classic and modern vehicles continues to widen at a significant rate.
    This gap is also in part due to the lack of inclusive associations and/or resources capable of teaching youth the extensive history and significance of the classic automobiles. Without passing on the knowledge of classic automobiles and fueling ownership interest in today’s youth, the disappearance of classic automobiles from the roads will be inevitable.
    Respectfully, I point out the exceptional example of this is made by dcdawg1980. Here, the term “Classic” is already being used to define a vehicle from 1970. What does, or should this, SCREAM to the HVA and FIVA? Most of today’s young adults don’t consider “Classic”, to be cars of the 1920-1950s, and have never so much as heard the names Hispano Suiza, Pierce Arrow, Duesenburg, or Squire Drophead whispered in shop class or at a dinner party for that matter.
    Without closing the gap by educating and involving today’s younger generations, as *equanimus* states above,”people will eventually just lose interest in the sorts of vehicles we have driven up to now”. Truly unfortunate.
    B certainly has the right idea above, but the interest must be cultivated. B states,”Our classic cars may eventually follow the demise of other traditional American institutions as interest decreases and regulations increase, but the excitement I see from people of all ages when I drive or park my ’48 F-1 tells me there is still an enthusiastic appreciation for old cars and trucks that will be tough to legislate away.”
    It is not the roads nor the regulations that must change, but the driver and the future generations of drivers; for they are the key to the automobiles life on the road or death as a museum relic.
    Magnificent Motorcars

  7. I am comforted by two facts:

    1) Our Government Responds to Special Interest Groups.
    Looking back at our government’s decisions our the past century or two, they only take action after the horse has left the barn. Many have tied to take action before the barn even caught on fire, but there were always some strong special interest group ready to take them to court and tie them up until the barn was in complete ashes. Remember when Carter tried to make this country energy independent while also trying to clean the environment? This was long before the words “Global Warming” were heard. This gave us a Corvette with less than 200hp as the top car on the market. It didn’t take long for the Special Interest groups to kick that idea to the curb and here we are today with 300+hp sedans with the other side screaming to the wind that we are all doomed. So even if it turned out that our old cars were some day restricted, it wouldn’t be long before all the folks that made money off of the old car hobby world to turn things around again.

    I am neither happy nor proud of the above, but it is a reality that we live and die with.

    2) People Are Still Showing Passion
    The new breed of three wheeled toys coming out with affordable prices shows me that the automotive passion will find a way to exist.
    These bike /cars (see http://www.eliomotors.com/ and http://www.polaris.com/en-us/slingshot) show me that folks still like to have fun. Even when they get good mileage and run clean. As long as folks still have passion about driving, their will respect and desire to own old, fun cars. People with passion will find ways to either make exceptions for our toys or find ways to keep them alive with new tech.

    So don’t disrepair, as long as you don’t a) have ocean front property, b) live an a crowded, stinky, city, c) live in a place where natural resources like water are in short supply, you and your grand children should have the ability to enjoy life (and an classic car). (Just make sure you have plenty of ammo to defend your place.)



  8. Depends on who gives the percent of acceptable ethanol blended into gasoline. 10% can work, 15% would be limit. Its attaches to water like a sponge. And ethanol is a strong solvent, like denatured alcohol bought in stores. Used regularly in labs to clean ( dissolves most gunk ) and a disinfectant. Will eat away rubber gaskets , very corrosive to most metals as well. Good idea to change fuel filter per schedule or cut recommended change time in half. Good preventive maintenance. I am told that most stations have one pump for non blended gas in Minnesota. Was a response by state legislature to people with gummed up and stopped so many lawnmowers & equipment., chainsaws , outboard motors, motorcycles, snowmobiles and older cars.

Comments are closed.

Recent Posts