As someone who is just about to turn 30, I am not exactly in the age bracket to reminisce on cars of the 1970s and 80s. But even back in my day, being a car enthusiast was ‘cool’. It was a badge of honour amongst those of us that loved cars indiscriminately. So it saddens me to say this, but I believe those days are coming to an end.
That’s not to say there are no car enthusiasts left, but we are very much a dying breed.
Where are all the young kids that love cars? Has the age of smartphones and hyper-connected technology killed the next-generation of car enthusiasts? Is it the lack of fast and affordable new cars? Society’s intolerance for any enjoyment behind the wheel? The death of local motorshows? Declining viewership of motorsports? Do young people even care about cars anymore?
Even the man behind the world’s largest car company, Akio Toyoda, agrees that younger buyers just aren’t into cars like they used to be. Which might also explain why his company continues to produce a very successful variety of white goods, packaged as cars.
On CarAdvice, the majority of our traffic comes from new car buyers researching their next car online. They come in via Google, read reviews of the few cars they are interested in, finish their research, buy a car and then they are gone until the cycle repeats. Our regular visitors – our community – those of you that read this site because you love cars, not because you’re looking to buy one in the next few months, make up a smaller percentage of our readership.
It seems that for a higher proportion of people, cars have become a tool, a means to get from A to B. But whose fault is that?
When your iPhone can access the entire wealth of the world’s information (though it’s mostly used to watch videos of funny cats) and one can download eons worth of TV shows and movies without ever having to leave the house, what time is left to be a car enthusiast?
I recently met a group of six 18-19 year olds who saw me arrive and park a Jaguar F-Type convertible right out the front of a local cafe in a trendy and affluent suburb in Brisbane.
I sat down and opened up my laptop to do some work only to be interrupted by the eldest of the group asking me if I was using the latest Apple Macbook Pro and if so, what I thought of it.
I dismissed his question and asked him why – what is arguably one of the most beautiful cars in the world – didn’t even pique his interest. And you know the response he gave me as he stroked his hipster beard? “Oh it’s just a car, it’s nice, but I don’t even have my learners.” The rest were the same, not only did none of them own a car (as that would surely ruin their earth-loving mantra), but only one actually had a full license - and it was an automatic-only!
What has the world come to where a brand-new F-Type can’t capture the imagination of teenage boys?
When I was growing up, a trip to Repco, Supercheap Auto or the like was something I looked forward to. I’d go and spend what little money I had on random things my first car (a beat-up 93 Ford Falcon) really didn’t need. And if I saw a fast or exotic car, it would be a highlight of my day.
When I bought my first ‘real’ car, a Subaru WRX, I spent more than $18,000 on modifications at a time when I really didn’t have the cash to do so. I didn’t do it because I wanted my Rex to be faster than the other guy at the lights (even though the thrill of out-pacing a significantly more expensive car is hard to replicate) – I did it because I loved my car.
It was part of me, the money that I spent on it and the hours I would spend making sure it looked immaculate formed a deep bond to a piece of blue metal that would drive my ex-girlfriends mad, but would always put a smile on my face.
It was a magical era for car enthusiasts. I would attend the WRX club for track days and find myself up at the crack of dawn headed for a mountain run with an enthusiastic group of car lovers. I would show up to late night meets with the Cruising forums and the scene became like an extended family. The people that I would see on a regular basis ultimately had nothing in common with me except their love of cars.
No doubt these event still go on, but it’s largely the same people. A worrying and noticeable generation gap is appearing, which makes me wonder if we, as car enthusiasts, are going the way of the dinosaurs.
There are plenty of reasons why I think the car enthusiast is dying. Firstly, I blame the Japanese manufacturers given they were the ones that once largely fed and cultivated car enthusiasts world wide, but have completely dropped the ball of late. There are fewer cool – and affordable – cars today.
Cars like the new Subaru WRX are faster than ever but have lost their edge and the likes of Nissan’s 200SX are now so old that it has become pointless and unsafe to own one. You might of course argue that there are plenty of hot-hatches around, and that’s true, but to me that seems like a compromise.
The car that was supposed to save us all was the Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ, and while it is has no doubt become an affordable rear-wheel drive sports car for the Australian masses, it has failed to meet its sales targets in markets such as Europe and North America. I would also argue that its conservative nature and Toyota/Subaru’s reluctance to give it a turbo – as it will increase the price and insurance costs – is a demoralising sign of the times we live in, where fuel economy and emission figures have sucked the life out of new cars.
Really though, how often do you see a 50 year old+ man or woman getting out of an 86? It has become the new mid-life crisis car of choice. Bought either by ageing car enthusiasts desperate to regain their youth, or those that want to have something different to their last four Camrys now that the kids have moved out.
