A few Septembers back, a friend of mine called me to ask if I’d be a judge at his church’s car show. It was a small show — about 50 or so cars — and he was hunting for car people to team up with members of the church’s youth group to teach them about cars and judge the entries. I signed on, and I dragged ACC Contributor Chad Tyson along with me to help spread the good word about 4-barrel carburetors and original paint.
The kids were eager to learn and looked wide-eyed at some of the stuff that showed up, from the basic 1965 Mustang in red to a yellow ’70 Camaro fitted with a snarling supercharged drag motor — the car surged against its brakes as its driver idled it to the field.
ACC Contributor Jeff Zurschmeide was there with his restored MGA roadster, and I showed my red ’01 SS Camaro — the last show I took it to before I sold it. Funnily enough, the kids in my group all agreed it was boring. I didn’t win anything.
I don’t remember most of the cars I judged, save a really rough 327 Caprice like mine with some add-on trim, but I do remember a good number of “Please do not touch” signs.
One moment stood out in vivid contrast: Chad and I had just met up after looking over the field, and we happened to be standing in front of a vintage pre-war Packard roadster — the oldest car in a sea of American muscle — as a kid and his father meandered over to it.
The car’s owner stood close by to talk to anyone willing to listen. When the young boy stopped to take a look, the guy opened up the door and offered to let the kid sit behind the wheel. The kid lit up and climbed into the seat. The owner had him turn the wheel, grab the shifter, and honk the horn just as he would if he were driving. The owner grinned as big as the kid did, and the kid walked away with a great tactile memory of the time he “drove” a Packard.
Now, I certainly won’t admit to any bias that will call my judging credentials into question, but that guy looked even more pleased when he drove out of the show carrying the biggest trophy of the day.
Get with it
This brings me to Scottsdale, where we saw business-as-usual results from Barrett-Jackson, Russo and Steele, RM Sotheby’s, Gooding & Co., Bonhams, Silver and newcomer Worldwide Auctioneers. Overall totals were up only slightly over last year’s $256m, to $261m, no doubt due to more cars being sold thanks to the new auction addition. Granted, some auctions, like Bonhams, were up considerably over 2016, but averages were, well, average.
For me, the one thing that kept popping up, heard in passing and even within several of the expert-laden seminars that took place throughout the week, was the notion that Millennials and kids in general are bowing to the almighty cell phone at the expense of traditional car culture.
If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times. The next generation just isn’t interested — they’d rather play on Instagram than bother thinking about classic cars. The trouble is that it just isn’t true.
Consider this: Cars from all eras crossed the Arizona auction blocks throughout the week, and we saw some big prices for the next generation of collector cars: 1980s and 1990s muscle. Just take a look at the sky-high money a few 5.0 Mustangs brought at Barrett-Jackson: $82k, $71k, $44k — granted, these were low-mile mint machines, but it’s still pretty telling about how the market is changing to reflect younger tastes.
Want to look further into the future of the market? Just see how many car pics there are on Instagram right now. Yes, you’ll see 2016 Shelbys, Ford GTs, and ’90s Saleen Mustangs there. But you’ll also see 1957 Bel Airs, 1959 Eldorados and 1969 Camaros as well. This is the future of the market in HD, just spoken in a different language than the drive-ins and drag races we’re used to. But all the eras are represented there in one way or another.
Don’t believe me? That’s fine. But I’ll challenge you with this: The next time you and your buddies congregate at a car show, peel off the “Do Not Touch” sign from your car’s glass and give a kid a chance to honk that horn and row the gears. After all, there’s only so much a high-res photo on the Web can do to build interest inside a future car kid. The rest is up to us — and that means it’s up to you.