Our fathers and grandfathers invented the game. Hot rods. There wasn’t anything before them, and each subculture since has been a varying degree of imitation. The slow rolling avalanche of hot rods coming up for sale is upon us. Who will be buying these beautiful classics?
The Classic Car Lifestyle
I am a 30-something year old man that just attended my second classic car show for pre-1973 American vehicles. I own a 1970 Chevrolet Camaro after all. Attending a classic car show is a requirement when you own any old iron. I highly recommend that if you have a qualifying vehicle, take it to a show (regardless of anything else I might say after this).
I was ill prepared to see how far I bought down the average entrant owner age. I think I brought the bell curve down by about 30 years. Seriously. This is an old guy sport. Most owners are around retirement age. They’re enjoying the fruits of the labor with the car they loved when they were young.
I just want to know - Where were you guys? I felt like I was at a really cool retirement party. Or on a trip home from college. If only someone had handed me a Tupperware bowl full of spaghetti sauce, and done my laundry, the entire responsibility-ignorant experience would have been complete.
I wasn’t born before any of the vehicles in attendance. Every vehicle in the show was at least 10 years old before I came into this world. I literally did not grow up with this stuff. This was my fathers and grandfathers childhood memories parked in front of my eyes.
I’ve found that growing up with EFI vehicle - they’re easier to work on. Not literally easier to work on but I understand them much better. There is less art and form and more wizardry and science. It just makes more sense in my head to let a computer sort everything out, than go through a box of 200 metering rods to get it right.
The Few. The Proud. The New Hot Rod Generation?
I was speaking with the shop owner who helped me build my Camaro the other day when he commented how he has no young customers. He asked me to find him some younger blood, as the older generation isn’t getting any younger. I am not sure our generation is going to be as dedicated to hot rods as our predecessors. There are far too many Radwood, Stance Nation, and Scooby-Fest options out there. Are you going to ever buy a hot rod? Is it on the bucket list? Maybe if it’s a good deal? Do you even care?!
Case in point (pictured above): This is a 1931 Ford Vicky. This is not a terribly expensive car but it is much more than our current thin middle class could afford without sacrifice. Can you afford 15 or even 25-thousand for a toy car? Not many can. I see this at the bottom of our generations desirability list for collector cars. These are synonymous with ‘old guy’ cars. We just aren’t there yet. I know few people that are even interested in any 1930s automobiles - Far fewer that like them restored to a factory style build.
There are of course the same generation of hot rods that are much more desirable but mostly unattainable. They are either too expensive or they’re a Deadman’s Car (one that only comes available when the owner dies). Anything that is in the Grand National Roadster Show comes to mind. Think hundreds of thousands of dollars, modern-classic technology, pin-up worthy looks, and potentially extreme rarity/desirability.
Then there is what our generation is doing: Rat Rods. The small sector trying to uphold the tradition. It is the modern iteration of the original thought process behind a hot rod: add power and lighten. The guys holding the torch and trying not to get burned to death. The hot rod guys with vintage tastes on a beer budget. These are just like the expensive hot rods except they’re not as nice. They shake, rattle, and smell worse. The speed is similar. Speed is the goal with the byproduct of looking
Financially Strapped. Too Far Removed.
I take issue with the quality of cars that are available that we can’t afford. Our generation isn’t there yet. We’ve been squeezed out of much of the 1950's middle class dreams that these cars were built around. We’ve been raised to enjoy a newer culture of ‘hot rods’ and with not much money to afford any of it.
I was one of the rare youngins’ with a cheap-ish entry into the classic car world. Many of my peers appreciate and pine after this generation of cars, but none are willing to take a serious step into the deep end. I jumped into the deep end after getting an excellent deal on my Camaro. I imagine that is what it will take to get our generation to continue to uphold the flame - a great deal.
But sadly, I don’t see any excellent deals right now. Not yet. We’re almost there. The 50 to 65 year old crowd appears to be still buying hot rods, especially with the appearance of the last 10 years of bull market investments (read: they have money right now). I mean just look (below) at the gem I found... a real Cobra? What are these worth? Do you have to sell an organ? A limb? Or offer your first born as collateral?
Jump Into The Deep-End, The Water Is... Warming.
I do think that all of you should consider owning an old hot rod at some point in your life. It will be costly, but fortunately there will be far more quality cars available in the coming years than potential owners. It is ALWAYS cheaper to buy a built car than build a car.
Muscle cars have been especially soft in the last several years. Especially if you don’t want a highly desirable model (think: Wildcat, Duster, and Cougar, rather than Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger). I bought my Camaro merely because it was the right price at the right time. I had a fist full of dollar bills and was looking for something that I wouldn’t lose my ass on... so far so good.
So if I am pounding this ‘buy an old hot rod’ notion into your head - Why am I selling my Camaro?! I have a motto: My next car is always my favorite car. And well, I’ve got a lot of money tied up into the Camaro and it isn’t built to my personal desires. I have discovered I am not a big fan of carburetors. If I was to build this car all over again, I’d be stuffing a modern EFI engine into this sucker. I have fought a tough battle for drive-ability with this car. I’ve almost won. It is a close fight that has only minor issues to fix.
At this point my experience has been ‘been there, done that’. I’ve experienced the crowd, the hardships, attention, and financial battles. I understand why people wait so long to buy their dream cars or even enter an expensive automotive arena. If I was retired and had everything paid off, as you should at retirement, I could buy an expensive car and not have as many worries. Being a younger man, there are far more important places to stuff a fist full of dollars. Don’t read that last sentence again, it doesn’t sound very PG.
Final Thoughts On Ownership.
If I had 1/2 as much money into my Camaro, I’d probably keep it. That is probably the best piece of advice I can give if you seriously look into a hot rod. Keep it cheap. Whatever you think you can afford, cut that in half. Buy a $10,000 to $15,000 car. You won’t worry as much. It should also be much more drive-able. Mine has expensive paint with an angry, high horse engine. It makes me nervous to drive and when I do, it fights me at every stop sign or sharp parking lot turn.
Keep it cheap, keep it drive-able, and come hang out with your elders - they’re an oddly refreshing bunch of car nerds. You might learn a thing or two about where our modern hot rods came from!