The Car Geek Life, During And After COVID-19
If history teaches us anything, it’s that we humans forget things – even bad things – pretty quickly. You might argue it has something to do with our resilience as a species, but it’s equally likely we are just slow learners. In either case, the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us on a global scale, and there is a good chance things won’t be exactly the same once the planet re-opens for business, or at least lands on what becomes the “new normal.” We’ve already talked about how to enjoy our car addictions in lockdown mode, but now we’re looking forward. As Car Geeks, we’ve been pondering and debating what that means to us as individuals and to the car hobby in general. Here is a short list that we here at Totally That Stupid agree on (more or less).
1. Buying And Selling
Do you remember Blockbuster Video? For those who don’t, it was the brick-and-mortar version of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and, well, you get it. Car buying and selling online started out in the early days of eBay and Craigslist as sort of a fad, and slowly became more mainstream. What quarantine has proven is car buying is a process that can be completely managed online.
For the ordinary car buyer, dealers will bring you a car to test drive and then negotiate with you remotely – all without you ever having to set foot in a dealership. As hobbyists, we’re already accustomed to online auctions and sales. While normal, they may become the rule rather than the exception. The good news is they make the market a global one, so long as you adhere to your country’s draconian importation rules. Better for buyers or sellers? Time will tell.
With the rise of online sales, expect to see the number of “certified” vehicle appraisers grow substantially. While certainly a career opportunity for someone who knows cars and car markets and goes through the trouble and expense of a reputable certification/training program, this is also ripe territory for folks with no vested interest other than to make a buck off an unsuspecting buyer potentially thousands of miles away. Check references.
We are partial to pre-purchase inspections (PPIs) from reputable shops near the seller. In this new world, sellers will need to be more flexible about taking cars for inspections, and buyers should factor an independent appraisal and/or PPI into the overall acquisition cost. Mind you, none of this replaces an in-person inspection of the car from your perspective.
Of course, don’t forget to factor in the time and expense for shipping. Lord help us if Amazon ever gets into the collector car business (although maybe that wouldn’t be so bad). Ultimately, the success of the process comes down to your risk tolerance for travel under the new reality and/or your ability and willingness to pay for professional evaluation and transportation of your new purchase.
While online sellers may never completely replace physical car dealerships (famous last words), it would make all kinds of sense – especially for those specializing in classic, collector, or special-interest vehicles – to focus sales efforts on low overhead and a strong online presence. The best online dealers and brokers are building reputations and laughing their way to the bank. For both professional and private sellers, the key is lots of photos, lots of documentation, videos, and to answer questions quickly and honestly. Nothing will replace actually seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, and – most importantly – driving a prospective purchase, but the internet is making it easier and easier. Is “smell-a-phone” a thing yet?
Thinking about it, we’re wondering if those Mecum and Barrett-Jackson mega-auctions you see on TV haven’t just become the Blockbuster Video stores of the car hobby. Although they have long been a market factor, online sales are gaining traction, particularly in light of the COVID-19 situation. Sites like Hemmings, Auto Trader Classics, Mobile.de – and even marque-specific sites like PCARMARKET.com – bring all the cars right to our desks.
There has also been a recent spate of companies trying to establish new online car auctions, but we think they may be a little late to the party. For our money, if Bring a Trailer held an IPO tomorrow, we’d be all-in.
2. Millennials And The Car Hobby
You know those movies and TV shows from the 1960s, 70s, and even 80s about dystopian futures (think Woody Allen’s Sleeper) where all the characters are dressed in the same monochromatic, futuristic clothing and everyone drives the same car, all of which look a lot like the car pictured above?
In today’s world, that is the Millennial idea of a car. For the majority of our fellow humans born between 1981 and 1996, cars are merely appliances, a mobile place to plug in your iPhone and get you to the next coffee house. Too stereotypical? Maybe. But read on.
Obviously, much ink (digital and otherwise) has been spilled on the fact this generation is still struggling to pay off college debts, with working jobs for which they are under-employed, and so on.
But to some degree the global pandemic has meant Millennials have had to rely more on cars as well as spend more time in them. As a result, we’re betting that actual enthusiasm will emerge among at least a few of them, perhaps even leading to an interest in shifting to a car with – dare we say it? – personality. Perhaps, as they get to the end of those payments and cash starts building, they will click a “Buy It Now” button on something interesting.
Who knows? A cool car may just be the neck beard of the 2020s. We have long been counting on a lack of interest from younger folks keeping our favorite collector cars affordable, but this situation may just have brought them in to our fold. Dammit.
Perhaps as big a question is which cars will catch their fancy. We’d argue we may already have our answer. Look at sites and pages like Rad Report. People tend to gravitate to the cars they grew up with, and many of this lot will want the best of what could be had new from about 1988 to 2005. They will be the driving factor in the prices of more modern collector cars shooting through the roof. Dammit again.
