The Next Generation of Car Enthusiasts

By Bill Bounds

Ferrari 340 America Vignale SpiderI’m just going to put it out there, as a younger person this hobby/sport is frustrating. The issue at hand is access. The internet is great for contributing knowledge to the equation, but it can’t compare to standing by as a Ferrari 340 roars off into the distance. The former helps reinforce passion, the latter creates it. The problem is, with the classic car market on a rocket-propelled incline, the amount of times anyone can stand next to something like that is approaching zero. Even the mid and lower grade levels of classics are becoming hard to attain or encounter in normal life. Have you priced out a ’50s pickup lately?

I am personally sandwiched right in between GenX and GenY. As I like to put it; I have no interest in fighting the system, but the system sure seems intent on fighting me. I had the good fortune to have a racing enthusiast for a father, and a British-car-owning tinkerer for a grandfather. Every blessing is a curse, though, and the things I used to have access to are there no longer, leaving only the desire to forge my own memories, to create my own stories with automobiles.

Here are some contemporary models that I can talk about with a decent amount of depth through my own experiences. I would expect someone of my generation could keep up with the conversation. EC1, EF, EG, EK, EM1, DC2, DC5; GC8, GD, GE; NA, NB, NC; YJ, TJ, XJ; W10 (AW11), W20, W30; ST-165, ST-185; AE86; R32-35. I tossed the Jeeps in for fun.

To counter that, here are some models I can again talk about with depth that I would expect Sports Car Digest readership to identify with. Tipo 750, 101, 105, 115; Type 35, 35A, 35B, 37, 39; TdF, SWB, PF, GTE, GTO, LM; TR2-6; XKC, XKD, XKSS, XKE; 901, 911, 904, 906, 910, 917, 956/962. And on and on.

Both generations have the same alphabet soup. Both generations have the same passion. The gap between the first group and the second group seems obvious to me, it’s about access. I have friends that can tell the difference between a D16 and B16 Honda motor blindfolded, but they couldn’t tell you the difference between a Type 35 and a T-26. An XK120, 140, and 150 are all the same to them just like a third, fourth, and fifth generation Honda Civic would look the same to others. I know the differences because I’m passionate enough to seek them out on both sides. I don’t think, however, that the average contemporary “car guy” has anywhere near the access necessary to know that Bentleys, Voisins, Delahayes, Abarths, and Lancias are worth appreciating. Without access to cars like that, I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect them to.

As the subject of this hobby gets more and more expensive, cars will be driven less and less. Not many Lusso owners will let that kid in the parking lot sit in the driver’s seat for a minute. A Gullwing won’t be seen anywhere but a concours. All Cisitalias will end up in warehouse collections where only the caretakers walk in and out. Such a climate does not create that passionate spark that draws people into the hobby. So if any Sports Car Digest readers do have an interest in broadening that horizon, I would ask one thing. Drive your cars. Drive them in public. When you see a kid smiling, or someone smiling like a kid, stop and talk to them. Silver Ghosts to MG TCs to split-window coupes to Ghiblis. Automobiles are inherently engaging, so give yours the space and time to engage others as they have engaged you. I know I am grateful for those who took the time with me, and I will pay that forward as soon as I am able.

Creating my own stories with automobiles is exactly what I intend to tackle in this space. How does someone with a huge pile of enthusiasm and average means find ways to maximize his access? My answers include things like habitually attending the Amelia Island Concours, autocrossing, buying a Jeep, working on one of my grandfather’s cars, road tripping, LeMons/ChumpCar racing, attending The Mitty and the ARRC at Road Atlanta, rallycrossing, and on and on.

If it burns dinosaurs, I think it’s awesome. From ’30s French grand touring cars and ’50s European sports cars to British Touring Cars and Baja trucks, it doesn’t matter. I like all of it.

