I haven't noticed any industry perspective crop on this topic... but then
again I have been too busy to keep up with every email on the list lately.
The hobby is not in a decline; it is definitely increasing in size at a
steady rate. There are a few things to consider when viewing the British
car hobby as a commercial market. No matter how you try and justify it
otherwise, the hobby definitely has seasonal highs and lows... the end of
summer happens to be the time when some of these cars begin to be put away
until next year. Secondly, post September 11th, people are taking more time
to indulge in activities which bring pleasure and fulfillment to them.
Restoring or owning a British car can provide that type of emotional support
or emotional retreat from everyday activities. This is the reason that
Harley Davidson is doing especially well in the last year, people want that
"toy" now more now than ever before.
Unfortunately, as Harley ends up profiting and gaining some new enthusiasts,
as do other hobbies, particularly boating. As evidenced by this list a few
months ago, our own long time lister, Dr. Doug, was selling his MGC because
his family and his new hobby of boating were now dominating most of his
time. My new TR6 is also the result of the previous owner selling the car
because he now cares for a 30-foot yacht instead.
Still, the number of people leaving the hobby is a small figure compared to
the influx of new owners in the past few years. This list, once again, is a
key indicator as to the health of the hobby. In late 1994, when I joined
this list, it was composed primarily of the die-hards who were still driving
their LBCs every single day as primary transport. Well the die-hards are
still here, and with that the number of listers has at least tripled to
date. The new listers have a modern car in addition to their British cars.
So what are the die-hards up to now? They're putting these cars through an
on-going evolution. They've driven original equipment, stock cars, and now
they want more performance, more refinement or both. They still want the
character of their cars retained, but with a lot more spirit in the
accelerator. New owners and people recent to the hobby tend to focus on
minor and major restoration projects, which result in daily drivers and show
cars, but not of significantly different specification than from new.
Either way you look at it, this list has pumped out as many as 120 messages
a day a few times this summer... compared to 30 a day or less in 1994. I
assure you that the majority of the die-hards are still here, just
Other people commenting on this thread have wondered why there are fewer
parts vendors at swap meets and fewer established parts suppliers in
business (when compared to a decade ago). It isn't that the market has
shrunk; it is simply that these people that were in the business are now
retiring and moving to Florida. People now retire at 55, and lets face it,
it _was_ pretty easy to make a good living from supplying British sports car
parts years ago ;-). There has always been a pretty large age differential
between owners of the cars and owners of the establishments that sold parts
or worked on the cars. In most cases, the guys you remember selling parts
to you in the past was 10 to 15 years older than the mean age of the current
Why didn't their businesses carry on? There isn't much demand for buying
out old shops and continue running them under new management. It is
difficult to assimilate into that type of environment. Don't kid yourself;
a lot of parts suppliers never used anything more than an assortment of
readily available parts catalogues to help you place your order. Not to
mention that proper invoicing procedures were rarely implemented. And a
working inventory sheet? HA! If Mike the MG Parts Vendor couldn't find you
that heater valve on his shelf in a few minutes, he would just order it for
you, if he even bothered to look in the first place. Those that have
survived, have been the businesses in which their was sufficient structure
to carry on and also those that haven't retired in one form or another once
they had achieved the financial stability they sought.
Why do you see fewer vendors at shows? eBay! eBay! eBay! Really, it has
definitely impacted the big swap meets like Hershey and Carlisle. I don't
consider it a bad thing, the parts are still being traded, the venues have
just changed. If anything, eBay now makes it easier to find, buy or sell
parts. Of course now these parts are more readily available to the
enthusiast base and an increase in price on many components can be seen
Personally, I like eBay, it allows me to find the parts I need quicker and
with less hassle than I would have trying to find them at Carlisle or
Hershey. Not to mention, that the Pennsylvania fall weather (which is
typically rainy) is no deterrent when using eBay! I still enjoy swap meets,
there are still plenty of bargains to be had, and I still attend them. In
this area, localized club swap meets have grown. We used to have just the
winter swap meet sponsored by Phila. MGs here. In October of 1999 the
Phila. Triumph Club started hosting the fall swap. Attendance is usually
pretty good and there are always things to be found.
The success of service and restoration shops typically has more to do with
the local state of the hobby than the general state. South Eastern PA has
plenty of owners with cars, plenty of cars for sale, and plenty of potential
new owners with bank accounts to fund their new hobby. The premiere local
British restoration shop (Power British in Norristown) has a minimum
six-month wait for most projects! Obviously this isn't good for owners and
the local market could stand another small QUALITY shop on the opposite side
of Philadelphia. There are a number of poor-quality shops on this side of
the city, fortunately, none of which get much service and restoration
business any longer. We even have a few shops that cater to the exotics of
the British motor car family. A short job from my house, is one of the
country's only private Aston Martin specialists and restorers. I was up
there on Sunday and was very surprised to see Aston Martin parts cars!
Well as I write, I drift further away from the point of this email, the
hobby is not declining, it certainly is not booming, but it is growing.
Another indication of new ownership is the trend we are seeing on this list
for fathers getting their sons involved into the hobby. Even some
uninitiated young people are finding the hobby on their own. In 1994 I was
the only "kid" on this list, which is definitely not true today!
What other factors are there to consider? Well, if alternative energy
vehicles are weighing in on your mind, don't worry about them. Detroit will
see to it that we continue to pump out harmful waste gases from our tail
pipes for quite some time. Ford abandoned their electric car program this
week, and I can't blame them. We'll be running piston engines for the next
40 years at least. The fuel and lubrication types may change, but the basic
functionality and components that are present in your 1968 MGB and in your
2018 Lava TerraCruiser SUV will be the same. Crankshaft, connecting rods,
and pistons. Cam operated valves are likely to disappear, as are heads as
we know them currently, and there will be a shift to using more lighter and
more cost effective alloys in engine. There will not be another
transportation revolution for some time. We're a greedy society, our greed
(and laziness) created the automobile industry and it is the same greed (and
laziness) which is insuring that development into alternative vehicle
designs is not advancing at any earth shattering pace. Body styles will of
course change, aero development is an easy way to increase the fuel economy
of cars and to reduce the size of the engine required to power cars. Not to
mention the improvement in engine management software, vast improvements are
going to be made here. The college kids (like me) involved in the SAE Super
Mileage competitions are achieving figures of 1500mpg from small one-man
vehicles. Carbon fiber bodies, low friction bearings and coatings,
composite suspensions and numerous other technologies are all present. Yet
there still remains a crankshaft, connecting rod, and piston pumping out the
power to make our proto-experimental cars go.
I will end my diatribe with a simple thought. Would Moss USA have
repurchased Moss Europe in 2000, if they felt the hobby was in jeopardy of
losing a great many of its members to age, death, or other hobbies?
Absolutely not! Would Moss, TRF, and a few others be spending more now than
ever before to reproduce parts for a shrinking market? Absolutely not!
What Moss and other companies do is one of the best indicators of the status
of our hobby. The hobby will probably peak in 10-15 years, and then decline
to the level we saw just a few years ago. There are still plenty of cars
and still plenty of people to own them. And for Moss, Victoria British and
TRF, there is still plenty of money to be made.
Now who is still awake?
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