My current bedtime read is a great book by Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. It’s a fascinating story, predicting how humans may evolve over the next century and beyond. One of Harari’s suggestions is that the pursuit of happiness will soon be a key driver of human development.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, our CEO McKeel Hagerty has just launched an initiative to ‘save motoring’. His concept is that autonomous cars will be the death of driving as we know it, and we should do everything we can to support our hobby.
Then an email from Hagerty’s team at the Scottsdale auctions dropped into my in-box. Last weekend, in the middle of the Arizona desert, a total of $247.8m of classic vehicles changed hands.
At first glance these three events are not interconnected, but the more I thought about them, the more they made sense when you put them all together in the context of our world today. I’m no economist, but it seems that nobody really has a clue what is going to happen next. Elections, growth forecasts, even the size of the polar ice caps – so many recent predictions have turned out to be a load of old rubbish.
Yet in the middle of this global uncertainty, a quarter of a billion dollars was spent in one auction weekend on luxury items. Nobody needs a classic car, like they do a washing machine, a house, or an estate car to do the school run. But while other investment portfolios are rising and falling like waves on the sea, people are still buying classic vehicles, and their values go on rising steadily.
I think the reason for this is happiness. Look at one classic vehicle that blew its pre-sale estimate out of the water at Scottsdale. Gooding & Co sold a 1960 Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus, one of the desirable ’23-window’ models. It was beautifully restored, a great colour and so very deserving of its top pre-sale estimate of $130,000. It sold for an astonishing $220,000. This is a vehicle that will go 65mph tops, (less on a hot day), has brakes that are more slowers than stoppers, and has crumple zones that include your knees. But, as I’ve written before about my own VW Type 2 camper called ‘Bessie’, every time that Microbus hits the road it will make people smile: it just oozes freedom, happiness and understated style.
Classic sports cars bring joy for other reasons. The sound and smell of spitting carburettors, the feel of a thin wood-rim steering wheel as it dances in your hands, the squeal of your rear tyres as you pull away just slightly too quickly- you just don’t get these feelings with a modern car. Unexceptional cars bring joy because of the link they bring back to happy childhood memories. Other classics deliver happiness through links to our cultural past, be those films, posters or racing teams. While the world goes to hell in a handcart, more and more people are realising that they can buy a very real bit of four-wheel happiness, and that’s not going to change soon.
So, while I applaud McKeel’s vision, I feel he’s pushing at an open door. While autonomous cars could replace the monotony of essential travel, they will never be exhilarating, freeing or fun. In fact, all they will do is highlight just how much joy classic vehicles can bring. And that’s here to stay.