Will we still be able to drive our cars in 20… 30… 50 years?

Will we still be able to drive our cars in 20… 30… 50 years?

FIVA president asks ‘The big question’

(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.)

Patrick Rollet

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.

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7 Comments

  • Jim Volgarino
    April 15, 2019, 8:21 AM

    Great commentary and this should be a great concern of any car enthusiast who is truly interested in maintaining the heritage of the automobile intact for future generations. Another area of concern is the historical documentation of the industry including manufacturer marketing, technical and journalistic contributions that detail the birth of the industry up to the present time. The vast majority of this material continues to remain in paper form, tucked away in libraries, collections and archives where the access is limited. Yes, some is digitized but its a fraction of the wealth of knowledge and background that has been produced over the past century. Do you suppose today’s generations will want to travel to some out of the way archive to leaf through pages of documents to find some research focused information? It’s doubtful and the additional issue is this information is spread over hundreds of locations with no centralized index unless you count Google as a reliable resource. Before it’s too late one of the major automotive organizations needs to get behind an effort to at least begin the process of gathering up these paper based collections, get them digitized and indexed and then link all the various databases of information together so access is easy and useful. A big job? You bet. But who better to get the process moving than the current generation of enthusiasts who lived through these incredible eras and can provide the direction for making this archive useful going into the future?

    REPLY
    • pat shikany@Jim Volgarino
      April 15, 2019, 10:21 PM

      I AM ABLE TO DRIVE MY 1970 429 STOCK AND ORGINAL TORNIO COBRA WHEN I WANT. I BOUGHT IT AND RECEIVED IT IN LATE 1969.

      REPLY
    • Front Seatdriving@Jim Volgarino
      April 18, 2019, 12:32 PM

      Some excellent points on a topic mostly ignored.

      REPLY
  • Ryan Corman
    April 15, 2019, 6:15 PM

    I live in Fargo, ND. The car culture in the Northland is strong and very inclusive.
    In Fargo, prominent local businessmen Mr. Thorson and Mr. Ackley (Global Development LLC is how I understand they operate) who own restaurants, sports bars, rentals & more, adopted the local car community by opening the large parking lot behind their premier downtown business, the "Old Broadway" restaurant & sports bar, for every 3rd Thursday during the spring, summer, and fall, to what is called "Gasoline Alley". The Alley is an all-makes, all-years, all-ages free car show, bike show, whatcha brung show (did I mention "free"?); kids in hand, kids on skateboards, kids in dropped & turbo’ed Honda’s, kids (59) like me with my ’04 GTO, and ’50’s-’60’s-’70’s-’80’s-’90’s muscle kids from 20 to 80+, as well as the wealthy with their new ‘Vette Z06s and Hellcats/Demons/God knows what; some of those guys cruise late ’40’s Packards or dropped Lincoln Cosmopolitans, wire wheel brass era iron, or foreign exotics (a regular brings his right hand drive, body-kitted, custom painted, motored to the max JDM Skyline GTR, um, when the dude backs out of it and the wastegates release it’s akin to Formula One drama; his friend brings Japanese microcars, including a pink "Hello Kitty" themed thing that is unaccountably popular with damn near everybody).
    The upshot for us is that it’s always a family friendly, hands on, talk & show for everyone. Lil kids often get to touch or sit in; the guys- club members or drop-ins, always share. There’s a small contingent of GM Australia Holden cars like my GTO- an acquaintance and his wife often bring their insanely built Pontiac G8 GT sedans, there’s a guy that has a museum quality ’04 GTO in the same Tor-red as mine (mine’s a year round daily driver, didn’t buy it to look at), and a young man who’s purple Holden GTO got t-boned, so he brings his newer ’06 GTO with 650+hp of aftermarket motor, dropped suspension, and all the drama you expect from an Aussie V8 Challenge car.
    Up here, to steal a phrase, the kids are all right. They might not always worship the Detroit iron I grew up with, and sometimes I find their taste in music somewhat iffy- but they love cars, and over phones and video games they no doubt have, because they come on Thursday and participate, and ask, and take pics and selfies with what they like.
    This is the future. Not every young’un is hypnotized by phones; maybe it’s the agricultural background of this entire state, but kids that come to see the cars, as a rule, always ask good questions.
    Let’s just support, rather than bewail a loss that hasn’t happened yet. Take a kid, or a buncha kids, to a car show/drag race/boat race/SCCA event- hell, even the Indy 500, tho’ it’s a spec race now. Maybe a demo derby at a State Fair- what kid doesn’t like crash&burn for fun? At the local strip, I dropped the pumpkin on a "best of" try with borrowed 10 inch Hoosiers- the 117k+ rear axle just surrendered- and my girlfriend’s 7yr old son, and all his buds were so impressed that I’m still a hero, 18 months later- "canya do that again? Please? That was so…" I think the word was "expensive". They took pictures, and (she) gave me a Fracture (glass print) of the disintegration & sparks for my birthday. Awww. (Curses. How to tell lil dude that he recorded one of the worst days ever?)
    I believe that our hobby will survive, simply because even now, kids love a spectacle, and want to know how to be a part. I fully support World Rally and Drift Cup, ‘cuz, um, cars. And Tanner Foust, Travis Pastrana, Ken Block- X-Games cats who became car people, yes?
    Let’s keep on, and not bury the love too soon, ‘k? Is a jacked up, overdriven Tesla not still a car?
    Just sayin’.

    REPLY
  • Mark Schroer
    April 16, 2019, 6:53 AM

    i would assume, as years go by, and new technology takes hold, that gasoline will be harder to find, much like trying to find leaded gas after the 70’s
    .
    As I start contemplating the build of my latest car, I am considering going electric. If I can find peel & stick flexible solar panels, that would make for an interesting paint job and be functional too! A ’59 Buick has a lot of surface to soak up the sun!

    As a custom car builder, the future is limitless. just trying to stay positive!

    REPLY
  • James McIntire
    April 16, 2019, 9:00 AM

    The younger generations today expect and demand an atmosphere of diversity and inclusivity, one where everybody is welcome as well as all ideas are welcome. Translating that to the car hobby, all cars are welcome. They don’t define a vintage automobile as collectible or not simply based on year, make, or model as the older generations do. That is one reason why the club scene is dying off. Another reason is because membership in those clubs can get expensive. Most younger people don’t see the need to spend that much money to enjoy their collector vehicle. Not when, like the author said, they can gather something very informal and free of a typical structure with strict rules via social media; and better yet they can do that for free or at least at a much reduced cost! The formal clubs tend to scare people off with their strict rules as to what vehicles are accepted and not accepted, their "members-only" outings, and their expensive dues. This exclusivity may have been fine and acceptable with the older generations, however the younger generations are not going to accept it. So they’re not going to join. I’m in my early 40’s so I feel like I’m kinda in between the Baby boomer generation and the Millenials who are starting to come into their own. The Gen-X crowd and younger does appreciate some of the same vehicles that our parents and grandparents did. However we are going to enjoy them in a way that looks completely different to the way our predecessors enjoyed them. Not wrong, just different.

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  • John McNulty
    April 17, 2019, 1:33 PM

    In 25 years, I will be 100 years old. Think I will be able to drive my Morgans? Hope so.

    REPLY