According to You: What makes someone a car person?

January 27, 1965: Shelby at the GT350's launch. He is playing a toy flute to charm a toy Cobra out of its basket on the hood of a GT350 R Model, the competition variant. The car's roll cage is visible above the steering wheel; an early Ford GT40 sits in the background. Bettmann Archive

This is not a question for the faint of heart, but the Hagerty Community came through with some great answers. Subjective questions like this bring about a treasure trove of thoughts, experiences, and knowledge, and the end result is an article that I hope leaves you enriched. We have so much to learn from others, and it’s not just about re-jetting a carb, learning to heel-and-toe, protecting a paint job, or acquiring an NOS part. It’s everything, and we might not know everything in this world, right?

So let’s see your responses to the age-old question in car communities: What makes someone a car person?

A Conversation Stopper

1964 Chevrolet Corvette custom ISCA fuelie mid year

@Bob: A car person no matter where, what activity, event, or people they are with, will see or hear that different-from-normal vehicle and their conversation stops. Their head turns to see what car it is.

Akin to varying degrees of education?

Bring a Trailer/halabyg

@hyperv6: Being a car enthusiast comes in levels and degrees. Much like a college education.

  1. You can have your passing interest in some that admire cars in general. Not always an owner.
  2. You have those who actually own an interesting car.
  3. You own the car and participate in the hobby socially.
  4. You own a car and participate in the hobby not only socially but hands-on, working and restoring.
  5. You not only participate socially but physically in racing and other events with your car. You also will own other vehicles as in more than one play car or support vehicles to support your hobby.

I have always been in the hands-on groups where you restore, repair, and occasionally race your vehicle. I recently got involved with a Corvette club. Nice people who love their cars but many are just there for the social aspect. Nothing wrong with that but most are not mechanically inclined. They go out to eat. Raise money for charity and are kind of like Shriners with larger cars. I have never been exposed to that kind of enthusiast. Yes there are some hands-on guys but most are not club members and it is just a different experience. Most are older and memberships are declining like many other organizations.

There are really 101 kinds of owners and auto fans out there but this is the basic group. All of these types have declined in recent years and the groups are getting older. Why for many reasons. Often the cost has gotten so high many kids just have no interest. The days of a solid ’65 GTO for $1500 are over and even an affordable Honda is not cheap to build.

Blood, Sweat, Tears

Carter Rhodes Collection Buick rust
Sajeev Mehta

@Luvs A Goodstory: Hello. I can agree with Sajeev’s list of “car person” attributes. I give a resounding H##L YES to the “two ears one mouth” plea. I would just add that more than 50 percent of the effort going into the car needs to come from the owner. I will not define effort, other than to say it ain’t measured in $$$. If you aren’t there you are a “Collector.”

@DP: I concur with the >50 percent effort criteria. Years ago, I was at a hot rod/street rod drive in event on Main St. in a small town nearby. Lots of nice looking vehicles, some still in progress, & I talked to several owners. I asked one owner about his vehicle, the history, the story behind the build, etc. When he revealed that he just buys them & drives them, I had a couple of thoughts. First must be nice to have expendable cash to do that, but second what fun is that? You’re missing out on 90 percent of the whole experience!

Enthusiast Starter Pack:

Corvair key in ignition
Kyle Smith

@Jonathan: A definitive description will be almost impossible to define. The starter criteria from Sajeev addresses the question quite well. Here are a few more thoughts:

  • When you have a few minutes of quiet, your thoughts eventually focus on cars.
  • You can picture the four-cycle process taking place inside an engine.
  • You purposely select the best route for driving, especially if it is not the shortest path.
  • When you were young, you sketched cars and race cars.
  • As a kid, family members eventually just started gifting you car stuff on birthdays.
  • At some point, you learned the differences in cars by their exhaust note or headlights at night.
  • You understand that different cars have different interior smells.
  • You have turned off the radio to hear the engine.

