1912Staver

When was the golden age of the old car hobby ?

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Posted (edited)

The Golden Age of the old car hobby for me was from 1975 to 1995.   In 1975 I bought my first collector car, a 1929 Studebaker Commander, and joined my first car club.  In about 1995-2000 I noticed a very distinct drop off in the number of pre WWII cars showing up at activities like shows and tours.   Now, it is a pleasant surprise to see any number approaching a dozen of pre WWII cars at any kind of an event out here in the untamed wilds of Northern California.   There are so many early cars from the 20s and 30s that I used to see regularly at various car meets.  Now that the owners who used to drive them have passed on and their cars have disappeared.   Another indicator of the passing of the Golden Age of old cars is the swap meets.   In the 1970s I could find parts of a 1929 Studebaker at a swap meet or any number of period correct accessories.   Now, when I do attend a swap meet, the only thing I get for my trouble is lots of sun exposure and exercise walking up and down the isles.   One of the indicators of the transitions from the Golden Age of the old car is the switch from being able to find parts at swap meet to now having to hunt for them on the internet. 

Edited by Mark Huston (see edit history)
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Have always had cars with parts that were not common, why 'vette FIs were so cheap in the '70s (and Swartz Creek still had plenums). Being in college then I made up for a lack of $$$ with knowledge (had a 63 (large plenum)  FI flowing near 900 cfm with reject nozzles for too high a flow and a Delcotronic ignition). Tires were left over slicks from Gratiot (dry) and BFG T/As for wet and would fit on the trailer.

 

So I have an SLK (actually two, a SOHC V6 and a DOHC 4, so have one to model the project car on), no one gets bothered when I refer to my Judge without the rest of the name or my Reattae. What's the problem ? Only know of one from the millennium year. Was also the first retractable since Ford gave up.

 

Personally find more parts at lower prices on the I'net than I ever did at swap meets, only go to Daytona and occasionally Webster any more but rarely buy anything.

 

Just got a set of wheel studs in 14mmx1.5 10mm longer than stock so I can mount some BMW wheels on my CTS. In '70 would have gone to JC Whitney (Washawsky in the West) and waited a few weeks or would canvass all the local parts houses since the price is never the same in two.

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For me it was late '60s early '70s. My first year going to Hershey was 1968 and I still have the program. I count over 220 Model A Fords listed, last year there were about 10 at most. The majority of cars on the show field now are 1970 to 1980 Preservation Class cars. Not really antique cars in my book. Oh well, times marches on.

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Up until about fifteen years ago I would have not hesitate to say that 1975-95 was our golden age. That period ended when the cost of restoration, even work done by the owner, became so expensive, that fewer and fewer hobbyists ventured there. Then I began to realize that it all depended on who you were and how old you were. It now seems to me as the ageing Boomers are getting ready to pass on their legacy to the next generation. With less competition for the best restored and original cars, the next generation will have their pick, at real dollar prices that nobody could have dreamed of during the nineties. It is happening today, as we speak. So a new golden age may be upon us, but many of us will not be around to enjoy it. For those of you remaining it will be your time, I sincerely hope that you enjoy it the way we did.  

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I can't say for sure what period of years for the golden age, but I can tell you when it ended - right about the time the "investors", re-sellers of nice original or restored cars, & the likes of BJ got involved. It no longer was a hobby.

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In the 70's I was just in Kindergarten and elementary school!  I just got into this hobby two years ago and am really enjoying it.   I am meeting great people, seeing lots of great cars, and learning so much.  My 18 year old son is also now very active in it as well.  We focus on the pre 1932 era and that is what we really like.  Our first Hershey will be this year and we cannot wait!  We see people post about the decline, etc. and maybe there is from past decades, but there is still a lot of fun, enjoyment, and comradery to be had out there at all events.    We take one of our old cars to the local cruise in and get lots of people talking to us and enjoying the cars just as much as when we take one of our cars to a Concours event.  This last weekend we took one of our cars on the Gilmore Car Museum pre 1942 one day tour and they had 70 cars participating.   A lot of younger people on the tour as well.  There was someone who was right in front of us in a 1913 Jackson that had never driven the car more than 1 mile before.  Everyone was patient, helpful, and they ended up making it and completing the tour.  

 

So who knows when the Golden age was, I am more interested in enjoying the time now and focusing on having fun, sharing the cars, and meeting the people!

