It’s fabulous to be truly passionate about something. It can act as a pathway for years and years of being engulfed in a sense of unity, not to mention lifestyle such as when we regularly meet with likeminded enthusiasts to enjoy our classic cars. However, sometimes we need to get some perspective. That happened for me just the other day, where it became painfully obvious that we must remain open to new things if we are ever to experience something better, or at least different.
If you belong to the group of enthusiasts who regularly participate in classic car meets which are notdominated by American cars – such as the typical Danish casual meets at various small harbours or town squares throughout the country – then you’ll no doubt recognise todays subject. These meets are primarily made up of friendly enthusiasts arriving in classic cars of European origin. This is the way it’s always been – naturally as we live on the European continent. Nonetheless, a fairly large segment of enthusiasts have chosen to own an American classic. That grand country which has provided us with so many cultural references, including a significant part of our automotive cultural heritage which we celebrate and love. Yet we don’t mingle very well, and there is often a degree of skepticism found among owners of European classics. Which probably explains why American classics are often found at meets reserved for Yank Tanks and Muscle Cars. Of course it still occurs that someone rocks up with a classic of the false religion without it leading to excessive friction. It happens regularly at our Cars n’ Coffee meets at the Arne Jacobsen petrol station north of Copenhagen throughout the summer, but the Yanks are still a minority.
The owner of an American car, and a man who I know as a thoroughly pleasant and sympathetic person, recently told me that in the car club he is a member of (a car club for all marques), it wasn’t at all unusual that several other members deliberately avoided talking to him due to his choice of classic car. My first inclination was that this surely couldn’t be true? But then again, I too have witnessed all too often the stereotype prejudice comments about American cars such as: “They can only drive straight”, “Big and dumb” or “…merely cheap versions of European cars”. So on second thought, I’m sure my sympathetic friend’s story about his car club is perfectly true. Even grown men can be totally ridiculous when the topic turns to automotive religion.
Admitted, I too have been injected with European cars, and I can’t say that I have ever truly considered buying an American classic. Yet I’m hugely fascinated by the American prototypes and concept cars from after the Second World War. Only the American car industry went to such extremes to win over the buying public, during a time when technological development and modernisation of the whole society shot forward at an almost unconceivable speed. Thoughts and ideas about design and function were almost outdated before they were even introduced – a subject and an era which I have often visited in various ways here on ViaRETRO. Interestingly, these articles have never achieved huge popularity among our readers. Especially not when compared to an “ordinary” article about an E-type or one of the big German marques. Those are of course what we know and like, and those are always popular. A fact which is only confirmed by many classic car magasines choosing to virtually always write about the same 25 classic cars.
The huge gap between the two continents automotive culture is claimed to stem from one major reason: Infrastructure – roads. The USAs massive network of tarmac roads is quantified by seemingly endless miles of arrow-straight roads, where Europe had to make due with small, narrow and twisty roads.
The layout of those roads is the reason the Americans wanted big and comfortable cars, which is precisely the direction the development went. Conversely, Europe’s cars were small and ideally developed for narrow, twisty roads. Furthermore, many of the European towns and cities had slowly expanded over the course of hundreds of years, so the cars simply couldn’t take up as much space as they could in the relatively new American cities. And that pretty much sums it up. Of course there’s also the history from the two continents. Europe experienced huge losses and depression after two devastating wars. Rebuilding Europe was a rather different proposition than the optimistic and well-funded development which the USA enjoyed during the same period. This inevitably had a huge effect on car design – depending on whether it was targeting a market full of momentum and optimism, or one which was trying to mobilise a society struggling to get back on their feet.
It’s all part of the world history, which is why I find it ALL interesting – also during the Sunday morning meet at some small harbour somewhere in Denmark.
Of course we all have different taste. Personally, I prefer simple, unadorned and “crisp”, which explains why I find European car design so appealing. I’ve also never really had a relationship to American cars. My father did once own a 1957 Chevrolet Impala, but I can barely remember it. Another opportunity never transpired. As I tend to drive my classic car far – veryfar – an American cars somewhat nonchalant attitude to fuel efficiency is a large contributing factor to them remaining in other enthusiast’s care. If it wasn’t for that, I could easily see myself in an old sidevalve Oldsmobile Rocket 88, drop by the AJ petrol station for Cars n’ Coffee one morning before setting off for dinner somewhere in France with my girlfriend.