Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Scaring Away the Next Generation

Are we, as owners of classic cars, alienating the next generation of automotive enthusiasts? It may just be possible that we are.

Classic car shows and informal cruise-ins are perfect family outings. They are usually free of charge, conducted in a pleasant setting and give young people an opportunity to see the cars that their parents and grandparents owned or perhaps lusted for. Teens may find that an older car suits their image of being unique among their peers and younger children enjoy a "making memories" outing.

Like the wide variety of cars to see in a show, classic car owners also come in a similar range of tastes and ideas as to what they want from the old car hobby. Many owners have lavished impressive sums in restoration and maintenance and show stunningly perfect cars. Other owners invest just as much pride, but maybe fewer greenbacks on their driver quality rides. And in between lies the vast majority of automotive enthusiasts.

My cars are in the driver quality end of the spectrum. While I haven't invested tons of money in them, they have some real value (they are insured against loss) and I do the best I can to maintain them in a safe and presentable condition. They are special to me but they aren't precious.

That's why I find it easy to engage young people  - especially pre-teens - and let them know it's OK to look closer and invite them to take the driver's seat (with the parent's permission) so they can get an idea of what lies within. The classic Mini is an absolute magnet for kids that are five or six years old. I can't begin to count how many young people have had their photo made behind the wheel of the little car. Their smiles are more than fair compensation for a couple of fingerprints or wrinkled floor mat. Of course, I understand that this isn't for every classic owner and I will let kids know that they won't be able to do the same with all the cars at the event.

All children need to be taught respect for the property of others and I've found that families who attend these shows normally keep their kids in control. Parents usually caution little ones to not touch and keep some distance from the cars. It is a rare circumstance when I have to intervene. But some kids are exposed to some not-so-patient owners who, in the name of protecting their car, could make the show event a bitter memory for a child.

One incident at a British car show I attended some years ago had an owner of an MGB GT literally screaming at a four year old that had the audacity to rest his elbows on the windowsill while he admired the inside of the car. The boy's father was a half step away from the lad, reaching out to remove him when the harpy screech was loosed upon the crowd. Not surprisingly, the family left immediately and a few other visitors followed looking over their shoulders at the woman who was furiously rubbing away two elbow prints from her maroon paint. That was probably the last car show that family ever attended.

"Good riddance," some may say and maybe they are correct. But when they are through carrying their perfect car in a velvet-lined trailer, they or their heirs may wish to sell it on. Will those targets of car show venom want to take up the hobby? Probably not. 

What can we do to engage these future classic car owners? If you are concerned about fingerprints on your paint you can always bring stands and rope to secure your area. If that is a bit much, then stay near your car and try to scope out the ones that may not quite understand the whole distance thing. Be open and engaging and chat with those who took the time to come to the event and bring a family. The positive impact of calm conversation and a gentle "Look but don't touch,"  reminder just might win your special car some new - and younger - fans.             

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