Are Classics Frozen in Time?

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By Chris Pollitt

I don’t dislike modern cars. In fact, I own one. It is my sensible family transport. My economical, EuroNCAP 5 Star, comfortable, reliable, most often driven form of transport. It’s not exciting, but it’s not meant to be. It is just a car. If a bus drove over it, it would be an inconvenience. But it would not be something I would be upset about, because I don’t care about it. By which I mean I don’t care about it in the same way I care about my thirty year-old Mercedes-Benz. I care about it in the same way I care about my TV, or my laptop. It’s just an object I paid for, and would like some use out of. 

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You’re now wondering where this is going. Well, it’s like this. Modern cars are great, but they’re not things you form a connection with. Other than the act of driving them, there is little to no interaction between car and modern day motorist. Modern cars aren’t designed with the home mechanic in mind. They’re built to do 100k or so and then go in the bin. We don’t bond with them, we don’t keep them for a long time, we don’t build that connection that we do with older cars. And that poses a problem, to my mind at least, for the classic car scene. 

I’m sure I’ll get an email or two about this next statement, but so be it. There is no volume car out there, that is currently on an assembly line, that will one day become a classic. Classic cars are a product of the engineering of their time. They were built when a bit of home maintenance was expected. They were built at a time before technology and robotics took over. As such, they can be fettled by you on your driveway. A new car can’t, it’s just not designed that way. New cars are like the TV mentioned earlier, in that they’re meant to be replaced. That’s it. As such, an old Escort can be a classic. A 2020 Focus, not so much. 

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And finally, this brings me to the point of this post. Are classic cars, in the traditional sense, frozen in time? I wasn’t around in the ‘60s or ‘70s, so I can’t comment on how the vehicular contemporaries were perceived. However, I’m willing to bet they weren’t seen in the ‘white goods’ sense of today’s offerings. Nor am I saying that everyone from back (and before) was into cars. I’m merely suggesting that the cars themselves were perceived differently. 

Cars today aren’t thought of in terms of longevity. And in one way, that’s good, as all new cars are built with a high recyclability percentage. Good stuff. But, because they’re not designed to last, they end up being sent to the shredder rather than the driveway or garage of a budding mechanic. Mainly because they’re so wired with chips, wires and processors that using a spanner or ratchet would be fruitless. 

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I think the cars of the late ‘90s, before things got too technical and cars still had a ‘nuts and bolts’ appeal are the last that will become classics. We’re already seeing it, with cars like the BMW E39 and even the Ford Mondeo Mk1 starting to gain a following. As we move into the 2000s, the cars get more complicated and more specialised in their construction. This is of course great for the advancement of the car in general, but it begins to usher in an era of the specialist, rather than the home mechanic.

And that’s where the issue lies. Our interaction with cars of that era and onward is limited. If my 2012 car throws up a warning, it goes to the garage. Yeah, I have a code reader, but it literally just reads and clears codes. If it comes back, well, it goes in the garage. I can’t interact with it like I would the thirty year-old Mercedes, and because of that, I can’t bond with it. I can’t connect. And thus, it becomes just a white good, a tool, a facility almost. 

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I am, of course, happy to be proven wrong, but I think tech and the advancement of the vehicle manufacturing process has neutered the modern car’s chance to become a classic. Sure, some will live longer than others, and they will find a following of sorts. But it won’t be the same. Not like what we have now. And that’s why us classic cars owners and enthusiasts should be more widely celebrated, but I’ll save that for another post…

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