HomeCar CultureCommentaryGetting caught in the traffic of the generational shift

Getting caught in the traffic of the generational shift


So I thought I had a great idea for how to spend my Saturday in a meaningful way. My plan was to start the day at Tempe Diablo Stadium, where the cars participating in the 25th annual Copperstate 1000 vintage sports car rally would be staged for the start of their four-day anniversary drive.

From there, I would drive some 65 miles to the southwest, to the Gila Bend Municipal Airport, which had been rented for the day to stage the first Race Wars, a tribute to the Race Wars scene of the original The Fast and The Furious movie but scheduled to coincide with the most recent Furious7 film release.

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Classic Lincoln hood ornament

My thought was that in one day I would get to see the present and the future of the car-loving — and tweaking and tunings and preserving and restoring and collecting — generations.

Car collectors in their 60s and 70s often lament that they feel as if they are the end of a breed, that after them there is not another generation that has an appreciation for classic and collector cars.

In some cases, their collections are going to auction because their wives don’t want to have to deal with dispersing the cars after the collector drives off to that Big Road Rally in the Sky, nor do their children, who might want this car or that one but who don’t want to have to deal with all of Dad’s cars and all the parts and pieces piled up in his garage.

But it turns out that there not only is another generation that is ready to and eager for those cars, but there’s yet another one that truly loves cars, perhaps different cars, but then if the old guys still had any memory, they’d remember that they did, too, back in the day.

And actually, all many of those golden oldies had to do was to look around the baseball field Saturday at the Copperstate launch and notice how much younger many of the entrants are getting. Sure, there are still a bunch of boomers, but there also were quite a few folks in their 30s and 40s in the Copperstate contingent.

“We do have a younger group,” said Kelly Whitton, event manager for the Men’s Arts Council, the group that stages the Copperstate 1000, as well as several other events, each year to raise money for the Phoenix Art Museum.

Whitton said the rally’s youth movement is a recent occurrence, “only in the last couple of years,” she said.

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Copperstate cars don’t have to be this old

She offered as many as three possible reasons:

  1. One is that some of the Copperstate veterans have brought their sons as co-drivers in recent years and now the sons are back with their own cars.
  2. Two is that the rally is open to cars built in 1973 or before. Some similar events require older cars, cars which may be too expensive or simply not yet of interest to younger owners, or as Whitton put it, to “up-and-coming collectors.”
  3. Three is the MAC — the Men’s Art Council — itself. “We may have a reputation as being a younger group,” Whitton said, adding that, “The guys who run it (the organizing committee) are young, too.”

Regardless of the reason, it was noticeable as the drivers got ready for the rally — and as the gates were opened for the public to come and see the cars — that there is another generation that appreciates classic and collector cars.

And as I found out on my way to the Gila Bend airport, there’s yet another generation coming up right behind them, and coming very quickly.

Gen Xers or Ys or Zzzzzs or Millennials or whatever they are called, I saw thousands of them Saturday, so many that traffic was backed up for miles, backed up so far that while I could see the airport, I couldn’t get there.

Well, that’s not quite true. I simply wasn’t as patient as those in all those cars around me. I gave up and went back home, where I had writing to do, including this commentary. (As it turns out, I may have made the right turn: ClassicCars.com staffer Nicole James had arrived at the airport early in the morning and informed me Saturday night that capacity at the airport was 3,000 people and that “thousands” more were therefore turned away at the gate.)

Yes, I saw quite a few tattoos. And, yes, the music coming out of those cars wasn’t what I might choose. And the cars of choice tended to be Scions and Subarus and Civics and such, and instead of the rumble of a classic V8 there’s the higher-pitched wail of a turbocharged four-cylinder exhaling through soup-can-sized exhaust systems.

But the point is there’s yet another generation that loves its cars, that hot-rods them just like the Greatest Generation did right after World War II and just like the boomers did back in the ‘70s, except that contemporary hot-rodders tune their cars with computers as well as wrenches.

One reason the boomers don’t know about the XYZ generation’s appreciation for cars is that they don’t go to the same events. Each generation has its own shows, its own versions of cars and coffee/meet-ups, its own driving events.

But just like the earlier generations, the younger ones will mature. Remember, you tweak whatever you’re driving in high school or college or in your first job and eventually you can afford to buy what you wanted but couldn’t get back then, and then along with your age your tastes mature and you want one of those sleek Italian jobs and a ’50s classic and a Real Muscle Car and eventually even a pre-war car or three and, someday, perhaps even a brass era car so you can go do London-to-Brighton in 2040.larry-sig

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.

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