Journal: The Future of Vintage Cars Is Both Jarring And The Same As It Ever Was

The Future of Vintage Cars Is Both Jarring And The Same As It Ever Was

By Aaron Miller
February 17, 2017
24 comments

I’m not old enough to remember the first synchromesh transmissions, but I can well imagine the hardcore enthusiasts of the day bemoaning a perceived erosion of driving skill and mechanical longevity. As a baby boomer raised on the allure of four-barrel carburetors, my dad resisted for years against a fuel-injected future, and as a child of the 1980s it took me just as long to accept that electronic stability controls are sometimes useful— though I still deactivate some of them every single time I’m in my daily driver.

Change is an inevitable effect of progress, and man’s resistance to it has proven consistent over time.

It seems that every generation of enthusiast sees the evolution of cars in a negative light, but we stand on the verge of a potentially transformative change to automotive culture because the two most important components — the engine and the driver — are on their way out. Within a generation, electric vehicles will be the norm, and self-driving cars will follow not too long after. There’s no sense in debating the likelihood, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if it happens five years down the road or twenty-five. Along the way, three things will happen that will be game changers to the vintage and classic car landscape. Some of these will be jarring, at least at first, but in the end, the allure of mechanical excellence will continue to inspire the precious few who feel truly alive behind the wheel.

Classic Electric Vehicles Will Be A Thing

No, there will not be concours-quality Tesla restorations being graded on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach in the near future. What we will absolutely have though, and what is already in its nascent stages, are Grade-A classics retrofitted with electric drivetrains. A few home-builds have always been around: the man behind the Rimac Concept One, for example, got his start with an electrified (and monstrously quick) E30, and the last few years have seen cars come into being like the Renovo Coupe, which for all intents and purposes is an electric Cobra Daytona.

Even today, Jonathan Ward, the man behind so many perfectly patina’d “Derelicts” and retro-perfected Broncos at ICON, is hard at work taking a ‘49 Mercury coupe and turning it into a pure electric “Tesla Beater.” He’s calling it the Derelict EV. While, yes, these are the rare exceptions for now, they’re the first few drops of what will likely become a torrent.

No one is claiming an electric motor provides anywhere near the visceral theatrics of a mechanical symphony harnessing the power of explosions at the whim of your right foot. However, as restrictions on internal combustion engines increase, and maintaining a classic to modern road legal standards gets ever more onerous, and as prices of electric motors continue to fall down to crate engine prices, we’ll see more and more classics being converted. The sound will be gone even if the fury won’t — the instant torque of an electric motor is its saving grace, after all — but more than a few owners will choose to hit the road in silence when faced with the choice between installing a battery pack and watching their pride and joy collect dust in a garage.

Someone Will Build A Semi-Autonomous Classic For You To Buy

When you really think about what a semi-autonomous system is at its core, it’s a computer that can override a set of the car’s components— throttle, brakes, steering — if incoming data from a set of sensors indicates an imminent threat. These sensors are already available on the market, along with the necessary parts to make the throttle, brake system, and steering compatible. It’s hardly a stretch to envision, within the next few years, an ambitious company building a resto-mod with all the right components to feature not only advanced crash warnings, but actual crash mitigation.

Ethics aside, even a lone Tesla-hating hacker can write a program that gets a Honda to stay in its lane on the 405. An actual Tier-1 supplier like NVidia or MobilEye can retrofit an entire system with relative ease, and it can show off its capabilities to an adoring CES crowd or stunned SEMA visitors. It certainly won’t be cheap, but, in time, someone will offer a retrofit kit to the public. The presentation is easy enough to imagine now: “You want your daughter to be safe in her ‘68 Fastback, don’t you?”

This might sound like sci-fi consumerism, but Stanford already built an electrified, self-driving DeLorean — appropriately named MARTY — to learn about AI systems in driving environments.

Eventually, The Vintage Car Community Will Become Akin to Equestrianism

Over time, the number of cars driven by humans will dwindle to near insignificance. It won’t happen next year, or even a decade from now, but if you want to glimpse the future of analog driving pursuits, look to the well-developed culture surrounding equestrianism today. The horse had a very, very long run of dominance in the transportation industry, and insofar as I can tell, despite clearly being obsolete as a means of conveyance, it remains legal to this day to ride a horse down a vast majority of streets in the U.S. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that driving won’t be outlawed even a hundred years from now, as some talking heads predict. The pressure that will ultimately force most drivers from roads will likely be economic. Once fully-autonomous vehicles are ready (to be clear, they’re not now and likely won’t be for some time) the cost of insuring oneself as a driver as opposed to a owning a self-driving car will naturally escalate until it becomes cost prohibitive to keep both hands on the wheel during your daily commute.