This list will have no end, and the other comment from Sajeev about helping others must be repeated. During my lunch break today I was able to do this, and it is one of the more satisfying aspects of being a “car person.”

Keep It Simple

Young Driver Teaching Tips
Nathan Petroelje

@Tom: If you simply want to own, drive, race, or modify cars, I call you a car guy.

@TG: I would say the minimum requirement is that you see cars as something beyond a disposable means of conveyance.

Car Guy vs. Car Enthusiast

Pebble Beach Concours 2018 Winner Prewar Alfa Romeo
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

@BMD4800: A car guy is not the same as a car enthusiast. All car guys (or girls) are enthusiasts, but not all enthusiasts are car guys. Enthusiasts like cars, the social aspects, shows, etc. Being a Car Guy (or girl) is a lifestyle.

I’m a car guy and always have been. Got my first car at 15, second (as in I owned 2) at age 17, third at 18, 4th at 19. By age 22 I had 5. 25 I had 6, at age 30 I had 7. 7 cars, all but 1 was pre-1975. Every home I’ve owned is purchased based on this way of life. Enthusiasts don’t get it, but Car Guys do.

Are we gatekeeping here?

M1 Concourse

@Desmond: There’s really no answer I can give that isn’t gatekeeping to some extent. Maybe I should frame it as “what it takes to be my kind of car person” instead: I think it takes more than an interest in cars. It takes a genuine desire for knowledge about the subject, and an interest not based on the aspect of social signaling.

I think there are an awful lot of “car people” who are really more into status symbols than they are into cars. After all, cars are among the most visible signifiers of social and economic status in today’s world. Anyone who thinks having a certain kind of car would make them somehow cooler, anyone who is more into badges than engineering, anyone who makes a big deal about “pedigree,” anyone looking for a monetary return on investment, those are not my kind of car people. If the personal automobile were to become obsolete as a status symbol or means of storing value, those folks would move on to some other material object.

My kind of car people aren’t necessarily know-it-alls. But they don’t claim a deeper knowledge than they possess. They don’t go saying one brand of vehicles is superior simply because it’s what they like. They don’t refuse to acknowledge the flaws in the cars they do like. They don’t waste time bench racing or starting pointless arguments. Instead, they appreciate cars for what they are and what they can do.

Their name isn’t as memorable as the car?

Maurice Moore Chevrolet Chevelle SS grille
Stefan Lombard

@John: All of the reasons almost anyone can name I’ll agree with. But the real proof is what my wife says, because I only know folks by their cars and their names are WAY down the list, lol.

@Jeepcj5: I’m the same way. Anytime someone asks me if I know a person, I ask them what that person drives.

Look in the mirror?

Boss Bronco driving rear view mirror reflection
Grace Houghton

@DUB6: I like some of these as—when I was reading them—I realized they were describing me in large part.



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    I don’t know about a soul- but I get the idea of a unique character that every car has, even the same year, model and subtype can vary, especially over the years and with modifications. Having driven a lot of “stuff” back to the early 1950 through the present- the thing I enjoy most is the sensations of the older cars is that you get the loud exhaust, stiff ride, marginal brakes, fuel smell, etc. all are part of the visceral experience. If you can put up with these “inconveniences” and constantly fixing stuff (after all it is old) then you are a true “car guy” or “car girl”. Love of cars many times starts early and becomes a lifelong addiction- just act my saint of a wife- who has put up with almost 40 my silly infatuation with all things automotive.

    Very often I’ll go into my garage & just look at my cars. They’re almost like my kids that I want to say goodnight to.

    If after parking your car/truck and while walking away, you turn and look back at it, you’re a car guy (or gal).

    The “guys” should open their eyes once and a while. At last weekend’s Hagerty cars and coffee in Buffalo, I met quite a few women owners. My wife wrenched on her two Sciroccos and is very unhappy when forced to drive an automatic. The 21st Century is looking forward to your joining it!

