Featured: Why Do People Still Love Classic Cars?

Why Do People Still Love Classic Cars?

Petrolicious Productions By Petrolicious Productions
June 30, 2015
31 comments

Story by Ian Davies

In most cases, classic cars are rubbish. As James May once said, if they were any good, they’d still be made. Modern cars are faster, better handling, more reliable, more comfortable, cleaner, safer, more economical, and mostly cheaper to purchase, too. Basically, they’re better in just about every way. Yet despite this, the clearly inferior classic car not only still exists, but is positively thriving these days. Why?

There is no simple answer to this, but instead a combination of factors that each play a part.

First, there’s the design of the car itself. Classic cars were created very much in an analogue world where designers used pencil and paper to create elegant shapes and flowing lines that would just not be possible on the computer-based design software used by modern car designers. Take the front wing of a Jaguar XK120 or the profile of a Ferrari 250 GTO, for example.

These designs are beautiful in every way, but are shapes that no modern designer would create nowadays—often, the way the metal frame underneath the bodywork used during the prototype stage (and even “bucks” used to shape bodywork) would have a direct influence on the car’s form.

These designs belong to a previous age—an age that many people fondly look back on, where designers were unencumbered by constraints such as crash tests, or aerodynamic drag coefficients, and instead created shapes that reflected the mood and trends of the time.

Modern production techniques have also removed much of the character from new cars. Mass production “systems” complete with soulless computers and robots on the production lines producing identical parts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, are focussed on one thing: meeting the targets and quotas set by the car manufacturers to maximise efficiency and shareholder profit.

Classic car production, on the other hand, was largely a manual process performed by craftsmen using simple tools complemented by decades of experience to create panels by hand and by eye. The results of this are creations that have withstood the hardships of daily usage and weathered the passage of time. Not all are like this, of course. Some were very poorly designed, and built with even less care, but this is what separates classic cars from cars that are merely old.

Mechanically, they are quite different, too. Modern car engines are effectively a sealed unit, comprising of components that are largely unserviceable by the average person. Simply speaking, most components are controlled by a central electronic brain, which takes inputs from the driver, and then filters them through systems such as the drive-by-wire throttle system, the traction control, electric steering, electronic clutch, the torque vectoring system, the ABS system, and so on.

All of these systems are designed to improve efficiency and safety, but on some level, they often rob the car of its feel and character. Older machines, in contrast, are the real deal. They are delicately balanced mechanical systems comprising hundreds or thousands of individual parts, all tuned to work together in harmony. The driver is a direct extension to the machine, providing inputs and receiving direct, unfiltered feedback through the controls, resulting in an authentic experience that is just not possible with the modern equivalent.

Driving a classic car requires a great deal of manual input from the driver, from adjusting the fuel/air mixture manually with the choke, to selecting gears and controlling the engagement of power to the wheels with the clutch.

All this needs to be done in a way that gets the best out of the engine and transmission—but proper technique also protects the longevity of the ageing components. Getting all this right is inherently more challenging than the modern equivalent of electronic ignition, automatic transmissions and electronic driver aids, but a far more rewarding and satisfying experience.

Classic car owners mostly don’t embark upon a journey to reach a destination, but instead the journey is the destination.

Nostalgia also plays a large part in the appeal of classics. They all have a history, be it interesting or not. Some have achieved great things in their lives, such as competing in and winning races, expeditions or endurance events, whilst others have overcome challenges that are far more mundane but no less important to the owner. These machines were great enablers of a better life and provided mobility and freedom back in a time when such qualities were rare. They accompanied their owners on major life events, and consequently became indelibly associated with those events.

Classic cars all have a story to tell about what they have accomplished in their lives, where they have been, and why they are still in operation. The cracks in the leather or the scratches on the paint are seen by some as imperfections, but to aficionados of classic cars, these are a record of the car’s history, adding to its character and chronicling its life. Automobile manufacturers play heavily on the pedigree and heritage of their brands, but classic cars are the real-life objects that defined that heritage and established the reputation of the brand in the first place.

Then there’s the individualism. Owning any new car is easy—all it takes is money, and with cheap credit and easy finance, even that is not very difficult any longer. Classic cars however, are no longer in production and are therefore inherently limited in supply, consequently holding a far greater and ever increasing level of exclusivity. No amount of money will get you a brand new Ferrari Daytona, for example, and even if you want an old one, you still have to find someone, somewhere who is willing to sell you theirs.

