Everything is bigger in Texas, including classic car culture

James Wilder

California’s status as king of American car culture is undisputed. Los Angeles’ car-friendly design, the state’s early adoption of freeways, its population of hot-rod-building World War II vets, its welcoming of tuner culture and hosting of cars & coffee events—California has long been a mecca for automotive passion. Places like Beverly Hills or Monterey Car Week are paradise for car spotters. Some of the country’s best collections and museums are found there, and the market is extremely active thanks to the high-profile, record-setting auctions in Monterey and to online auction sales, held in California in higher concentration than in any other state. California also has some of the best and most scenic driving roads in the country, and its famously agreeable weather means that “driving season” lasts 12 months, making “California car” a byword for dry, rust-free classic.

As a Texan, though, I think we hear plenty about California’s importance to the hobby. The Lone Star State doesn’t get nearly as much love, yet it boasts the nation’s second-largest classic car market. Texas’s big share of and unique influence on car collecting is worth a closer look.

vintag classic mercury car
James Wilder

First, some basics about the state. “We’re number two” doesn’t have a nice ring, but it’s a familiar theme. Texas is the nation’s second biggest state both in terms of area (trailing Alaska) and population (behind California). Its GSP (Gross State Product) is also second highest of the 50, and it is home to the second largest number of Fortune 500 companies (both after California). We’re even second to Cali in number of megachurches.

So, it’s not surprising that the state also wins silver for concentration of collector cars. According to Hagerty’s research, there are 2.6 million collector vehicles in the state of Texas (or about one collector vehicle for every 11 people), which again puts it in the number two spot behind California (6.1 million) but ahead of Florida (2.57 million), Washington (1.55 million), and Georgia (1.51 million). The total dollar value of all those collector vehicles in the Lone Star State reaches approximately $150 billion.

You already know Texas is big. You may not, however, grasp how diverse it is, both in population and cars. Conjure up the stereotypical Texan and you might come up with the Marlboro Man or Matthew McConaughey, but two-thirds of Texans live in a major metropolitan area and just 43 percent are white. About 30 percent of the population speaks Spanish, and 4.7 million residents are foreign-born. Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in the country. Take that, New York City.

Closer to cars, Texas leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions and oil production, but it also produces the most wind power in the country. It is home to three of the 10 biggest cities in the U.S. but also the largest number of farms, and leads the nation in total revenue from agriculture.

Texas is a study in contrasts, and that maps onto the state’s collector cars. The most popular vehicles are about what you’d expect: The Ford Mustang leads (as it does in many states), trailed by the Chevy/GMC GMT 400 pickup and the Dodge Charger. But Texan collectors also have a surprising appetite for newer, more exotic cars. Hagerty research pegs Texas at having about six percent of the collector vehicles in the country, but nearly nine percent of all supercars/exotics, as well as ten percent of all 2011–20 collector vehicles. The average age of a car enthusiast in Texas is 59 years, compared to 61 nationwide. The average collector vehicle year in Texas is 1970, compared to 1966 for the rest of the country.

Houston Slab Cadillac front three-quarter
Chris Spicks

Texas, like California, has a distinct car culture. Where L.A. has lowriders and hot rods, Houston has slabs and art cars. And although we can’t claim a Monterey Car Week, we are nonetheless spoiled for choice when it comes to getting out and enjoying all things automotive. James Wilder runs the website motortexas.com, which features the most extensive Texas event calendar out there and a blog about car culture in the state. Over the last 12 months, 235 events were posted, but the site also runs a Facebook group where many smaller events are listed.

“It’s too hard to keep up with them all,” says Wilder. “Texas is just too big to have one defined car culture. Even just Houston is too big for one car culture.”

open wheel track race car
James Wilder

Although Texas ranks third (behind Michigan and South Carolina) in total automobile-related exports, and despite the fact that the Port of Houston is the country’s busiest in foreign tonnage, it’s not a top destination for folks importing a collector vehicle (anything aged 25 years or older coming from abroad). Examining international shipping data, Hagerty research found that just four percent of imported collector vehicles come through Texas, while 21 percent come through California, 13 percent through Washington, and 12 percent through Florida. Texas ports are, however, the second most popular destination for Toyota Land Cruisers, likely down to old South American Toyota FJ40s making their way stateside for restoration or a quick flip.

Here at Insider, we’re always keen on the auction market, and in Texas it’s unsurprisingly huge. Monterey, Scottsdale, Kissimmee, and Indianapolis may host the biggest auction events on the calendar, but as of last year there are three major collector car auctions in Texas: Mecum HoustonBarrett-Jackson Houston, and Mecum Dallas. Texas is the only state where Mecum, the largest live auctioneer of collector vehicles by volume, has consistently held two sales annually over the last several years. According to Hagerty data, 12,355 vehicles have sold at a live collector car auction in Texas over the last five years, or about one in every twelve collector vehicles sold nationwide over the same period and more than California (11,828 vehicles).

So there you have it. Even though the collector car hobby in Texas trails that of California in cultural significance and in market size, there’s more of it and more to it than you might think. And, by the way, over 300,000 Californians moved to Texas from 2010–19 (according to U.S. Census data). With every enthusiast’s U-Haul, things get just a bit closer.

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