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.”