17-year-old Ryan Haarsager is a mainstay around the local car culture.
In the summer of 2007, while attending a car show, a 7-year-old boy introduced himself to me. He mentioned that he enjoyed watching my “Vintage Vehicle” TV show and asked if I’d be interested in seeing his collection of diecast cars. I asked for details and it quickly became obvious that, despite his young age, Ryan Haarsager was a very bright kid, especially when it came to old American cars. Two years later the TV show featured Ryan and his collection of miniatures.
Ryan, now a 17-year-old Ballard High School student, is a rare combination of teenager and “car guy” who appreciates antique and classic American automobiles, particularly the massive models built in the 1950s. He is an active participant in the Seattle-area car scene and is known by many because of his volunteer participation in various Northwest car shows. He’s the youngest member of the Greenwood Knights Car Club, and helps the group put on Seattle’s largest outdoor automotive event, the Greenwood Car Show (this year’s is June 24).
Ryan’s interest in old American automobiles is unusual for someone his age. People born after 1985, if interested at all in cars, seem to prefer them to be either animated on their gaming screens, or newer foreign-made cars with the engine performance controlled by a computer chip. Many of their parents and grandparents dreamed of owning a rolled and pleated 1940 Ford coupe, or a 283-cubic-inch, V8-powered 1957 Chevrolet BelAir, but these “old people’s cars” hold little interest to today’s youths.
Ryan’s car, a 1975 Ford Elite, stands out in the school’s parking lot. He finds time, between studying and participating in the school’s orchestra, to keep the car spotless. He encourages classmates to appreciate Detroit’s metal heritage, and spends much of his limited spare time photographing these vehicles when he finds them parked in various Seattle neighborhoods. Nearly 10,000 people follow his Parked_In_Seattle Instagram and seattlecarspotting.blogspot.com sites.
The collector car demographic is getting older, and Ryan shares the concern about the slow but rapidly increasing attrition of members of the car community. Who will take their place and keep the hobby alive as the aging car owners leave for the “Hot Rods in Heaven” car show?
The much newer sport-compact import cars are considered desirable by some of Ryan’s contemporaries. The reason may be the affordability of both buying and maintaining these foreign cars.
“The desire to own a classic American car doesn’t exist for people my age because everyone thinks that they are too expensive,” Ryan says. “There will be no interest until the price of them drops.”
This wish is slowly coming true. As the collector car community ages, car values are dropping. Watching television auction shows may make people think otherwise, but the majority of 1940 Fords, 1957 Chevrolets and many other popular American collector cars are now frequently selling for half of what they sold for 10 or 15 years ago.
What can be done to encourage the interest of Ryan’s generation?
“At car shows people are surprised to find out that I’m the owner of the big 1970s-era Ford on display. This is an opportunity to encourage other teenagers to consider owning one of these types of cars.”
Ryan’s Elite is a good example of what some consider an “entry-level” collector car. These aging American cars, many from the 1970s, will be welcomed at most car shows and may even transport home a trophy at the end of the day. Purchasing one usually requires only one comma and a few zeros to be written on the check made out to the seller.
Another way to bring new people into the car hobby is to make car shows a family event. Ryan’s parents, Gary and Carol, are very active in the Northwest car community and, like Ryan, spend time volunteering at a few car shows.
With a smile Gary says, “As a small child Ryan was totally into trains. Then one day he took an interest in cars and the trains began being replaced with miniature Fords and Chevrolets.
His expanding interest in cars, collecting toy cars, attending car shows and eventually acquiring a real car has been, and continues to be, a wonderful experience for our family.”
“When he was younger he found ways of earning money to purchase his miniature collection,” says his mother, Carol. “A collector car repair shop in Seattle and the owner of a collection of everything automotive in Port Townsend put Ryan to work cleaning up and around their shops. A few hours holding a broom and dustpan provided enough money for him to hold a new little car or, as he grew older, replace a broken piece on his full-sized car.”
Ryan’s “car guy” resume includes spending time with the ultimate car guy. He participated in a Hagerty Insurance project that encouraged young people to produce videos featuring something or someone prominent in the old car hobby. Ryan and his parents packed their bags and flew to California to meet up with everyone’s favorite denim-wearing car collector, Jay Leno. The video was featured in a television broadcast and added a valuable experience to Ryan’s growth in the car hobby.
It is said that wisdom comes with age.
“Age is not an issue,” says Ryan. “More people of all ages should be driving these cool old American cars.”