As I look at these pictures of my children, Alexandra and Bradley, taken 16 years apart, I wonder what kind of automotive world they will inherit.
We Baby Boomers are the last generation to experience raw, unregulated cars as daily drivers; those built from 1955 through 1974 represent a golden age of motoring. Engineers and stylists answered only to their own whims and the marketplace, with no concerns about government safety and environmental regulations.
Egg-shell bumpers on a 1967 Duetto? No problem. Gas-guzzling Hemi engine in a 1966 Dodge Coronet? Why not. The cars from that era had an ebullient sense about them that these were the best of times, with the best cars for the best roads.
And perhaps they were.
Although their era has passed, through use they can continue to create memories for us and our children. Whether by watching vintage races, participating in rallies, or just a taking a run to the deli on a Sunday afternoon in a diminutive Bugeye, we can create new shared experiences.
If your children have the old car spark, you can bring the tinder. You can teach them to shift a manual gearbox, and send them to a performance driving school. You can explain chokes, carburetors and oil temperature gauges, along with terms like lugging and backfire.
But the real reason to expose your children to cranky old cars is to create an opportunity to bond with them. Everything meaningful about growing up, and growing old, involves common experiences. In a world increasingly full of attractive electronic nuisances, the two of you bundling up in warm clothes before dawn, putting down the top, and heading off on a road moves beyond being a special experience. It becomes a trip into another dimension, where you and your children can find new things to discover together, and to reminisce about later.
Alex still talks about the first time she actually pushed a car, our now-gone 1978 Triumph Spitfire, so that we could pop the clutch and start it despite a dead battery. It seemed like magic to her. Or the first time she drove the Alfa Giulia Spider Veloce-across the soaring Fremont Bridge in Portland, top down in the sun-and commented that this was the best theme park ride she had ever been on.
Old car events also give your kids a chance to meet other gearheads and their kids, and to discover their dad isn't the only one on the block who thinks going to a swap meet in the rain is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. And old car users are generally pretty interesting people, who have interesting stories to tell, about interesting lives-it's today's equivalent of sitting around a campfire and listening to the elders spin their tales of things that happened long ago. A modern day retelling of the Odyssey, if you will.
What's to come
The automotive world in which Alex is growing up is not so different from the one you and I experienced, except that new cars are much better than our old ones, and roads are more crowded. For most old cars, there are no more restrictions on their use now than there were 16 years ago.
However, the increase in both the number and the size of vehicles on the road means that old cars are increasingly unsuitable for daily transportation; they are best used for trips into the countryside, where they can be exercised without having to worry about being crushed under the 22˝ bling of a Navigator.
Bradley may not have the same privileges. While the cost of gasoline will be essentially irrelevant to the infrequent pleasure use of an old car, the sheer changing of societal mores may restrict his choices. In a decade, will our heavily-polluting old cars be banned from the road? Will there be a cultural backlash against old cars? You won't see a horse in a parade today without someone running along behind it with a shovel; will the visible pollutants emitted by old cars be treated any differently?
I think the chances of the automotive world of 2024 being comprised of freeways clogged by whirring golf carts are slim. Barring a complete shutdown of imported oil, we have an economy that is too intertwined with petroleum products for it to change its face completely in only 16 years.
But the generation of collectors born along with Bradley will encounter old cars as an increasingly obtuse learned taste, not an embedded one. Mastering a manual shift that is slower and balkier than the electronic paddle-shifted 7-speed gearbox in a Kia will be like learning to shoot a rabbit with an arrow from a compound bow; it's interesting but no longer necessary to put dinner on the table.
So I think Bradley, 16 years from now, will be able to jump into the Alfa, pump the throttle a few times, turn the key and hear the engine come to life. He'll get used to waiting until the Dentax in the gearbox is warmed up before trying to shift quickly into second, and know that there will always be a little water dripping into the car from the front windshield pillar during a rainstorm.
He will learn all these things through his immersion in my world as he grows up, not through his exposure to the car world of kids his own age. But he will be an "old car kid" and have the best of both worlds, the sophistication of the new and the elegant grittiness of the old.
As for his children, when they come of driving age in year 2050, I'm not placing any bets.