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20 hours ago, Terry Bond said:

Pretty broad topic. If you are considering the ability to cheaply acquire nice cars, that day is long past.  Barnfinds now come out of another collectors garage (barn). For me this is the golden age.  I'm retired, can enjoy the hobby as I wish, shine my brass all day if I care to, have friends over to enjoy the automobilia, swap stories, drink Scotch, and whatever.  It's a good time to simply tinker with my stuff and enjoy.  Last week I went to a pre-war swap meet, then came home for an MG Club tech session.  Pretty soon I'll get to the AGN, then there is a brass car tour, and another run with the MGs.   While some see the best days are long gone-it's what you make of it.  See you at Hershey.

Terry

I agree with Terry. I've been retired for 13 years and moved to a place on the central California coast where there were a bunch of car guys and made some great friendships that I have to this day. In 2011 my wife and I decided California didn't represent our values anymore so we moved to Prescott AZ. In Prescott I found even more car guy's than the central coast, and many of them I either knew from my Ca. days or they knew people I knew and we just fit in. I built a large shop and am having the best time. Up here in the mountains we have a coffee and donut deal every Saturday morning year round and then cruise to breakfast. There are four major clubs which each put on a car show once a year, plus the Veterans car show and numerous charity car shows. There is a cruise night every week of the month put on by different clubs or businesses.

Every Friday we have over 100 guys on a lunch list that go to various restaurants with their cars, in fact in about a hour I will be going to a Friday lunch in my "MERRY OLDSMOBILE".

 I am a different type of collector than most because  most of the cars I have I have had since I was young. My 65 VW Type 111 1200Custom ( Custom refers to a model not a custom car) I bought in the 12th grade. My 1969 Pontiac H-O LeMans I special ordered in Nov 68 and took delivery in Dec. 1968. My 64 VW I bought in 1974 for my wife to go to university. My 1976 Olds I special ordered in Jan 1976. Only my 62 and 63 Pontiac Catalina's are relatively new purchases the 62 in 1992 and the 63 in 2015.  The cars that I either bought new or near new are special as they are just part of me or the family.

 

You see I made a huge mistake in 1969. I sold my 1959 Pontiac Catalina which my Dad bought new. It was special ordered out of the L.A. zone office. The Catalina was Pontiac's lowest price model, but it was 7" shorter than the Star-Chief and the Bonneville and 200 LBS. lighter and my Dad was going drag racing. The car had a  4 bolt main 389" 420-A NASCAR engine with Tri-Power, hand built in the Pontiac tool room for NASCAR teams to use. It had a HD four speed Super Hydra-Matic and three  third members, a 3.08 for the street and 3.90 and 4.10 for drag racing. The car also had a Bonneville tri tone color leather interior. ( the only other 59 Catalina that I know that had a Bonneville interior was Harley Earl's wife's car which sold at B/J a couple of years ago). The car was built  in Detroit and railed to Ca. instead of Ca. cars as they were built in Southgate Ca. Anyroad, I got my IHRA drag racing license in that Catalina when I was 14 and two years later on my 16th birthday I got my regular drivers license. I sold the Catalina about a month after I got the H-O LeMans.   Even then I seemed to know I had made a mistake. With three cars the 65 Beetle ( my go to school and work car ) the LeMans, and the Catalina were too much and one of them had to go according to my parents.

Later on and finished with school and married with a house of my own I decided to find that Catalina. It was 1978, and I had a friend that had access to DMV records and found that the car had been shredded three months before I started looking for it.

 I have a history book on the car and the first page is delivery day and the last page has a affidavit from Clean Steel that it was shredded at such and such date.         

 😭

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8 hours ago, Buffalowed Bill said:

Up until about fifteen years ago I would have not hesitate to say that 1975-95 was our golden age. That period ended when the cost of restoration, even work done by the owner, became so expensive, that fewer and fewer hobbyists ventured there. Then I began to realize that it all depended on who you were and how old you were. It now seems to me as the ageing Boomers are getting ready to pass on their legacy to the next generation. With less competition for the best restored and original cars, the next generation will have their pick, at real dollar prices that nobody could have dreamed of during the nineties. It is happening today, as we speak. So a new golden age may be upon us, but many of us will not be around to enjoy it. For those of you remaining it will be your time, I sincerely hope that you enjoy it the way we did.  