[Source: Bill Bounds; photo: Julien Mahiels]

Show Comments (28)

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  1. Nice article Bill,
    I’m a Gen-Xer, finally at a point in my life where I’m in a position to have some fun owning an affordable classic or two. While I like all sorts of cars, and would kill for an 8C 2900B Alfa, I try to keep my head in the more realistic world of driver quality 911s, Alfa Spiders, Pagoda SLs and the like. I participate in vintage car events, attend the vintage races a few times a year in Elkhart Lake and even organize a vintage rally each summer ( I try to enjoy what I can afford and love every minute of it while attending Pebble Beach and other events are more like windows into another world that’s fun to visit, but that I probably won’t ever live in. We’ll outlive all the old guys with the coolest cars now, so start saving your money, with potentially fewer enthusiasts in the future, maybe we’ll get lucky?

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Dave. I finally got my commenting sorted out here, just a few weeks late. I’d love to talk to you more about how you got into the Walleye 1000. Mind sending me an email to [email protected] ?

      And I totally hear you on selfishly hoping for lower interest/prices in the future. Maybe then I’ll be able to have a Silver Ghost!

  2. As a Baby Boomer, that first paragraph of acronyms was complete gibberish. The second was quite meaningful however. Like most of my generation, I wouldn’t know a Honda D16 from a B16, but I can tell a Honda from a Nissan . . . Usually. Asian cars have zero appeal to me, but I do love my Honda mower.

    I drive My MG TC regularly and I always wave at the young boys on bicycles who try to race with me, if I am able to pass them ;-). I never pass up an opportunity to explain my MG B vintage race car to neighborhood kids who are attracted by the sound of the open exhaust when I’m preparing it for another race weekend with CVAR.

    Not all cool old sports cars are unattainable. Go to a grassroots car show (not concours) or a grassroots vintage race (not Monterey Reunion). Most are free admission or a small charitable donation. You’ll see enthusiastic real people with real cars.

  3. You’ve nailed it Bill ! Thanks.
    Exactly the feelings i walk around with. Let us hope that the guys with the bank accounts needed also spend a bit on taking these cars out. It is quite understandable that they would want to protect their investment, but I guess using the cars might make them appreciate their investment even more.

    And even though stunning pictures and fantastic prices are published all over the world within minutes – they sure does not match the real life experience of the car. If more people get to see – and smell – these cars driving close by, I am sure many more will see the reasons for appreciating them.

    Let’s keep them moving – no matter what the price tag says.

  4. There are still some beautifully designed and built cars from the 1960s that are under valuued such as the Lancia Fulvia. Even on a West coast car, watch for rust but floors can be replaced. Especially if the initial cost is right.

  5. Right on Bill! Drive them, that’s the message. Cars, all cars, are meant to be driven. A car sitting in a museum or some private collection warehouse reminds me of wax figures: dead! Check out my small – very small – car collection. I drive them all and the red Abarth has been actively raced for the past 12 years.

  6. Can’t agree more! I began my project 15 years ago by introducing a neo-retro model of the legendary Allard J2X. In 1999, I began by attending vintage races to see Allards on the track doing their stuff. Today, you will be lucky to see any Allard other than the odd one… if you look hard. Sixty year old cars are delicate, parts are hard to find and prices are out of reach for anyone who doesn’t already have a large collection of classic cars. Having been to many auctions and private sales, there is a clear interest for classic cars, however, for every car that is sold, you can bet your boots that you won’t see it again. It will go through a major restoration, or if it already had one, it will be wrapped in cotton never to be seen for another 4-6 years…. at an auction.
    I feel for those that remember the distinctive sound of an Austin-Healey, a Maserati or an early Ferrari. How many cars today can claim to have a sound that will give you goose bumps?
    As for the 40 and under crowd, I can tell by their response when they see my Allard J2X MkII on the highway, at a car show or on the track, that there is still an appetite for the classics and that a modern version of a classic can bridge the gap between their strong desire to own AND drive a classic and their access to an original. Today, the hard reality is that vintage classic cars are an investment. They are not ‘sports cars’.

