It's a question almost whispered at classic car meets, perhaps because a negative answer is almost too ghastly to contemplate. But what's being done by the powers-that-be to ensure our driving freedom?
FIVA (the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens or international federation of historic vehicles) poses the biggest question facing the historic vehicle community today:
In 20, 30, 50 years’ time, will we be allowed to drive historic vehicles at all?
“We can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to our future motoring freedom,” says FIVA President Patrick Rollet. “Congestion, pollution and road safety issues – all legitimate concerns – are contributing to the potential demise of motorists at the wheel of their own vehicles. Yet it’s the historic vehicle that is most at risk, despite their almost negligible effect on pollution and congestion, and our excellent safety statistics – while generating significant economic, social and tourist benefits.”
…and will there be people to drive them?
“But it’s not just a question of whether we’ll be allowed to drive. Perhaps the even bigger question is whether there will be drivers to use them; or, with the advent of autonomous vehicles, are drivers becoming ever more ‘historic’ themselves?”
Why does it matter?
“For the enthusiast, the answer is obvious,” continues Rollet. “The pleasure we get from owning, maintaining and using our classics is beyond description, but there’s a far wider social importance to keeping historic vehicles on our roads. They are part of our technical, scientific and cultural heritage (as the partnership between UNESCO and FIVA demonstrates) and the world would be a poorer place if such vehicles could only be seen in static museums.”
What can be done?
“The future of historic vehicles isn’t simply that of used vehicles, but of recreation and pleasure; ownership isn’t based on economics but on passion,” states Rollet. “We see several simple steps to help us keep driving, 50 years from now.
The success of SentiMETAL Gathering is largely due to the fact that it is informal and welcoming to all enthusiasts.
“First, we must target the young. Clubs around the world are arguably in the last throes of a golden age, seeing a sad decline in new members because of the lack of younger people. Young petrolheads still exist, but all they need to organise a gathering are a few Facebook messages: no road book, rally plates or fuss. Likewise, they use their informal network to find a mechanic or surf the web for parts, so why join a club?
“Too many clubs ignore these profound technological and sociological changes, mismanaging their efforts to attract young people, to welcome them and satisfy their desire for informal, fuss-free events. Many clubs ostracise youngtimers, both vehicles and members. They organise hidden outings, almost out of sight, whereas a display of historic vehicles offers a marvellous museum in movement – free of charge – to delight and fascinate passers-by.
“We won’t renew our numbers waiting patiently for them to come to us because, like Godot, they will not come. We must change our habits: create a ‘young’ section in the club, run by a younger person, to design simple, dynamic and fun outings; ensure there are several under-40s on the main committee; enjoy the Vintage movement (fashion, accessories, etc.); organise free presentations at events – with commentary – for the public; team up with popular events run by others (planes and old cars, rail and yesterday’s road…); exhibit at hypermarkets or fairs, wherever there is an audience, especially young people. We must show our vehicles.
“Next, we must tell a story, because every historic vehicle has a fascinating tale to tell, of much more interest to the general public than the cubic capacity or number of valves.
“And it’s vital that we avoid being too narrow in our definition of historic motoring. You might only be interested in Vintage Bentleys, but please don’t criticise your neighbour’s passion for mopeds, or microcars, or buses, or customised American muscle cars in fuchsia with turquoise stripes. They’re all an important part of our history, our culture, and the rich diversity of classic vehicles on our roads. No one disputes the value of authenticity – and FIVA will continue to applaud it – but beware the risk of seeming elitist, when young people often want to own a historic vehicle simply because it is different: quirky, unique, even iconoclastic.
“At a recent seminar, Michael Abele, in charge of social networks at Mercedes-Benz Classic, proposed an answer to the authenticity-vs-inclusiveness debate. Indicating a 190E with big chrome wheels and low-profile tyres, he suggested, ‘Don’t criticise; respect. Listen… and then educate’. Very wise advice.
“Finally, and above all, keep enjoying your motoring, and communicate that pleasure to others, because it’s down to us, as individual enthusiasts, to ensure we don’t lose the right and the ability to drive on the roads 50 years from now.”
How is FIVA doing its part?
Nataša Grom Jerina, chairwoman of FIVA’s Culture Commission, explains a little of what FIVA itself is actively doing to keep us on the road:
“The work of the Culture Commission, whose members come from many different parts of the world, is extremely varied, including the preparation of articles and publications, co-organising seminars, forums and symposiums, and launching projects such as FIVA’s Culture Awards. We also work with such organisations as UNESCO, TICCIH, ICOM, ICOMOS, along with governmental organisations, automobile manufacturers, designers, engineers, collectors and museums.
“Here is just one, very small example of our recent activity: in Serbia, we are working with a group of libraries and schools to collect old family photographs for a local exhibition on the social and economic development of the town – a town that happens to have a history of vehicle production. It’s a tiny step, but it helps to generate interest in vehicles as cultural artefacts. And we’re learning to focus more on women, too: women as collectors, supporters, promoters, riders, mechanics, engineers, designers – and mothers, who then introduce their children to the joys of historic motoring.”
FIVA (the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens) is the worldwide organisation dedicated to the preservation, protection and promotion of historic vehicles and related culture, as well as their safe use. Since April 2017, FIVA has been a non-governmental partner of UNESCO, and continues to pursue its successful FIVA World Motoring Heritage Year programme.