Old cars belong in museums

opinion
Whether it's your two-car garage, or the Petersen Museum, we need to lower the average age of cars on our roads.
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Technology is making the average car better. Modern metal is significantly safer for both occupants and pedestrians. They’re also cleaner, too, with new drivelines being remarkably more efficient than before.

In fact, cheap motoring has benefitted the most. Take a look at how safe a modern $20,000 car is nowadays. You only have to look back five years to be shocked. Go back 10 and it's terrifying.

That’s only when considering passive safety in isolation, too, like structural cells and airbags. Once you start factoring in the real-world safety gains of active safety systems, it becomes even more telling.

Even the most-affordable new cars now feature technology such as a reverse camera and autonomous emergency braking. In terms of standard-fit active safety systems, Australian-specification cars are some of the best equipped in the world.

Yet, the average age of cars on our roads has risen to 10.4 years old.

In the unfortunate event of a car accident, a new car can really be the difference between visiting your partner at the hospital, rather than the altar.

Reverse cameras, when used in public driveways or communal living situations, can change a situation from multiple ruined families for life, to just anger as you saw the child.

Even worse is a non-accidental scenario, where a cereal-eating motorist crashes into a car and takes the life of someone in the process. I imagine the victimised driver could never stomach the guilt, but I definitely know old mate’s taste for Froot Loops will never be the same again.

You get the picture.

In case you didn't, here are some. Safety expert ANCAP claims fatalities in older (pre-2000) cars are four times more likely to occur.

It's well and good to throw shade at commuter cars, though. For some strange reason, a different set of rules apply to performance cars. Ironically, despite also being cars, it's a world of opposites.

Enthusiasts tell me the old ones are much better than the new ones. They also cry foul at modernity. Even the most level-headed ones tell me, “Justin, new cars are like the dentist a necessary evil”.

Let’s call it the car enthusiast’s dilemma, for now.

What I gather is that they understand why new performance cars exist, and what services they offer, but believe they’re not very good. Or, more figuratively, that they’d rather be somewhere else, and in this case, driving an old car instead.

When pressed for details, these enlightened souls wax lyrical about how technology and regulations have robbed cars of 'feel'. Complaints of increased kerb weights, lifeless electric steering, and the death of the manual transmission, all make up the rhetoric. Bear in mind that electric steering’s existence first came about to reduce emissions, but is now pivotal in the functionality of active safety systems.

I understand the sentiment, and can’t help but agree in principle. In fact, we have the same discussions in the CarAdvice office frequently. However, the yarns we spin usually end when someone plays top trumps with safety, though, as it really does chop down any argument based on how you prefer your car to be.

After all, we share the road with others. Furthermore, we’ll be sharing the environment with future others, too.

Also, we live now. Being a car enthusiast and claiming new cars are inferior to old ones with subjectivity at the core of your wisdom is equal to being a music lover who apparently hates new music.

As in, you're not an enthusiast. I hope that's clear enough.

UK-based electronic music act Prodigy named an album after it – Music for the Jilted Generation.

Are there cars for the jilted generation?

Absolutely. They’re rife, if you think clearly.

From a $19,490 Kia Picanto GT-Line with a five-speed manual, to an Alex Misoyannis-spec $32,290 Ford Fiesta ST, right up to a $190,000 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 there are cars for all budgets.

Think the Fiesta is too fast? Try a Suzuki Swift Sport.

Porsche too expensive? An Alpine A110 at nearly half the cost will get you going.

Doesn't make too much sense to buy such a small, four-door Kia? Shell out some more dough, and try an entry-level Mazda MX-5 instead.

If you’re a lucky-enough P-plater with parents spending $20,000 on your first car, great! You can buy new, put their minds somewhat at ease, and still have fun. If you’ve worked hard enough to earn $200,000 for a weekend toy, it’s much the same story.

Regardless of desires, wealth or situation, car enthusiasts have never been better catered for. If you get off your armchair and drive any one of those aforementioned cars and loathe the experience, I reckon you have bigger problems.

In 2008, the University of Leeds commissioned a fascinating study into how I am (as in, you) is fundamentally shaped by something called ‘autobiographical memories’.

More specifically, that “Autobiographical memories are not distributed equally across the life span; instead, memories peak between ages 10 and 30”.

It helps shine some clarity on the car enthusiast’s dilemma.

We have to begin with understanding that describing something as ‘feeling’ better is clear-cut subjectivity. In saying that, don't think I’m trying to undermine something loosely called nostalgia. Or in other words, how music, cars, memories, photos, or even smells can make us feel.

I’m a sucker for nostalgia, hence why I wear old band T-shirts. I've also gathered that I'm not alone in this feeling. It's why you love the smell a 253 makes on the choke. Or why you smile when you hear your kids peel themselves off hot, sticky vinyl, after a club run in the Mazda RX-7.

Maybe it's the joy you strike in passers-by, as they point to your Honda Legend coupe and exclaim to their kids, "granddad had one, same colour, too!".

The second you get objective, however, old cars never make sense. Ever. The smell of that 253 is contributing to a future I don't want to live in, but one I have to accept my grandkids may just about see. A vinyl bench seat with lap belts means people become projectiles, not passengers, in an accident.

They also don't stop, nor steer as well as anything modern. Structurally they're weak, even before you consider issues like rust and previous accident damage.

For the record, I've had old cars, and have just bought another. However, they’re seldom used. Not because I don’t want to wear them out, but because I’m always consciously factoring in the risk I take by using them. Not just to me, but to others, here and later on in life.

Moderation and mitigation are key. Accidents that strike the careful are never usually their fault, either. There’s a time and a place for the things we hold close to our hearts. In my case, I've learned to accept and enjoy an old car's ornamental value as one of its best points. My shed is equal-parts workshop, as it is museum.

Just always be aware of nostalgia's potency and grip, and its power to prevent us from enjoying the now.

Even worse, being at fault in disaster.

Recently, a 1977 Holden Torana sold for $425,000. Here, you’re losing nothing but your hard-earned. Disaster maybe, but money comes and goes.

What’s worse is losing someone you love because you, or they, wanted to drive something cool three times a week.

Twice long, hard, and twice about life being "too short to drive boring cars”.

If you ignore that nonsense, new ones might stand to offer more.


Do you prefer old cars? Do you find new cars soulless? Let us know how you feel below.