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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.

1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88

Us European car enthusiast tend to only look inward, but can we look outward too?

4 Responses

  1. Tony Wawryk

    As a Europhile, I have also never considered owning an American (or Japanese – other than 6 months running a Honda Prelude ).
    While I like the look of quite a few muscle cars – predominantly the least over-styled ones such as 60s Camaros, Dodge Chargers, Mustangs and the like – and the deep rumble of a big V8 is a soul-stirring sound indeed, there are literally scores of European cars, including some with American engines, that I would want before I bought any American, or for that matter, Japanese classic. European classics, especially of the late 50s, 60s and 70s, are more elegant, not so ridiculously over-sized, drive better, look better, and don’t need a fuel tanker following on behind. And they fit in European parking bays.
    There’s no doubt that a huge Chevy Impala, Pontiac Bonneville or Cadillac Eldorado makes a (literally) big impression, and the sheer ludicrousness of some of them makes me smile, but once I get past that, they just don’t make me think “Ooh, my life will be incomplete without owning one of those”. And I’d take any Porsche, Ferrari or Jaguar ahead of a Cobra, Mustang, Firebird, Corvette, irrespective of the value.
    While Japanese classics obviously aren’t so huge, their styling – to my eyes and shallow way of thinking – is often questionable eg the Toyota Crown, any Honda except an S800 or 2nd generation Prelude, and they don’t stir my emotions in the same way as European classics. I quite like the 1st generation Celica ST (but absolutely not any subsequent generations), the 240Z and one or two others, but for the most part, all I can say is that they leave me feeling pretty indifferent.
    Of course, it’s entirely possible that this could be largely due to the fact that I grew up with European cars, but I’ve seen enough cars from other parts of the world for them to have made more of an impact on me, and so far, they haven’t.
    And now I’ll sit back and wait for Anders or Dave to tell me what I’m missing… :)

  2. Anders Bilidt

    You’re missing out on a LOT! There. Done. ;-)

    Seriously though, I do get it. Both Søren and you have put it in words – basically we like what is known to us. And while that will most likely hold us back from new and exciting experiences, I do understand that it’s natural. I’m really no better myself seeing as I’ve never owned a US car either. I tell myself (and anyone else that will listen!) that Im openminded and that I would love to. But as it is, I’ve not yet put my money where my mouth is. So I genuinely do get it.

    Though I don’t quite get your remarks about Nippon classics Tony. They’re really not that different from European classics. Often they have excellent engines, apart from rust-issues they’re reliable and well constructed, and they’re compact enough for our European roads. Yet, they still manage to have their own distinctly Japanese flair, which makes them just different enough from their European counterparts to make them interesting and charming. Truth be told, of all the classic cars I’ve sold, the one I most regret not keeping is my ’77 Toyota Trueno Sprinter 1600GT. Please, don’t tell my NullZwei that I’ve said this, as she’ll be ever so upset with me, but I actually think that little twincam Nippon coupé was the most smile-inducing classic car I’ve ever owned!

  3. Claus Ebberfeld

    No, actually – Europeans ARE better at cars. At least at cars for our own conditions. Which is a main reason that I have never owned an American car either: The majority of American cars are simply too big for my likings. Too soft. Or simply too unfocused in everything from concept to execution.

    I like their drivetrains, though, so I guess I’ll end up with a hybrid: An American engine in an European chassis.

    Well, I sort of am there already, as my Rover 3500 has a Buick V8! In my opinion this car also demonstrates the European edge in design and concept perfectly – although unfortunately not doing the same regarding quality.

  4. YrHmblHst

    Well, you pretty much nailed the basic causes of differences in the article ; I live in America and have [and do] own[ed] both Euro cars and Domestics. My Lotus Elan, for example, was a wonderful car, handled sublimely – there is NOTHING like a Lotus – and although a bit um, uh, less than stone reliable, was still one of my favourite cars ever. For short distances. It was miserable to try and take a trip in. Tulsa to Dallas was the longest one i attempted and it was ‘thummy’ and short legged…NOT a road car for the US. As Mr Ebberfield above says, European cars are indeed better…for European conditions. Not so much over here. Oh, the wifes fairly new Mercedes is great here, but we’re talking older/classic/neo-classics here. Imagine my 66 Chevy wouldnt even fit in most Europeans garages at home, much less be comfortable on the narrow twisting roads there. But its a joy here to the Woodward Dream Cruise up in Detroit…

    Did sorta smile tho at the assertion in the article that American cars are just oversized versions of European cousins…the opposite is actually true during the time periods in discussion. European design really didnt come to the fore to the best of my reckoning til the late 60s in most cases; sure, there are exceptions – mainly the french and the Italians – but in the main, the design impetus appears to originate here, especially from immediate postwar thru the mid 60s. For example, the BMW 6? Basically a HyperPack Chrysler slant 6 with a Pontiac OHC 6 top end. research it a bit and youll see its true…

    I like em both myself, and have no prejudice against either side. Have owned both, and usually tend to show up to Euro car deals in an American car and vice versa unless its a judged show or a particularly big event. [never took an Alfa to the Street Machine Nationals par example…] There is indeed tribalism involved over here too, but such is only natural. No matter how hard national ‘leaders’ and ‘opinion makers’ try to convince us otherwise, birds of a feather do indeed flock together…

    I will agree completely with the above stated notion that japanese ‘classics’ lack character. The only one[s] that have any style – a 68 to 73 Datsun 510 and early 240Z – were drawn by Europeans to a euro design ethos. The mechanicals are copied also, and only some maker like Mazda could try and copy the most dynamically engaging car on the planet – a Lotus Elan – and produce the miata which has the character of a toaster oven. Just my nsho of course…

    Oh, and there were no Impalas in 57 – 58 was the first year fopr that trim option and was available only in 2 door hardtop and convertible that year, plus, that Olds aint sidevalve. Otherwise, spot on article. :)


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