Will the Old Car Hobby Die Out?

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Oct 17, 2016

Long-time readers know about my Volvo 122S wagon, which I’d owned for 20 years. I loved that car, but—as Pete Seeger wrote—for everything there is a season. The Volvo wasn’t getting driven, and that’s not good for an old car.

I was expecting a grizzled veteran to buy my 122S; instead, it was 23-year-old Alex Cunnane, (Jim Motavalli photo)

I sold it via BringATrailer.com auction, and the thread is here. To my surprise, the buyer was a 23-year-old, Alex Cunnane from Philadelphia. He took the train up to me in Connecticut, and I loaded him up with spare parts for the drive home. The old boat made it down there without trouble, as I knew it would.

The new owner plans an adventure in the old Volvo, which is so cool. He’s going to drive it to Tijuana because, well, that’s where they invented the caesar salad—and he claims to have never eaten a salad.

In Alex’s words:

My first salad has to be meaningful and memorable. It has to be the archetypal salad in the quintessential location — the caesar salad in Tijuana. It was invented there on the Fourth of July weekend in 1924 by Italian immigrant and restaurateur Caesar Cardini. The caesar salad was the first salad I Googled.

This is all fascinating to me, because the collector car hobby is graying. At shows, most of the shiny entrants are owned by people 60 and up. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t bode well for the future. Before Cadillac reinvented itself, the wags used to say that the company lost a big chunk of its loyalists every year, as they died off. It was change or die.

Alex behind the wheel and ready for Mexico--in search of a caesar salad. Note early three-point seat belt. (Jim Motavalli photo)

If there’s going to be a healthy market for Model Ts, ’57 Chevys, Dodge Darts and the like, it has to be because people who aren’t eligible for AARP cards want to own them. That’s starting to happen, but maybe not at a fast enough pace. I've tried to get my girls excited, but it just isn't their thing--they'd shrink down in their seats with embarrassment when I drove them to school in the old wagon.

Made it! The Volvo in Cape May, New Jersey. (Alex Cunnane photo)

Steve Moskowitz of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) told Old Cars Weekly,

Our biggest problem is that we’re not replenishing the bucket as fast as we’re emptying out of it. It’s not so bad that we are getting older, it’s the fact that we’re not adding to the bottom of it and getting younger at the bottom end.

In response, AACA launched a youth program (with scholarships and awards), and junior members (under 12) pay $10 a year dues. The Automotive Restoration Market Organization (part of SEMA) launched “Take a Kid to a Car Show.” Its supporters claim, “If we want to ensure that our passion is carried on to future generations we must involve our youth.”

The family's '66 Lotus Elan may have spent a lot of time in the shop, but when it's running it's a powerful argument for collector cars. (Alex Cunnane photo)

Alex got involved without help from the clubs. He was infected by the old car hobby when he learned to drive stick on his uncle’s daily-driver ’80s Alfa Spyder. “I had an Acura TL, which was nice and everything, but when I first drove the Alfa it was such a revelation,” Alex said. And there was another classic in the family. Alex again:

As a long-time car guy, and co-owner of a 1966 Lotus Elan — best known for sublime handling and an inability to travel more than 20 miles without a major breakdown — I see this pilgrimage about more than salad (though we should never lose sight of the salad). This trip affords me the opportunity to take the American road trip — coast to coast, Atlantic to Pacific.

He looked around for a suitable old car and, wonder of wonders, found mine. Right now the 122S, after a trouble-free drive down to Cape May, New Jersey, and then on to Philadelphia, is in the shop getting ready: tie-rod ends, a new battery, etc. Sorting the cooling will be essential, because that’s often marginal in old cars, and it gets hot in Mexico.

Alex plans to document his whole Volvo journey, which will probably start early next month. “I’m shopping for cameras,” he told me.

The old car hobby couldn’t ask for a more passionate adherent. Alex is also buying an ’88 BMW E30 318i, wants a 2002 (I had five, so there’s plenty of advice I could give him), a Citroen SM, a Series I or II Land Rover, and who knows what else.

I miss the Volvo, but I’m so glad I sold it to him, because not only is it going to go on adventures (rather than moldering in my garage), but it’s going to get a medal for helping preserve the old car hobby. Just imagine how many people will see my old wagon—and Alex—on the trail from Philadelphia to Tijuana. Collector cars are meant to be driven. So get ‘em out and use ‘em!

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