Just about anyone can identify a classic car. Not an antique car, which is defined by age; or a specialty car, which is really anything out of the mainstream, and could be a new Ferrari.
An actual classic car has no real definition. Maybe it’s the lines, or the look, or the vibe, but people just know a classic.
And a classic car doesn’t have to be old, although it helps. If it gets too old, however, people tend to lump it into the antique category. There’s no mistaking a ‘65 Mustang or a ‘70 Chevelle or even an ‘86 air-cooled Porsche 911 as a classic, but what about the cars that are rolling off the assembly line today? Will any of them be future classics? They’ll all be future antiques for sure, as long as they survive, but is it the passing of time that defines a classic? Or can we make some predictions?
I doubt that anyone 30 years ago would have predicted the American station wagon would become a classic. Growing up, many in my generation spent time in the family wagon.
Now, using the widely accepted formula for a collectible car, the vehicles that had a sentimental or emotional meaning for the modern generation of collector qualifies. The station wagon certainly fits the formula — but, come on, a classic wagon?
A 1973 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon just sold at an online auction for $36,000! Yeah, that’s right. These weren’t even desirable when they were new, less so when they were used. But now, a classic.
For those unfamiliar, the Grand Safari was Pontiac’s full-sized station wagon replete with Di-Noc adhesive wood grain siding, enough vinyl on the interior to make your eyes water from the fumes, and the clamshell tailgate where the window power-retracted into the roof and the tailgate dropped down into the lower body.
This tailgate design was used on the 1971-76 GM full-sized wagons, and marketing called them the “Glide-Away” tailgate. When the power window and tailgate worked as designed, it was a cool feature, but that generally lasted as long as the limited warranty. And hefting that tailgate up into place was like deadlifting a boat anchor for a 10-year-old kid.
The next generation spent its youth ensconced in the comfort of the minivan. Slide that right rear door back, and there was plenty of seating options to get away from your sibling.
Will we ever see a Dodge Caravan priced in the mid-five-digit range? How about a K-Car from the same family front-wheel drive platform? These disposable cars and family vans saved Chrysler from the brink of extinction in the early 1980s, but will they ever adopt the title of classic?
A couple of decades ago, the thought would generate a laugh or two from car enthusiasts. The same reaction would have been elicited when mentioning nearly any 1970s AMC product. And yet, the Pacer is a cult collectible now. Early econoboxes and disposable vehicles are now being preserved, and limited-edition decals and trim make them more special.
Witness the changed status of the Pinto Cruising Wagon or the mid-1970s Free Wheeling edition of the Ford F-series, the Dodge Macho trucks or International Scout Rallye editions or the skyrocketing values of the first generation Broncos and Blazers.
What vehicle would the smart money be on today? If a car enthusiast had a pocketful of money and wanted to buy a new car and park it in climate-controlled storage for 30, 40 or 50 years, what would it be?
Sure, we could name any legacy car as a future collectible, and any special edition is a shoe-in. Camaro, Mustang, Charger and probably a Subaru WRX, Porsche Carrera and most other performance cars should qualify. Maybe the last of the six-cylinder 3 series BMWs would be a safe bet or the first generation of a new design.
Using the future generation nostalgic attachment criteria turns up some other vehicles I wouldn’t necessarily think of immediately.
Just as station wagons gave way to minivans, so, too, have minivans given way to SUVs and crew cab pickups.
Just imagine how a virtually new King Ranch F-250 would look to the eyes of a 50-year-old man 35 years from now. A decent-working, basic, 40-year-old two-wheel-drive pickup commands 10 times its original selling price in today’s market — will Yukons and Tahoes do the same in 2059?
They’re everywhere today, but they won’t be tomorrow. How many white GMC Acadias do you see on the road now? They’ll be rare when we’re all driving electric cars and vertical mobility becomes the norm.
But will they be collectible?
Maybe I’m looking too far down the road (can’t resist a pun) since the auto industry is on the verge of change. Maybe the future of collectibles will be a Prius or a Chevy Volt or a Tesla. Could there be classic Tesla club one day where members brainstorm over retrofitting new technology batteries for their primitive 2015 power source or how to adapt future fast-charging to today’s older designs?
Maybe a hybrid car with its gas-sipping qualities will be the only classic internal combustion-powered car still capable of utilizing diminishing gasoline supplies.
For car enthusiasts, this is all starting to sound a little dystopian and, hopefully, far off in the future. Generations of collectors need to come to terms with this paradigm shift in transportation.
For now, my question remains, can you pick out the future classic car or collectible car trend? Send me an email in a few decades and tell me if you were right.
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