like to think I’m not getting old, but unless I stop looking in mirrors (and change my diet to 100% Ibuprofen), I can’t help but face the fact that I am. Along with that, I suppose, comes the responsibility to bitch about how much better it was in “the old days.”

Now, let me clarify, I’m not that old. But I did enter the collector car world in the mid-1980s, and if you compare the three decades since, I think we’d all agree the world changed a lot more between 1985 and 2015 than it did between 1955 and 1985.

Hogwash? (Sorry, old-guy term.) Let me point out what I base that conclusion on: Think about what changed in cars and technology during those two periods.

Analog era

From 1955 to 1985, we gained radial tires, seat belts and superior performance. But even in 1985 the vast majority of new cars still had carburetors. We still all used telephones, or the USPS, or actually got up to go out and visit with friends. If you wanted to watch a TV show, you had to be home at the time it aired.

Tuning your car consisted of points, plugs, maybe some Mallory or Holley parts from the local speed shop, and a day in the garage with at least two friends. Our quest for knowledge led us to the library to pore over smelly old Motor shop manuals or to pick the brain of the “old-timers” at the service station.

From 1985 to 2015, it would be easier to list what stayed the same. Some cars are driving themselves, and a lot of others don’t even have engines. Most people no longer have a landline phone in their home. We have the Internet and carry it with us. The USPS? Only if we have to. “Tuning” your car involves plugging in a thing to a receptacle under your dash. You don’t even have to open the hood! And we quickly pull up a how-to video on our phone if we have a problem.

Don’t get me wrong; this tech is fascinating, even if I don’t fully understand it all. But I do miss one thing it is erasing: the local car club scene.

Learning by doing

When I was a teenager, I joined every local club I could. My two favorites were the MG and Alfa Romeo owners’ clubs. The MG guys had awesome garage tours and road rallies. The Alfa club did much of the same but also had regularly scheduled tech sessions to help members fix their cars. That was great for me because I had an old Alfa that I knew nothing about. I also had none of the right tools to fix it.

The Saab club held ice races in the winter. I learned more about car control there than anywhere else before or since — and no, they didn’t care that I never brought a Saab.

During the other three seasons, the Corvette Club held gymkhanas — now known as autocrosses — and no, I didn’t own a Corvette either, but they didn’t care.

When these clubs weren’t getting together to do “car stuff,” they were socializing. Organized cookouts and dining-out events were a regular thing. Most clubs had a volunteer staff that would distribute a monthly newsletter with event schedule, and we all set our calendars around it.

However, more important than any of the driving or tech stuff were the friendships. For a young guy just starting out, I couldn’t have met a better group of folks. No matter the club, it seems we all had one common interest: hanging out with other people who liked old cars, and helping each other. When you were in, you were part of a group that took care of its own. The old guys would teach the young guys what they could, loan tools, and usually come up with those elusive parts you needed from their stash.

Looking back, I realize I caught this phenomenon just in time. The days of kids like me driving old cars because they were cool, cheap transportation were soon gone. I became great friends with most of the “old guys,” and the lessons they taught me, about cars and otherwise, have proven invaluable in my life. Sadly, most of these guys are gone now.

A different world

I suppose I’m now one of the “old guys.” But the local club scene is on life support. No kids I know of have old cars they want to learn how to work on themselves. Heck, most don’t care about cars at all. Few, if any, people are using old cars as daily drivers. Gone is the uncertainty of making it somewhere and the sense of accomplishment when you do, and wanting to see how many of your friends can do the same.

Our world, for the most part, has gone virtual. Internet forums. Digital clubs. Kids more worried about Pokémon Go than messing around with old cars or hanging out with the old guys who know about them.

Is there a fix? I think so, and it’s pretty simple. Support the local chapter of your national club. Join others, too. Attend the events. Help with the newsletters. Find, or create, a local cruise night and get a group to attend it.

Get a bunch of your friends together, clean out your garages and have a car-part yard sale. Organize a local garage or shop tour a few times a year, some driving tours, tech sessions, a regular burger run or even a gymkhan… wait, I mean autocross.

We all need to connect more outside of the Internet. Inspire each other to use and have fun with our cars. Most importantly, welcome the newbies no matter what they drive. They are the future, and it’s our job to make sure that 30 years from now, there is still an old-car hobby for one of them to write about.

Comments are closed.