ROYAL OAK, Mich. – It’s no secret in the car hobby these days that some corporate marketing execs have been withdrawing support for traditional automotive events in the belief that enthusiasts are no longer a viable market and don’t interact well with the younger, more diverse demographic that many companies now so openly covet. Some of these same folks are also convinced that today’s young people don’t even like cars, so they need to be reached in a different way to consider a certain brand over another when it comes to personal transportation choices. Of course we all know you only need to go as far as your local cruise-in to see that as the pandemic wanes, car show attendance is setting records – and those out there enjoying the hobby includes scores of kids, teens and young adults in addition to all the boomer-era collectible car lovers. In fact, car clubs all over the country are actively making their car shows more youth and family friendly in a nod toward the future of car fandom.
Nobody has to explain the importance of club interaction with young enthusiasts to Jeff Grice and his Great Lakes Cobra Club (GLCC), who have been including the support of -- and interaction with -- young car enthusiasts for more than half-a-decade now. A case in point is the club’s annual support for the trade students at Oakland Tech in southeast Michigan.
“GLCC has made the commitment to help youth get involved with the car-collecting hobby,” Grice explained. “As part of this commitment, we kicked-off with Oakland Tech School's First Annual Car Show for students 6 years ago. It started with members showing up in a few Cobras and other vehicles – and now it has grown to 50-70 cars from several makes. Students from each of the 20 programs from the Tech School are allowed time during their school day to visit with the car show participants and learn about our cars and clubs.”
When Ford Performance discovered that GLCC had invited members of the local Shelby club (SAAC_MCR) to participate in the tech school’s car show as well, we decided to invite ourselves and load up the Ford Performance Club Connect Transit van and head out to the show at Oakland Schools’ Southeast Technical Campus in Royal Oak, Michigan, just off Woodward Avenue. We asked if we could set up our Ford Performance Club Connect Meet & Greet 10x10 tent display for a day of talking cars with the students, handing out free Mustang posters and Ford Performance giveaways – and even donate a few door prizes for the fundraising raffle to keep the annual show going.
Early on a sunny Friday morning in May we rolled up to the school’s back-lot entrance to the trade shops and saw dozens of collectible cars already gathering for the first wave of students to see. We set up on a grassy area next to the show field as Cobras and hot Mustangs kept rolling in – along with Vipers, Vettes and other sports, customs and muscle cars. The students in classes from the auto tech, collision, welding, construction and other trades were let out in waves a half-hour apart to see the cars and talk to the owners before voting on their favorites. At noontime, the Culinary Arts students put on a great (free) BBQ lunch for attendees, and things wrapped up with the awards ceremony that was held at 2 p.m. The winners were given unique trophies each hand-crafted by the Auto Tech students.
The Ford Performance tent was swamped with students all day long – young men preferring Mustang posters or Ford Performance Club Connect toolbox sticker sets and the young ladies wanting the new (purple) Ford Special Vehicle Registry wristbands and Mustang Hero Card sets. We gave away hundreds of each, and had engaging conversations on favorite cars, Ford Motor Company, EV’s, learning the trades, and how to have fun in the car hobby. Their excitement over the cars on display and their interaction with all of the show car owners seemed to debunk much of what corporate marketers seem to be saying about kids, cars and clubs – as they’re indeed connected. Yes, many were interested because they are auto tech students, but since their friends consider them car-knowledgeable, they are also influencers to their non-car savvy peers. And yes, even some young ladies in the culinary arts program wanted to talk about cars and Mustangs. Affordability was often mentioned as a reason they are late getting to the car-ownership experience – not that they don’t like or want cars.
One thing was quite evident, and that was the students much appreciated seeing Ford Performance participate and support their school’s car show. In fact some made mention of how that makes them feel good about Ford -- and about having someone from the company come out to their school to listen to them. We likely would have never met had we expected them to come meet us at a Ford event – but by going to meet them on their own turf, it’s certain we were able to make some new friends in the hobby. As the students got back into class for the afternoon, we walked the lot to take some photos of our favorite Fords that were on display at Oakland Tech. The only thing cooler than the cars on this day was meeting club members of the future!
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY JOHN M. CLOR