Car Culture For Leaders and Influencers

By: jwilder

For those of us that enjoy cars, we might take the culture we enjoy for granted.

what is car culture
Photo: James Wilder. The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan.

Grow Car Culture

Car culture is more than entertainment and more than a hobby.

A culture that defines itself, communicates its identity inwardly and outwardly, and deliberately seeks to strengthen connections within the larger culture, is in a strong position for growth.

Here are three steps to understand and grow car culture.

1. Understand the definition of car culture.
2. Look at concrete examples of the culture.
3. Create and utilize connections to advance car culture.

Who Should Be Interested

There are many varied stakeholders within the realm of car culture.

Who should pay close attention to this information?

  • Leadership in car clubs.
  • Event promoters.
  • Museums and art institutions.
  • Business owners.
  • City tourism promoters.
  • City planners.
  • News Journalists.
  • Automotive Journalists.
  • Social media influencers.
  • Car culture citizens

Identifying and leveraging the connections between stakeholders, subcultures, institutions and businesses strengthens the culture as a whole.

Car Culture Definition

As a reminder, this is our definition of car culture:

Car Culture: The shared beliefs, values, customs, language, arts, institutions, achievements, purpose, and goals of a group or society of people that have an affinity for the automobile.

Car Culture Components

This next section looks at the major components of car culture.

  • The cars (types, styles, eras).
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Traditions
  • Language
  • The Arts, Artists, Movies, Media
  • Achievements
  • Institutions
  • Design and Engineering
  • Architecture

This is a huge (and incomplete) list, but it illustrates the depth and breadth of car culture.

The Cars

There is not one car culture.

Car culture is made up of a multitude of interests and subcultures.

If we focus only on cars, we see there are many subcultures.

Antique automobiles, classic cars, traditional hot rods, street rods, kustoms, lead sleds, rat rods, muscle cars, slabs, donks, sports cars, supercars, exotics, concours d'elegance, tuners, lowriders, electric cars, offroad, trucks, vans, station wagons, hearses, military vehicles, art cars, and on and on.

Subcultures also form around specific brands.

MOPAR or NO CAR is a crystal clear creed.

Even cars that don't have a distinctive style, are known for their decade or decades (The RADwood event celebrates cars build in the 80s and 90s).

Americans love European cars. Europeans love American cars.

Citroen fans? Many.

I know I missed many car enthusiast categories. The interests and subcultures are endless.


The car is a means of self expression. It should be custom and personal to the owner.

Other beliefs range from precision engineering high technology to backyard ingenuity build it yourself.

As far as driving is concerned, on one side the only concern is speed.

"Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting." -Steve McQueen

Some like to cruise low and slow.

Some like metal flake and rich colors and some like flat black and patina.

Some groups place a high value on preserving history and education.

You can have your own beliefs or have a strong connection with a tribe.


Subcultures have specific values such as:

  • Honor, respect, brotherhood, loyalty.
  • Compassion, service to others.
  • Patriotism, God and country.
  • Driving skill, courage, speed.
  • Self expression, art, style.


Every tribe has specific traditions. They cruise together on Saturday night, they go to specific car events every year. They share a clothing style, music and heroes. Some of wear hats, t-shirts, polos, and even shoes that are valued by a specific tribe.

Traditions play an important role in connecting and perpetuating the culture.


While car culture doesn't have its own language, it certainly does have its unique lingo or slang. Enough where outsiders don’t have a clue about what they're hearing.

The Arts and Artists

Most car enthusiasts enjoy automotive art, photography, Who doesn't love the Beach Boys, Surf Music, Rock-a-Billy, Lowbrow art, Rat Fink, Kustom Culture.

Go to any car show and you will find the men and women that create art. You will find airbrush artists and pinstripers that will paint on anything you have.


Movies are one of the highest forms of celebrating car culture. Story telling is crucial to understanding and celebrating car culture.

Iconic car movies include Grand Prix (1966), Bullitt (1968), American Graffiti (1973), The California Kid (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Cannonball Run (1981), The Fast and the Furious (2001), Cars (2006), Senna (2010), and many more.


Every subculture has its automotive heroes: race car drivers, custom car builders, artists, car designers, photographers. Museums are the highest forms of institutions that celebrate and educate.


There are many institutions and organizations associated with car culture.

Organizations such as Formula 1 (F1), National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), National Hot Rod Institute (NHRA), Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA), Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA), Classic Car Club of America (CCCA), Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), and many more.

Our culture also includes honoring the past with car museums such as Petersen Automotive Museum, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, The Henry Ford, Route 66 organizations and many more.

Design and Engineering

Cars designed for enthusiasts are typically considered a work of art. The designs evoke a sense of life almost to the point you believe it is a living soul.


Architecture, shaped by car culture, gave us drive-in movie theaters, diners, motels, and even a style of architecture called Googie that started in California in the late 1940s and spread across the nation.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright had strong ideas about how the car was integral to daily living. He even coined the phrase carport.

Road Trips and Roadside Attractions

Road Trips and Roadside Attractions. Once our vehicles became reliable enough for the whole family to travel longer distances, the leisure road trip was born. Every summer the family would load the car and head a few hundred miles away to some resort or landmark. Motels started springing up, as well as full service gas stations. Businesses would build outrageous or fantastic to capture the traveler's attention.

Benefits of the Big Picture

Here are a few examples to illustrate the benefits of seeing the big picture.

  • Institutions can improve marketing efforts, get more visitors and increase awareness of the cause.
  • Car club leadership can communicate their vision and mission more effectively in order to grow membership.
  • Media and influencers will have a better understanding of local car culture and write more informed articles.
  • Event promoters can build personal connections among the influencers and leaders and improve their marketing power.
  • Businesses can identify more opportunities to better serve customers and increase profits.

As subcultures, institutions, leaders, business owners, marketers, and media, you can maximize your efforts by identifying and leveraging the connections within the culture as a whole.

Take Action

At the bare minimum, here is the one thing you can do to maximize your efforts and contribute to the growth of car culture.

Identify and make connections with the leaders in the major areas of car culture.

  • Identify local institutions (museums, art galleries, etc.)
  • Identify popular car events.
  • Identify businesses that serve car enthusiasts.
  • Identify the best organized car clubs.
  • Identify writers, bloggers, and influencers.

Reach out and introduce yourself to another group. Reach out before you have a need. Establish a meaningful connection. Offer help before asking a favor.

Once you establish and build trusted and respectful connections, achieving your desired results is much easier.

Long Live Car Culture

Anyone that proclaims "car culture is dead" has no clue what car culture is.

Car culture is far from dead.

But here is a warning. Any culture that does not evolve, educate, recruit and communicate is a silent and misunderstood culture.

Car culture is is increasingly becoming a negative term. And honestly, it's our responsibility to fix.

The way to grow car culture is to clearly understand the depth of what a culture is, and then communicate that understanding to all.

James Wilder

James Wilder is the owner, writer, photographer, designer, and developer for MOTOR Texas.


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