Is the hobby in jeopardy?
By Larry Edsall
Group identifies 'immediate' threats
Even as people are paying record prices at auction and in private sales of classic cars, and as classic car events on the Monterey Peninsula, along Woodward Avenue northwest of Detroit, and those staged elsewhere across the country, draw large numbers of spectators and participants alike, there are threats to the future of the collector car hobby.
"There is absolutely no doubt," said McKeel Hagerty, chief executive of the Hagerty Insurance Agency and founder of the Historic Vehicle Association, newly established North American affiliate of FIVA, the Federation Internationale des Vehicules Anciens. Begun in 1966 to "keep yesterday's vehicles on tomorrow's roads," FIVA includes 85 member associations in 62 countries.
Hagerty's parents were insurance agents who started their own northern Michigan-based company to insure the preservation of classic wooden boats. When they discovered many of their clients also owned classic cars, they expanded the business and have become one of the world's largest insurers of such vehicles.
Hagerty said he became more acutely aware of the jeopardy the hobby faces during the federal "cash for clunkers" program, which paid vehicle owners to get older, higher-polluting vehicles off the road. Through efforts within the car collector community, vehicles more than 25 years old were not affected.
"But it would have been easy for the cutoff to have been anything before 1980, or anything more than 50 years old," Hagerty realized.
As Hagerty considered the impact that might have had on, say, 1957 Chevys or 1960s muscle cars, he knew it was time to "get started" protecting the hobby's future, to organize a grassroots group that could function much like the AARP does in protecting the rights of aging American people.
Thus the Historic Vehicle Association and its affiliation with FIVA.
To start spreading the word, the HVA hosted a symposium during the Monterey classic car weekend with Hagerty as moderator of a panel that included Michael Kunz, director of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center; Corky Coker, chief executive of Coker Tire, which produces new tires for old cars; and Wayne Carini, host of Discovery's HD's Chasing Classic Cars series.
The group identified four "immediate" threats to the collector car hobby:
- Disappearing infrastructure - The skills needed for repairing, restoring and manufacturing parts for historic vehicles are disappearing as automotive technology forgets carburetors and features computerized controls;
- Environmental regulations - According to Hagerty, there are 93 bills working their way through 26 state legislatures that deal with vehicle emissions. The concerns is that when it comes to their emissions, historic vehicles may become seen not as novelty but nuisance;
- Alternative fuels - Federal law requires expansion of alternative fuels, which cannot be used to power older vehicles;
- Aging demographic - According to Hagerty Insurance Agency data gathered from 400,000 clients, the average classic car owner is 55 years of age and only 25 percent of collector vehicle owners are younger than 46.
So far, much of the formal lobbying on behalf of the classic car hobby has been done by small car clubs or by SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade organization of aftermarket and classic car parts manufacturers that was especially effective in protecting collectibles from "clunkers" crushing.
Hagerty wants the HVA to work with groups such as SEMA, thus bringing a grassroots scope of the new group, which starts out of with those 400,000 Hagerty insurance clients as members. Hagerty hopes to enroll classic car clubs and additional individual vehicle owners regardless of their vehicle insurance loyalties. His goal: A million members by 2015.
"Size helps when it comes to politics," he knows.
Hagerty also knows that "studies" carry political weight. He said the HVA is working on political and practical initiatives including:
- monitoring of regulatory developments,
- collection of data to "establish fact-based positions on issues,"
- an economic-impact study of the classic car hobby and its various facets,
- development of a uniform system to identify and classify historic vehicles,
- provision of support and resources for the various aspects of the "historic vehicle lifestyle," including clubs, events, museums, business and educational institutions.
"This just has to be done," Hagerty said, adding:
"There's a Chinese proverb: Dig the well now before you're thirsty."
For more information, visit the www.historicvehicle.org website.
Click here for event calendar.
Click here for more articles by Larry Edsall.