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Summer brings out the classic car enthusiasts

You don’t have to go far or wait long – almost any night of the week there’s an event somewhere – to check out some kind of gathering of classic cars, from old Model Ts to iconic ‘50s Chevys and ‘70s muscle cars.

Summer is full of such events, including the recent Kruisin’ with the King and the annual Autorama. It seems we can’t get enough of the old cars.

It would be easy to chalk this up to nostalgia. That undoubtedly plays a part in the appeal: in checking out the cars last week, I had an eye for the muscle cars of my own youth. I’m sure others were doing the same. Still, there were plenty of young people there checking out the vintage models. In my own case, I found plenty of interesting cars that predate my own youth.

Part of the appeal lies in the interesting styles. Today’s cars certainly don’t have the design elements so prevalent in the past – just think about the massive fins found on some of ‘50s classics. New cars are all about aerodynamics, to the point where many models appear indistinguishable.

When I attend such car shows, I can’t help but think about American Graffiti, George Lucas’ brilliant early film. Of course, that was all about nostalgia. Released in 1973, it was an ode to a period just a decade earlier – taking place one summer’s night in 1962. The timeframe was no coincidence, predating the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the height of the Vietnam War, the summer of love and Woodstock. It was a time before innocence was lost.

Lucas has said the story was semi-autobiographical. Born in 1944 in Modesto, California, he would have been 18 in the summer of ’62. The movie he wrote certainly takes a rosy view of the period. His nostalgia for the time is shared by millions of boomers, but also by those that followed. Events based on the film, especially those in Modesto itself, routinely draw hundreds of classic cars and thousands of enthusiasts.

The ongoing appeal led Detroit to design retro versions of the classics, including Ford’s Mustang and Thunderbird and Chrysler’s Charger and Challenger, not to mention the recently axed PT Cruiser.

The American brands aren’t the only ones jumping on the retro bandwagon. In fact, it’s likely Volkswagen got things rolling with its new Beetle. The Mini Cooper, a British classic now made by BMW, has been a huge hit. In Europe, the revamped FIAT 500 is the talk of the industry.

Nostalgia is not going away, especially when it comes to our love affair with cars and trucks. That’s true even with gas at $1.40 a litre, though the market may shrink – it will be interesting to watch the sales numbers for the new iterations of the Challenger and Camaro.

Each year, there seem to be an ever-expanding selection of styling and design concepts, which reminisce that of the classic cars from the 1930s to the late ‘70s. Many new vehicle designs incorporate parts that bring to mind the appearance of the early hot-rods. There are an abundance of examples of this styling from many of the different manufactures, many of which have created mass demand and consumer appeal. In addition to small hints of the past incorporated into new designs, there are new cars created to meet the consumer demand for this type of vehicle.

Many of the new vehicle designs share hints of retro styling. These designs bring back memories of earlier cars built in the era of hot rods and early muscle cars. The new Chevrolet Camaro is a good example of this type of design, featuring design elements from ‘70s and ‘80s Camaro, which featured an almost identical shape.

While the market for full-retro cars may have peaked – the Thunderbird and PT Cruiser, among others, is no more – the trend seems to be to incorporate elements that provide retro styling into new cars in order to avoid stagnation.

For the Detroit 3, hammered hard by the market (we’ve already heard of another round of layoffs), the gamble is that nostalgia for the past will help them survive into the future.


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