A friend of mine is a car nut. He had a Lamborghini Espada, a couple of Lotus Elans, Harley motorcycles, a Morgan and a few other things. He told his kid that when he graduated from college he would buy him any car he wanted. When the time came the kid said he wanted… a Prius. The reason being that it had a dock for his iPod and girls liked it. My friend was heartbroken! He wanted to buy the kid a Corvette! The kid wanted a Prius!
I just read a story that says almost half of 18-to-24-year-olds would prefer internet access to their own car. I’m not surprised. When you’re a teenager you want to live in your own world, and it used to be that when you had your own car you could get out of the house and do that. Now you can separate yourself from annoying siblings or parents with headphones and an iPad or iPhone. You have this technology that you carry in your hand.
You can tell the car companies are desperately trying to appeal to the iPad generation. I read recently that Toyota has a concept car that can display your text messages on the side of the car. So now instead of driving with your phone, you’re actually driving your phone. And I recently did an online car chat using wi-fi in a Focus for Ford’s UK centenary. I was in LA and British comedian Jimmy Carr was in deepest rural England. Even good cars like the Focus need these gadgets to help sell now, it seems.
When I was a kid you could buy a running car for almost nothing. With a little ingenuity and some basic mechanical skills, you could keep them that way. That’s just not the case anymore. A friend gave us a 2002 BMW 5-series. It looks perfect but has some kind of water damage. We just can’t get it working. It shorts out, it stops. Once those electronics get damp or wet, it’s useless. Even a cheap car can end up costing a fortune to run or not even be fixable.
I grew up in an era when most dads had to know how to fix a car, or at least change a tyre. There’s a generation of kids now whose parents’ cars are more like appliances. They don’t have any real connection with the car. And as for making a modern car go faster, well, all you need is a chip. Hardly hot-rodding.
That’s to assume guys want to customize their cars. Maybe they don’t. Guys do what girls like. I come from the generation of girls ooohing and aaahing over the guy that could burn rubber. Now it’s different: women like you if you drive a Prius. Men do things to impress women, whether it’s with shiny chrome or doing burn-outs or doing your part to save the planet. Nowadays you just don’t have them screaming ‘Go faster, Billy!’
I went back to my high school and asked the kids when the prom was and how they were going to decorate the gym this year. They looked at at me blankly, and asked: ‘Why would we decorate the gym?’ So I asked what the theme was going to be and all of that. They said: ‘The gym? We go into Boston and get limos and hotels.’ My parents would NOT have let us go to a hotel. With a girl. Overnight. In high school! That was what your car was for! They don’t need a car now, they’ve got a limo!
I get letters all the time from kids asking to come to the garage because they’ve never seen one of these or one of those. And when they come, they’re like archaeologists going to a museum for the first time. They’re so excited.
A friend brought his eight-year-old son and his friend to my garage. The kid got in my ’65 Shelby Mustang. He called out: ‘Hey dad! Look at this!’ And he turned the crank and the window went down. His friend wanted to try it, so they got in each side and spent the rest of the day rolling the windows up and down. They couldn’t believe it! They’d never seen anything like that! It was mechanical instead of electronic and they wanted to know how it worked. They thought it was the greatest thing they’d ever seen.
Classic cars are my life’s passion but when people say to me ‘My kid wants to get a classic car’ I say, Don’t let them. Then I explain that accidents their kid would walk away from in a 2005 or later car would kill them in a mid-60s car, or even in a ’70s or ’80s car. Cars have become so safe. You can see a car crumpled into a ball and the guy who was driving is standing there on his phone, perfectly OK.
So, yes, I want kids to share my passion, but you have to celebrate the fact that, even though cars are more boring than they used to be, at least they are safe. That is, until you try texting and driving.