As for the road, it’s within each state’s antique and historical car registration framework that the artful hobby of driving a car will live on. Since many states grant historical registration along with reduced allowances for annual mileage, and potentially even a waiver for a safety inspection or the eventually egregious costs of insurance, the door will probably remain open to weekend drivers seeking a return to the basics for a long time to come.

From there, it really gets interesting. Equine enthusiasts have special riding areas and stables, places they can go to enjoy their favored activity away from the bustle and commotion of the passing throng. There are equestrian centers and horse-riding clubs seemingly everywhere, and the rise of motorsport country clubs seems a highly apt parallel. Will a track junky wake up in the morning, groggily climb into his or her autonomous car, say, “track, please,” and finish a breakfast of coffee and eggs by the time the car pulls up at the track, where his or her race car is lying in wait in a garage bay? The answer to that is an almost definite yes.

The nirvana that exists in the ethereal plane linking the brain, steering wheel, and all three pedals will never die, despite what the think-tanks and pundits may say. It will simply be enjoyed differently in the future, the same way it always has.

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Px356
Px356

i think we will see early Tesla roadsters at future concours d’elegance.

And we will see some classics with their drivetrain replaced by an electric motor.

But intestead of installing driver assistance there will be a device that allows inter-car communications. Similar to the beacon in planes. this is a necessity when joining the traffic of tomorrow. horse carriages are banned from freeways not primarily for their lack of speed but of their inpredictability.

delage
delage

Dear Aaron, this is one of the best written articles about the change in technology and car culture! As an early adopter of electric cars (but at the same time petrolhead with a double-digit collection of traditional cars) I am experiencing this area of conflict on a daily basis. I completely agree with you on your outlook on the future – and the signs are obvious and nobody with a minimal understanding of technology, logistics and efficiency could really challenge your thoughts. What strikes me is that electric cars are still considered as a red flag within a bigger part… Read more »

Ozinnh
Ozinnh

I think the significance of the petroleum industry is missed by the author. It will take a lot, and I mean a lot, of political and civic will to displace the gasoline powered vehicle.

chris
chris

The main factor I believe in the demise of the gas engine and the classic car is the new religion of saving the environment. People are developing a fanatical attitude towards anyone that hurts the environment in any way. They are pushing hard for everything to be recycled and reused. If you dont follow the modern thinking about this you are looked at as a dangerous person and need to be re-educated quickly. People that dont gladly agree with all the new trends like feminism or sexuality or saving the environment or alternative energys are actually considered as pseudo criminals.… Read more »

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira

“People that believe in Creation are actually branded as enemies of the state by Homeland Security”. Hyperbole much? Anyway, def not while this wanna-be Gilead administration is in power. Hold on to your tin-foil hat, because progress is often difficult.

chris
chris

The problem with the horse comparison is grass and hay will always be readily available but gas stations will all but disappear. And the price will be high. As the conditions are now, gas stations are everywhere, electric charging stations are few but soon will be everywhere and gas stations will be few. Electric cars will soon have 1000KM range. Of course electricity prices will rise. The future of cars will be that you wont own one at all. Cars will be autonomous and rented. You will text for a car and it will show up. You will pay a… Read more »

Porsche928s4
Porsche928s4

I live by the beach. An electric Mini Moke or beachbuggy will be magic – if you remove all the 4×4 and vans. As for autonomous driving? To quote Jay Leno:” We already have those. They are called buses”.

Louis Dubé
Louis Dubé

Great piece, though I see a flaw in the point concerning insurance costs. You see, when full self driving will be reliable, it will only be available in premium cars, which means that for the sake of fairness, most governments will introduce bills preventing insurers from gouging the remaining human drivers as such gouging would hurt the least wealthy who can’t afford to buy a premium vehicle, or a new one for that matter. As a result, most countries can be expected to have some sort of legislation capping the relative increase in insurance cost for non autonomous vehicles compared… Read more »

Louis Dubé
Louis Dubé

If I may add- Full self driving will *initially* only be available in premium and luxury vehicles. The time it will take for it to trickle down into more pedestrian offerings should ensure some degree of safeguards against price gouging are instituted to protect old school drivers.

GoLikeHellMachine
GoLikeHellMachine

Title of this article should have been “We’re All Going to Hell”

Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson

Apparently they’re looking for donations to help rebuild Thomas Edison’s electric car charging station in his 1908 garage. The station was actually first installed in his carriage house to charge his 1897 electric car!