    1. You’re right, most of the cars I’ve mentioned are an investment now and not “sports cars”. What I hope to talk about as this space evolves is how I, or anyone else, gets around that hangup. What are the things we can do that *are* accessible and where can those opportunities take us? I’m happy to talk more if you like. [email protected]

  7. I most appreciated the article, Bill, however I question your comment that vintage “automobiles are inherently engaging.” I ran a restoration shop rebuilding sports and vintage Grand Prix cars for four decades and prepared fabulous cars for all the major retrospectives and tours. I remember one day on a Colorado Grand idling at a stop light in my MG K3. Next to me at the light were a Bugatti T35 which I had just restored, an Alfa 2.3 Monza which I had also just finished, and a Maserati 8CM. With each driver revving their engines, the sound was fantastic. As we waited for the stop light to turn green, four teenage boys crossed in front of us and meandered down our road without even turning their heads to address the calamitous spectacle that we were creating. As the father of two passionate boys, I was stunned by these youth’s lack of engagement. It has forever been in my memory.

  8. Nice Article. It is something that several of the car clubs I belong to are facing as well. An aging & static membership, with a relatively fixed population of “orphan” cars. In my opinion the best way to intersect with these cars and their owners is to support vintage racing events. As you know, you are much more likely to see and hear the cars used as they are intended at Goodwood, Road America, VIR, or Monterey than at a car show where they are presented as art objects.

    Whenever the opportunity comes up, I make a point to let kids sit in our cars, honk the horn, take photos, etc. Most adult car nuts can pinpoint the time and place where they got hooked, and sometimes that is all it takes.

    On a budget, there are few better changes to enjoy classic cars than Chump/LeMons racing. These series give you an excuse to resurrect a derelict classic who’s myriad flaws might make you pause before bringing it to the local classics night. Once converted to race trim, it becomes immediately endearing, quirky, and welcome. We bought our current race car for $1, (and vastly overpaid). Even though it was way too far gone to merit restoration, it was perfectly suited as a race car and has given us years of enjoyment.

    1. Whenever the opportunity comes up, I make a point to let kids sit in our cars, honk the horn, take photos, etc. Most adult car nuts can pinpoint the time and place where they got hooked, and sometimes that is all it takes.

      I’m with you on this Mark. Ever since 1961 I’ve wanted a E-Type, in 2012 I finally achieved my dream and can’t describe how happy I am. I treat it with respect whilst enjoying it at every opportunity, I often let kids sit behind the wheel while their parents take photo’s of them from every angle. Last year I took a complete stranger who took a photo of my car at Brooklands for a 10 mile spin, he was about the same age as me and was thrilled at the thought of going for a fast drive in one of these fantastic cars.
      Whilst I love every second of owning my car I consider myself nothing more than a custodian of this beautiful machine and I share it with everyone who shows an interest – for me that’s all part of the fun of classic car ownership and I hope I continue to put a smile of people’s faces when I go out for a drive.

      1. Thank you! This is precisely the kind of thing that will keep interest alive. I don’t think it matters what kind of car that kid on the street gets to ride in, an MG or a Ferrari, they will still love their time and be excited about it. Thank you for sharing your E-Type with others, what a treat!

    2. I think a lot of people’s stories start with one specific car. “I had a neighbor with a _______ in his garage…” is a common tale. If we don’t let others in, then they’ll never fully get it.

      And I agree with you on the LeChump thing. Expect one of my stories in the future to talk about it. Without crap-can racing, I would have never gotten on the banking at Daytona!

