THE END OF CAR CULTURE? WE AIN’T BUYIN’ IT…


photo: Getty Images

…well, not entirely, anyway. In a New York Times piece by Elisabeth Rosenthal, the culture of cars in America is going to disappear at some point in the next 50-100 years.

Now, we get into this conversation fairly often. ‘Specially when we see one of those new Tesla 4-doors whispering down the highway. But we digress. On top of the economic downturn, increasing gas prices, the trend of a move toward urban centers with public transportation from suburban soccer mom hell, telecommuting and the other reasons that Rosenthal cites for a decline in Americans love affair with their cars, we believe she’s missing the most important reason of all:

New cars kinda suck.

Don’t get us wrong: 37 cupholders, ice-cold A/C, traction control and satellite-assisted onboard entertainment centers that our parents could never imagine when they were buying smogged-up Grand Safari wagons at our age are all neat features. But new cars just ain’t interesting enough in their aesthetic design to get a 16 year-old to want one. If you’ve got an old car – and nowadays, we’re talking about cars up through the Seventies – you know that smile people give you at the gas pump and the thumbs-up on the street and the conversations with strangers that just happen when you park it somewhere. That’s because people who will tell you, with a straight face, that they’re just “not into cars” are the same people who get a sudden flashback of some great memory in a car just like your ’68 Montclair – except “it was green, not blue and it was a Chevy and it was a station wagon…” The point here is that Americans loved their cars when their cars were designed to be loved.

But there’s nothing to love about a brand-new Prius, other than the $30 it’ll cost you to fill the tank once every six years. A new Ford F-series truck – still the best-selling American car – is a bloated mass of an SUV with a bed bolted to the ass-end and has about as much personality as a…bloated SUV. Sure, a new Honda Accord is faster off the lot than a Corvette was in 1962, but the absolute all-over-body thrill of getting the keys to that new ‘Vette trumps anything Honda could provide over the last thirty years (OK – we’ll give in on their NSX).

The modern teen is more interested in owning an iPhone5 than a driver’s license – we’ll concede to that. But c’mon – we’re talking about teenagers, here: if there was a new car that could deliver experiences more interesting than an iPhone, they’d want one. Look at the old photo above: teens in cars at an A&W in the late Fifties. And those cars are all customized in some way because they liked to personalize the things they own. That hasn’t changed, but the $400 that kid in the flip-flops might’ve paid for a used shoebox that he could customize in some way and then transport him to the kinds of experiences he craved has now become that bedazzled $400 iPhone that transports a kid in nearly the exact same outfit to virtual experiences.

End of car culture? Well, we might be seeing the end of the culture of the daily driver off in the distance, but we contend that the cars we really love – the old ones with personality and great design and engines you can feel through the seats and roads you’re connected directly to through the steering wheel and that we covet and work on ourselves and collect and spend way too much money on and love to death – those cars will become even more valuable. They’ll become even more coveted. Gasoline will become an exotic fuel that we car guys will gladly pay $8/gallon for to run our beloved old cars on. Car culture will change, but we won’t see the end of it. It’ll just become more of a national treasure than it is right now. We can already see that happening by just looking at the reality show lineups that are so insanely popular, as well as the Low-Brow art scene, tattoo culture, popular music and yes, even new American muscle car design: old cars rule. And because of them, car culture is still alive and well in America.

5 Responses to “THE END OF CAR CULTURE? WE AIN’T BUYIN’ IT…”

  1. I love the Tesla Model S….is that wrong?

  2. Anthony says:

    Its what youngsters are exposed too as well. My friends cruiser is a 64 Buick sport wagon before that a slammed dually. His 8 yr old kids love cars. Show them the way they will follow. Yeah new cars do suck the big one but just changing the oil and rotating the tires in the drive way with your kid could make all the difference, even just a wash and coat of wax gets them interested.

  3. Dave says:

    Been taking my daughter to shows and local cruise nights since she was born. So far she loves going, helping me wash off my old heap, and helping me “fix” it. She is almost 4 now, and can already grab the right tools for me. (most of the time anyway). I do everything I can to keep her involved with this so she doesn’t lose interest. Lets hope it sticks.

  4. [...] out of nothing. We’ve seen plenty of thoughtful responses to the two pieces from Jalopnik, Autoculture, and Clunker Nation, so I thought I’d pile on with a rebuttal that I wrote for the September [...]

  5. I’m an “environmentalist” with a guilty weak spot for ancient Detroit iron. While I won’t bemoan the much-anticipated end of the internal combustion era, I’m not holding my breath that “millennials” and their progeny will be able to resist the advertising-supported call of the open road any better than I did. Meanwhile, here’s a song about living with an automotive death wish: https://soundcloud.com/biff-thuringer/automobile

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