Each generation’s favorite classic cars

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Richard Pardon

Want to know something kids today can’t get enough of? Dogs. Especially really cute ones with sad eyes. Gen-Zers are also into—get this—hot drinks on cold days. Some like cilantro, but others hate it. Spend enough time on TikTok and you’ll get the sense that many teens—gosh, this is so weird—crave the approval and affection of others.

OK, I’ll stop. My point, in case all that wasn’t obvious enough, is that lots of people tend to be into lots of the same stuff, regardless of age. The ballyhooed “generation gap,” although grounded in certain realities of our fast-changing world, is largely a figment of marketers’ imagination.

Hagerty’s demographic data tell a similar story. When someone calls us about insurance on a particular car, we ask for basic details like their age. Since we get thousands upon thousands of these calls every year, we have a pretty solid sense of what enthusiasts in each age group are into. Turns out that whether the caller is 16 or 101 (actual ages of our youngest and oldest callers) there’s a really good chance they’re asking about a Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Mustang.

Of course, there are differences, and we’ll get into some of them below. In the interest of presenting a fuller picture, I’ve shown two metrics for each generation—first, the vehicles that age group calls about the most, and second, the cars for which it represents the highest percentage of interest. The latter metric helps us spot trends early on but it also, in isolation, can be very deceiving. For instance, looking solely at generational share, you’ll see that Gen-Z represents 44 percent of insurance quotes for the 1989–1994 Nissan Laurel. Woah! Before you start filling warehouses with the JDM sedans, though, perhaps I should tell you the raw total of calls that represents: 24. In contrast, some five thousand kiddos called us about Mustangs. (Note: In the interest of avoiding such misrepresentations, I have in the sections below excluded vehicles for which we received fewer than 100 calls from a particular age group.)

Read on to see what each generation craves, but don’t forget the key takeaway: What we share in common far outweighs what separates us.

Pre-baby boomer (1920–1945)

1929 Ford Model A Roadster
1929 Ford Model A Roadster. Carol Gould

Most-called-about vehicle: 1928–1931 Ford Model A

Highest share of calls: 1950-1953 MG TD

These shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not only are both cars, um, old, but they’re also the two archetypes of the attainable classics favored by younger generations. In the Ford Model A, we have a passenger car that, due to its ubiquity, charisma, and association with a time and a place, found its way into enthusiasts’ hearts. The MG TD, meanwhile, was the sports car that made Americans love sports cars—every Corvette, Miata, and Boxster produced owes it a small debt.

On that note, we all owe a debt to these older collectors. They founded the car-collector hobby and, to a large extent, created car culture as we know it in this country. The greasers who popularized hot rodding, the tweed-wearing East Coasters who brought over British roadsters, our pantheon of American racing greats, including Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, and Mario Andretti—all of them hail from the generation born before 1945, and all continue to resonate today.

This generation also continues to throw a lot of weight around the collector car market. Although its ranks, sadly, are thinning, pre-baby boomers are still more numerous in our insurance quote data than Gen-Zers, and they’re overrepresented among the most expensive vehicles.

Baby boomers (1946–1964)

1978 Chevrolet Corvette
1978 Chevrolet Corvette. Carol Gould

Most called-about vehicle: 1972–1984 Chevrolet Corvette

Highest share of calls: 1969-1976 Triumph TR6

If you’re reading this article, based on our stats, you’re likely a baby boomer. For all the obsession with the growing youth contingent, baby boomers still represent the lion’s share of interest in cars: Nearly four out of every ten people who called Hagerty for a quote on insurance in the past year come from that generation. This is to a large extent a by-product of wealth—baby boomers control more than 50 percent of it in the United States, per the Federal Reserve—yet there’s no denying that the generation which came of age in the 1960s has a unique connection to the automobile.

When it comes to what these enthusiasts crave most, there’s no contest. It’s all about Corvette. The most-produced Vette, the 1972–1984 C3, naturally tops the list, but the C2, C4, and C5 all make the top ten.

What sets American baby boomer enthusiasts apart, however, is their fascination with British sports cars. The folks who grew up with The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Who have a special relationship with the cars from that country. Four out of the ten cars for which Baby Boomers represent the highest share of insurance quotes are Brits, topped by the venerable Triumph TR6.

Generation-X (1965–1981)

1967 Chevrolet Camaro
1967 Chevrolet Camaro. Aaron McKenzie

Most called-about vehicle: 1967–1969 Chevrolet Camaro

Highest share of calls: 1983–1990 Land Rover Defender

Gen-Xers are, in the near term, the most important age group for classic car values. That may sound odd given that they are commonly thought to be America’s smallest generation, sandwiched between baby boomers and their millennial children. Yet in terms of wealth and disposable income, Gen-Xers punch well above their weight. Most of these forty- and fifty-somethings are in their peak earning years, and many are finally getting the kids off their dole. As a result, the cars for which this age group is over-represented are gaining in value. It’s no surprise then, that classic SUVs—the hottest segment of the collector car market right in recent years—dominate the list of vehicles Gen-Xers favor compared to other generations.

