The Generation Gap

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By contributing writer and message board member Jim McIlvaine

The Camaro and its sibling, the Firebird will be riding off into the automotive sunset soon. Whether or not the sun rises again on these American icons remains to be seen. At the same time, environmentalists across the country push for legislation that targets the internal combustion engine and anti-cruising ordinances are becoming commonplace. Even insurance companies such as Allstate, take potshots at high performance cars with ads depicting them as potentially lethal forms of transportation.

With threats coming from all quarters, it would seem as if automotive enthusiasts would put aside personal preferences and join together to support our collective love for cars. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Historical rivalries, such as Ford vs. Chevy and Import vs. Domestic have been around for years. Most often these debates and competitive rivalries are healthy and promote the development of better products for everyone involved. What is of far greater concern is the widening social gap between owners of older cars and those who own late model cars.

Many car shows and cruise nights have begun instituting a policy of discrimination against newer cars, both foreign and domestic, by excluding late model vehicles from their events. These divisive actions are extremely detrimental and harmful to our already threatened hobby. A prime example of such discrimination can be found every Wednesday night at Solid Gold McDonald’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We spoke with Carl Kasbrzyk, who claims to have first organized this event over nine years ago, about this policy in an attempt to gain some insight on the reasoning behind this policy.

After working on hotrods and street rods for over 40 years, Carl has formed strong opinions on what vehicles he considers to be worthy of parking at Solid Gold McDonald’s on a Wednesday night. Carl does not consider anything built after 1948 to be a hotrod, with most built before 1935. He considers cars built between 1935 and 1948 to be street rods. Surprisingly, Carl does not see a V8 as being a prerequisite for a car to be considered a hotrod. Milwaukee has its share of what Carl considers to be hotrods and street rods, but certainly not enough to fill up the lot every Wednesday night, so we decided to inquire about other cars that might be allowed.

Carl describes sports cars as, “Corvette-type of cars, but not necessarily V8s, although most are.” Eager to make generalizations, Carl feels all Mustangs, Firebirds and Camaros are muscle cars, including those with four cylinders, “as long as they’re souped up a little.” With seemingly broad automotive interpretations, we asked Carl why Solid Gold McDonald’s policy prohibits vehicles newer than 1985. “We just don’t have enough room and you have to draw the line somewhere,” says Carl. When asked if that would include a 1979 Pinto, but exclude a 1986 Corvette, Carl replied, “Yup, probably.”

As we gazed out on the parking lot, we noticed a Dodge Viper and inquired as to its presence. Carl explained, “Jim, the owner will let guys in with newer Shelbys, Ferraris, etc. People complain, but the reason given is that these are specialty cars,” says Carl. We then noticed a PT Cruiser parked out front and asked if that was considered a specialty car. Carl laughed and claimed it was owned by WRIT, a local oldies station that was covering the event, so they were forced to let them park in the lot.

While these two cars seemed to be rare exceptions to the rule, other regulars we spoke with claim certain late model cars are frequently allowed to park at Solid Gold McDonald’s on cruise night. Some of these cars include PT Cruisers, Prowlers and Corvettes. John Gay, who owns a 1993 Camaro has spoken with the staff at Solid Gold McDonald’s regarding this confusing policy and has been told that, “(they) don’t want cars that you can find on a showroom floor.” Presumably, this restriction will not include Camaros and Firebirds in the near future. We don’t think this is likely, considering the night we visited was advertised as “Camaro Night,” yet there were no Camaros on the lot newer than 1979 and every Camaro owner driving a car built after 1985 was turned away at the curb.

Carl Kasbrzyk is concerned about the future of hotrodding and what will become of the cars that fill the lot on Wednesday nights. “Many of these street rodders are in their 50s or older and in the next 15 years, there will be a ton of these cars for sale. Who will buy these cars? What are the kids today going to be working on?” Surprised at this comment, we asked him if he thought younger kids with newer cars worked on them. He replied, “I doubt it. I don’t think they do.” When asked what could be done to get the younger generation more involved considering his show would not allow them in, he did not have an answer.

Clearly, Carl has several stereotypes ingrained in his mind about late model cars. Since he and others in similar positions are unwilling to reach out to the next generation, it is on our shoulders to attempt to bridge the gap between old and new. We need to approach these individuals and suggest alternatives everyone can live with. If Solid Gold McDonald’s cruise night is so popular that space is limited, perhaps they should expand to additional nights. If they cannot handle the workload of additional nights, perhaps they would consider reserving a section for a few late model vehicles?

If they are not receptive to these ideas, they might be more inclined to discuss options if late model owners began picketing their cruise nights with signs that read, “Solid Gold McDonald’s Practices Discrimination.” They certainly wouldn’t limit their customers based on age, race or nationality, so why should they be allowed to do so on cruise night? Whatever course of action is taken by late model owners, it should be as professional and mature as possible. Protests registered with smoky burnouts, flybys, four letter words and blasting stereos will only further the divide and hurt our collective hobby. As lawmakers and environmentalists paint a bull’s eye on horsepower junkies, we need to present a united front, both young and old, import and domestic.

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