Exactly my thoughts. We are seeing exactly that in our business. We have several new projects underway for relatively young owners. I do not think the sky is falling anytime soon.

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I think C Carl hit the nail on the head several posts back. His gist was that as long as you are wealthy then of course now is the golden age.  Just as Restorer 32 states directly above. For those that can afford the services of a restoration shop then the age of the client is immaterial. What matters is that they have the means to just get on with enjoying the hobby today. Why would not today be their golden age ?

 For the rest of us things are not so cut and dried. The golden age tends to stop at whatever point it became impossible to participate in the main stream of the hobby and were consigned to the fringes. Thus a tendency to look back in time at what was for us our own golden age.

 

 

Greg

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The other common thread I detect is the change in pre war car turnout at lower key shows. I think there are two separate things at work here. First is that a very sizable number of the lower cost pre war cars have over the last 40 or 50 years been turned into street rods. Many ;but not all of course , of those ten's of thousands of rods were at one time car hobby Model A's, Dodges, Plymouth's , Chevy's , Essex's etc. etc. As the antique car enthusiasts aged out of the hobby and the cars sold a good number metamorphosed into rods.

  Go to a modern street rod meet and you will be astounded by the number of bread and butter , pre war cars living a new life as street rods.

 

The other factor is that in the 1950's and early 1960's many quite high end cars were owned by moderately well off  "enthusiast " owners. Owners who used the cars quite frequently at events of all levels of status , not just a few select very high end events. And this group of owners would often have only one or two hobby cars and therefore the public had a decent chance at seeing some pretty remarkable cars at average events.

  As the 1960's wore on the car hobby caught the interest of seriously wealthy people. One by one the cars that were often used climbed in value and became in many cases one of many cars in a single persons collection. And in many cases became cars that were rarely used , and if used almost never at anything less than a "Pebble Beach" stature event. 

 The cars in effect dropped off the radar of average old car fans.

 I know that all throughout the history of the hobby there have been some people who were able to amass a collection of old cars. However I think the trend has accelerated in recent decades as the cars began to be seen not just as historical objects , but as Investments , and as hedges against inflation.

 The old time multi car collectors seemed to be more interested in saving and documenting history. And in many cases made sizable amounts of the cars available for the public to see and experience.

These days it seems like many high end cars are treated like bullion in Fort Knox. The purchasers identity and cars location are top secret except to a very select few. Possibly on public view once a decade at a pinnacle venue.

 These trends seem to me to be the changes in the hobby that have altered it almost beyond recognition from the "old days"

 

Greg in Canada

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Posted (edited)

The other thing I really miss from the Golden Era 1975 and before are the founders with large collections, Henry Austin Clark, Bill Harrah, Jack Nethercutt, and Briggs Cunningham. They had the time and funds to find and restore some really significant vehicles, and open the doors to the general public for our education and enjoyment. They are all gone now and the collections are either gone or in other collections. Back in the 1970's you could thumb through a coffee table car book and just know at a glance who owned the car.  I miss these legends of the hobby, I can't think of anyone that has taken their place. Bob 

 

Edited by 1937hd45 (see edit history)
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Depends what you want out of the hobby.  If you want a nice older car for your own enjoyment, these are pretty good times.  If you're looking for a vibrant, active group of prewar enthusiasts, that ship may have sailed.  And so on.

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1 hour ago, 1937hd45 said:

The other thing I really miss from the Golden Era 1975 and before are the founders with large collections, Henry Austin Clark, Bill Harrah, Jack Nethercutt, and Briggs Cunningham. ... I can't think of anyone that has taken their place. Bob 

 

Nicola Bulgari, Jay Leno, and others--  

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There was a lot to be said for the late 1970's (and to some degree the early 1980s) - I was attending events regularly with my parents and other family and the rows of pre-war and especially brass era cars was pretty phenomenal.  I think you have somewhat of a cycle now - as the older people stopped bringing older cars out (they are hard to drive matched to ...) the new younger people that have them now are using/enjoying them in different way - as they really do not want to be the one ducks.  In many places they have specialized car shows and fun activities for pre-war cars (matched to climates) and it is still impressive what you see out and about.  

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By the way, the fabulous future of the hobby may not be here yet - someone(s) perhaps may be  re-writing the book from days gone by.