Conversely, though, it is Gen-Xers who really start to bust conventions of what enthusiasts of a particular age “should” like. Look at the vehicles they call about most, and you essentially see cars from the same era as the one prized by baby boomers. Topping the list is the 1967–69 Camaro, a car that even the oldest Gen-Xers likely don’t remember seeing new, and one that Baby Boomers also like a whole lot.

Millennials (1982–1996)

1985 K10 Silverado
1985 K10 Silverado. Evan Klein

Most called-about vehicle: 1981-1987 Chevrolet C/K Series Pickup

Highest share of calls: 2002-2007 Mitsubishi Lancer/Evo

Time for some myth-busting. Millennials, the ones who grew up during the golden era of Japanese performance and were the core audience for the Fast and Furious films, are absolutely bonkers for American cars. The ten cars quoted most by this generation are all Fords and Chevys. Matter of fact, the Miata, the 3 Series, and the venerable Beetle are the only imports the crack Millennials top 25—otherwise, it’s wall-to-wall Detroit.

The list of cars quoted most exclusively by millennials probably hews closer to what you might expect—Evos, STis, Skylines. Yet here’s where the data can become deceptive. Remember that this young group of collectors, though it is growing by leaps and bounds, still represents a smaller slice of the pie than their elders. That means Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers tend to crowd them out, percentage-wise, on American classics. For instance, the most popular car for millennials’ by total quotes is the 1980s Chevy C/K. Yet millennials represent only a fifth of the interest in the truck. Meanwhile, the car for which millennials represent the biggest proportion of quotes, the 2002–2007 Evo, actually isn’t all that popular—only 153 millennials called us about them. In other words, a high percentage of millennial interest in a car usually tells us more about a lack of interest from older collectors.

That doesn’t mean those Japanese classics don’t have a bright future. We expect that as the numbers of millennial collectors swell, so too will interest in and values for cars they and they alone love. But make no mistake: the Vettes, Mustangs, and pickups currently hoarded by older generations will almost certainly remain more popular.

Gen-Z (1995–2012)

1991 Mazda Miata. Evan Klein

Most called-about vehicle: 1989–1997 Mazda Miata

Highest share of calls: 1988-1994 Nissan Silvia S13

To the extent that Gen-Z represents the exception here—the only generation that quotes a modern Japanese car more than any other—it also proves the rule. Because the car happens to be none other than the first-generation Miata, a modern Japanese car performing a spot-on impression of an older British roadster.

The vehicles Gen-Z quotes more than other generations is without a doubt the most eclectic grouping here. More so than for Millennials, the list seems to represent genuine interest from this age group rather than just apathy from older collectors. Note, for instance, that the Miata makes the cut here, as well. Dealers and auction companies who wish to be relevant a decade or two from now might start beefing up on their knowledge of the JDM heroes on this list. That said, they also should stay current on Corvettes and Mustangs because—you guessed it—the youngest set of collectors also loves those.

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Comments

    This is a good article, with clearly a lot of thought and effort put into it.

    My concern remains that the “generations” theory comes out the 1930s (1928 Germany I believe), got popularized in the 1950s when translated into English and meshed with what USA saw happening around them. It was a convenient easy fit.

    There appears to be a lot of push back against this theory in the last 30 years. But for the media it remains a convenient sorting hat. As someone lumped in the “Gen X” label I have always felt it was a poor model. I don’t see that 15-year span really having a connected experience.

    Hagerty can easily prove me wrong (vehicle wise) though, as sorting this data in 5 year increments for the Gen X and newer ages might just show there is in fact consistency across the labels. My hunch is whether you went to high school in a rural or city area will have a big difference on what cars you like. For Gen X you have the interesting fact that high school was early 80s to mid 90s so a totally different vehicle situation in the parking lots.

    ——-
    Another obvious filter on the data is if Mustangs were high sales, high survival rate then they are going to come up for sale way more. Cars for sale lead to insurance quotes even if the person getting the quote is just pretending.

    Snailish, I loved how you challenged the conventional wisdom of analysis by generations. Thank you for opening my mind to a brand new perception!

