OPINION: Want People to Get Into Vintage Cars? Stop Charging Them to See Them

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My pal Kamil Kaluski over at Hooniverse wrote a piece on the Boston Cup, which is having its third go-round on the Boston Common this year. If you’re wondering why more people aren’t into vintage cars, you don’t have to look any further than the price of admission.

The idea at the event in Boston is interesting: A vintage car show on Boston Common, which is the city’s answer to Central Park in New York. It’s an open public space that has centuries of history in the city of Boston, from the 1600s, where it was used as a cow pasture, to the 1700s when British soldiers encamped there during the Revolution, to the 1969, when 100,000 people protested the Vietnam War.

In 2014, though, only part of the park is going to be public. The real exclusive cars — the kind that really make this a “Concours” rather than just a car show — are going to be behind steel barricades. If you want to see them up close, you can either shell out $75 for a VIP pass, or $50, presuming you don’t want Grey Poupon on your ham sandwich.

Boston is already one of the most expensive places to live in America, but it has always prided itself on presenting a variety of entertainment to the masses at no charge. Concerts at the Hatch Shell, the massive Fourth of July celebration, the Boston Marathon, they’re all free to attend, and part of the reason that the City of Boston is such a great place to live and visit.

Part of the deal is that they’re very exclusive cars that cost millions of dollars, so you can’t just have some unwashed cretin wandering around, right? Well, every Wednesday after 4:30 pm, you can visit Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and see Renoirs, Monets, Van Goghs and Cezannes — all of which would trade hands for prices orders of magnitude higher than any of the cars on the Common — for a “$25 suggested donation” (read: free).

Over at the Boston Public Library, you can take a gander at the correspondence of Abigail Adams, or visit the library of her husband John, one of the most complete collected libraries of the earliest Americans.

The idea behind this is that while some of these artifacts are priceless, they’re also part of our heritage, and they’ve been established as part of our national education.

Why don’t we see vintage cars the same way? Granted, some concours events funnel proceeds to charity, but this one does not. In an article by Bill Griffith on Boston.com, event organizer Rich Doucette notes, “Our business model is different from a show that is dependent on admission fees. Our funding comes from solid sponsors and the money is there for us. It costs $100,000 to put on the show and we donate $25,000 to the city.” That $25,000 isn’t a “donation,” in anything other than its tax status. As Kamil mentioned in his Hooniverse piece, that’s called “rent.”

And $100,000 for an eight-hour event seems wildly inefficient. As a friend of mine who was once involved in a leadership position at one of the national BMW Motorcycle clubs noted, $100,000 was pretty close to the budget to host 10,000 BMW motorcycle riders for a week at its annual event.

I understand that you don’t necessarily want a bunch of drunks from nearby bars hanging all over the cars, but you solve that problem with security, paid for by the many hardly insignificant corporate sponsors listed on the Boston Cup’s web page– RM Auctions, Samuel Adams, BMW, J.P. Morgan, Shreve, Crump & Low, McLaren, and the Ritz-Carlton.

It’s bad enough that a Red Sox game is well beyond the price that a family can attend. If you are actually interested in getting people motivated to learn something about vintage cars — which is often the stated goal of events like this — then let them get close without charging a fee that makes it impossible for a family with a couple of interested kids to attend.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.

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