The Beach Boys hit “409” is testament to a time when car culture was king in the United States – only in America could you write a song about an automobile engine.
Now some worry that the age of car culture is ending.
But one of the biggest employers in Traverse City says business is still strong in the world of collector and classic cars.
Old, fast cars
Let’s meet the future of the car hobby: Ethan Stackable. He’s 13 years old and already knows what kind of car he wants when he turns 16.
“Anything fast,” Stackable says.
He’s in a giant warehouse with his dad in Traverse City that’s a kind of mecca for car buffs. There’s space to store your car in the winter, a restoration shop if you need work done and even a consignment shop if you want to sell your ride.
Ethan’s dad, Mark Stackable, has a Porsche stored here and also a 1968 Pontiac Firebird – his personal favorite. He remembers how he got into cars in the first place.
“Growing up basically on a farm in the middle of the state, my brother had a [Pontiac] GTO, I had a [Ford] Mustang,” Mark Stackable says. “They were old. They were fast. And they needed to be worked on all the time.”
Stackable’s uncle was also really into cars. But he says the main thing attracting him to cars is just how much fun they are to drive.
“The Firebird with the top down and listening to the engine and shifting through the gears on a sunny day – that’s fun,” Stackable says.
A ‘gray’ future
There are some signs that the world of collecting old cars and keeping them running could have some problems in the future. For instance, kids aren’t getting drivers licenses as early as they used to on average – and some aren’t getting them at all.
Mike Fisher owns the car warehouse called MFD Classic Motors.
“The future’s still very gray,” Fisher says.
Fisher has had the warehouse for about two-and-a-half years and already has more than 60 cars stored here. But he does worry about what could happen to the car hobby down the road.
“The one thing we worry about more than anything else as car collectors, is who’s going to work on them,” Fisher says.
A generation of mechanics and classic car specialists is starting to fade away, Fisher says.
There are not enough people like Adam Hammer, a 27-year-old auto restoration guru. He’s showing off a 1956 Chevrolet Nomad which will be the first complete restoration his shop has completed.
Hammer runs his shop inside Mike Fisher’s warehouse, and he gets why people might worry about the future of the hobby. But he says one of the big problems is with new cars – not with the old ones.
They’re more complex and harder to fix.
“I can understand where the mass public is coming from when in saying that the car hobby is in trouble,” Hammer says. “I don’t necessarily believe that. I think newer cars are less desirable because they are more appliance-like.”
That might make new cars less collectible.
And that could make problems for one of the biggest employers in Traverse City.
An expanding, changing market
Hagerty Insurance sells policies for collector cars and boats.
It recently came up with a rating system to measure the collector car market as a whole, and right now the market looks pretty stable.
“It’s not going down," Rob Sass says. "It's not a bubble in the making right now. It’s a pretty healthy situation." He’s a vice president at Hagerty.
And right now he’s rubbing one of his babies, a blue Ferrari 308 from the 1980s. It’s got a big smudgy print on its hood from one of Sass’s other babies – his 3-year-old son.
Sass says the market for collector cars is growing right now, but the kinds of cars people are collecting has changed.
“It’s part of the generational shift in collecting,” Sass says. “[I’m] not really interested in cars from the 50s, but this 1980s Ferrari really floats my boat.”
The market for classic European and Asian cars is stronger than in the past. But Sass says the classic American cars aren’t selling as well.
So while there might be more demand for your Porsche, selling your ‘409’ could be tougher.