Clayton Merchant
Clayton Merchant

Dear lord, I certainly don’t want to be a part of a Jetson’s culture where I ride in my pod to my place of work every day and have it dis-engorge me at the air conveyor to go crank out “Terminators” at the Skynet company. It’s curious to me that every time EV’s come up in the topic, people act like it’s this amazingly new technology, the fact is that electric cars and electric forms of transportation were in far greater use in the early 1900’s that they are now, there is no reason the two technologies can’t exist together.… Read more »

Tony Karnezis
Tony Karnezis

“there is no reason the two technologies can’t exist together.”

While true in theory, I am afraid that our increasingly collectivist society that values community over the individual will be the main driving force behind increasingly punitive regulations against “anti-progressive” or “regressive” “polluters,” “people who don’t care about health and safety,” or whatever else they will call those of us who enjoy the simple pleasures of driving vehicles with internal combustion engines.

Vic
Vic

Man, I’m not really looking forward to this robo-car future. My commute is my little slice of ‘me’ time where I get to row through the gears and maybe…just maybe…I can get that perfectly Rev-matched downshift when I hit my exit off-ramp.
Unrelated question: is it possible to drive tastefully in a fox-body Mustang?

Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson

Great, timely article. The complacency of the car community towards autonomous cars, however, does bother me. It seems that every article in supposed “enthusiast” publications treats the subject like it’s a done deal, let’s just roll over and accept this “next-big-thing” with no questions asked.
I do, however, love the idea of electrified classic replicas like the Renova. A great way to meld vintage and modern into a relatively affordable, fun and usable package.

Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss

I had the same thoughts about classic car culture and horses last summer when I went hiking at a park that also allowed horses, shortly after attending the Monterey races. The parallels were just too striking to ignore. And if you don’t agree, I have a nice buggy whip to sell you. 🙂 As a side note, did anyone bemoan the loss of the ride-along mechanic, or the manual spark advance on the steering hub? I’m sure they did, but those are two things I’m glad are gone. Along with cars that put way more emphasis on speed verses safety.… Read more »

Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson

I get it , that’s the not too distant future, but I will go to my grave hoping to hear the burble of a sweet 6 or a V8 as my last breath leaves me.

GG78
GG78

One thing to keep in mind, is that a lot of countries have laws that forbids the use of self-driving cars on open roads. This might change, that will take time though to have a complete and functional legislation regarding self-driving cars, responsibilities and insurrances. On the topic of electric cars, part of it may be the future, but thinking ALL of the petrol engines in the world will be replaced by electric engines is delusional. It’s simply impossible to produce enough electricity. Not to mention the damages caused to environment to produce this electricity (that everyone it seems forgets… Read more »

chris
chris

How does solar energy and wind power damage the environment. Elon Musk already built a GIGA factory to produce batteries at a cost of 5 billion dollars. People are already using them in their houses. The battery units are small and hang on the wall as well as storing large amounts of electricity.

Brandon Fitzgerald

I worked for Tesla and it always shocked (sorry I had to) me how many other gear heads worked there too. One guy couldn’t stop fine tuning his NA Miata with his bonuses made from selling Tesla after Tesla as demand soared. Another guy left his, admittedly, more profitable gig of selling McLarens and Bentleys because he felt confident where the future of popular transport would be. It doesn’t have to be electric or gas. The two aren’t enemies or diametrically opposed. The Tesla guys I knew loved watching tachometers climb, hearing engine symphonies and smelling spent gasoline. They just… Read more »

CJ_Madson
CJ_Madson

Why would the costs of insuring oneself “…naturally escalate until it becomes cost prohibitive…” ? Once people who really don’t want to drive or pay for a car are no longer at the controls, the coverage costs for those serious enough to keep driving should be reasonable (assuming no gouging). The range of unknowns and risks would be much more bounded and predictable, and prices should reflect that.

Mitch
Mitch

EV’s don’t spell an end to car culture. There’s already plenty of people making interesting stuff in garages all over the world (check out sites like EV Album, for example). I converted an NA MX5/Miata and use it as my daily. Double the power, triple the torque, and a fraction of the running costs. It pulls like a freight train and sounds like a turbine. And whilst a nicely tuned exhaust is something to be admired, being able to glide along country roads on a hot summers night with the wind in your hair has its own charm.

Juan ADY
Juan ADY

Do you have a video of your ride? Sounds very interesting? And how much was it if you don’t mind me asking?