Hansen: Nostaglia, freedom meet behind the wheel

Some say it’s a guy thing. Others say it’s nostalgia. Still others say it’s because of what took place in the back seat.

Classic cars.

We long for them in embarrassing ways. If we have one, we baby it — more than our kids.

Most people have at least one old car that turns their motor.

Andy Coyle has a couple dozen. The long-time Laguna Beach resident opened Laguna Classic Cars and Automotive Art about a year ago and sells “reachable collector cars” on consignment.

They are not the ultra high-end rarities that you only find at elegant concourse events. Instead, they are realistically priced and desirable, like a near perfect 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible, fire red with a back seat the size of Nebraska.

Or a 1966 Pontiac GTO with a politically incorrect 389 V8. Or an iconic 1965 Mustang convertible, one of Coyle’s favorite models.

Coyle, 55, spent a lifetime in the car business, starting out at Ford, giving tours of the plant in Dearborn, Mich., while still in college. Later, he became a Dodge dealer, then had his own RV dealership. Over the years, he also raced with various organizations, which is why he likes muscle cars.

But the dynamics of the classic car business are changing. It used to be a somewhat predictable cycle of ownership. Guys in their 50s and 60s would buy the cars of their youth.

Now, that’s not necessarily the case.

“Young people are getting driver’s licenses at a slower rate today than they did 30 years ago,” Coyle said. “The reason is they are infatuated with the Internet, phones and all that, so they are socially communicating on that medium rather than in a car the way we did when we were growing up.”

Prior generations got their driver’s license the day they turned 16 so they could go to the mall, bowling alley or drive-in.

“Cars are freedom,” he said. “And as you get older, you’re more entrenched in daily life — kids, career, retirement, whatever — but cars are a reminder of our freedom. You get in them and go.”

This shift in the market affects the type of classic cars that are bought and sold. Hot rod cars of the late 1940s and ‘50s, for example, are dropping off as that generation passes, Coyle said.

“Hot rods are really hard to sell for two reasons. They’re a personal creation for an individual, and the hot rodders are getting too old. They’re dying off,” he said. “Right now, what’s hot is muscle cars — (Pontiac) Tempests and GTOs and (Chevrolet) Chevelles.”

Factoring in the generational rule, we are in a classic car transition.

“The late ‘60s, early ‘70s stuff will cool off and the late ‘70s, early ‘80s stuff will get hotter. And you’re already seeing that, like the third-generation of Corvettes. Those were cold as dead fish; now they’re starting to warm up because those were the cool cars in that generation.”

Whenever Coyle evaluates the kinds of cars he wants in his shop, he has one simple rule.

“They’ve got to be cars that I like because if I don’t like the car, I know I won’t be able to sell it.”

So he has an eclectic lineup of nice cars: a 1984 Ferrari 400i coupe; a 1932 Ford Roadster and a beautiful 1958 Porsche 356.

“Today’s cars don’t really have the soul and the character,” he said. “They’re more of an appliance versus the cars I got in here right now. These cars scream character. They’re personalities. Hondas are great, but they are like a washing machine. They’re purely utilitarian.”

In addition to the cars, Coyle sells fine automotive art from famous industry painters, such as Bill Motta, who was the art director at Road and Track magazine for more than 40 years and is considered one of the preeminent automotive artists.

The connection between art and classic cars is easy to make. The soul and character that attracts businessmen like Coyle is the same driving force that turns our head on Coast Highway any given weekend in Laguna Beach.

The town is a classic-car mecca.

“It’s known as an art town, but there’s this whole underground car culture here — from very serious, world-known car collectors and racers and publishers to guys like me. The common thread is we just love cars.”

There will be a day, perhaps sooner than we think, when classic cars will be relegated to museums, especially the way car design is eroding.

Do you think in 40 years we will crave the interchangeable designs of a Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Toyota Camry or dozens of other cookie-cutter molds?

The fact is, even if designs improve, new generations of drivers simply won’t drive. Our means of travel will change. We will be moved by mass transit or ferried by drone cars.

And we will look back fondly to the curves, smells and vinyl of our youth, hoping to capture a special type of nostalgia.

The kind that gave us the freedom to move in ways we always dreamed.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at