 

Also, Concours events and museums have replaced the local grocery store parking lot car show to go see pre-war cars and .... 

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Sidenote as to Concours:  Volunteer running the second oldest Concours d'elegance in the United States, I will tell you no easy task (we are a Not-for-Profit Corporation with employees, staggering bills, a Village of Sponsors, a City of Volunteers, and the list goes on and on). 

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John took this thread in a great direction.  I had my A out today for the first time in over a year, and enjoyed it as much as ever!

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Posted (edited)
On ‎5‎/‎23‎/‎2019 at 12:36 PM, John_S_in_Penna said:

I think any decade can be a part of a Golden Age.

Every period has its advantages and disadvantages.

 

In an interview, one of our region's charter members

told about collecting in the 1950's.  The desirable cars

were the brass-era cars, but they were hard to find.

Hemmings Motor News was just a few mimeographed sheets.

There were few good cars for sale, so a potential buyer

had to keep his eyes and ears open;  and the cars weren't

bargains, either, in terms of the purchasing power of the time.

The 1930's Classics were very affordable, but they were

just coming into collectibility.

 

I'm perfectly happy with the present.  I can always find

cars I like that are overlooked and reasonably priced.

Several years ago, I got to see a 40-minute b&w film of an antique car meet which mainly showed cars from 1900 through mid-1920's.  The film was produced by Firestone in 1955.  The last few minutes of the film was pure advertising PR for Firestone showing the factory reproducing the old, skinny tires which were used on the cars, stating how popular old cars were becoming and it was growing each year.  The film then stated how Firestone was going to meet the demand by dusting off their old tire molds, and making vintage tires for early 1900's cars readily available.

 

Craig

Edited by 8E45E (see edit history)
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Personally have always been more interested in driving, autocrosses, and rallys than collecting. Cars I have are just incidental. But where I grew up was near the Melton collection now about three miles away is opening a new one where a gentleman bought a defunct mall and is housing about 1500 interesting or at least sorta cars. See here. 

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, John_S_in_Penna said:

 

Nicola Bulgari, Jay Leno, and others--  

Good point, actually we have some forum members caretaking some incredible stuff as well.  Some folks just tend to be a little more modest or private.  We are getting a new concours here on the East coast in Newport, RI just before Hershey.  The annual Klingberg fathers day show is thriving and focuses on "the good stuff".  I also agree with the comments on cars being passed to interested younger people.  I see more club activities and touring vs. Shows for the prewar stuff.  So different, but not dying.

 

That said, hobbyist restorations, large swap meets with great stuff, and some of the other things i love about this hobby are changing.  Change always has ups and downs.

Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)
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Thanks for the reminder about the Klingberg meet, this may be the year I finally get there. Bob

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Overcast and so dark I should turn the light on and I am next to a window. Forecast of severe thunderstorms. I have four licensed and drivable cars in my newly LED lamped garage. I am heading out there for a day of old CD movie soundtracks and lazy polishing. A break for lunch with my Wife and we might take an old car if there is a break in the rain.

 

I will tell you about the Golden Age tomorrow.

 

Thundering now.

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Posted (edited)
23 hours ago, 1912Staver said:

The golden age tends to stop at whatever point it became impossible to participate in the main stream of the hobby and were consigned to the fringes. Thus a tendency to look back in time at what was for us our own golden age.

 

 

Greg

It was a great time, should have taken more photographs to show you how great it really was. Bob 

Edited by 1937hd45 (see edit history)

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Well, just to put my two-cents in on the topic the Golden Age for me was about 1966 to 1980. I joined AACA and HCCA at age 15 in late 1966 and would attend the Lake Forest and Momence car shows every year, among many others. The show fields were full of brass-era cars, my favorite, as well as twenties and thirties cars including classic cars. It felt like it took all day just to walk through the show cars let alone looking for parts at the vendors and yes, most vendors were in the hobby, not professionals. Back then, to a young me, the car shows were like Christmas, my birthday and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. I do miss that time. The shows have really changed over the years and I rarely go now. But, my wife and I have gotten into touring with our brass-era cars (indeed, we are hosting a four day tour here in Wisconsin next week if the weather will permit) so I guess if I were to focus only on touring this would be our Golden Age. Still, I would like to acquire some more brass-era cars but now that I am retired, the prices they bring will not allow that to happen.

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