The greater effort of acquiring, owning and maintaining a more exclusive product prompts questions of the owner’s passion for that product and his or her motivation for going to these additional lengths when owning a new car is so much simpler and easier. A culture has emerged surrounding classic cars, comprising of events such as classic rallies, road trips, historic racing, and classic car shows. Owners of classic cars gain great satisfaction from exhibiting their cars at these events and use them as a means to show off not only the car but also their own personality and taste.

Purchasers of modern cars typically calculate their ownership period of anything between 6 months and 5 years before they move on to something newer and better, but classic car owners see it the opposite way: the cars will exist beyond their tenure, and they are merely temporary custodians of something that has a life beyond theirs.

So will this continue, or is it just a passing trend? New cars are likely to get better and better with each passing year, so the 3 year old car that you have today is likely to be already outclassed by the new model just released.

Classic cars, however, compete on a completely different level. it’s not about efficiency and speed, but about the experience, style, exclusivity and craftsmanship, all of which are universal and timeless. Classic cars not only appeal to car lovers, but also to lovers of engineering, design, art and history.

That is the reason why people do, and always will, love classic cars—and long may it continue.

 

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31 Comments on "Why Do People Still Love Classic Cars?"

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chrlsful
chrlsful

Classics 2 me R (I’m frm USA) 1935 – 1950+ a yr or 2.
Y do folks still luv em?
It’s personal!

Peter Lukáč
Peter Lukáč

Why? From medias, you could still hear, like (young) people want cars like their smartphones or computers. Some, maybe. No, no, why should I? I want car, I would “udnerstand” and which would I have control of. I like desing of lot of classic car and the feeling from classic car. The simplicity of “mechanic” design. Yeah, it’s nto for free to drive classic car, you must care about it and invest in it. But that’s how relationshiop with girl.

Pablo Rodríguez
Pablo Rodríguez

Nice interpretation of something so easy like go for it in a sunny sunday and lets spend sometime just riding away, just because …

Nom DelaNom
Nom DelaNom

“…designers used pencil and paper to create elegant shapes and flowing lines that would just not be possible on the computer-based design software used by modern car designers…”

Wait, WHAT? Modern cars look different because of improved understandings of aerodynamics and government regulations regarding safety and emissions vs efficiency; *not* the real or imagined limitations of computer aided design tools.

Kenneth Hancock
Kenneth Hancock

A lot of these cars have soul. They are very easy to fall in love with. Driving them creates a bond with man, or woman, that is unimaginable today. Driving an Alfa in period was very different than driving a Porsche or Jaguar, MG or Healey. They each had their own look, feel, smell, sound, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s about passion. These cars fired that emotion. And though it’s a much different world today, they still do.

Jack Olsen
Jack Olsen

The styling, size, weight and other characteristics of modern car are largely determined by marketing departments. A business-school mentality of fitting a model into existing market segments, so that one regime’s performance can be directly compared to other companies’ regimes — that allows executives to market themselves for future jobs and boards of directors to feel like they have a handle on the complex issues of brand identity and marketplace share.

It all works together to produce a lot of lowest-common-denominator cars for us to drive.

That wasn’t always the case.

And the new models aren’t always faster.

Francesco Cristofori
Francesco Cristofori

I think most of the love for classic (or just “pre by-wire era”) cars is the fact that these cars are challenging.
You have to give them some part of you in order to get them give you the pleasure they can give.

Ray Houghton
Ray Houghton
There are several reasons. One would be a connection to the past. I’m 56 and many of these cars are the cars I lusted after in the 60s and early 70s. I also love this period as it’s a time when car design wasn’t constrained by wind tunnels and safety regulations. Some of the best cars where designed by people that had a passion for their job, and were not constrained by regulation. I’m often reminded by people that my car is unsafe, I simply tell them I’m not driving it to be safe. If I want to be safe… Read more »
Alex Mehl
Alex Mehl

