COTD: The 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans Edition

In 1967, public attendance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was higher than it had ever been before, perhaps even in the history of motorsports. One year later and attendance had dropped to less than a quarter than that '67 high. Why?

It was all thanks to the student revolts of 1968. Young people were anti-authoritarian now, and opposed to the classic, old man's thinking motor racing that was going on in France. Globalism was in, drugs were in, Le Mans was out. Those protests, however, had more of an effect on Jalopnik than making one of our favorite races less popular.

One thing that broke down in '68 was the distance between college student and professor. The idea that one person would stand up front and eager young faces would sit and watch, listen, and memorize became obsolete. Classrooms are nowhere near as strict as they were before, and the level of interaction between professors and students rose.

We got a new commenting, er, discussion system today, and it brought the writers and all of you a lot closer together than we've ever been before. One fine example of the kind of stuff we were seeing today (when Torchinsky and Ben weren't drooling over some ZAZs) was an interesting, engaged discussion between teampenske3 and Micki Maynard.

We're gonna call it Discussion of the Day, because it's not about who comments on what article. That's rigid pre-'68 thinking there. What's important is shooting the shit, and learning things from each other.

Ms. Maynard, as a teenager, I feel that I'm uniquely qualified to answer this question. Here in my neck of the woods (central Indiana) kids are still getting licenses and buying cars. Do they have an interest in buying cars? That all depends on what you're referring to. Certainly, by and large they are interested in buying cars. However these days, thanks to rising costs of insurance, financing requirements, the financial position of their parents, and other factors, new cars are virtually out of the question for most teenagers.

The used car market on the other hand, is thriving vigorously. In my student newspaper class (where we mostly just shoot the shit), many seniors spent their spare time second semester trawling [cars.com] to find a car for college. Craigslist is also popular, but moreso amongst guys, as the ladies still find it to be very sketchy.

However, at the same time, it makes me wonder if for teens these days cars have become more of a necessary appliance (similar to a microwave or mini-fridge) than an object of pride and desire. It seems like the vast majority of teens are hardly what one around these parts would call "jalop." Take one of those aforementioned senior friends who was shopping for a college car. Her desires were "automatic, because a stick is too much work," and "no hatchback, hatchbacks are ugly." This seems to be the general consensus at school. Most could care less about the number of gears in their car, or the drive wheels, or what the cylinder configuration is. When I talk about engine swaps, one of my friends (a guy) responds, dully, "Yeah...you know...I just don't care...so yeah." You could argue that this is reflective of the general populace, certainly, but the fact is that it seems that in this day and age, cheap and working transportation is the only objective, a far cry from the rose-tinted days of Grease where fast, hot looking cars were all the rage, and your cubic inches directly correlated to your popularity with girls. To most teens, cars, traffic, and driving are a hassle to be put up with, a mere chore akin to attending 7th period or having to work till 10 during the week. To them, Ford Sync is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

That is not to say, however, that the young car enthusiast is dead. They are still around, even in the sea of beige that is my high school parking lot. There is my longtime friend, who rebuilt with his father a 70s Chevy Nova with a big block and Hydramatic (drag racing style). There is the girl who drives a classic blue Bug. And the hipster surfer dude who adores his longboard and Type 2 bus (that barely runs). There are the Realtree wearing rednecks who spend their weekends going mudding and winching each other out of the muck. Then there are the anomalies like me, the smart kid who nerds out over Formula 1 practice and who has diagnosed brake issues on a friend's car just by sound.

So, what does this mean for manufacturers? I'm not sure. For one, sad as I am to say it, teens are going to prefer technology laden cars. Technology laden cars, that is, that are cheap to own. As for how to make more kids join the ranks of the rabid, mental Jalops? That's a nut that I've yet to crack.

Apologies for TL;DR

You can see the full thread here.

Photo Credit: Alastair Montgomery