State of the Union: The guard is changing … and flourishing

James Lipman

Each January, somewhere in the president’s address to Congress, you will hear the words, “The State of the Union is strong.” If I assessed the collector car market, I would be even bolder and say, “My friends, our beloved pastime is not just strong—it is, in fact, flourishing.”

Mine is certainly not an unbiased assessment, so I would enter into evidence the website you are currently reading. Last month, Hagerty Media announced the sixth annual Hagerty Bull Market List, highlighting vehicles from six different decades, including everything from bolts of lightning (2003 Corvette Z06) and beasts (2002 Hummer H1 and 1969 AMC AMX) to a curiously named motorcycle (the 1938 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead).

AMC AMX rear driving action
Cameron Neveu

This year’s Bull Market List truly is a microcosm of today’s collectible market, which is seeing buyers who are younger and more diverse than ever before. The SUV and pickup on the list, for instance, are favored by millennials and Gen Xers, as are the Japanese makes. Those generations, incidentally, have sought more quotes from Hagerty than boomers four years running. The guard is both changing and growing.

From time to time, I hear the old saw about how people aren’t as interested in cars as they were in the past. Nonsense. According to a Hagerty poll last year, about 69 million Americans self-describe as car enthusiasts, which I take to mean people who get that tickle of excitement just thinking about their next car, their next drive, or their next afternoon under the hood. On average, each of those enthusiasts spends more than $10,000 annually on the hobby. A chunk of that, I would wager, is spent at online auctions, including Hagerty’s brand-new Marketplace. (Our goal: Be the most trusted platform for browsing, buying, selling, and financing cool older vehicles.)

hagerty marketplace online car auctions landing page

Why did we get into digital auctions? Because modern humans are shopping animals, and online auctions are becoming the preferred way to buy. How big is the potential market? Of the 2.5 million vehicles that Hagerty protects, about 300,000—worth an estimated $12 billion—traded hands within the past year. And those are merely the ones on our books. Globally, the value of insured collector vehicles measures into the trillions.

That doesn’t sound like disinterest to me. In fact, it sounds like flourishing.

But raw numbers and car values aren’t why I’m so optimistic about the state of our beloved pastime. What has me jazzed is that owners today, especially younger ones, aren’t so much interested in amassing large collections of investment cars that sit unused in garages or storage facilities. They’re using them—whether that means doing laps at the local racetrack, or organizing a road rally with friends, or attending GridLife or one of the other weekend car-centric festivals that millennials are flocking to. Individualized experiences are where it’s at for today’s collector. And I love it. Cars are meant to be driven and enjoyed for what they are—vehicles to the best things in life. It doesn’t matter what car or era you favor. Hagerty Media ran a story recently about a guy who collects Ford Escorts. I’ve personally witnessed a gaggle of Pontiac Azteks tooling the picturesque peninsula near my home, their drivers happy as larks.

There’s no right, wrong, or better in today’s automotive pastime. Buy what you like. Drive what you want. Go have fun. That’s all there is to it.

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Roadster front end driving vertically-oriented
Cameron Neveu

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    Mighty Car Mods has been preaching the last paragraph for over ten years (if one reads their eZine, blog posts, etc. it becomes extremely clear –but even their YouTube videos, in particular the feature length specials).

    I agree fully with the points.

    I’d like to see the Hagerty magazine do a long-form article on Mighty Car Mods… “walk the walk” as it were. Two of the biggest voices (with reach) of automotive enthusiasm (Marty and Moog) but the things they are into wouldn’t necessarily be on the radar of the Hagerty insurance demographic of 15 years ago… but as Mr. McKeel notes: that’s changing.

    Aaron Robinson in Australia could work out…

    ‘Knucklehead’ was a nickname for Harley overhead-valve V-twins sold from 1936 through 1947. It was never an official factory designation.

    and there’s nothing “curious” about the nickname – you have only to look at the rocker arm covers.

    I think it would be fun to drive an Aztek, make some people smile and Dad’s all over yelling to their kids, “Look look! One of the ugliest cars ever built!” They do look pretty cool when done up right.

    Two mentions in Hagerty of the vulgarity “Pontiac Aztec” in the same week. Sirs, have you no morals?😁

    No argument here regarding the Aztec’s ugly quotient; but I would submit that there are dozens of modern vehicles on today’s highways that could push the Aztec into place position in an all-ugly derby!

    “Vehicles to the best things in life.” Indeed. I applaud your enthusiasm and insight — and envy your experience. Thanks for this upbeat piece.—sj

    My shop truck is a 1947 Crosley pickup. My wife says it is so ugly, it’s cute. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I love the truck. ………………Jim.

    Why not, young people already proved they’ll pay more for a used car than a new car. Sometimes 20 thousand more. When you have this kind of recklessness with resources I would expect exotics to boom. Let’s see what we’re saying at the end of next year. I think all this young money is going to dry up. Tech is going to wind up laying off almost a million people when it’s all over. We’ll see where the young money is then.

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