GRINDING GEARS: Car collectors must embrace the new nostalgia

As alluded to a few weeks ago, this weekend features British Columbia’s annual Classic Car appreciation day, on Sunday.

No, there’s no associated holiday. I’ve already asked.

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[Editor’s Note: back to work or I’ll get the cattle prod out again.]

Well anyway. If you’re up for a bit of drive this weekend – and the weather looks great – there’s a couple of events around that are must-attend. On Saturday, our local Carbs and Coffee guys have tentatively lined something up (stay tuned to their Facebook page: @carbsandcoffee), and you could also pop over to Spanish Banks for the Weissach event.

Then, on Sunday, it’s the annual open house for RX Autoworks, which runs from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The whole 200 block of First Street will be closed off for a pop-up car show, and you’ll get a unique opportunity to peek behind the scenes of the shop that restores the cars that have won the most prestigious concourse events in the world.

I will be there with bells on, or at least with Hot Wheels in pocket. I’ll be looking to see cars and owners with interesting stories, and just generally shoot the breeze about anything that’s interesting in our little slice of the world. And, of course, I’ll be looking to see what’s changing.

car show
Classic car shows that once starred Model T Fords now feature cars that came out in the 1980s and ‘90s. Collectors are drawn to the cars of their youth, as well as vehicles they can afford, writes columnist Brendan McAleer. photo Brendan McAleer

If you’ve been a faithful attendee of car shows in the Lower Mainland for the past few years, you’ve likely noticed a change in the wind. Perhaps it’s been the greying of the attendees, with fewer folks showing up year over year.

Or perhaps it’s been a change in the demographics of the cars themselves. Back when the Edgemont Show and Shine was a regular thing, I remember seeing the Model T and Model A club shrink a bit, fewer cars every year.

I remember chatting about this phenomenon with Ted Wilkinson, who ran Wilkinson’s Automobilia model and memorabilia shop over across town (it’s still around, and, even better, so is Ted). He noted that he was being offered a lot of collections of Corgi and Dinky toys, but that there weren’t many buyers.

Basically, the cold reality of years passing meant that collectors were aging out of the things that were important to them as a youth, and getting more interested in Hot Wheels and machines of that ilk. People still loved to collect stuff, just stuff of their own generation.

The same applies to cars. Let’s say you’re around my age, having got your license in the mid-1990s. You wouldn’t necessarily love 1932 Ford Coupes or F-100 pickups, you’d more likely be a fan of the cars that were around or part of popular culture at the time. Countachs. Porsche 911s. Nissan Skylines.

Now, skip ahead a couple of decades and you find yourself in a position to maybe park a project in your garage. You might not be interested in replicating your Dad’s 1960s muscle car. Maybe you want one of the hot machines that you couldn’t afford. Perhaps a Buick GNX instead of a Buick 442?

I was talking with a couple of seasoned car collectors last week, and they remarked on a golden rule. Usually, the height of an ordinary car’s value is when it’s new, and when it’s about 30 years old. That’s when it gets its second life as the collector machine.

Dial the clock back 30 years, and we’re not in 1970 anymore. We’re in 1989, complete with synthesizers and neon. Carry it through to the 25-year rule that’s required for B.C. collector plates, and you’re well into the 1990s. Please AMG Hammer, don’t hurt ‘em.

The new nostalgia is growing for cars of the 1980s and 1990s. DeLoreans. Turbocharged Japanese sports cars. The IROC and the Fox-body Mustang.

Now, if you’re glumly staring out at the garage where your polished MG sits, don’t fret, because this changing of the guard isn’t bad news. It’s actually cause for celebration.

At a recent car show down in Tacoma, Wash., I was staggered at how many millennials turned up. The show was for the E30-chassis BMW 3-Series, which was sold between 1982 and 1994. Most of the attendees were younger than the cars.

And yet they were everywhere, with their skinny jeans and their Instagrams, and their total ignorance of how crappy dial-up internet used to be. All in the name of appreciation of a stubby little German car. It was great.

I read a lot of, well, let’s call it what it is – garbage – about kids not being into cars any more. Totally untrue. Kids are into what they can afford. The Ford Mustang used to cost $2,500, and now it’s about $35,000 for a good one.

However, there’s a whole host of 1980s and 1990s machines that are fun to drive, relatively easy to work on, and just reliable enough to function as your daily driver. They’re neo-classics, but that means they don’t have to be garage queens. Which is handy, because a garage in this town costs eleventy-three million dollars.

Now, take those modern classics, mix in a batch of the usual-suspect older classics, and shake well. In my years covering the car industry, I’ve seen the same thing happening over and over again. Suddenly, here’s a 27-year-old guy driving an MGB because he found his Miata too much of an obvious choice. People’s interests start spreading out.

So, with classic car appreciation day right on our doorstep, let’s remember that the car enthusiast hobby should first and foremost be inclusive. It’s how you preserve things for the future, how you pass knowledge down through the generations.

What’s the next classic car trend on the horizon? I’d say it hardly matters. What’s important is just to get out on a Sunday and go for a great drive with your friends, new or old.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.

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