    We throw the term guy around at work and my female coworkers have no issue with acknowledging that it means them too

    I’m a guy….. however.. When I was in college, in the 60’s, all the girls that I was around, called all the girls that they were around, “guys”, as in, “What you guys want to do Friday night?” Since I was located in Western Pennsylvania, “you guys” was equally spoken as “yunz”. Since I have been in Texas since ’78, I have been heavily indoctrinated in the proper and respected, “Y’all”. Guys, Yunz, Y’all…. it just doesn’t get any better than this!!

    My wife and I grew up in Pittsburgh. We pronounced it yinz. Funny how it changes from one area of western PA or Pittsburgh to another. Now people from that area are called Yinzer’s.

    If someone looks at that rusted out car that Sajeev posted and doesn’t see that as a lost cause, he or she is a car person. (If you do see it as a lost cause, that doesn’t mean you’re not a car person, you just might not be as insane as someone who thinks there’s still potential there. 💀

    Waaaay too funny….the first thing that went through my (tiny, car-guy) brain was “mid to late 70’s Caddie?” My second thought was “I wonder what it would take to get it goin’”….. yup, I think I’m one of them…..

    I always bristle when someone tells me they are a”car guy”. If they really are, it won’t take long for me (or anybody) to discover it.

    Also, Sajeev, while that’s no pungi that Shelby is holding, I’m not sure I’d call it a flute, either. 🙂 Maybe a horn?

    We were lucky enough to live in Hamtramck, MI. When the new model year approached, we’d get on our bikes and see the new models outside of the Dodge and Plymouth factories. Actually saw Hemi Darts and Cudas waiting to be shipped to their drag racing owners. All the dealers would cover their showroom windows to build the anticipation for the arrival of the new cars. The 50’s/60’s were great for us budding “car guys”.

    Right on Tim, we waited with anticipation every Fall in Tucson as kids to see the new models arrive. All changes made to the new models, however minute, were discussed and evaluated. Young Tucson auto geeks were thrilled with the of new model year car arrivals. Really seems like yesterday, and we all had so much fun and still love seeing these cars as they occasionally pass through our often mundane and homogenized lives.

    I’d say more or less, an interest in cars beyond A to B, and an appreciation of all types whether they’re your cup of tea or not.

    A love of cars in any form. The want to own, talk about, read about, watch, etc. It’s all part of it.

    This is great. Let’s all keep in mind that we want to be welcoming to anyone who shows even the most minor interest – as we as “car people” need to keep the flock healthy. I have told many people that no matter how little someone has interest in cars, at the least they still have interest. They can be as tame as they want, I just want them engaged in it in some positive way.

    I agree 100%. You never know what comment or statement you make that may have great influence on someone with a budding interest. Keep it positive!

    I agree with most of the comments up to now but I would like to add that when someone talks about a past event whether it be personal or public, I always revert to figuring out what car I was driving at that time then I will be able to narrow down when the event took place. Also, when watching a movie, I’m always interested in when and where it occurred or was supposed to have taken place. I look for the vintage of the vehicles and the state license plates. I think this is just another thing that car people do.

    I have always associated certain interior smells with certain makes of cars or trucks. I remember sitting in a Chevrolet truck in the “80’s and it having a very distinct smell. Not offensive, but very distinct. Same thing with older Honda’s and Toyotas. I thought I was the only one that noticed interior smells!

    When I was house hunting (because I’d outgrown my mom’s garage), I only had three criteria: able to afford the loan, reasonable distance from work and MINIMUM two car garage.

    Every childhood memory has a car as a reference point. “Ya, I remember that, he had a 61 Biscayne with a 3 on the tree.” The wife says “What does that have to do with the story & how the hell would you remember that?You were 7 years old.” I say back, “…but thats what he had.” Every memory is like that. The guys on “Cold War Motors” call it the “Sad Bastard Disease”.

    Turn the radio off to hear the engine? I almost never turn the radio on so I can hear the engine and other noises the vehicle is making!

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