Millennials are murderers, or at least thatʼs what the headlines would have you believe. Over the past few years, thereʼs been a spate of “Millennials are killing … " stories accusing young people of destroying everything from golf to department stores to lunch. So, when it comes to collector cars, itʼs carnage as usual, right?
Well, no. The truth is that young people are far more likely to own a collectible or classic car than older folks. According to a recent survey of 10,000 U.S. drivers for classic-car insurer Hagerty Group LLC, 25 per cent of millennials (who were born between 1981 and 1996 and range in age from 24 to 39 years) and 22 per cent of Generation Z (who were born between 1997 and 2012 and top out at 23 years), reported currently owning a classic or collectible car, compared with 13 per cent of baby boomers.
One of the reasons for this uptick in interest appears to be the changing nature of what constitutes a classic car.
For instance, Kenzie Polack, 25, of Victoria, drives a 1986 Toyota MR2. Japanese cars from the 1980s and 90s are relatively durable and reliable, representing an accessible and practical way to get into the hobby.
“It was my first car,” said Mr. Polack, a service writer at a heavy-truck dealership. “I love driving it and usually enjoy working on it, too. Owning it and fixing it has taught me a lot of what I know about cars now.”
Mr. Polack was introduced to classic-car touring in his fatherʼs Porsche 914, even before he had his driverʼs licence. Now, regular touring is part of how he enjoys his car, although that activity is on hold this year, owing to the pandemic.
“The Rush to Gold Bridge event in 2017 [held north of Whistler, B.C.] took me out to Tahsis and back from Gold River, which is about 64 kilometres of twisty gravel road each way,” Mr. Pollack explained. “Driving that road with a pair of cool guys driving a classic Mini and an MGB was lots of fun.”
Krys Le, 27, of Vancouver, is also into touring. He owns a 1992 Rover Mini, bought on a whim four years ago.
“My Mini has linked me to the people I know, the jobs I have, the engineering I have learned and the places I have travelled to in the last five years,” said Mr. Le, who previously worked at electric-car startup ElectraMeccanica and is now at BC Hydro. “Without it, my life would be a lot less interesting.”
Felix Yuen, 32, is likewise a long-time fan of Minis and is on the hunt for a new project. His current sunny-day car is a replica Cobra from Factory Five. A great deal of time has been spent on getting the details right on the build, and the rumble of the V-8 engine always draws a crowd.
“Since I was young, there has always been a Shelby Cobra poster on my wall,” Mr. Yue said. “I love the unique look and the racing history.”
Elliot Alder, a 25-year-old photographer from Hamilton, takes the eclectic approach, owning a 1983 Porsche 944, a 1979 Lada Niva and a 1983 AMC Eagle.
“As a kid, I never thought I could actually afford to own any classic cars,” Mr. Alder says. “Yet here I am with a small collection for less than a new Hyundai.”
Like the others, Mr. Alder likes to be hands-on with his machines. As he puts it, he has to be. “Maintenance can be a headache, but is ultimately rewarding. I also still have student debt, so thereʼs no way Iʼm paying for Porsche service.”
Along with road trips of several thousand kilometres or more, the common motivator among younger classic-car owners seems to be the social aspect of ownership. All report that owning older cars has led to lasting friendships.
“Iʼm generalizing here, but Iʼve found more patience and maturity in the classic realm,” Mr. Alder says. “Iʼve made a lot of wise older friends, and I consider myself blessed to have found such a warm and pure-hearted enthusiast circle.”
Josh Epp, 25, echoes that sentiment. He has two vintage Fiats, one of them a 1978 Fiat X1/9 he restored himself, learning everything from welding to engine assembly by watching YouTube videos.
“From the online forum communities to the local club members, it blows me away how generous people are with their knowledge and skills to help a fellow enthusiast out,” said Mr. Epp, an outreach worker at a non-profit organization supporting vulnerable youth.
“I canʼt tell you how many times Iʼve walked to my car in a parking lot to find a stranger waiting for me to catch a few moments with me to talk cars or ask a few questions. People donʼt often believe me when I tell them Iʼve made friends from all over the world because of a common enthusiasm for classic cars.”
For Keith Measures, 32, buying his 1988 Toyota Cresta was a gateway to adventure. He purchased the car in Japan from an auction site, then bought a plane ticket.
“I flew over [to Japan] with another car-obsessed friend of mine,” Mr. Measures said. “We road-tripped it from Tokyo to Nagoya to Osaka and then back, took back roads, enjoyed the scenery Japan had to offer, slept out of the car and different Airbnbs, but most importantly we spent the majority of time visiting different custom car shops along the way.
“The Cresta itself was a great conversation starter. We made tons of friends over there, and they all loved the car.”
In all five cases, a classic or collector car represented shared adventure, the freedom of the open road, pride in learning new skills and the camaraderie of working together on a project. In fact, when I arrived to interview Mr. Measures, thatʼs exactly what he and his friends were doing, setting the timing on a new engine swap in a ratty-looking 1980s Toyota Corolla.
Face masks hid the grins as the engine burst to life, but the shared look of triumph would have been familiar to anyone from previous generations working together on an old Plymouth, a battered Model A, or an elderly Saab.
The bark of the Toyotaʼs four-cylinder engine echoed off the bare concrete walls of industrial buildings in the otherwise empty side street. It was the sound of keeping the campfires burning. The sound of young people keeping the passion for cars alive.
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