April 6, 2011

Classic car culture in red states and blue states

Before I yakked on about how the frontier spirit still persists in the mountain west and plains states, and perhaps Tennessee too, not just for the overall level of solidarity but how much people preserve and treasure the great accomplishments of white pop / folk culture.

Andrew Gelman and co-authors showed in Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State that the recent war between liberals and conservatives is absent among the working class, present among the middle class, but most pronounced in the upper-middle and upper classes. One example he gives is that rich Texans might drive a Hummer, whereas rich Californians might drive a Prius. Working-class people in either state don't drive either type of car that "tells the world something about your personality and lifestyle." Whatever gets them to work is OK. The battle over which kinds of cars are best is mostly a middle and upper-class affair.

You also see this for cars that are very far from new. I was near the Wheeling, West Virginia metro area for a family reunion of sorts over the weekend, and we drove through lots of the smaller towns around there, as well as the more urban parts. Not once did I see anything that you'd call a classic car. Not being driven around, not resting parked in a garage, not waiting to be scooped up from a used car lot. People did own older cars, and dealers were selling them used, but they were all fat, shapeless '90s cars, along with a handful of bloated space pod cars from the 2000s.

Driving around town out here in the mountain west, it's hard not to catch sight of the classics just going about your daily business, not even trying to seek them out. A muffler shop has only a half-dozen used cars sitting out front, but they're all 300ZX's, plus a 280ZX right next to the curb to draw in the passersby. At a nearby small market, there's usually a silver Mark II Supra that gives your eyes something sweet to taste while you're stopped at the light. Then walking to campus, I see a '68 Chevelle parked on the street only three spaces away from an '85 Fiero. Later in the day, a banana yellow 2nd-generation Firebird cruises across in front of me while I'm stopped at a light. And on any warm, sunny day all you have to do is find a 6-lane road to see all of the Impalas (mostly 4th and 5th-gen) being let out of the garage. Just a couple weeks ago in front of a low-rent apartment building with nary an organic boutique in sight, there was parked a glistening white Corvette with a little blue trim, one of the last of the stingray-shaped ones (looked like late '70s).

And that's not even to mention all of the lesser but still pleasant filler cars strewn around -- Volkswagen Rabbits and Beetles, Saab 900s, etc.

Obviously working-class people are not keeping and maintaining these cars; it's middle-class or above, as they're something of a luxury now. Yet people with enough money in the blue-state areas of eastern Ohio, West Virginia, and the DC suburbs in Maryland couldn't care less about keeping alive the age when cars still looked and felt like cars. (During an admittedly brief visit to my brother in Los Angeles, I hardly saw any classics either, other than a Mexican dude in a beat-up RX-7. Everything was a nearly brand-new Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, bla bla bla, just like they say.)

Using Google Trends to see which states top the list of searches for things related to classic cars, the same pattern emerges as I mentioned in the frontier post -- mountain west, plains, the red-state parts of Appalachia, somewhat of the Ozarks. It has nothing to do with climate, since California doesn't dominate the lists as it should if that were the case, while snowy Utah and Colorado (but not snowy Vermont or West Virginia) show up pretty reliably.

It's just part of the larger cultural differences between middle and upper-class people in red states, where they're more about preserving the best of tradition, and blue states, where they are spurred by a reflex to always be "moving beyond" whatever dopey stuff a bunch of dead people once invented.


  1. When I was in Seattle for a long weekend several years ago, I was surprised at all the classic cars still on the road. You wouldn't think that the rainy climate would be particularly good for old cars.


  2. Vehicles are such a vulgar status symbol, it is highly preole-middle class to obsess over it.

    Classic American cars like Cadillac and Ford are very preole compared to vintage Jaguars and Ferraris.

    Having a yacht vs. trailer, speedboat or BMX bike is more preole vs. SWPL.

    Miami is full of NAMs driving spanking new/washed/polished mustangs, Beamers, Mercs and Lambos while living in ghettos. Cars are def not a good indicator of taste or status. Unless you can drive a Bugatti, Bentley, Zonda, Porsche and Aston Martin.

    Waiting lists do serve a functional purpose.


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