Driving Dreams

As Baby Boomer Men Pursue Classic Cars Of Their Youth, Automakers Are Redesigning Vehicles With 60-year-olds In Mind

The Middle Ages

Staying young, growing old and what happens in between

February 18, 2007|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Reporter

CONSIDER THE PLIGHT OF THE Empty-Nester Male: Kids out of the house, tuitions done, weekends without a list of family obligations. A man in this pitiable situation might start thinking about freedom ... about the open road ... about a new car, finally, and one that's cool.

A lot of folks in the automotive industry are counting on it. At the Detroit auto show last month, Nissan introduced a concept car designed strictly for the aging baby boomer male ready to plunge deeper into his hobbies.

Meanwhile, at Barrett-Jackson classic car auction in Arizona, the growing interest in owning wheels from the baby boom golden age of the 1960s and '70s brought some astonishing sales. Imagine paying $36,850 for a 1972 Plymouth 'Cuda, $58,300 for a 1971 Ford Mustang -- or $880,000 for a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.

"I'm a firm believer that we are what we drive," says John Davis, 58-year-old creator and host of the MPT show MotorWeek. "Many people want a certain image, either subconsciously or not, and portray it in their vehicles. A lot of baby boomers have worked hard and done well and obviously don't want to feel like they're getting old. They look to cars that remind them of their youth."

For him, that's a Mini Cooper named Twiglet. For others, it's a Steve McQueen Bullitt muscle car ... or the kind of forward-thinking vehicle George Jetson might share with his faithful dog, Astro.

Nissan hopes to attract that latter market with the Bevel. One of the first cars openly targeting the baby boomer male, it's a futuristic-looking vehicle, created for the 45- to 60-year-old handyman / hobbyist and his dog, with an estimated price tag in the $20,000 to $30,000 range.

Although it also holds as many as five human passengers, no one expects it to. With its fold-down floors, storage compartments for tools and equipment, solar panels that help power accessory outlets and a tailgate that becomes a work platform, the Bevel is a garage on wheels, rather than a chick magnet.

"There's an attitude about trying to make these cars into 'tools' for the older buyers who spend a lot of their time in the aisles of Home Depot thinking 'Wouldn't this be cool for this or that home project?' The Bevel is an extension of that mentality," Davis says."

Nissan Design America design manager John Cupit says the car also works for the guy who finally has time to enjoy his hobbies.

"Maybe he's a musician in a garage band," he says. "Or maybe he's taking cooking classes, or traveling around with photography equipment or a model airplane, or scuba gear, or golf or fishing gear."

The Bevel driver will certainly want a car with an "information-technology zone" to check his e-mail. Here he can gain access to weather and traffic reports, Internet and personal e-mail as well as monitor his home's security system, heat and air conditioning and room lighting.

Perhaps best of all, the Bevel is designed with dogs, rather than kids, in mind. There's a 360-degree pet leash swivel connection point in the front passenger space as well as a "doggie hutch" pet carrier in the rear cargo area -- an innovation that appeals to boomers like John Davis and his wife Cheryl who travel regularly with their "rescue" old English sheepdog, bearded collie and corgi / border collie.

Muscle and dazzle

On the other hand, Donald and Terry Lundberg's dogs may never set a paw in the couple's brand new old car: a completely restored 1971 Buick Skylark GS. The year this vehicle took to the road, Phyllis George reigned as Miss America, Rod Stewart sang "Maggie May," and Don Lundberg turned 13.

Now awaiting the birth of their first grandchild, the Lundbergs, of Pasadena, have given themselves a $29,990 birthday-anniversary-birthday gift: A classic muscle car for special jaunts, for displaying at car shows and for dazzling today's lackluster world of Sunday drivers.

"Now it's time for Dad and me to have some fun," Terry Lundberg told their 18-year-old son Shane, while waiting to pick up their dream car at Fleming's Ultimate Garage in Rockville.

At Fleming's, a classic car emporium, music from the '60s and '70s wafts continuously through showrooms studded with such boomer icons as a 1967 Chevelle SS 396 ($48,990), a 1967 Dodge Hemi Charger ($89,900) and a 1971 Chevy Nova ($24,990) as well as vintage sports cars.

"There isn't a car we stock that anyone needs," says general manager Jeff Whitaker. "These are strictly 'want' and 'desire' items. Most of our customers are boomers and have a dream they want to revisit 30 or 40 years later."

Many also happen to be empty of nest, fuller of pocket and itching to become third car families. The Lundbergs use a Dodge Ram pickup and a 1998 Pontiac Trans Am for daily driving. However the '71 Buick expresses their "forever young" spirit, recalling those good old days when American cars had more strength than they knew what to do with.

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