Market Spotlight

Everything is bigger in Texas—including classic car culture

by Andrew Newton
28 June 2022 4 min read
Image
James Wilder.

California’s status as king of American car culture is undisputed. Los Angeles’ car-friendly design, early adoption of freeways, World War II vets building hot rods, the advent of lowriders, tuner culture, even Cars & Coffee—California has long been a Mecca for automotive passion. Places like Beverly Hills or Monterey Car Week are paradise for car spotters. Some of the country’s best collections and museums are found there, and the market is extremely active both with the high-profile, record-setting auctions in Monterey and more online auction sales than any other state. California also has some of the best and most scenic driving roads in the country, and the famously agreeable weather means that “driving season” is 12 months long and “California car” is a byword for dry, rust-free classic.

As a Texan, though, I think we hear plenty about California’s importance to the hobby. The Lone Star State doesn’t get nearly as much love yet boasts the nation’s second largest classic car market. Texas’s big share of, and unique influence on car collecting is worth a closer look.

Photo by James Wilder

First, some basics about the state. “We’re number two” doesn’t have a nice ring to it, but it’s a familiar theme, as Texas is the nation’s second biggest state both in terms of area (behind Alaska) and population (behind California). Its GSP (Gross State Product) is also second highest, and it’s home to the second largest number of Fortune 500 companies (both after California). We’re even second to Cali in number of megachurches. So, it’s not surprising that the state also wins the silver medal for collector cars. According to Hagerty’s research, there are 2.6 million collector vehicles in the state of Texas (or about one collector vehicle for every 11 people), which again puts it in the number two spot behind California (6.1 million) but ahead of Florida (2.57 million), Washington (1.55 million), and Georgia (1.51 million). The total dollar value of all those collector vehicles in the Lone Star State reaches approximately $150 billion.

OK, so you already know Texas is big. You might, however, not grasp how diverse it is, both in population and cars. Conjure up the stereotypical Texan and you might come up with the Marlboro Man or Matthew McConaughey, but two-thirds of Texans live in a major metropolitan area and just 43 percent are white. About 30 percent of the population speaks Spanish, and 4.7 million residents are foreign-born. Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in the country. Take that, New York.

Closer to cars, Texas leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions and oil production, but it also produces the most wind power in the country. It is home to three of the 10 biggest cities in the US but also the largest number of farms, and leads the nation in total revenue from agriculture.

Texas is a study in contrasts, and that maps onto the state’s collector cars. The most popular vehicles are about what you’d expect: the Ford Mustang leads (as it does in many states), trailed by the Chevy/GMC GMT 400 pickup and the Dodge Charger. But Texan collectors also have a surprising appetite for newer and more exotic cars. Hagerty research pegs Texas at having about six percent of the collector vehicles in the country, but nearly nine percent of all supercars/exotics, as well as ten percent of all 2011-20 collector vehicles. The average age of a car enthusiast in Texas is 59 compared to 61 nationwide, and the average collector vehicle year in Texas is 1970 compared to 1966 for the rest of the country.

Houston is home of SLABs and other distinct car cultures. (Photo by Chris Spicks)

And Texas, like California, has a distinct car culture. Where LA has low riders and hot rods, Houston has SLABs and Art Cars. And although we can’t claim to have a Monterey Car Week, enthusiasts in Texas are nonetheless spoiled for choice when it comes to getting out and enjoying all things automotive. James Wilder runs the website motortexas.com, which features the most extensive Texas event calendar out there and a blog about car culture in the state. Over the last 12 months 235 events were posted, but they also run a Facebook group where many smaller events are listed. “It’s too hard to keep up with them all,” says Wilder. “Texas is just too big to have one defined car culture. Even just Houston is too big for one car culture.”