Simplicity, affordability, and they are romantic

Vasi Atanasova
Vasi Atanasova
I think it is quite personal when it comes to classic cars, just like with many other things actually. I like some classics simply because they are beautiful and certainly because they are different the most cars today. But hey, many modern cars are beautiful too. To be bluntly honest in my opinion most classic cars do not belong on the road. Many cars are unsafe for the highways. Just think about Germany – I can not imagine a classic car on the German highway. Sure I have seen some on the city roads, but not on the highway. Well… Read more »
Ian Miles
Ian Miles
It is however good to see designers being given more freedom than they experienced in the 90’s where cars seemed to be designed by customer panel and as a consequence wel very dull. So some fantastic designs, that are beautiful / innovative or both are still being produced (current Aston Range, Lambo Aventador, F-Type, the new Fiat 500, new Twingo, AMG GT). The number of cars being made has made the car much more of a commodity than it was in the 60’s or even 70’s so they are less special simply because there were more produced. There is also… Read more »
Ted Shannon
Ted Shannon
How about the simple fact you could tell one of these cars apart in the day, and you could find a car to suit all of your wants/desires/tastes. I’m 53, been a gearhead my whole life and where you could tell the make of a car from a 1/4 mile away as a kid now 80\% of the crap on the road looks like a bloated egg. Just the sight of a Chev/GMC truck brings up the taste of bile. Regardless of how much rubbish they have to build into cars to keep people who can’t drive from hurting themselves,… Read more »
Jono51
Jono51
Great article and some excellent comments. My own two cents worth? First, I agree that the current level of enthusiasm for classic cars is partly just a fashion trend, and like all such trends will pass. I have been into old cars for a long time and remember the last bubble at the end of the 1980s. When it popped it left a lot of people who’d bought the wrong cars for the wrong reasons stuck with an “asset” that would take a decade or two to return to a market value similar to what they’d paid. And even to… Read more »
David Mitchell
David Mitchell
I am going to have to fundamentally disagree with the notions portrayed that classic cars are a trend or a fad as suggested by a number of persons here in this thread. The cars that today already are considered as classic (outside of the exotics) were simply normal but nice cars in their day. My first car back in 1979 was a ’68 Fiat 124 sedan, closely followed thereafter by a 1969 Fiat 124 AC sport. Back then I was just choosing to have a slightly different type of car from what my mates all drove, that’s right boring Toyotas,… Read more »
Edward Levin
Edward Levin

“So logically, if I were to keep the 156 for another 46 years it too probably would be considered a classic. ”

or a miracle…

Sorry–couldn’t resist. But there’s also a serious point, which is that the electronics in your 2003 will make its usable survival after another half-century less likely than the fully analog cars that are now 50 years old.

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram
I’ve never quite understood the mindset that cars with more complex electronics will somehow be rendered inoperable at some point down the line. Electronics are, for those who deal in such things (not me, I hasten to add) very simple indeed. And although the electronics in the very latest cars are a bit bewildering (I suspect a back-street mechanic may struggle with a 2015 Mercedes S-class, for example), something like a 156 from the 1990s isn’t really that complex. I don’t doubt that in 46 years, classic car owners will be able to 3D-print ECUs for their Alfa 156s in… Read more »
Evan Bedford
Evan Bedford

Good point on the ECU’s. In fact, a company called Silent Hektik makes fuel injection systems and ECU’s for 50 year old Bmw and Moto Guzzi motorcycles.

