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The psychology behind car collecting: why people do it

As hobbies go, it's definitely not a cheap one
  • On the surface, car collecting is a fun and exciting way to showcase your wealth and car knowledge
  • But what compels people to collect is a series of psychological mechanisms
  • We’re exploring what these are, from an appreciation for classic design to a need for control

Published on Apr 29, 2024 at 1:49PM (UTC+4)

Last updated on Apr 29, 2024 at 1:49PM (UTC+4)

Edited by Tom Wood
The psychology behind having a huge car collection
Felix Fuchs/Unsplash

An impressive car collection is the epitome of wealth and taste.

It’s rare for a wealthy person to have just one car, but some take the art of collecting to dizzying heights.

From lighthearted enthusiasm to deep-rooted feelings of insecurity, we’re delving into the psychology of building a huge car collection.

READ MORE: Saudi billionaire flew $1.2m fleet of gold cars to London so he could get about while on holiday

Why people collect

For many, car collecting starts with feelings of nostalgia, whether it’s a childhood dream car or just an icon from years gone by.

Jay Leno, for example, has many sentimental purchases in his garage, such as his 1955 Buick Roadmaster, which was his first car.

There is also a definite social element of car collecting, as enthusiasts will chat on online forums or meet up at events.

Plus it’s got to feel nice when people compliment one of your many cars while you’re out and about.

Brand loyalty can also come with perks, like the loyal Bugatti fan who was invited to bring his three record-breaking cars to Bugatti HQ.

Some collectors have an appreciation for design and aesthetics, viewing their car collection as a functional art collection.

Others see their cars ars tangible assets, as vintage or rare cars will appreciate over time.

Lastly, and perhaps most prominently, cars are a massive status symbol.

Having a collection of valuable and impressive cars can be a reflection of one’s identity, tastes, and position in society.

Nicki Minaj’s car collection shows exactly why she calls herself Barbie, while a Sikh billionaire owns 15 Rolls-Royces to match every color of his turbans.

The psychology behind building a car collection

Those with a large collection of cars feel a strong emotional bond to them.

Their cars bring them joy and comfort, even acting as a sort of companion to the owners.

These emotional bonds are formed through memories, experiences, and the symbolism of each car.

The act of collecting can also trigger the release of dopamine, which creates a sense of pleasure and reward.

Finding a rare model, anticipating a sale, restoring an old car: these are all immensely satisfying and addictive.

There is also a sense of fantasy and escapism associated with building up a garage.

Collectors can get lost in tinkering, polishing and general upkeep, as well as dreaming about what to buy next.

At its most basic form, car collecting is purely joyful.

Many collectors, however, also struggle with feelings of control.

Their collection will require upkeep and careful attention and provides a safe way for them to have control in a chaotic world.

Once someone has started a car collection, it’s rare for them to ever feel like they’ve got enough.

This can lead to feelings of inadequacy or trying to keep up with appearances like certain celebrities pretending they have a fleet when they don’t.

Challenges of collecting

Some collectors display obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

This will manifest by fixating on acquiring certain models, keeping their fleet impeccably clean and organized, or spending hours and a fortune on restoration projects.

Having an eye for detail is crucial to being a successful car collector, but not if it overshadows the joy of the hobby.

Collecting cars requires a lot of space, and some models will need climate-controlled facilities.

If you don’t have the correct storage solution your cars could become damaged and disorganized.

One Emirati royal’s collection is so big he has had to spread it out over four separate museums.

And one Indian billionaire houses all 170 of his cars in a 27-storey skyscraper.

Investing in rare and valuable cars can pay off hugely, but is also a financial risk.

The market could swing and completely devalue your car, or you could come into unexpected restoration or upkeep costs.

Some, however, find this risk to be part of the thrill.

Despite the risks involved, the allure of collecting classic and exotic vehicles will likely never fade.

Not only are these collector’s items beautiful to look at, but they serve a function too.

As one car collector responded when asked why he pours all of his money into automobiles instead of elsewhere: “Because you can’t drive a painting.”

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