Got money and some time to sit on inventory? Supercars will always be supercars, but consider buying the best Acura NSX, Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, first-generation (NA) Mazda Miata, Lotus Elise, Porsche 986/996, or BMW E36/E46 M3 you can find. Sure, we older folks genuinely appreciate some of those cars, too, but watch this space: Those cars and their contemporaries are and will continue to be where it’s at.
Maybe the rest of us should start looking farther back. Do you think these cool cats will have any interest in an old Gullwing Mercedes or an Olds 442? Here’s hoping not.
3. Eye In The Sky
Because not everyone can travel the world to visit in person, regardless of our quarantine state, more auto museums have begun offering virtual tours and other online content. A great example is the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California. They are offering programs for vault tours, interviews, virtual get-togethers, and more.
Aerial photography has long been commonplace in films and commercials. Directors and photographers have used every kind of airship including helicopters, airplanes, and hot air balloons (probably). Now we have what are generically called drones. It’s only logical this technology would be used for bird-eye virtual tours of car museums.
Professional film outfits frequently use high-end drone rigs as well as custom consoles for fast and slow battery charging.
However, over the last five or so years, the home-user market has absolutely exploded. DJI is one of the major players in this space, and their technology enables GPS location tracking, remote viewing, and – thanks to evolving battery technology – ever-increasing flight times.
As an example, this stunning video was shot by a friend on his trip to Iceland in 2016 with a DJI Phantom 4 and an iPhone 6S (“Hi, Shawn!“). He edited it together on the flight back to the States.
The Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart has a fantastic tour that not only takes you through multiple areas and levels of the museum, but also takes you through several vehicles. Buzzing through a million-dollar 300SL Gullwing? Bold flying, that.
More timid (relatively speaking) in its flight path but utilizing only one long take is this flight inside the Classic Auto Mall in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. Originally a shopping mall, it’s been turned into a car show and sales floor for up to 1,400 vehicles over 336,000 square feet. The tour starts with an Amphicar and runs the gamut from classic muscle and Malaise Era land barges to European youngtimers and sports cars. Actual classics and modern rides are represented as well. There is what appears to be a “projects” room that also house a trolley.
While we can’t all just jump on an airplane to visit these sites and more, we can least get glimpses of beautiful and intriguing vehicles and their homes during these strange, strange times.
4. Socially Distant And Virtual Events
If in our COVID-19 world we’ve learned anything, it is that groups promote virus spread. We know we won’t be attending the Biogen conference at the Tulsa Marriott anytime soon, although that’s partly due to us having no business being at a Biogen conference. Maybe Techo Classica Essen is a better example.
Regardless, group events are a major part of the lifeblood for Car Geeks. As with any hobby, there is nothing like the feeling of camaraderie you get from spending time with folks who share the same interests as you do.
Much enjoyment of our car hobby comes in the form of club events. We’ve spent countless hours on road trips, driver’s education courses, track days, and sitting in the bar at the end of the day drinking a pint or a Scotch (or a pint of Scotch) and pontificating on the best and worst of the day’s happenings.
Looking forward, we could see a lot more of these types of events where we never leave our cars. Driving tour? Bring food and drink with you, and when you stop maybe park several feet apart in a semi-circle. Be prepared to speak loudly. Track day? Get used to the walkie-talkies and pay attention to the flags (like you’re supposed to anyway). Driver’s education? Masks, gloves, sanitizer, and lead-follow exercises are on tap here.
It’s the bonding that’s the toughest loss. Just like work happy hours, it may be that we attend these club events while keeping our social distance, and then there is a group-Zoom at the end of the day once all the cars are safely back in their garages and the drivers are comfortably back in front of their screens, likely with a pint of Scotch.
Regardless of whether club events resume as they used to, expect more virtual interactions going forward. The technology is better than even: Even the most technology-challenged among us have figured out how to participate.
Virtual car shows are also on the rise, and folks organizing them are getting very creative very quickly.
Among our favorites is the Isolation Island Concours d’Elegance, which is a Facebook-based online event for diecast/resin model cars evaluated by premier concours judges with Amelia Island and Pebble Beach resumes. The beauty of this event is that you don’t need to have a 12-figure car collection to have a shot at winning or to even participate. Out of the gate, it’s a great opportunity to see some very cool cars created in painstaking detail, with photography that would fool you into thinking the cars are full-scale. The most recent round had 15 class winners and three special awards, and as of this writing the event has already completed three rounds. There are lots of opportunities to participate and win.
But there are also opportunities to virtually display real cars. We love going to our local Cars & Coffee events both at home and when we’re traveling. These days, many events have transitioned online. Some are comprised only of photos, some of video, and we’re even starting to see Zoom-type events where people each get a turn in front of the camera to show off their ride.
Just like buying a car, there is simply no substitute for standing next to a car and absorbing its essence. In the meantime, grab your phone, take your car somewhere that makes a great backdrop, and shoot some photos and videos. Then find a virtual Cars & Coffee, or other virtual car show event, and get in the game. In-person Cars & Coffee events may return one day, but for folks who don’t want to drag out of bed early in the morning, or just want to show and go, these screen-based offerings are likely here to stay.