  9. All old interesting cars will become more and more valuable. As the owners age/die, the cars will, I think, go to younger–collectors, not drivers. The sort of people not likely to run the cars much. But some will–either because they have so much $/cars that a particular car isn’t a big proportion of their investment, or maybe out of curiosity. Bobby Jones said :money will ruin sport” and he was right. Not only does a high price form a barrier to entry for people who’d like to play with their cars, it also colors the way people look at their cars. I’ve had a few cars for so long that I’m not afraid to exercise them (boy, not so much now with one leg!) even though they’re so very much more valuable than they were when I bought them (even allowing for inflation) but i can see how a theoretical new expensive acquisition would throw a blanket of restraint over what I might be momentarily inspired to sportingly do with it. I’ve never been a concours guy; I like daily drivers. If you have a neat car that you want to take to track days or even vintage races, just never take it to within 500rpm of its red line and watch your pressures and temperatures and you’ll have fun. What the heck are a few stone chips anyway? Don’t you have some touchup paint?

  10. Liking this. And yes: the future – my kids – won’t talk as passionately about their Prius (as their 1st used car) as I did about my revvy 5th gen Civic or about the Marcos, TVRs and TR6 cars I fell in love with in my youth. So, that sets a clear mark then.
    Roger: “How many cars today can claim to have a sound that will give you goose bumps?” Ow, that F-type. Maserati does a great jobbie as well. But hey: their have to, because of their legacy. Cheers, Dinkel from Pistonheads.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! A Prius is a great appliance car, but not likely to inspire much passion. 38.5% thermal efficiency only gets you so far I guess. So the real question is how can we get your kids into a TR6? Sounds like a good challenge!

  11. Having fun with cars on the cheap?
    See vintage auto racing, and the occasional drag race.
    Cruise nights, other informal gatherings – many of them bring out some cool stuff. It may ‘just’ be 60’s American Iron, or Rat Rods – that’s ok, they are fun in their own fashion.
    How about a Corvair – the poor man’s Porsche?
    My Corvair doesn’t look like one, but it’s fun and some of the little kids look – and I wave!

  12. I have been involved in Motorsports since 1968 , primarily road racing . My son and I are still racing our 70 Cortina GT in Nova Scotia, Canada. For health reasons I spend my winters in Florida and have discovered Vintage Racing. I am 2 hours from Sebring and attend theSCCA , SVRA and HRA vintage races as much as possible. I’m the old guy running around the paddock with my electric scooter or hobbling along with my cane, taking pictures , talking to who ever I can find willing to talk to me. Sure, I love to talk about my race cars, showing my pictures, but most of talk about their race car. But my other love is to hear the mighty roar of the Trans-Am and Can-Am cars, like the Shelby Mustangs out of Conneticut going down the back straight at full throttle or the Lolas. I have been fortunate enough to meet a few famous race drivers- Bobby Rahal, Doc Bundy, Alex Hill, Derek Bell and to top it all off I met Jack Roush at Last years Roar before the 24.
    I also dream about bring our Cortina for both vintage and SCCA road racing, as impractical as it might be. There is no way I will ever lose interest in Motorsports and now vintage race cars and I hope I have passed it on to my son and now my grand daughter
    Gerald Elliott
    Elliott Racing

  13. GMC COOP The best of the best serving GMC Motorhomes (“12,000 lbs., hot rod with plumbing”) owned and operated by another Bounds. Jim Bounds

  14. most young people i know today have little interest in sports cars. gone are the days when high schoolers waited for each new year of changes as the body styles followed various trends. perhaps, as the order collectors die off, there will be so little interest in vintage sports cars that the prices may drop a lot. then, prices like 12k for a ferrari gto or 7k for a ford cobra could return, adjusted for inflation, of course. well, not likely, but i can dream, can’t i ?

  15. The younger generation, and I mean the 30-40 year old group, doesn’t seem very interested in preserving the past. They can’t even begin saving for their future retirement without some serious prodding from someone. As far as brass-era cars, they have no interest in those at all, so what is the fate of these antique autos? With a strong interest in perhaps Ford Mustangs, or some modified Honda Coupe, I can’t visualize at this time that the present generation, or perhaps the new one in their teens aren’t going to carry on the tradition of vintage racing with few exceptions. The invention of the ipod, notebook and video games is responsible in part for this, and the cost of college loans brings up the slack. As more and more of us old dinosaurs pass on who do we leave our legacy to?