What Happens When The Torch is Ready to be Passed and There’s No One to Receive It?
I’ve had a “thing” about cars for as long as I can remember. Since I have no real mechanical ability, my infatuation was centered on looks, overall design, speed, sound, and even smell. A really great vehicle appealed to at least four of my senses and a few hit all five. If a car caught my eye, it really didn’t matter what the brand was, how much it cost, or how fast it went. I yearned for autos with beautiful exteriors and immaculately designed interiors. I craved those with brutish horsepower and unmistakable exhaust notes. I don’t recall my first drag race, but I came away from it hooked on the smell of burning rubber and nitro methane fumes.
During my teen years I couldn’t wait for the latest editions of Hot Rod and Car Craft to hit the newsstands. Candy apple paint, pin stripes, chrome, loud engines, and girls competed equally for my attention. This was in part fueled (pun intended) by the abundance of car songs, which seemed to be almost as numerous as tunes about girls. Eventually girls won out and along the way I found out it was easier to be forgiven for leering at a hot car than it was to be caught looking at an equally hot girl. Except for a few ill-conceived purchases over the past 50 years, I’ve managed to keep my automotive lust in check. Still, it’s always there. Recently, the opportunity to attend a nationally known car auction presented itself and resistance was futile.
When I was going to car shows and drag races regularly, the fans were predictably males from ages 10 to 70 with the bulk being between late teens and mid-thirties, but there was also a good representation of girlfriends, wives, and families with younger children. Once inside the gates, I noticed this crowd was different. Seeing the quantity of electric scooters zipping down the rows of cars reminded me of being in WalMart on a Friday night and the number of people under oxygen had me thinking that a local retirement home must have brought some of their residents here for an outing. After a short while, I realized these folks were going to be the dominant demographic. Lots of old, gray, dudes just like me and a bunch of them were in worse shape. There were also a few wives who seemed to be enjoying the day out with their husbands. The folks at Dodge were offering hot rides in some of their new supercars and the rumble of the engines and fragrance of smoking tires competed with the live audio feed from the auction. There was a large tent full of automotive themed art, neon signs, and model cars just waiting for a home in someone’s man-cave. Prayers were answered for those who love overpriced event food and uncomfortable places to sit. In other words, the hot rod/muscle car culture had all the elements in place for another successful celebration of its unique brand of piston-powered art. Except for one. Few young people were in attendance. I spotted some pre-teens with their grandfathers, but the next age group that had much representation was the forty-somethings.
While a number of young folks are active in the tuner car culture, my opinion is that the hot rod/muscle car segment is about to experience a serious decline. Despite the number of car shows on cable TV and the current success of auto auctions, not enough young people appear to be moving into the gap that will be left by the passing of the baby boom generation. Without the requisite support, hot rods and older muscle cars are headed to the same place as Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy’s, and K Mart. I’ll be sorry to see all of them go, but understand survival often hinges on the ability to attract and hold the interest of a population with an increasingly short attention span living in a world with an ever expanding array of things vying for that attention.
Adios, little GTO. See you around Mustang Sally. Goodbye, Little Deuce Coupe. Hello Tesla, Lyft, Uber, and self-driving cars!