It’s time to bridge the car guy (and gal) generation gap

It’s time to bridge the car guy (and gal) generation gap

It seemed as if everywhere I stopped last week during Arizona Auction Week, people with gray (or in some cases no) hair were freaking out about the future.

This much-modified Mustang belongs to the next generation of car guy... or car gal | Larry Edsall photos

This much-modified Mustang belongs to the next generation of car guy… well, actually, car gal | Larry Edsall photos

It seemed as if everywhere I stopped last week during Arizona Auction Week, people with gray (or in some cases no) hair were freaking out about the future.

Are car collectors a dying breed? Is our beloved hobby on its last legs? Will anyone want these cars we’ve spent so much time and money cherishing? Kids today are only interested in computers and cell phones. We drove to meet our friends, but these kids are happy to socialize by texting? Woe is us — and our cars.

I try to tell them they’re wrong. Their cars are not destined for the scrap heap.

Recently, hired a new staff member. She’s Nicole James, and she splits her time between the marketing department and this blog. She goes to college (she’s studying journalism). She works full time. Yet she finds time to race a souped-up 2005 Ford Mustang on the drag strip and in NASA (National Auto Sport Association) autocross events. She’s also restoring a 1965 Mustang.

I asked her recently about her generation and whether it goes to car events and shows. She chuckled and ran off a list of at least seven or eight regularly scheduled car events she and her friends attend.

I’ve lived here in Phoenix for nearly 15 years and I’ve never heard of any of the events she mentioned. Well, with one exception. She mentioned something called “Pavs.”

Turns out Pavs is what Nicole and her generation call the Pavilions, the weekly Saturday evening car show — believed to be the longest-running weekly show in the country — held in the parking lot between a shopping center and a McDonald’s in Scottsdale. Well, usually that’s how it’s set up, but sometimes there are so many cars they spill over into the shopping center parking lot across the street as well.

On the other hand, Nicole, who has lived in Scottsdale for all of her 22 years, had no idea there were any auctions taking place in the area last week other than Barrett-Jackson. Now she knows there are five others, because part of her job was going to each of them.

I was discussing all of this last week with Gary Patterson, car-guy and vice-president of Shelby American.

“We need to learn to fish in new ponds,” he said, using terminology that reminded me of the sort of thing Ol’ Shel’ himself might have said.

One of Patterson’s responsibilities is selling Shelby American cars, from Mustangs to Raptors to Cobras. Selling Shelbys, he said, is as much an educational process as a matter of marketing.

“Guys our age get it. They know the legacy,” he said.

Shelby Cobras and Mustangs on display at Barrett-Jackson

Shelby Cobras and Mustangs on display at Barrett-Jackson

But, he asked himself aloud, “How do you get those guys (the younger guys, and gals for that matter) interested in the cars, in all Shelbys, old and new?”

“You have to get them into the car,” he responded, “to turn the key, to fire it up, and to take it out on the track.”

Once someone has experienced a Shelby vehicle first-hand, Patterson said, you have a chance to get them into (buying) a Shelby Mustang, “and when they have the money, they want these,” he said, pointing to several shiny new Cobras parked in the Shelby display at Barrett-Jackson.

But Patterson knows our generation cannot wait for the next one to come to us. We need to go to them, to their car shows and events, to see their cars and to let them see ours.

I’ve been telling car-collecting friends for a while now that the next generation is and will be interested in cars, though at first not necessarily the same ones they’ve been collecting, and that the next-gen often tunes its vehicles with computers instead of wrenches. Sure, there will be fluctuations in the value of entire genres, but almost every car collector’s tastes change as they mature as collectors.

Remember: Everyone starts out wanting what they couldn’t have in high school. For my generation, that was Mustangs and muscle cars. For the next generation, it’s Supras and Celicas, WRXs and Integras. But the same people who started collecting ’50s and ’60s cars moved on to hot rods and Ferraris and then to pre-war classics and even into brass-era beauties.

Not only do tastes change, but so does technology, and Patterson said all car enthusiasts do themselves a disservice if they disdain modern automotive technology and those who use it.

“Were ’60s hot-ridders putting flatheads in their cars?” Patterson asked. “No.”

And now he’s frustrated by those of our generation who remain stuck in the pushrod past.

“We need to adjust,” he said, pointing out the increased power and efficiency of modern overhead-cam engines. For example, he said, the new Coyote V8 in the new Mustang “runs at 7,000 rpm all day.”

And tuning with computers is a good thing.

“Technology changes and (increases the) ability to put power to the pavement (and to turn and stop for that matter),” Patterson said.

Even as tied as Shelby American is to its legacy, it is embracing change. Why, even if its cars someday might run on something other than fossil fuels (never happen, you say; well, Porsche and Ferrari already have ultra-high-performance hybrid supercars), “We’ll be there and we’ll be ready,” Patterson promised.

So will the next generation of car enthusiast-collectors.



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