Jun 7, 2024 - Technology

Gen Z falls for vintage cars

Nolan Burke, 13, showing off the features of a 1938 Packard at the 2024 Greenwich Concours d'Elegance. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel for Axios

Nolan Burke, 13, showing off the features of a 1938 Packard at the 2024 Greenwich Concours d'Elegance. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel for Axios

Video games, TikTok and YouTube are getting a new generation interested in classic cars — but they're gravitating toward different rides than older car lovers.

Why it matters: Despite predictions that combustion-engine car culture would die out with the old codgers, young people are now poised to carry the torch.

Driving the news: Auto racing games like the Forza and Gran Turismo series are turning kids and young adults into classic car junkies.

  • "If anybody wants to understand where the car market is going, you've got to kind of stare at those two games," says McKeel Hagerty, CEO of vintage auto insurance company Hagerty Inc.
  • These games let you choose classic (and contemporary) cars to race, modify and learn about.

Millennials and Gen Zers who grew up on the "Fast and the Furious" movies are also falling for "JDM" cars (Japanese domestic market): Hondas, Nissans, Mitsubishis.

  • It's similar to how "American Graffiti" and "Magnum, P.I." made baby boomers fall in love with hot rods and red Ferraris.

Case in point: At this month's Greenwich Concours d'Elegance — a premier annual auto show held in Connecticut — the grayer-haired patrons clustered around the antique Rolls Royces and Cadillacs, while the younger adults checked out more affordable and newer models.

  • "I saw a lot of people around the Nissans that were there," said Jackson Kessler, a 25-year-old from Natick, Massachusetts, who's a car influencer on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube under the name Captain Crankshaft.
  • "When you're younger, you can't afford all the super-nice cars," said Kessler, who brought along two former junkers he'd restored: a Porsche 911 and an Aston Martin.
  • A hot car for people in their 20s is a Mazda Miata "that you can then modify and have fun with," Kessler tells Axios.
Jackson Kessler (R) — a.k.a. "Captain Crankshaft" — and his business partner Will Thibodeau on a Porsche 911 that they restored and brought to the 2024 Greenwich Concours d'Elegance. Photo: Courtesy of Hagerty
Jackson Kessler (R) — a.k.a. "Captain Crankshaft" — and his business partner Will Thibodeau on a Porsche 911 that they restored and brought to the 2024 Greenwich Concours d'Elegance. Photo: Courtesy of Hagerty

Kessler sees his followers getting into cars by way of racing simulators as well as games like Forza, "CarTok" and other social media sites.

  • "The younger demo is watching a lot of YouTube content, a lot of TikTok, vertical short-form content" about vintage cars, Kessler said.

Where it stands: '60s-era cars are consistently the most popular among older owners applying for insurance through Hagerty.

  • But Gen Zers — some of whom are just starting to be able to afford to buy and collect vintage cars — are more attracted to models from the '80s and '90s.
Hagerty, which sells insurance for vintage and classic cars, says that younger consumers are gravitating toward cars from the 1980s and 1990s. Visualization: Courtesy Hagerty
Hagerty, which sells insurance for vintage and classic cars, says that younger consumers are gravitating toward cars from the 1980s and 1990s. Visualization: Courtesy of Hagerty

What they're saying: Thanks to video games and other cultural influences, "we're seeing an awful lot of the next-gen come up to us, and they're very knowledgeable about cars," McKeel Hagerty told Axios in an interview at the Greenwich Concours, an event his company owns.

Zoom in: Nolan Burke, a 13-year-old seventh grader from Wilbraham, Massachusetts, who attended the Greenwich Concours, got into cars partly through Forza Horizon on his Xbox.

  • "I just like driving around in the game," Nolan told Axios. "I have an Austin-Healey 3000 MK III, and I've tuned it as a race car."
  • "Sometimes I'll make funny cars," he said. "Like the Peel P50 — I took one of those and I put a little smiley face on the front with the Little Tikes logo on the back, and I changed it to go like 200 miles an hour."
  • Nolan and his father, Kevin Burke, were showing off a 1938 Packard that they maintain on behalf of one of the event judges, Jeff DeMarey, who's the head of a foundation that introduces young people to antique cars.

The bottom line: Some young adults may be flocking to electric vehicles, but many who can afford vintage automobiles are still spellbound by them.

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