If you collect cars, there's a good chance you've just returned from the Pebble Beach weekend. I turned it into a holiday and made the pilgrimage there using period appropriate transport, following James Dean's ill-fated 1955 route from Los Angeles but with a less dramatic outcome. Even with cockpit temperatures soaring on the drive through the Californian desert, it was worth every moment for the romance, nostalgia and great people I met along the way. That's what old cars are made for.
But clouds are on the horizon. Days before I left, the UK Government announced plans to ban the sale of new cars powered by petrol or diesel by 2040, and other countries may follow. At Pebble Beach I was invited to speak on a panel about the future of car collecting in the face of electric and autonomous cars. It's a reality we need to face.
The short summary of the discussion is that new technology won't go away, and nor should it. Most commutes are dull as dishwater and tech will make the daily grind easier. If you're wondering what this means for the future of historic cars on the roads, it'll be years until we know. My friend Gautam Sen of FIVA points out that “Classic cars represent a way of life, a world of thousands of clubs, thousands of meets and millions of enthusiasts worldwide. It’s widely accepted that emissions from historic vehicles are a statistical irrelevance, certainly small enough to be far outweighed by the cultural and economic contribution of the historic vehicle movement. We're hopeful of a future where historic vehicles can happily co-exist on public roads with modern electric and autonomous cars, giving freedom of choice to individuals.”
I couldn’t agree more. Imagine the Goodwood Festival of Speed celebrating its 50th anniversary in silence, the whirring Priuses and Teslas drowned out by the thunder of hooves on earth at the neighbouring horseracing track. Restorers, auctioneers, dealers and (heaven forbid) brokers forced out of business; the sound of a V12 at full chat just a tale passed down from grandfather to grandson and finally forgotten altogether. It does rather conjure up the Statue of Liberty washed up on a beach centuries from now in Planet of the Apes.
Consider this instead. A hundred years ago we all travelled by horse. Today, horses aren’t considered practical transport and yet they’re bred, traded, coveted – and used on our public roads by anyone who chooses to do so. They’re also far more valuable than our ancestors could ever have imagined. Created with fanatical attention to every genetic detail in the quest for perfection, pampered like four-legged rock stars, raced for pride and passion, and traded among a fortunate few. Oh, and of zero practical use. Sound familiar?
To me it sounds like a good excuse to get out and drive.