Each week, my extended family gets together on Sunday to have dinner together at a place I like to call the Pickering compound — a flatroof house in Portland’s West Hills, built by my great grandfather, grandfather and dad in 1959. It’s full of family heirlooms and history.

The grandkids all run around and play, my brother-in-law uses his professional chef skills to impress everyone around the table, and my mom, aunt and sister all talk about the weekly challenges of being school teachers. I kick tires with my dad, either over his ’68 Camaro or my current ’79 C10 shortwide project. In the midst of all that, we have dinner and just all try to be in the same place at the same time.

A few weeks back, my mom asked something that’s stuck with me: “Who wants all these dishes and crystal when I’m not around anymore?”

A changing market

It was interesting timing on her part, as the Amelia Island auctions had just wrapped, and I had been going over the numbers on the Friday prior. One trend out of Amelia this year was a swing to younger collectors and newer cars, as well as a sell-off of stodgy Full Classics, I imagine due to collectors who are starting to plan for the future — a future where kids just aren’t that interested in the items that their parents coveted.

Prices out of Amelia were strong this year — $79.5m compared to last year’s $78.9m, but as evidence of change in the market, more modern cars were on-site — and selling.

Case in point, when have you ever seen a fourth-gen GM F-body at a boutique auction house such as Gooding & Company? They host three auctions every year: Scottsdale, Amelia Island and Pebble Beach. The average price per car at Gooding’s Scottsdale sale? $459k. This is high-level territory — reserved for some of the finest cars on the market.

So seeing a 1999 Pontiac Trans Am 30th Anniversary under the Gooding tent, complete with its blue wheels, was a marker for me. If fourth-gen F-bodies have arrived, what else is now fair game as a “legitimate” collectible — C2 Corvette, ’69 Boss 302, ’57 Chevrolet territory — as defined by the broader market?

New machines

We’ve known for a while that younger buyers were starting to come into the market to buy the cars they love — stuff like 5.0 Mustangs, IROC Camaros and Square-body GM trucks. Late C3 Corvettes and Terminator Cobras have risen in value lately. Generally, the collector market has — up until now — just considered these used cars.

Not anymore. Now these buyers — and their cars — are here, and they’re showing up in places you might not have expected.

This is great news for the market — and for people who love cars.

Every pundit you’ve heard lamenting over today’s kids not caring about cars — and craving cell phones instead — should be directed to take a long, hard look at what’s selling — and to whom.

This isn’t the awakening of 18-year-olds in the classic-car market.

No, this is Gen X — those 40-somethings who gobbled up alternative rock and John Hughes films — finally starting to flex their financial muscle. They’re starting to steer the market in a different direction than their Baby Boomer and Silent Generation predecessors.

It seems that while everyone was arguing over “those kids and their cell phones,” the Xers were starting to buy and sell. Granted, this didn’t happen overnight, but Amelia really highlighted a shift.

The proof is in the auction catalogs — and the prices achieved for some of the later-model lots profiled in this issue. From these numbers, those forecasting the end of old cars as we know them alongside changing demographics may have gotten it partially right: The cars may change, but the passion doesn’t.

Where one section of the market rises, another falls. Where does that leave Full Classics? That’s a harder question to answer — one that revolves around style, usability and “cool” factor as decided by the next generation. I’ve seen arguments on both sides — from insisting on strength via a handful of strong sales versus yelling to get out now while the getting is good. I think the jury’s still out — but it won’t be for long.

Traditions and trinkets

I’ve had Sunday dinner with the family for decades now — long enough to know that it isn’t about the plates, or the crystal, or Grandma’s special extra-long table. It’s about the food, the conversation, the kids playing in the grass outside the kitchen and the tire-kicking out in the garage before dinner.

We’re talking about real-deal family time — which is precious beyond belief.

The new, younger collectors are finding joy in today’s market. Their favorite cars and trucks might be different than yours, but they’re here for the same reasons as the rest of us.

Nothing lasts forever, and while the scenery around a passion may change, the essence that drives it lives on.

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