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Classic car culture differs globally, reflecting local tastest

A participant dressed as chauffeur wipes his 1932

A participant dressed as chauffeur wipes his 1932 Chevrolet during the Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally in Kolkata, India. (Jan. 8, 2012) Credit: AP

The way that an owner defines the value of his or her classic car(s) varies in many ways. At one end of the spectrum are collectors who place value on ownership of one or more cars that are extremely rare, in concours condition, tucked away securely from prying eyes, and never used. At the other end of the spectrum is the collector who defines the value of a classic car as that which is derived from the use of the car as often as possible, with as many guests as possible sharing the experience. Most fall somewhere in between.

I have customers all over the world, and I always enjoy discussing with them how they derive value from ownership.

Australia is very much like the U.S. in the sense that ownership usually means public displays and camaraderie in the form of car shows and cruise nights. I’m sure that there are exceptions, but most of my Australian customers use their cars extensively. They love classic cars and they love driving them. Most of my overseas customers see their cars for the first time when the container is opened at the port in their home country. Not so with my customers from “Down Under.” More often than not they will fly here to pick up the car and then spend a month or two driving it cross-country, where it will be containerized at a port on the east or west coast for shipment to Australia. Absolute adherence to originality and perfection is not of paramount importance, but beauty, structural integrity, and dependability is.

I have quite a few customers in Scandinavia, and Norway in particular. The country itself is not particularly hospitable to classic cars what with strict import rules, expensive import duties, and expensive fuel (as with most of Europe). Although the demographics of many of my customers in this part of the world mimics that of the U.S. (45 and over), I find many collectors to be much younger than those in the U.S. Some of my best customers are under 30 years old. It seems that the older collectors enjoy driving the cars, while the younger collectors enjoy working on the cars. They “soup them up” much as we did 30 years ago. 

The Middle East is somewhat unique. In a way, it is a “best of both worlds” scenario. Collectors tend to own very fine examples, often the best, of their preferred collector car. But they also use them. Not very often, but they are not stored away for months or years at a time either. They are more of a prized personal possession rather than a social focus, but that is rapidly changing as younger collectors and customizers join the hobby. Some of the finest classic and customized motorcycles that I’ve ever seen were in the Middle East. 

Over time things change. In the U.S. this seems to be manifesting itself in the form of acceptance of collector cars that have been modified to increase safety, drivability, and dependability. There will always be a demand for those cars that are original, or faithfully restored to original. But some of the most surprising sales prices at the major televised auctions were of those “resto-mods” that were outwardly original in appearance but had modern drive-trains, suspensions, safety features, and convenience options. I perceive a shift in collectors priorities from that of collecting for the sake of collecting, to collecting for the sake of enjoying. I think that this is amplified by the need of the baby-boomers to include their families in their car collecting activities.

I’m a baby-boomer and I can say for certain that this applies to me. I used to be a purist. Any classic car that I owned had to be flawless, original (or restored to original), and spent only the most beautiful of days being driven. Now my collector cars are what I describe as “high-end driver quality.” Their value is derived in the form of enjoyment of use.

Recently I was extended a last-minute invitation to a collectors “garage night.” I was told that it was a small gathering of people in someone’s garage, and that I would enjoy myself if I came. Outwardly the garage was completely non-descript, but when I walked in I was astounded. Inside of this beautifully decorated garage was a spectacular assembly of about 50 collector vehicles. All were lined up perfectly with a small plaque describing the vehicle. Fine food and drink was being served as the guests milled about talking to each other. Everyone was enjoying themselves.

Even after many decades of enjoying collector cars, I’m occasionally surprised at a new way that someone has found to enjoy the hobby, and this was clearly one of the best I’ve seen. I would urge anyone with a garage large enough to accommodate at least a few people to have their own “garage night.” It can be as simple or elaborate as you wish. I can assure you, a good time will be had by all.  

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