The British Car Hobby: Searching for the Next Generation

At the end of World War II, servicemen coming home from Europe imported a new driving passion into the American car scene — British automobiles — MGs, Triumphs, Austin-Healeys and a host of other exciting, quirky vehicles beloved for their open air, seat of the pants driving fun. Avid British car hobbyists did not see a dwindling of interest in their dearly beloved cars until the 1980s, but many today find themselves concerned about the future of these vintage machines.

Beginning in 1997 and continuing to the present, enthusiasts celebrate an annual British Car Week. This year the event runs from May 30 to June 7, 2009. The goal is simple. Get those British cars on the road where they will be seen and appreciated — and where they will hopefully pique the interest of someone who has never considered falling in love with a 50-year-old automobile.

Most of these cars are already in the hands of second and third generation owners, not surprising for vehicles that were new in the 1950s and 1960s. Many current drivers inherited their cars and learned to maintain and care for them at night in the garage with Dad or on long parts-hunting excursions. They know how important it is to support the car clubs, parts suppliers, and publishers who continue to cover British cars and print maintenance manuals.

Newcomers to the British car hobby find it hard to believe that these machines can be easily maintained, in fact completely rebuilt, fairly inexpensively with tools common in any garage. They quickly learn to love the scavenger hunt for the right part or even more, that peculiar sense of being privy to an act of creation when the elusive part has to be custom machined. And when that engine is running . . . well, there’s something magic about that sound, devoid of all the computer trappings of the modern power-plant, springing to chugging life. Classic auto insurance for these vintage beauties is also simple to find, as there are quite a few insurers that specialize in policies on vintage autos. Getting your hands on a British classic has never been easier with so many online seller listings and auto loans that involve no phone calls.

At meets and shows, a deep-set camaraderie infuses the British car hobby, leading to endless discussion of restoration sagas or open-road adventures. Hobbies and enthusiasms often don’t have to make sense, but in this case the owners of these classic machines are actively preserving a unique chapter in the history of the automobile — and having a blast doing it. With so much love and attention vested in these cars, it’s little wonder that present, graying owners are anxiously looking for younger drivers to take up the reins and keep these vehicles where they belong — on the road.

Over and over again when an “outsider” asks someone to explain the passion of the British car hobby the respondents talk about a feeling of freedom and fun, the roar of the engine, even the smell of the exhaust (even if that’s not as politically “green” these days). But in the end, the description usually ends with a variation on, “Just drive a Triumph TR6 once and you’ll get it.” And that’s exactly what British car hobbyists want in the long term — for younger drivers to get behind the wheel, get hooked, and lovingly maintain these gems for years to come.