David Mitchell
David Mitchell
Too true Edward and that is the difference of course between old classic cars and modern cars. The question of course therefore that could be asked is will any of the cars being made say from the 1990s onwards attain classic status, given that for a large part they will disappear off the roads, given their mechanical and electronic complexity, with associated maintenance costs. Re my 156, two things there, yes it is a pleasant design and IMHO a lot better than much of the other dross out there, but am I likely to keep it for another 46 years.… Read more »
Andre Raul Rocha
Andre Raul Rocha
I understand where GS is coming from, but I need to disagree just a bit. He is very well based, though. Some psychologists have even determine the root cause of this apparent “past fever”, which can become a disease, according to an article I red on GQ some time ago. Which is pretty much the same what GS mentioned very well. It is easy to understand if someone travels his/her mind back in 60’s, as an example, and wants to “stay” back there. Everything but medicine was better at that time. Cities, movies, music (OMG, way better), bodies, friendships, lifestyle,… Read more »
Evan Bedford
Evan Bedford
I couldn’t agree more…especially on the bit about newer cars getting uglier and uglier. I’m trying to think of which new vehicles actually looks beautiful (at least to my eyes). The ones that come to mind are the Fiat 500, Dodge Viper, PT Cruiser, and the Royal Enfield motorcycles. And the last example isn’t really new, in that the design is just a copy of what they had a half century ago. Even the new Miata — although being a great advance in the area of weight reduction and driving fun — doesn’t do anything for me visually.
Andrew Hart-Barron
Andrew Hart-Barron
I love classic cars too, but I have to disagree with the notion that classics look better because the designers in those days used pencil and paper, creating shapes that are no longer possible using computer-based design software. (I work as a designer in the automotive industry and have experience with computers and pencils). The automotive industry still employs highly skilled clay modelers that are fully capable of shaping romantic and very beautiful shapes. The computer-based design software is only limited by the designer’s imagination. The modern car is as you so rightly put it, very restricted by things like… Read more »
Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram
I spoke to Nissan’s chief creative officer recently. He has some great ideas in the pipeline, but he did sign off by saying he envied designers of the 1960s, whose work wasn’t regulated by the need to create aerodynamic shapes, or vehicles that could protect their occupants in an accident… I agree with you though. There are some great designs around today. And it’s much easier to appreciate design in hindsight, I think. It’s why the boxy vehicles of the 1980s are coming into vogue. I don’t doubt that many modern vehicles will be coveted for their design in another… Read more »
JB21
JB21
I agree with the article’s assessment as well as GS’s and the following comments. But I also have much simpler view – with our highly developed sense of preservationism, anything old will be cherished by some, for better or for worse. What I mean is that Yugo is collectible nowadays (there’s one for sale on ebay right now, for $5k. I bought one used back when you could’ve still bought it new. I gave a guy $500, and he gave me $100 back because he felt bad for a college student), and I saw Daihatsu Charade traded for $3k. It’s… Read more »
ASB
ASB
I think that GS nailed it when speaking about older folks wanting “get back” to the good old days. However, what about people my age, (25) that are obsessed with cars? I do not have anything to “get back” to as quite frankly, I did not exist during the age that is typically referred to as the “golden era of motorsports”. While GS was right about nostalgia, I think the love of classics is owed more to the mechanical and aesthetic attributes of older cars. For me, it comes down to the relative size, 360* degree visibility, and of course,… Read more »
Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
Personally I think you can widen this argument out beyond classic cars, and ask why do people choose cars beyond the most beige of cars such as the Toyota Corolla, VW Golf or Ford Focus? All of those will provide perfectly good transportation for a small family and cover their light cargo needs. So why do people instead spend rather more money on say a BMW 3 Series, Mazda MX5, a big SUV such as a Range Rover, or a supercar such as a Lamborghini Aventador? I suppose the answer is somewhere within a mix of style, expression of personal… Read more »
Wayne Mattson
Wayne Mattson
Well said GS. I also have to agree to certain extent that the “classic car” thing is a trend. Just look at the recent flourish of classic car shows there are on TV and how popular they are. Will this trend continue and become the norm? Only time will tell. However, there is a large segment of us enthusiasts that love classic cars for reasons other than nostalgia or trying to relive the good old days. I, for one have no interest in living in the past and the problems that were associated with it. A lot of us appreciate… Read more »
Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
If I may , please allow the philosopher in the room [ got the ‘ sheepskin ‘ and everything ] to chime in on the subject . First thing you need to know is my foray into what would now be considered ‘ classic ‘ cars was in fact just the choice of buying a used exotic over something new . Back then used Ferrari’s unless they were significant Ferrari’s [ say Mr Lange’s GTB/4 which everyone was hot to trot for in the 70’s versus my GTC/4 which was perceived as mundane by all but those in the know… Read more »
Gruns
Gruns
Guitar Slinger – you must be a ton of fun at parties and stuff. :p Wow, what a downer. Sometimes a classic car is just a classic car. I won’t try to speak for anyone else, but I will speak for myself. I like classic cars for the following reasons: 1) New cars all look the same and they are ugly. U-G-L-Y, Ugly! Melted bars of soap, with massive A and B (and possibly C) pillars. High belt lines, and terrible proportions. In general terms, modern performance cars are overly masculine, instead of feminine; with large shoulders and squared off… Read more »
JB21
JB21

All the points you’ve made, funny, because I remember my dad used to say the same thing about cars of my youth. And I’m pretty sure my his dad said the same bloody thing.

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram

“All cars look the same” is one of the most tediously over-used phrases to describe car design, and as you say, people have been saying it for as long as cars have existed.

Gruns
Gruns

Used boring twice, sorry about that. :p

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