The Global Car Culture Phenomenon

Car culture is a global phenomenon with the classic car industry said to be worth £6m a year to the UK economy. The Executive Magazine meets Lee Mathewson of classic car experts Hagerty to learn more.
Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Editor In Chief at The Executive Magazine

Hagerty is at the forefront of Global Car Culture as a leading classic car insurer, but they also publish high-circulation classic car magazines, daily digital car content, world class market data, the most accurate vehicle valuations and an enviable worldwide car event programme. While the company, still owned by the Hagerty family, originated in the US, it launched a UK division many years ago, run with the same ethos but appealing specifically to UK tastes. In August of this year, Hagerty’s Vice President of International Insurance Products Lee Mathewson, moved his family from the states and settled in rural Buckinghamshire to take the helm of Hagerty UK.

Car Culture is a name given to those to whom a car is more than a way of getting from A-B. These owners love cars, their history, their appearance, and the way they drive. A car is to be used, pampered, shown-off, restored and often enhanced. Shows, events and drives are frequented. It is a passion that is shared by millions of like-minded individuals and is a lifestyle in its own right, dictating what you drive, what you wear, what media you consume and how you choose to spend your disposable income.

While many of us can imagine driving a Mustang along Huntingdon Beach in California, stopping for coffee and conversation with other classic car owners, the romance can be harder to imagine just off the M25 on a rainy Sunday. However, Lee sees things differently. While there are many cultural differences we all share the same passion, and the reason we become a part of car culture is the same the world over. We love cars. Hagerty is now one of the largest producers of enthusiast vehicle content in the world and our editors in the UK and USA often share content that engages equally well on both sides of the Atlantic. And yes, you can always refer to the car scene in California, which is blessed with great weather, but we also have many states with rainier climates, very similar to the UK.

While that is a fair assessment, the car culture scene isn’t as visible here in the UK as it is in the US, can the two really be compared? I think it is fair to say that car culture in the US offers more variety in the US than it does in the UK, their Cars & Coffee meets are well established across the country, their auctions are larger and many are televised, and the car shows are wide and varied. Ranging from custom car meets to the lofty heights of Pebble Beach. That said, the UK offers a vast array of car-related activities, clubs and shows and has equally passionate owners making them a success every weekend…when movement restrictions allow, of course.

Cars became a part of youth culture almost as soon as prices became affordable. In the early days’ parts were stripped to reduce weight, and home mechanics attempted to gain more power from rudimentary engines. You could argue that this was the start of the hot rod movement, with cars being customised to go fast and be noticed. Many years later, not much has changed. Owners love and cherish their cars to enjoy personally, to be seen in, to take to shows and events and to preserve history for the next generation.

All good fun in itself, but what if having fun was also a viable form of investment? Lee has a global team of data analysts who take information from a variety of industry sources to monitor, track and forecast global classic car values, becoming the go-to for market data. Many will be aware of the multi-million selling auction superstars from the likes of Ferrari and Bugatti Lee tells us, as these make headlines around the world.

But we are also seeing the young timer and hot-hatch markets, cars 40-somethings would have admired as children but can now afford to buy, rise steadily as demand for good cars increases. As with any investment, values can go down as well as up and Hagerty suggests cars are bought to be enjoyed first and foremost, with any financial gains being seen as an added bonus, should that happen, rather than an expected return. While the US seems to have an abundance of rust-free classic cars ripe for the picking, aren’t we a little less spoilt for choice here in the UK? Not necessarily, says Lee.

In the USA we have a great array of cars from the 50s, 60s and 70s to choose from and, most notably, the states were good at producing muscle cars – mid-sized vehicles built in the 1970s to go fast with the addition of high-power V8 engines and scoops and bulges added to the bodywork. But in Europe you have great quality classics from the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, and in the UK you’ll find plenty of Hot Hatchbacks, elegant Rolls-Royce’s and well-loved Land Rover’s.

The collector car market is wide and varied, and every country has something ready to be enjoyed. Frank and Louise Hagerty founded the Hagerty in 1984 and today the company is run by their son McKeel. In the US and Canada Hagerty lead the market, insuring many of the largest car collectors and celebrities, while also organising events and sponsoring some of the highest profile car shows in the world. Hagerty is an exciting and dynamic company Lee tells us. In the US and Canada, we have seen tremendous growth by leveraging our powerful automotive brand, digital tools, and strategic partnerships to build a diverse community of enthusiasts working together to save the art of driving.

Last year, we grew our brand again and launched Hagerty Drivers Club which provides access to the world’s most extensive valuation database, industry-leading automotive media and content including Hagerty magazine and a host of discounts and special perks to other automotive businesses. Our brand and authenticity have been our key differentiator and have allowed us to see tremendous growth in our insurance business. But while the US car culture scene is buoyant, and the US arm of the business in growth, how does that translate to the UK?

Hagerty UK has always been an integral part of the Hagerty family, but it has always had a level of separation due to geography and time zones that has limited our ability to engage with our clients and build a community like what we’ve been able to do in North America. What excites me the most about being in the UK is the opportunity to bring the US power and reach of our brand to the UK. Car Culture is here to stay, wherever you are in the world and whatever you drive. If you have a classic car in the garage, take it out and use it.

Today there are hundreds of specialists ready to help take care of your car and perhaps you will see a return on your investment. But that’s not the point, the point is to enjoy your car and to drive it…let it be seen and admired, after all that is what they were designed to do. The last word goes to Lee.

I’m really looking forward to immersing myself into the UK business. My plan is to create automotive events and experiences where we can engage with our clients. To increase our online presence and grow our brand recognition, expand our product to include newer cars and younger drivers and to launch Hagerty Drivers Club for our UK clients. UK Car Culture has never had it so good!

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