    In reading through the comments, I find a lot of dissension regarding the validity of the statistics. I agree with snailish in that the grouping of things by “generation” is certainly suspect. And other have pointed out that there are likely unshown variables that can skew things (like affordability vs. favorites). So, while it’s an interesting read, I kind of doubt that it all reflects true reality. As I sit (like DaveF) and watch people be drawn to different cars at shows, I notice that personal preferences don’t really follow age groups all that much. There are just too many things that can influence one’s “favorite”. Maybe your grandfather had a certain car, and even though you’re only 16, that memory is what means your favorite is a ’40s vehicle. Maybe you’re a Boomer, but you really enjoyed a F&F movie and a Japanese tuner is now your fave. It just doesn’t (to me) work to generalize too much based on age…

    The most common thread I see is the Corvette. It has long been relegated to the status of “old man’s car” but each age group seems to show a lot of interest. My millennial son-in-law fell in love with C3s at a Mecum auction and bought one several months later. He’s now a work-from-home and is considering selling his 2005 C6 and keeping the ’76.

    The guy I sold my 1995 to several years ago is thinking of selling it off to buy a C6. He is a fellow boomer and will undoubtedly benefit from the rise in used car prices over the last few years. I feel certain that I could get at least what I paid for my 2007 4 years ago, but then what? It’s the old inflationary trap – the replacement cost has gone up as well.

    As Will Rogers famously said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” The data mining represented in this article does a pretty good job of explaining the meaning behind the numbers.

    The most common thread I see is the Corvette. It has long been relegated to the status of “old man’s car” but each age group seems to show a lot of interest. My millennial son-in-law fell in love with C3s at a Mecum auction and bought one several months later. He’s now a work-from-home and is considering selling his 2005 C6 and keeping the ’76.

    The guy I sold my 1995 to several years ago is thinking of selling it off to buy a C6. He is a fellow boomer and will undoubtedly benefit from the rise in used car prices over the last few years. I feel certain that I could get at least what I paid for my 2007 4 years ago, but then what? It’s the old inflationary trap – the replacement cost has gone up as well.

    As Will Rogers famously said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” The data mining represented in this article does a pretty good job of explaining the meaning behind the numbers.

    Corvettes are popular. My wife won a 2005 silver Corvette at the Daytona 500, February 20, 2005, one of 4 given away that day by PEPSI and PUBLIX grocery store. We kept it in the family until 2018, when it went to a retired Philadelphia police officer.

    OMG; what if I’m interested in cars that older generations than mine are most interested in? I may be older than I think…..

    I knew very well my favorite ride wouldn’t show up – it’s simply too rare! But I think I’m not alone in parking at a diner most anywhere and getting a seat to keep an eye on it and to simply watch all the camera’s coming out for snapshots. One of the very best was driving by a village green in middle of Indiana and a whole pack of youngsters come running, shouting “we like your car!”

    Well, if you must know – 1973 Volvo 1800ES

    Loved my ‘71 1800E – Bought it in Germany, and it was a GREAT autobahn car! Should have kept it…. Unfortunately, I brought it back to the states in 1974, at the start of the 55mph limits everywhere, and that was just too painful….

    Good article Thanx . I’m a Hagerty Ins. Broker here in Ontario Canada, we have a lot of car collectors , classic car owners in my area . Yes the Corvette /Camaro are cherished up here also , along with the Tri-Five Chevys. Mustangs of ALL vintage are also hot on our list of insurance quotes too. The English cars have a good following also , but I have not noticed very many Japanese performance cars being quoted yet, but I do LIVE in a rural, faming area.. that might be different in the city /large urban centers ?

    While I am not a broker, I can tell you there are a stunning number of Japanese performance cars with Antique license plates in Houston. The number keeps growing because more folks are getting into the JDM import business too, which was pretty surprising.

    I’m a boomer who definitely bucks the trend. My “dream” cars are a 63-67 Vette, 67-69 Camaro and a 33-34 Ford like ZZ Top.

    As a barely a Boomer born in ’64, in a rural area I had a ’57 Belair as my first car, I just liked it ,didn’t know they were collectable (maybe they weren’t collectable in 1980 ?) year or 2 later ’69 Z/28 with 302 I knew it was special but life gets in the way. today I’ve got an NA Miata .

    From this poll you may believe that the 1974-1982 Corvette is one of the most popular car of all time.
    Who agrees with these cars? Maybe they asked only people who own salvage yards.
    I just don’t believe that so many people of different generations are in love with the C3 corvettes.

    Agreed. No mention of the earlier C3s, my preference would a ‘71 – ‘72 as the bugs were worked out by then and still great cars to drive and maintain.

    As a Pre-Baby Boomer, apparently I’m still young at heart. I like them all. I do own an A-Model, but I also go up to 3 Corvettes and an XLS Cadillac with a ’56 T-Bird and a ’40 Ford Coupe thrown in. Interesting article.

    Having recently purchased a 2003 Miata with 29000 original miles, I am at 85 years old, reliving a number of dreams, first of which, my Dad’s 1948 MG TC !
    Great article!

    Even if the people are pretending, they are still interested so the numbers would not be skewed. The data is interesting and confirms common sense thought…As snailish said, what was in the parking lot in high school generates the most interest. Corvettes, Mustang sure do stand the test of time

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