Young enthusiasts and overseas collectors provide promise for our future, even if cars become self-driving
Editor’s note: This is the last in a 6-part series examining where the collector car hobby is headed in the next decade and beyond. Read the rest of the series here. Sandra Button, chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. After her graduation from Washington State University, she joined the Pebble Beach Company as director of special events. She became the concours co-chair in 2002 and has led the event since 2005. After sharing a 1965 Ford Mustang with her father, she bought her first vehicle, a Datsun 2000 Fairlady roadster.
For car lovers, the future is more than a bit uncertain and the challenges are multiplying.
I honestly don’t know what new cars will look like, or even will do exactly, in the coming decades; I don’t know what cars will be. Technology keeps advancing, resources and needs are shifting, and how people feel about and use their cars is changing — dramatically.
Perhaps the collector car’s ability to resonate with new generations is at risk, as is our rapidly decreasing treasure trove of knowledge and hands-on skills to work on them.
Nevertheless, I believe that we will still be celebrating cars — at Pebble Beach and throughout the world — for decades to come.
I believe this in part because I know that history can help people understand the present and it can serve as a guide to the future. Accordingly, as cars get more complex, there will be a need for celebrations where our automotive past, present and future come together. And to my mind, that’s a concours.
I also know that people like to share their treasures with others who appreciate them. And I know they enjoy a good competition — and the accolades that come with winning!
But I’m even more certain that we will continue to celebrate cars because . . . well, cars are cars. They not only continue to move us physically, but also emotionally — they excite us.
And they have the power to unite us.
At a time when our world seems to be divided in so many ways, I am heartened by the fact that cars continue to draw us together. One on one and in groups, through myriad interactions and events both minor and major, cars continue to be shared across continents and generations.
In some very important ways, I see the collector car world expanding in breadth — not contracting!
Over the past decade, and increasingly in recent years, I’ve been witness to new collector car events in India, Japan and China, in Kuwait, Dubai, and Malta — as well as England, France and Australia. And at the Pebble Beach Concours we have a large and growing contingent of entries and entrants, not to mention media members and spectators, from outside the United States. This year, we’re welcoming nearly a dozen cars from India, and the contingent from China continues to grow as well.
And as the collector car community expands to encompass new enthusiasts, so do the cars we celebrate. This year, for the first time, we’re celebrating postwar Citroëns, OSCAs and Tuckers in addition to the perhaps more expected Antique, Vintage and Classic cars.
My mentors, former Concours Co-Chairman Lorin Tryon and Jules Heumann, who shepherded this event for 30 years from 1972 to the new century, might be a bit surprised by this, but they introduced Ferraris to our show field as early as 1973, when that marque’s iconic 250 was just 20 years old!
They watched and welcomed — and sought to mirror — the changing desires of enthusiasts. And we do that still. A concours is not a static event; it is ever changing.
I’ve had the opportunity in recent months and years to spend time with some of the new enthusiasts who will take us into the future — and their passion for cars is palpable. Our Concours interns include a student in the McPherson College restoration program, and a film major hoping to marry a love of cars with a love of communication. I’ve also met recently with several students in the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS!), and their vision and dedication are an inspiration to me. A few have given two years of their lives to build the best possible solar car. Some are studying the limits of car mechanics by drifting a much-modified-and-autonomous DeLorean. And others are striving to improve the feedback cars provide to the people driving them.
I’ve been trying to stretch my imagination to envision the future these students might create. And I’m excited for it!
Perhaps, if cars become fully self-driving, a concours will someday be an occasion when people can truly pilot their cars. Technology will stand down for a day, hands will return to the steering wheel and gearshifter, feet will depress the clutch and gas pedals, and we ourselves will be making our cars Go.
For that one day, we will once again be driving. And we will parade down roads and along parks — and across golf courses — just as cars once paraded along the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in decades past.
But I think a Concours will be much more than that. I think we will find a way to celebrate cars of the future as well as cars of the past.
We might not yet know where we’re going yet, but I’m confident that, together, we will find our way.