The real question is how effectively the Mustang drivers can manage to embarrass themselves leaving a virtual event?
5. Using The Enclosed Hammer, Attach Square Peg A And Round Hole B
We’ve long made the joke that we wouldn’t own old cars without the internet. While both of your authors were around old cars growing up, they weren’t actually that old relative to the time our families owned them. In fact, when we owned those cars, parts and repair knowledge weren’t even that hard to come by, because the cars – again – weren’t really very old.
But we started playing with our own properly old cars in the late-1990s, just as the internet was really picking up steam (to lob an anachronistic term at a very modern and still-evolving conveyance). This first made it easier to find parts and like-minded nutters with whom to chat online. Later, DIY videos started appearing, and their proliferation has made absolutely everything easier. Sure, you need to parse the good information from the bad, but such is the way of the internet.
We’re envisioning that wrenching parties are going to move to streaming video, too, if they haven’t already. Recently, your authors were chatting on our mobile speakerphones with each other while in our two garages separated by roughly 1,100 miles. One of us was replacing a valve cover gasket on his BMW 330i, and the other was tracking a battery draw on his Porsche 911.
We could have just as easily been using Facetime or Zoom. From a social standpoint, it’s not exactly like getting a bunch of folks together in a driveway or garage with a bottle of Chivas Regal. But even if we weren’t otherwise separated by distance, we’d still have to be separated as all good carrier monkeys now are. At least we’d be able to see each other.
6. Things You Can Drive-Into
Drive-in movies have been immortalized in numerous films such as Grease…
While many around the country have shut down, we’re seeing a resurgence of not only existing drive-ins but also an interest in resurrecting defunct properties. Why not? You get the benefits of seeing a movie on a big screen – albeit without the virtual 24-channel surround sound – while keeping to yourself in your own vehicle.
Not surprisingly, we’re now seeing a spike of other drive-in activities.
Speaking of grease, there seems to be a newfound interest in eating all manner of griddled meats and fried brown things while sitting in an automobile (nobody should eat salad in a car). To be fair, in certain parts of the country that interest never really went away. Today, those who frequent drive-ins may find new rules, like no milling about outside the car, no children on the playground, and no making out behind the refrigerator sheds.
Indeed, the new trend seems to be dropping the second or third row of seats in family SUV (what we used to call “station wagons”) and having a little picnic safely quarantined inside your glass and metal box. As long as everyone is keeping their distance, you can even open the rear gate to let out the smell of the onion rings.
But eating isn’t the only thing people are doing together in large yet isolated groups. Leave it to the Germans to invent the drive-in rave. Think rows of cars all aimed not toward a giant movie screen, but rather at face-mask-clad DJs on a stage behind a mixing deck. We’re not sure how the dancing works, but those DJs appear to be eliciting some excitement based on the honking horns and flashing headlights.
Closer to your writers’ homes – well, closer than Germany, anyway – up in Michigan the 2020 Grand Blanc High School graduating class is holding their commencement at a drive-in movie theater. Speeches, musical performances, and other bits of interest are being prerecorded and edited into a film that will be shown on the big screen. They’re even going to recognize each graduate individually.
Next door in Ohio, a winery is holding a weekly drive-in bingo night complete with curbside food and drink, though strangely there isn’t any talk about wine. Prizes are certainly topical; they include toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and gloves. It’s been so successful they are considering a drive-in concert series. Again, and oddly, no mention of wine.
What else can you drive-into? Kids’ birthday parties, church services, and giant erotic shadow puppet shows, though maybe not all at the same time. But if there is a way to combine all those into one event, we’re betting those clever Germans will figure it out.
Much of our regular lives has been upended because of this crazy pandemic. Much has been said about health, jobs, galactic amounts of bailout money, politics, all in the constant drone of the never-ending news cycle. Our escapes are more important than ever. For Car Geeks, machines that turn fuel into noise and motion are a tether to what’s left of our sanity.
Thankfully, as we hope we’ve illustrated, there are still ways, though now different, to distract ourselves. At the very least, many of us can just get out and drive. Gas is cheap, and there is catharsis in a hard third-gear pull in virtually any car that’s worthy of your interest.
Time to get in there, and out there.
The comment about Millennials getting more in tune with the car hobby during the pandemic is spot on. Yesterday a commenter on my YouTube channel said that his project Integra had been collecting dust in his garage for 7 years. His newfound downtime gave him the motivation to get it running again, and now it’s his new daily driver. Good stuff.
Yup. Gen X gets the short end of the stick again – bookended by the baby boomers and the millennials! Nah, I’m not bitter… 🙂
This is a brilliant post, thank you for sharing these great tips. I think you are right with mentioning the coming to cle in 2020. I am sure many people will come to read this in future.