Saving Car Culture
Is Gen Z ending America’s love affair with the car? More than 70 percent of people aged 16 to 26 don’t have a driver’s license and they appear to be more into ride-sharing services where they can text and watch TikTok videos than be behind the wheel. Which is why McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty (hagerty.com), a leading insurer of classic cars with multiple product and program offerings, is on a mission. From 2019 to 2021, his company acquired car shows The Amelia, Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, and Detroit Concours d’Elegance, plus the revered California Mille tour. “We’re stewards of this idea of saving driving and car culture for future generations,” he says. “The cultural piece has to have events. It has to have media. It has to have the things that will bring people in.”
Hagerty believes a concours d’elegance has a language and rhythm to it that has been going on for decades. “Pebble Beach really set the tone as the No. 1 concours,” he says. “Others around the world tend to emulate each other.” According to Hagerty, the best of the best typically come out on Sunday in some leafy, beautiful spot. But in recent years, the events have gone from one day to multiple days, starting on a Thursday with a tour, followed by parties and seminars, then culminating with judging and Best in Show on Sunday. “We’re emulating that,” says Hagerty, “but believe the event needs to live in a digital space, right down to the way we register the cars and create QR codes [that explain each vehicle’s provenance].” The point is to make the event more interactive and accessible, and a permanent digital installation. “That’s been a big part of our investment to reach a wider audience, if you weren’t fortunate enough to be there and attend the show.” Another way Hagerty is working toward better accessibility is to eliminate the velvet rope. “Years ago, we started plugging in youth judging at preexisting events,” he explains. “We preselect cars and make sure the owners are willing to have kids around them. These events used to have velvet ropes around the cars, and I said they all had to come down. People should be able to walk right up to the cars and see them.”
Until now, this world of classic cars had been an exclusive club firmly in the hands of the Baby Boomer generation. “2021 was a real turning point,” says Hagerty. “It was the first year that more than 50 percent of our new members were born post 1965, the Gen Xers. And Millennials are collecting cars too. The one difference, though, is they really like performance cars, and they tend to like newer cars.”
Shamin Abas recognized the potential for that passion back in 2016 when she cofounded the by-invitation-only classic car event The Bridge (thebridgehamptons.com), which takes place each September in Bridgehampton, New York. It’s an initiation into not only vintage classics but cars from the ’90s and later. “There are so many car shows,” says Abas, “and we just want to do things a little differently, shake it up a bit.” As such, The Bridge has built a reputation of being the world’s best garden party with a wow factor of spectacular cars that ignite the spirit, even if you’re not a knowledgeable collector. It’s also about the lifestyle of collecting with delicious food, creative cocktails, and exhibitors like Triton Submarines and Zegna. “You’ll notice as you walk around that the spouses and the girlfriends are there too,” says Abas. “It’s a fun atmosphere, not just a bunch of guys looking at cars. It’s more about the hospitality and the experience.”
This year, Abas and one of her Bridge cofounders, Jeffrey Einhorn, took this winning formula to Amelia Island and launched CarCoterie (carcoterie.com) at The Hangar as a kickoff to The Amelia concours. “CarCoterie is our community of collectors that we have developed and nurtured and built,” says Abas. “We are the new kids on the block so we decided to bring something that was very different, knowing that the folks attending would enjoy it.” The Hangar is the first event of CarCoterie, so Abas and Einhorn wanted to find an interesting location that was truly out of the ordinary. They found it at Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport’s Bent Wing Flight Services facility. The airport was built during World War II by the U.S. Navy as a training ground for the F4U Corsair airplane, famous for its inverted gull wings, aka the bent wing.
“We saw that airport and said: We love the history, we’re going to bring vintage aircraft together with vintage cars, new aircraft with new cars, and make it this incredible play on older machines that people love,” says Abas. The curated exhibition included a 1938 Lockheed 12A and a 1944 North American P-51D Mustang aircraft. Sports and racing vehicles included a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL, 1964 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, and a 2008 Koenigsegg CCX with manual transmission. “We drew in edgy collectors who are doing things a little differently and those just starting to collect,” explains Abas. “It was good for the first year and we’re going to expand considerably next year.” In 2024, The Hangar will feature a second location in the United States, proving true love can’t be denied after all.