There was a time, back when I was a kid and first starting to drive, when along just about any street in the suburbs you could see fathers, often with their sons, out in the driveway working on the family car. It may have been something as simple as an oil change or more complex like a complete tune-up or overhaul.

To paraphrase Donald Fagen and Roger Becker, those days are gone, over a long time ago.

Where once fiddling with the car was something most men did because it saved money, was fairly easy and, in many cases, was a form of therapy – today, you hardly ever see a car with the hood up on a residential street. That is, unless, the person who owns it is into the hobby of restoring and owning classic and collectable cars. And even that may be changing.

So what changed? Technology.

“When I started as an auto mechanic back on June 15, 1959, things were very simple,” says Doug Traylor. “Cars were very easy for even the shade tree mechanics to do most of the service and many of the repairs to the cars of the 1940s and ‘50s.”

Doug is a friend of mine, a mechanic by trade for 40 years whose father was a car salesman. Doug grew up around cars, joined the Navy, worked on engines while there and then, for the next four decades, fixed cars and then taught young people how to do it.

“A lot has changed during my career,” he added.

In 1972, when I first got my driver’s license, and even before helping my older brother, my cousins and my father, cars were simple. My first car was a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle and literally I could do just about any work on it with a screwdriver and a wrench. Toss in a few extras goodies such as a jack, a timing light and the gauge to measure spark plug gap and you were pretty well set.

While the basic principles of how an engine works really haven’t changed since Karl Benz rolled the very first automobile down a German street in 1885, how those principles are put into effect have.

Back in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on the moon. They, along with Michael Collins, made a perilous trip through space using the highest levels of technology at the time. It was mechanics and electronics and computers that allowed them to break the bonds of Earth and travel, for the first time, to a totally alien place.

Fifteen years later, the average car rolling out of Detroit had more sophisticated electronics and computers than the Apollo 11 spacecraft. And the vast amount of technology involved in that once simple automobile continues to grow.

“In the ‘50s and ‘60s we had a voltage regulator that might require an adjustment or replacement,” says Dave Yaros, lifelong car enthusiast and the editor of the Car Collector Chronicles (http://www.scribd.com/people/view/7936333-dave). “Now they have BCMs, ECMs, PCMs and TCMs. Then there are MAF, MAP and VSS sensors, to name but a few.”

That alphabet of letters Dave mentioned refer to such things as the Body Control Module, the Engine Control Module, the Powertrain Control Module, the Transmission Control Module, the Mass Air Flow Sensor, the Manifold Absolute Pressure Sensor and the Vehicle Speed Sensor. So needing the right tools and the proper knowledge to use them makes it difficult for the average person to be able to deal with basic car maintenance.

Dave believes that people still can do a lot of their own maintenance but just don’t. “Not worth their time, money or effort to do so,” he says. “Doing so would necessitate being ‘out of touch’ while under the car and the mantra for the 21st century is to be connected 24/7.” In addition to that, he adds, with today’s rules and regulations (stemming from EPA rules that started trickling in during the late 1960s and early 1970s), people would have to take on the responsibility of storing and recycling their own used motor oil.

And it wasn’t just the average person who was seeing changes caused by the technology. According to Doug, such innovations as self-adjusting brakes and then electronic ignitions caused a number of mechanics to get out of the business. These things that made cars “easier to maintain” were actually costing garages and mechanics income.

For example, when a car came into a shop, Doug explains, the mechanic would have the car up on the rack and adjust the brakes. “It gave the mechanics more chances to inspect; especially the underside of the cars for other problems that needed to be adjusted,” he says. “Seldom did a high mileage car get out the front door with just the $2 charge for brake adjustment.”

Ryan Becker, a mechanic at Arnold’s Marathon on old State Route 32 near New Richmond, knows that these technological leaps won’t be coming to an end anytime soon. “I go to these seminars to learn all of the new things, the new technologies. Pretty soon there will be computer control systems to every part of a car from steering to brakes. That means if you’re driving along and it fails you won’t be able to easily manually override it,” he says.

His father, Dave Becker, the owner of Arnold’s Marathon, pretty much summed it up: “The general motoring public has no idea. All of the electronics that (are) used today came from NASA. It was developed for the space program and is being used in cars today,” he said.

Many people think that this type of technological advancement makes our lives easier. But for a lot of people who are involved with classic and collectible cars, this “rise of the machines” is seen as the death knell for the hobby.

“Like most baby boomers cars were a big part of my culture while growing up,” says Dave Yaros. He adds that he got into cars long before he was old enough to get a driver’s license. “It was while watching and helping my dad take care of his cars,” he says. “I then purchased a car at age 15 so as to have it ready when I turned 16.”

Indeed, for Dave Yaros and most folks interested in these old cars, it was the vehicles to which they were first exposed while growing up that seem to hold their attention.

Dave Becker says “People are interested in the cars they knew growing up. They get older and because they have memories about one car or another that’s what they want to own.”

Though it isn’t universal, most of the people involved in this hobby have some emotional connection to the car or cars they own. Whether it was a car they first owned as a teenager, a car they remember from their youth, or a car that, the first time they ever saw it, made a huge impression, that became the automobile they longed for.

“I was reading in a classic car magazine not too long ago about this debate over what makes a classic car,” says Dave Becker. “Today you have people who grew up in the 1980s wanting to own a car from that era but a lot of the older people are saying those aren’t classic cars. Well, to the person who grew up with it, that’s a classic car.”

Even with those younger people looking at the cars from their youth, the classic car hobby is rapidly graying. “I do have a concern that all the old car buffs are old codgers, and there is little-to-no effort to attract young blood into the hobby,” says Dave Yaros. In fact, he has even addressed this in the current issue of the Car Collector Chronicles with a piece entitled “Graying of the Hobby.” In it, he talks about how young people today aren’t as invested in cars; not the way that his generation was.

“I do think current cars, with few exceptions found at the high end, will not become collectable precisely because there is very little distinguishable about them,” he said, adding that they are pretty much identical to one another. “Nor is there any sort of emotional attachment or personal identification with the cars today. Heck, most people do not even own a car today. They lease it. Consequently, automobiles are seen as a means of transport, not as an integral part of one’s lifestyle,” he said.

Doug Traylor has other reasons why current cars may not be sought after by today’s generation: “Parts availability. There will be non-access to new parts as the auto companies normally do not make them or sell them for cars over 10 years old. And the aftermarket will not address such a slow-selling market,” he says. “Most modern cars are ‘throw aways’ anyway. When it costs $800 to fix an electronic gas gauge people tend to junk cars that have a need for repairs costing more than the retail value of the car,” he concludes.

Much of the high costs of those repairs can be laid on the high cost of the technology. So even if someone from my son’s generation wanted to own a car from this current era, it would be difficult for him to do so. Anything he might develop an emotional attachment to would be next to impossible to keep and maintain when it becomes a classic.

So is the classic car hobby slowly dying? Is the advent of technology and the marketing strategies of the automobile companies making the classic car a thing of the past (pardon the pun)? Perhaps. What I’ve found at car shows and through my classic car blog is that many younger adults are discovering the cars that are currently classics and falling in love with them. They may someday be little more than museum pieces, but hopefully future generations will still want to enjoy them – no matter what the technology of the day.