Does anyone even remember the Toyota Rukus? Toyota thought it would appeal to younger buyers looking for something that looks funky, it even sold it in different ‘builds’ to allow these ‘trend setters’ to buy and modify. Instead, it quickly became the ideal choice for elderly buyers that need a spacious vehicle with an easy entry point for their ailing hips!
What about Honda? The once supreme Japanese performance company decided to promote its “blue skies for our children” company tagline and its unhealthy obsession with hybrids to a point that it all but killed any links to its glorious performance-orientated past.
It does make me want to scream. Where is the new Nissan 200SX? Where is my affordable rear-wheel drive turbocharged car that can do 0-100km/h in less than five seconds? A part of me doesn't care if it uses 15L of fuel per 100km (though, given today’s technological advancements, it really shouldn’t). I want to feel alive again without having to spend $100,000+ on a European car.
But even if you had a fast car, what’s the point of driving it in Australia? Not only are young drivers essentially banned from fast cars thanks to “power to weight ratio” laws, the police force and our society’s brainwashed attitude that “every K over is a killer” has ruined it for all of us.
Loving your car and being a car enthusiast can sometimes feel like a criminal activity.
Just this week I was in a new Lexus RC-F that got stopped by a State Trooper in the outskirts of New York City for driving a good 30km/h past the speed limit. Do you know what the brown-clothed officer did? He asked how much power the 5.0-litre V8 engine had – looked at the gigantic Brembo brakes - told us to take it easy and then let us go.
Where do they make these police officers and how can we go about importing them to Australia?
Last year I was extremely fortunate to compete in Targa Adelaide in a Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core edition. During a transport stage on the last day of the event I was subject to a police speed trap on a road so isolated, that it sickened me.
The ever-diligent South Australian police had setup a trap to catch the Rally cars (who had paid thousands of dollars to participate in a sanctioned and safe event) going down a long hill in a secluded patch of road between stages.
I was given a near $1,000 speeding ticket for what was essentially a few seconds of coasting down a hill with visibility stretching for over a kilometre – and not a house or soul in sight. The fine hurt and it’s hard to argue against the law, but what infuriated me the most was the officer’s complete inability to realise that these car enthusiasts, people who spend enormous amounts of money and time to compete in these events, were not hoons or criminals.
Driving in Australia is simply no longer fun. So why should there be any new car enthusiasts? New drivers are so insanely petrified of accidentally going over our draconian speed limits that driving has all but become a chore.
I am so sick of being stuck behind a car driven by a young P plater that will sit dead on the speed limit in the right lane, terrified that if he goes over the speed limit by one kilometre his car might explode.
It’s not their fault, of course, it’s the revenue-raising justification propaganda the governments portrays over and over again.
I have clocked 358km/h in a Bugatti Veyron on European highways, but just have a look at how many hits this video of yours truly doing 320km/h in an Audi R8 has gathered on YouTube. Some of the Australian commenters on that video suggest that we faked it, because surely going past 115km/h would result in a catastrophic accident?
I am, obviously, not suggesting we should all drive at 300km/h to be car enthusiasts, but our attitude and tolerance to speeding has to change in favour of proper driver training and positive reinforcement for those that take extra care of their cars.
Our government and police officials should go and see what it’s like to have a 70-year old grandmother safely overtake you at 220km/h in her Ford Focus. The world doesn’t end and all the stats show that, per capita, our road toll is higher than most of the European countries.
If we don’t deal with our government’s attitude towards car enthusiasts being treated as hoons and criminals, there’ll be none of us left soon.
Remember a few years back when Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton was berated by the Victorian police for doing a burnout in a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG for the Melbourne Grand Prix fans? Is that not madness? On what planet can one of the world’s best drivers not do a simple manoeuvre for his fans (that have paid dearly to come to the event) without having the police threaten punishment?
The result of such politically correct nonsense and Formula One’s obsession with fuel efficiency and electrification of its racecars has seen ratings for the once illustrious sport plummet.
So, where do we go from here?
There is some good news. Companies such as Honda are desperately working to turn around their image and appeal to car enthusiasts again. Nissan has all but confirmed a new-generation of rear-wheel drive affordable sports cars while Toyota is managed by one of us, a true car enthusiast.
Meanwhile, the Germans are offering their premium performance credentials on significantly more affordable cars than ever before and even the once-uninspiring Lexus has started to appeal to the enthusiast in all of us.
Car enthusiast groups like Downshift, which have been the target of police abuse in the past, are finding cooperation with local governments an easier task and hell, we even have an elected senator that’s suppose to represent motoring enthusiasts (but lets leave that rant for another day).
Also, while smartphones have taken over our lives, one can hope that the crossroads of the touch-generation and its union with the automobile will soon bring a new-breed of enthusiasts to the scene.
But until all of this happens, I am going to continue to feed my three-year old son’s unrelenting love of everything related to cars. He may turn out to be a car-loving outcast amongst his peers when he grows up, but he will make his father very proud. Actually, here is a video of him identifying some pretty difficult cars!