The Death of the Car Guy?
Car guys – I mean, literally, "guys who love and own cars" – are an ever-shrinking breed. We used to be everywhere. Now we barely register. I have an idea why: I was born in 1968. From the age of about five, right on through to this morning, all I've thought about was cars. (Note: I was thinking about girls a lot between the ages of 12 and this morning, too, but not as much as cars).
What influenced me most was the fact that every television series I watched had a star, and the star drove some cool automobile. Sometimes it was obvious (see: Dukes of Hazzard), sometimes it was subliminal (Jim Rockford’s brown Firebird Esprit, for example, was fairly pedestrian circa 1977). Yet, I remember those cars almost 40 years later, as if the show was just on yesterday.
Look at what I watched– just on television– between the ages of five and the time I got my learner’s permit: Starsky & Hutch, Get Smart, The Saint, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, The Munsters, Batman, The Monkees, Simon & Simon, The Dukes of Hazzard (and its short-lived spinoff, Enos), 77 Sunset Strip, The A-Team, Magnum, PI, Hardcastle & McCormick, Matt Houston and The Fall Guy.
Cartoons like The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Speed Racer, Speed Buggy and Devlin had automotive themes. Every kid I went to school with watched Evel Knievel try to jump Snake River Canyon.
Even Mike Brady drove interesting cars, for crying out loud. Because shows like the Brady Bunch had major plots that involved automobiles. For example:
Episode 31: Greg wants money to buy a new car so Mike hires him as an office assistant at Mike's architectural firm.
Episode 53: Greg learns the principle of Caveat Emptor when he gets his driver's license and buys his first car, a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible.
Episode 87: Mike prohibits Greg from driving the family car for a week after Bobby describes his near-accident on the freeway.
Episode 110: After a nervous non-start at her first driver's examination, Marcia gets her license on her second try, and is soon engaged in a debate with Greg over which gender has the better driving abilities.
You get the picture. Cars were major themes in a teenager's life at that time.
Today, my daughter watches the Disney Channel and Nick, full of the same type of kid-centered programming I watched when I was younger. None of the shows she watches even have driving as a subplot. All of the people in it live with their parents, well into their 20s.
If you're a kid who's interested in cars, you need to work to get your fix, because they're not a regular part of what you see every day.
The other thing we’ve got going against us is money, and it’s playing a major part in why ordinary car guys are dying.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, I knew an awful lot of people who had very cool cars. They weren’t wealthy. They weren’t MBAs or surgeons; not in Wilmington, Massachusetts. They had regular, blue-collar jobs at the plastic cup factory, but they drove 1978 Pontiac Trans Ams, 1968 Dodge Chargers. When my much older cousin was driving his MGB and later, his 240Z, he was selling cameras at Mammoth Mart.
I thought about this while researching a story on barn finds. One of the coolest barn finds I ever came across was Peter Markowski’s Fontana-bodied 212 Barchetta, that David Traver Adolphus and I went to see when we worked at Hemmings Motor News. I was thinking about that, doing some research on the owner that Markowski purchased the car from.
His name was J. Stanton (Stan) Hallinan. He lived in the small, New Hampshire town of Bow, just south of Concord, the state capital. In the 1950s and 1960s, he co-owned a place called D & H Automotive in Concord that specialized in British cars, and later on, he sold Cressidas and Corollas at Grappone Toyota.
Yet, this guy– who was so active a member of the Bow Pioneers Snowmobile Club that it rated a mention in his obituary– somehow managed to own some of the most significant cars in America.
Along with the Ferrari, he also owned the 1965 Shelby Cobra that Car and Driver used as a road test car in that year. It sold recently for more than $2 million.
In the 1960s, Stan bought a new Lotus Cortina Mk1 off the lot. He owned a Lister-Chevrolet, which Bonhams sold for $1.25 million.
He was a pretty ordinary guy who just happened to love cars. He could own these ultra-rare, supercars because there was a time when regular schmucks like you and me could stretch a little bit, and maybe send in late payments on a few gas cards, and own some of the finest automobiles ever produced.
Those days are sadly gone.
Everything’s gotten more expensive, naturally, but the price of a special automobile has grown wildly out of proportion to what we make. In 1970, for example, a Porsche 911S started at went as high as $9,355. The average wage in Massachusetts in 1970 was $4,483. In other words, the 911 in 1970, ran about 2.1 times what an average Joe made in a year.
Today, if I want a 911, the price ranges up to $172,100. The average wage in Massachusetts is $55,621, about 3.0 times that wage of a working stiff.
That alone isn’t exactly insurmountable. It’s when you factor in the cost of everything else that you understand that an ordinary, working Joe is never going to be able to afford a top-shelf 911: the price of education has increased 994% since 1970. If you have kids, the total cost of raising them has exploded from $32,830 in 1970 to $235,000 today. The cost of housing grew 917%. Meanwhile, average incomes have only increased by half that since 1970. It’s mathematically impossible to own something truly special now, unless you have a good gig and live rent-free in your mom’s basement.
The New York Times and NPR would like us to believe otherwise, but we’re still interested in cars. The popularity of this site and many others like it prove that out. What we aren’t able to do is purchase them. The Stan Hallinans of the world – regular guys who horse-trade and wrangle very special automobiles – are history. We’re left with people like Ralph Lauren (net worth $7.5 billion).
Just up the road from where Stan Hallinan used to live, sits the company founded by Lee Herrington. You know him: He sends you a catalog full of useless Chinese doo-dads every year. It's kind of like the Christmas Tree Shop for guys with more money than sense.
He sold his catalog company a year ago, and then sold the Von Kreiger Mercedes 540k for $11,770,000 at the Gooding Auction in 2012 to "focus on his Ferrari collection."
That’s who the car guys are now.
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Image Credit: IMCdB.com, ConceptCarz.com, Bonhams