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Car culture is dying. Does it deserve to?

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I’m 39 years old, which is an age that comedian George Carlin once said was just about perfect because “you could relate to both young and old people.” I find it to be true. Some of you might be too young to remember a time before social media took hold and car meets were impossible to find, aside from the doo-wop hot rod crowd. And some of you are too old to remember how it was impossible for 20-somethings to celebrate cars in a way that didn’t involve drag strips and New Balance sneakers. But car culture has changed since then, and I think it’s dying.

I might be ok with that.

Movies and take overs

Manhattan M Meet
Two car shows in one day illustrate this story. My Manhattan M Cruise, and an Mbassey meet in central New Jersey.

We have to start with the absolute worst part of modern car culture: the takeover.

If you don’t know what happens when a takeover occurs, look it up, and be horrified. People (usually kids), close off street corners, side walks and even highways to “take over” the area and create a space to make social media content.

The result is usually a scene that could have been shot for the latest Batman movie. Cars speeding, drifting into the crowd, hurting people or worse. If you should happen to approach the area in your own car without an invite, there’s a good chance they will swarm you and destroy your own ride. Yes, this is really happening.

Manhattan M Meet

Then there is the “let’s make a movie” crowd. They weave in and out of traffic, usually in front of a camera car, while trying to race another car. There’s a place for that, and it isn’t next to the minivan with a family of four inside.

So when it comes time to do a proper meet, we’re met with resistance – there’s never a safe space to really park and chat without being bothered by the local constabulary.

Manhattan M Meet

Pricey poseur

I love auction sites. Both Cars & Bids and Bring a Trailer have created a way for you to actually sell your special car to the people who know what special is. But, there is a downside…

My favorite example is the E92 M3. It is a wonderful car. A soul score of ten.

Manhattan M Meet
The most expensive car here is the oldest.

It is not a $125,000 driving experience.

And yet, what do we find? Cars like the Lime Rock Edition selling for $125,000? For a few stickers and some orange paint? It’s not even a single hump dash…

Who’s buying that car for that price? Could it be someone looking for attention at the next meet? For a $125,000, you should be in a 718 GT4. And if you don’t believe me, look at the mileage count on any Lime Rock Edition. 10, 20k miles in 10 years? So you bought the car to not enjoy it?

Manhattan M Meet

To be fair, we all mod our cars and love when someone comes up to high-five us about how cool they are. If your car is cool, so are you. But we’re not modifying in the hopes to sell for more down the road, or for the attention alone. Some of us actually like to drive them.

It’s hard to relate to a lot of “drivers” that these shows now host.

We’re all going to die

Manhattan M Meet

There’s a vintage car show next to my house every Saturday in the summer. It’s been going on for over 20 years – the same group of guys telling the same stories about the same cars. I rarely visit (a 50’s Ford just isn’t my thing), but I can’t help but wonder as I pass – “Will that be me one day?”

In fact it will be. The cars that matter to that group don’t matter to me, and the cars that matter to me won’t matter to kids in the future. That used to be ok – after all, cars have always worked the same for the past one hundred years. But that’s not the case in the future. What the hell will an electric car meet look like?

Manhattan M Meet

Do Teslas need to stop on a cruise so everyone can recharge?

Of course, Teslas can be slammed and wrapped. Does that make a Tesla cool? I suppose it depends on your taste. Regardless, it’ll be a different meet.

Meanwhile, I’ll be at the same parking lot, with the same guys, telling the same stories about M3s of yore. But I’m not sure anyone will replace us once we’re gone.

BMW car culture is (a little) different

Manhattan M Meet

What’s the difference between a porcupine and a BMW?

BMWs have pricks on the inside.

Har har. Believe me, I’ve met questionable characters at meets, like the M guy with an M club that kicked you out if you sold the car. Complete with M bro jacket and shoes, of course.

Manhattan M Meet

But by and large, the community is a welcoming one. And a large one! Aside from Porsche (uhh), I can’t think of another brand of car that has such a wide berth of old classics mixed with modern metal, where everyone gets excited about every car.

We even have our own language! E38, N55, CSL – you might think you’ve broached the Department of Defense if you hear us talking out of context.

I’ve made a ton of friends because of a silly badge on a trunk.

Manhattan M Meet

But will it last? Walk around a show and see 20 M cars for every i4 M50. What happens when BMW forces us to buy electric? Some will make the jump. Some will keep their older cars. And some will walk away.

Car culture isn’t dead yet, but…

Manhattan M Meet
How much will a drive through New York cost in the future?

Think of the opposition we face. Yesterday, I led a group of about 15 cars through Manhattan. That ride cost us about $40 in tolls. In a year, it could cost us $70 because of congestion taxes. Tolling roads you and I have already paid for.

Then, the cars. The range of electric cars can only go so high. Will they reach gas cars one day? Perhaps, but how much will that car cost? What if you don’t buy horsepower, but range?

What if you need to buy freedom?

Manhattan M Meet

Finally, there’s us. We’re responsible too. Every time we go to a parking lot and leave a mess, or do a giant burnout that causes the cops to come by, or pull a Mustang and aim for the crowd, we reduce the amount of places we’re welcome at.

It’s not all doom and gloom. The Manhattan M meet was a success, and that was followed by another BMW event in central NJ, a great day all around.

But will a day like that still be possible in ten years?

I hope so.

Manhattan M Meet and Mbassey gallery

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I use Nikon camera bodies and lenses, a Westcott Ice Light 2, Manfrotto tripod, B + W filters and an iMac Pro to make the art you see here.

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