(Editor’s note: This commentary is a call to action by Patrick Rollet, president of the Federation Internationale des Vehicules Anciens, the global group working to keep classic vehicles on the world’s roads.)
We can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to our future motoring freedom. Congestion, pollution and road safety issues – all legitimate concerns – are contributing to the potential demise of motorists at the wheel of their own vehicles. Yet it’s the historic vehicle that is most at risk, despite their almost negligible effect on pollution and congestion, and our excellent safety statistics – while generating significant economic, social and tourist benefits.
But it’s not just a question of whether we’ll be allowed to drive. Perhaps the even bigger question is whether there will be drivers to use them; or, with the advent of autonomous vehicles, are drivers becoming ever more ‘historic’ themselves?
Why does it matter?
For the enthusiast, the answer is obvious. The pleasure we get from owning, maintaining and using our classics is beyond description, but there’s a far wider social importance to keeping historic vehicles on our roads. They are part of our technical, scientific and cultural heritage (as the partnership between UNESCO and FIVA demonstrates) and the world would be a poorer place if such vehicles could only be seen in static museums.
What can be done?
The future of historic vehicles isn’t simply that of used vehicles, but of recreation and pleasure; ownership isn’t based on economics but on passion. We see several simple steps to help us keep driving, 50 years from now.
First, we must target the young. Clubs around the world are arguably in the last throes of a golden age, seeing a sad decline in new members because of the lack of younger people. Young petrolheads still exist, but all they need to organize a gathering are a few Facebook messages: no road book, rally plates or fuss. Likewise, they use their informal network to find a mechanic or surf the web for parts, so why join a club?
Too many clubs ignore these profound technological and sociological changes, mismanaging their efforts to attract young people, to welcome them and satisfy their desire for informal, fuss-free events. Many clubs ostracize youngtimers, both vehicles and members. They organize hidden outings, almost out of sight, whereas a display of historic vehicles offers a marvelous museum in movement – free of charge – to delight and fascinate passers-by.
We won’t renew our numbers waiting patiently for them to come to us because, like Godot, they will not come. We must change our habits:
• Create a ‘young’ section in the club, run by a younger person, to design simple, dynamic and fun outings;
• Ensure there are several under-40s on the main committee; enjoy the Vintage movement (fashion, accessories, etc.);
• Organize free presentations at events – with commentary – for the public;
• Team up with popular events run by others (planes and old cars, rail and yesterday’s road…);
• Exhibit at hypermarkets or fairs, wherever there is an audience, especially young people. We must show our vehicles.
Next, we must tell a story, because every historic vehicle has a fascinating tale to tell, of much more interest to the general public than the cubic capacity or number of valves.
And it’s vital that we avoid being too narrow in our definition of historic motoring. You might only be interested in Vintage Bentleys, but please don’t criticize your neighbor’s passion for mopeds, or microcars, or buses, or customized American muscle cars in fuchsia with turquoise stripes. They’re all an important part of our history, our culture, and the rich diversity of classic vehicles on our roads.
No one disputes the value of authenticity – and FIVA will continue to applaud it – but beware the risk of seeming elitist, when young people often want to own a historic vehicle simply because it is different: quirky, unique, even iconoclastic.
At a recent seminar, Michael Abele, in charge of social networks at Mercedes-Benz Classic, proposed an answer to the authenticity-vs-inclusiveness debate. Indicating a 190E with big chrome wheels and low-profile tires, he suggested, ‘Don’t criticize; respect. Listen… and then educate.’ Very wise advice.
Finally, and above all, keep enjoying your motoring, and communicate that pleasure to others, because it’s down to us, as individual enthusiasts, to ensure we don’t lose the right and the ability to drive on the roads 50 years from now.