HomeCar CultureCommentaryUpgrade envy or retrograde envy, which is your motivation for buying yet...

Upgrade envy or retrograde envy, which is your motivation for buying yet another car?


Automotive News, the newspaper that covers the global new-car industry, republished a story last week from Bloomberg under the title of “Upgrade envy has drivers trading in cars as often as iPhones.”

2015 Lincoln Navigator offers latest technology | Larry Edsall photos
2015 Lincoln Navigator offers the latest  technology | Larry Edsall photos

Not being familiar with the term “upgrade envy,” I read far enough into the text to learn that people are trading in their cars for brand new ones sooner than has been traditional and simply because they want the technology features they see in newer cars owned by their friends and relatives.

“Upgrade envy has helped Apple Inc. sell millions of pricy iPhones,” the story reports. “Now, it’s the auto industry’s turn, thanks to a raft of new technologies that make cars safer and easier to drive. Must-have features like parking assist and wireless Web access have helped automakers recover from the 2009 bust and charge record prices for their vehicles.”

The story continues, “Many drivers are trading in their cars more often to get the latest gear.”

I had an uncle who traded in his car every two years (in retrospect, he really should have kept that late-‘50s Ford Skyliner with the retractable hardtop), and I remember my parents talking about the wealthy folks in town who bought a new Cadillac every fall just because they could.

I will admit that I’m really out of step with the times. I still have the first — and only — iPhone I’ve ever owned, and while I do have a 2013-model vehicle, it replaced a 13-year-old, 180,000-miler.

Classic '60s Camaro convertible
Classic ’60s Camaro convertible

Perhaps because I am, I don’t think old means expired. Nor do I see a lot of “upgrade envy” in the classic car community. In fact, I see almost the opposite. As people are in the hobby longer and their tastes mature, I see them seeking not new but old technology.

Here’s the classic car collector pattern I’ve seen: Someone gets to a point in life where he or she has enough disposable income or comes into an inheritance and finally can afford to buy the car that he or she wanted but could not afford while in high school or perhaps in college or maybe as he or she was starting a career in the trades or steno pool, or was coming out of the service.

They buy that car and shine and show it, and at those shows they see other cars, most likely rather exotic post-war sports cars, and they want one of those as well. Before long, they’re buying a new house with a larger garage to house what has become a growing car collection.

1907 Stevens-Duryea Model U engine
1907 Stevens-Duryea Model U engine

At some point they realize that pre-war cars are pretty cool, too, and they pursue one, and then another. Eventually, they have such an appreciation of automotive history that they’re willing to tackle the complicated plumbing of a brass-era vehicle.

Instead of “upgrade envy,” classic car collectors have a sort of “retrograde envy” as they seek cars with less instead of more modern technology.

My dictionary says retrograde is a retreat to an inferior state. I don’t think classic car collectors would necessarily agree with that definition.


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. The writer lives in a very different universe than I. I don’t know anyone who can just afford to keep buying “collector” cars, building ever-bigger garages and living in ever-larger houses. Folks I know have lucked into a one shot chance to get a nice car and either restored it or bought it.

  2. I have a number of classic cars.
    kids are out on their own earning their own livings with their partners
    I worked 18 hours a day for 40 years.

    now I have cars. love them to bits
    there is little luck and a lot of hard work. no tv – waste of time and robber of life
    head down and bust your gut.

    then buy classic cars………

  3. Its somewhat engrained within me after studing the automotive industry for 60 years and working dirrectly for a manufacturer that each year the newer product was a improved product – even though I also learned that is not always the case. Why I love and occassionally acquire older classics and sports cars is a direct result of impressions from years ago. Matching my checkbook with todays new exotics – based on desire – is virtually impossible.

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