Classic Cars and Classic Owners

Are old cars for old people?

It seems to be so — if you go by what one typically sees at an old car show. The owners are mostly at least as old as their cars — and most of them are more than 40 years old, which is roughly the line of demarcation between modern cars — those with computers — and those without them, which were last made in the very early ’80s.

The owners of pre-computer (and now classic) cars are now “classics” themselves. They are into these cars because they grew up with them and remember what cars used to be like before Uncle ruined them, and ruined driving — which used to be fun, too.

But people who are in their ’20s and ’30s today have no memory of what it used to be like. Most have never been in a car with a carburetor — and without air bags.

Similarly, cars are just appliances to most in their ’20s and ’30s, and driving isn’t fun because of the endless pestering and constant threat of over-the-top sanctions for trivial offense against arbitrary statutes.

Try to imagine being a 17-year-old kid today and having to deal with “zero tolerance” policies with regard to alcohol — something which most teens still regard as fun. The slightest whiff of beer — and there goes your license.

Imagine being 20 — and no longer a kid, really. Possibly, working full-time. That same whiff costs you not just your license but also your job.

It makes driving not much fun since you can’t go anywhere fun or do much that’s fun.

Cars with computers are also forbidding things compared with the mechanical things most over-40s today grew up with yesterday. Especially to a 14 or 15-year-old, which is about the age people used to form emotional bonds with cars because they (used to) begin working on them around that time. Which they had to, usually, because the cars most kids that age had access to were old jalopies — like classic Beetles, for instance — they bought with their summer lawn-mowing and winter snow-shoveling money in anticipation of getting their learners permit at 15 and change and their full license (and adult privileges) at 16.

Today’s kids don’t get adult privileges until they are practically adults — and the cars available to them are mostly almost-used-up computer-controlled cars, which aren’t tinker-friendly in the way an old Beetle or similar relic was.

Raise the Beetle’s hood — and there it is the engine. All of it. Mechanical components you can see and touch and take apart to see how they work and so understand how they work. It was the same, basically, for all cars made before the early Eighties.

Software is harder to see — harder to take apart and understand. Or care about. It is not the same thing, even if you do understand it, to read a code as opposed to physically taking apart a carburetor and replacing a bad accelerator pump or leaky float. There’s not much charm in pulling a defective electric whatever-it-is, throwing it away and plugging in a new electric whatever-it-is.

People aren’t attached to their smartphones, either.

So long as it works — and so long as it’s the latest thing — then it’s “cool.” But when it stops working and is no longer the latest thing, it gets thrown away.

People didn’t used to throw away their cars. They kept them, they fixed them, and they handed them down to their kids (or sold them to some kid) for them to fix.

Some fixed them to better-than-new and held onto them until they became “classic” cars.

By which time, the kid who owned it had become one himself.


Got a question about cars — or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

Photo attribution: Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


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