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Boomers self-indulge behind the wheel Automotion

By Renee Berg

The Post-Bulletin

The baby boomer generation has a way of changing society, ushering in rock ‘n’ roll, longer hairstyles, political activism and antiwar rallies.

They leave their mark on the automotive world as well, with their tastes and budgets bringing in the era of sporty yet affordable cars like the Ford Mustang. Later, they’d help foster popularity of minivans and sport utility vehicles.

Now they’ve arrived at the age long associated with the "mid-life crisis car," says Sylvia Marino, executive director of CarSpace.com. But these days reward mobiles might be a better term for the cars the 50-plus set is driving.

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They’re buying upscale cars they view as a personal reward for their years of sacrifice, whether it’s a Porsche Boxster or a hybrid.

"Their kids are off to college and they say, ‘It’s my turn to buy the car I want,’" said Paul Woodward, salesman at Park Place BMW in Rochester.

Baby boomers who hit the BMW lot might head toward the 335i coupe, a first-of-its kind hard-top convertible, or a 745 iL, a 4-door sedan. Woodward said older drivers favor the sedan’s new design, comfortable ride and user-friendly navigational screen. BMW’s impressive warranty also drives sales, he said.

Woodward also sees shoppers heading toward Park Place’s Audis, with boomers sometimes opting for the Audi A6 or A8, both sedans.

Other boomers these days decide they want the classic and/or muscle cars that glided through their youth. An immaculately restored Pontiac GTO, Ford Mustang or Cadillac El Dorado from the 1960s might be their idea of a reward mobile. Such a vehicle would have been impossible to own in their teens but, having reached this point in their lives, they can splurge.

Don Koster of Rochester chose to revisit his youth when he bought his first restored Ford, a 1957 Retractable, and later added to his garage a 1956 Ford Thunderbird. Koster, 65, grew up helping out at his father’s gas station in Tyler, Minn., and worked on these models as a kid.

"I was always looking for one and my wife said, ‘You better get one before you get too old to drive it,’" Koster said.

He now takes his children and grandchildren out for drives in the vehicles on weekends. The Retractable can carry six passengers, but the family must wait their turn for a spot in the two-seat Thunderbird.

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Daimler-Chrysler took note of the love for nostalgia among boomers when it reintroduced the Dodge Charger for the 2006 model year. Its design was reminiscent of vintage 1960s versions but the four doors were a nod to how boomers’ tastes had evolved.

Like Chrysler PT Cruisers and Ford Mustangs of recent model years, the Charger offers feel-good retro styling with all the latest in comfort, safety, performance and technology features, as well as impressive fuel economy.

"A lot of people who were and are interested in the Charger are boomers who loved that car in years past," Marino said. "They could go out and buy a classic muscle car. They want just the pure enjoyment of driving it."

Rochester’s Arlen Gronseth, 57, describes his 1957 Chevy as "top of the line." That behind-the-wheel enjoyment is also tops on Koster’s list for why he likes his Ford Retractable and Ford Thunderbird.

"The feel is great," Koster said. "They’re big, solid, nice cars and sporty."

Marino of CarSpace.com said desires change for drivers as they head toward retirement. Their buying power finally matches their interests.

"When you start to get into your mid- to late-40s and into your 50s, and your kids are off to college, there’s a stage where you’re established in your career and you’re not obligated anymore," Marino said. "And you say, ‘The car I’m getting is just for me.’ You have more buying power at that stage and your choices are influenced by what do you want in your life at that point, not about the pocketbook issues of your 20s."

That boomers are indulging their most fervent desires on dealer lots shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Marino said it’s the culmination of long years behind the wheel of vehicles they were forced to own but didn’t covet.

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"When you’re in your teens and 20s, you get whatever you can (afford)," Marino said. "It’s a time for buying decisions built on the economics of the time, whether student loans or entry-level jobs. It’s about, What can I afford now that will get me from Point A to Point B?"

Material from CTW Features is included in this article.

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