HomeCar CultureIt's time to bridge the car guy (and gal) generation gap

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


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, ClassicCars.com 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.


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. It wont be a matter of age, but money. We are in that phase now with car prices beyond the reach of 90% of guys that would love to own a few more great dream cars.
    The car collecting interest has been like a slow moving stock market with a steady but affordable rise in prices, until the Japanese discovered the interest in the ’80’s and 90’s, and wanted in on it. They began to pay double and triple what our cars were worth here. We fell over each other buying and selling cars to them and Euopeans. Which is all good, but the cars left over, were all looked at like a market going wild, rather than the cars we dreamed to own, and it became exactly like the stock market. Only it hasnt crashed yet. The day will come for sure. The day that the guys that own tens or hundreds of cars will get old, and die, and they will liquidate, or the family and lawyers will when suddenly faced with a bunch of cars they have acquired or paid to get rid of. They will have to sell at least some if not all of them. One, they might not have the interest , or not have the money to keep them, insure them, and maintain them. Multiply that scenario by ten thousand collectors…..do the math. Will your teenage son, or grandson be able to hold on to these things? Look what happened to Bill Harrahs collection. Where did they all go? Seems impossible, but I bet the lawyers did very well settling his estate. The market for cars wont crash suddenly, but we all will become very aware of the obvious in ten or fifteen years as the prices start to drop off. The trick is to live to 120, then you will be able to have one of everything you ever wanted for prices you havent seen in 50 years.
    Not to mention that the future of cars is evolving at an x-rated speed. In twenty years, many cars will be self driven, with a power supply not yet invented, like a small nuclear energy source, solar, or a mag-lev concept, who knows, but gasoline as we know it, which already is not great for our cars, will be in short supply. And we may have to take our gems to special tracks or roads to even drive them. Will there be any mechanics? Most of the pre-70’s cars, we have lost the guru’s that have kept them up for us. The average location of a machine shop is probably five times the distance away from where you live as it was ten years ago. Dont have to bring up the subject of spare parts, for those of us who are driving them as much as possible now, before they are gone. Been to a swap meet in the past few years? No one under age fifty unless the Dad made a deal with his son to join him on that rainy cold day.
    Hope I am wrong. My philosophy is to use my cars up before I’m used up.

  2. When I was 16 I worked at a Kerr McGee gas station and bought a 1959 black 4 door ford Galaxy with a inline six for $150.The insurance was almost nothing. The next year I wanted a muscle car so I looked at a 1970 Shelby GT 500 convertable for $2000 and a 1969 Roadrunner with a 383 4 speed for $1500.Since the roadrunner was cheaper I bought it.The insurance was $350 a year for full coverage and no deductible!Kids can’t afford these cars and it will never be the same again.I started in high school loving fast cars because I could get a job and the cars and insurance was affordable.So until insurance and the price of these cars go down and kids can work again common high schoolers will be left out of our very expensive hobby!

  3. Mark you are correct. These cars are way to much money for the kid and his friends to work on in the garage. But they will be working on something.(The car guys that is) Camaro’s mustangs challengers ect

  4. Having been a Dealer and private collector of classic vehicles for 3/4 decades now my prediction will be Boomers will be liquidating collections soon. Their parents if still a live have sold most of theirs off. Unfortunately prices are going downward due to these factors plus in my view an over inflated market.The only exception in my opinion will be the higher end deep pockets market… Example: very rare limited production vehicles, celebrity or a major piece of historical significance they will hold or possibly go up like art.

    Another factor is the younger generation not as interested in our ERA of 1940s/1950s/1960s/1970s vehicles. This will really change not only the demand but present and future values. Boomers presently are stubborn and most not adjusting prices accordingly therefore with a few exceptions are creating a slow sluggish classic car market.

    This is just my humble opinion just giving my observations.

    Cheers John Vancouver BC Canada

  5. Also i would like to add. I just bought a 32′ Ford sedan Hot Rod. It has 327 4BBL Holley and a Mallory unilite. It will never have FI and a computer ect. Want to know why? Cause i cant afford it. And there are a lot of us that cant and we are very happy with what we have. And like all the thumbs up.

  6. I just bought a 55 Buick 4dr http and will be restored inside with the outside remaining stock. It will have a crate 350/350 hp Turbo 400 tranny new rear end with an un-posi rear, rack&pinion steering, disc front brakes,all metal re-chromed and wire wheels. I do all this for ME and not to flip. My grandson will get this car when I pass on. His generation will still get to see and ride in a great classic and it won’t break the kids bank. Maybe,….just maybe there will be more old bearded and /or bald men will do the same to save the Hobby.