Photo by James Wilder

Although Texas ranks third (behind Michigan and South Carolina) in total automobile-related exports, and despite the fact that the Port of Houston is the country’s busiest in foreign tonnage, it’s not a top destination for folks importing a collector vehicle (anything aged 25 years or older coming from abroad). Examining international shipping data, Hagerty research found that just four percent of imported collector vehicles come through Texas, while 21 percent come through California, 13 percent through Washington, and 12 percent through Florida. Texas ports are, however, the second most popular destination for Toyota Land Cruisers, likely down to old South American Toyota FJ40s making their way stateside for restoration or a quick flip.

Here at Insider, we’re always keen on the auction market, and in Texas it’s unsurprisingly huge. Monterey, Scottsdale, Kissimmee and Indianapolis may host the biggest auction events on the calendar, but as of last year there are three (Mecum Houston, Barrett-Jackson Houston, and Mecum Dallas) major collector car auctions in Texas. It’s the only state where Mecum, the largest live auctioneer of collector vehicles by volume, has consistently held two sales annually over the last several years. According to Hagerty data, 12,355 vehicles have sold at a live collector car auction in Texas over the last five years, or about one in every twelve collector vehicles sold nationwide over the same period and more than California (11,828 vehicles).

So there you have it. Even though the collector car hobby in Texas trails California both in terms of cultural significance and market size, there’s more of it and more to it than you might think. And, by the way, over 300,000 Californians moved there from 2010-19 (according to US Census data), so with every enthusiast’s U-Haul, things get just a bit closer.

Comments

  • Steve Clinton says:

    Those might be the dumbest wheels I’ve ever seen on the Cadillac pimpmobile.

    • Larry T. says:

      Amen

    • ken tilly says:

      Absolutely. I have never seen anything so ugly on ANY motor car, EVER, ANYWHERE!

    • TigreLoko24 says:

      Houston loves it’s candy paint.. I do think the spokes poke out too much but those wheels are expensive n the more they poke out, the more they cost so maybe that’s why ppl started seeking them, too much money on their hands..lol I’ll stick to the minor poke 84s.. 😉

  • Rich says:

    I read the whole article expecting to read about Swangas, Texas’ unique wheel phenomenon. But nothing except statistics. Are Texans ashamed of Swangas?

    • TigreLoko24 says:

      I think the article is well done but i think it was more about the stats than about the car culture, but no way, we love being different n 83s n 84s on Vogues is our unique ID bro.. We’re also truck country n speed freaks, so maybe one day Hagerty or someone will talk on that.. The wheels do remind me of Speed Racer, anyone remember that cartoon series??

  • kev says:

    Those wheels are absolutely hideous on that Cadillac.

  • Maestro1 says:

    I had a 69 Cadillac convertible, bought as a repossesion, had the car looked at by my dealer and hit the road.
    It was a wonderful smooth car. I sold it at a modest profit and frequently miss the car. Thank you for this.

  • Big D says:

    It has bothered me for years that the best shows that have the “Crème de la Crème” of classic and antique cars in the nation are all in the Northeast, Florida, or in California. Texas tried to start a Concours D’elegance Texas that failed miserably. I went to it one year in Conroe and the selection of cars were nice but nothing like what I see in pictures of Monterey, Amelia Island, Hershey, or Auburn. I live in DFW and the best collection of cars not in a museum I have ever seen locally was when the Auburn Cord Duesenberg club met at the Gaylord Texan Resort once around 15 years ago. That was not even an official type of show so much as it was just some beautiful top notch antique cars in the resort parking lot.
    From March to early June, then September to November the weather in Texas is perfect for classic cars. We have great small glorified “get togethers” but I just don’t consider them shows. I don’t understand why the elite can’t make it work here. There are plenty of rich elite classic car owners all over Texas but most of them keep the cars hidden.
    I mean, Carroll Shelby was a Dallas kid. We can’t even make Dallas the Shelby Mecca?
    Fair Park is also the largest collection of Art Deco Architecture per capita in the world! (If the city would give the buildings another major renovation like the last one in the 90’s…) Could you image how cool a Concours D’elegance would be with the Art Deco backdrop?

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