  7. Bill i am one of those. It’s to bad that the people who write these type of articles like to follow the rich crowd around they don’t know squat about the everyday guy. The writers are all in ah of them selves when they write about Barrett Jackson and the Pratte collection et al. They need to find a guy with not millions working on his dream a little at a time as he can afford it.

  8. Sorry, but anyone who deals day to day with yoiung people 18-25 will slap all the happy talking here silly. There is no new group of gearheads anywhere near large enough to replace the one now passing through. Don’t fool yourself otherwise. And there won’t be much of a market for Honda tuner cars with turbos in the future either. Enjoy what you have, what you like and what you want. Disabuse yourself of any fantasy of young people who seldom now even have drivers licenses (there’s been a FORTY percent drop off of 18-25 year olds applying for licenses) taking over this interest in the future. They’ll be looking at it and saying “What was with those old people and these cars anyway? Who cares?” just as they are now, but a lot of people don’t want to hear that…they’re too busy trying to squeeze top dollar out of their 9fill in the blank) before the whole thing caves in. And there’ll be some smart “cool” (yeah, right) guy saying “Someone paid $3m for a car they never drive?” How’s that gonna look?/ Answer: as dumb as we all know it does…

  9. Thanks to each of you for your comments. I found the original article and your various responses to be a fresh discourse to ponder this early morning. The problem we all face is our inability to price in the MARKET RISK of continuing what we all are experiencing and expecting. There was a time in Japan in the 80s when the market value of the real estate within the city boundaries of Tokyo was worth more money than the market value of the entire land assessment value of the United States. All the investors believed that this would continue. Then one day reality sunk in and all those market valuations collapsed in the face of reality that the King didn’t have any clothes on. In today’s car market paying the prices is we are paying simply means that the United States dollar is not worth what it used to be. Cars are not worth more; rather it is simply true that the value of holding onto dollars for which there is no dividend or interest return is now worth less

  10. In age I am in between the gray hairs writing and the 20-30 somethings talked about in this article.
    My experience is a ton of folks love the old cars, but their perception is that they will never be able to afford those cars. So they don’t even kick the tires, let alone ask how much.

    They may have watched a tid-bit of Barrett Jackson on TV while surfing the channels, and they think all these cars are off the charts soaring above the price of their house.

    They don’t think twice buying a new small Nissan for $28k, and longingly look at my red ’65 Impala SS parked next to them, not realizing my car may never realistically sell for that price.

    The truth is many folks can afford more than they think they can.

    I have had this conversation with plenty of folks who then ask me when the next car show is. There is interest. But the shrinking selection of “entry-level” cars is part of the problem, though they do exist. Once they get over the speed bump of owning a part of history, they get more interested in other cars outside their original favorites. I know I have.

    No one wants a market correction who is in the market, but after it happens there are always plenty of people willing to jump in and ride it back up again…. Or should I say “drive” it back up 🙂

    Great article!

  11. Craig, you are so correct. I looked at a new Lexus for 74,500.If I drove it off the lot, I lose about 10.000. I woulld rather spend 30-40 grand for a nice classic and feel like I am driving a CAR rather than a high tech, loaded with distractions machine. Granted, the computer driven car is more efficient and engines will last longer, but that is a compromise one has to make.JMHO.

  12. I am an old fart who never had a muscle car in his youth though I had a job when in high school and was one of the few in my small hometown who did. I would love to buy a classic ’65 Impala SS but most of the ones I see are going for way too much money and a lot of them would need an additional $5-15,000 put into them to bring them up to snuff. I try to get my grandson interested in old classic cars, but he just wants the Hot Wheels versions of them. What is going to happen when the Hot Wheels market crashes? LOL

  13. Changing demographics may hit , or will change the entire game. I have been wondering who will be left to get excited about 1935 Tudor with banjo steering wheel. Unless its something you grew up with its not interesting. The pricing today does seem overvalued. Consider inflation, storage,insurance,parts,mechanics ,etc.
    Say ave cost per year for all of that was just $1000.. That car survived 25 years longer than others made at the same time someone spent $25,000 holding on that survivor. Just a thought. My mind tends to wander a bit, similar to my fave 51 Ford Victoria.

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