This has been a big year for Hagerty, which calls itself “an automotive enthusiast brand offering a specialty automotive insurance platform” and is known for its deep love and knowledge of classic cars. In June, the company announced its acquisition of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, following on the heels of the buyout of the Concours d’Elegance of America, the California Mille, and the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance.
Some enthusiasts are wary, expressing concern about Hagerty snapping up so many prime events. Questions have been bandied about regarding the homogenization of car events and whether it’s a good idea for one company to have so much influence. McKeel Hagerty, the second generation of leaders of the business, says it all falls under its mission to save car culture. Chat with him for two minutes and you may find yourself a believer, too.
McKeel approaches the company that bears his family name with a measure of Zen and a side of deep conviction. Before he returned to Traverse City, Michigan to work his way up the ladder, he earned his undergraduate degree in English and Philosophy from Pepperdine in California and went on to get a Master’s degree in Theology from Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, following up with further studies in Philosophy and Classics. It’s not the pedigree you might expect of someone entrenched in the top echelons of the automotive industry.
Then again, McKeel sees the business through the lens of a broad worldview.
“I’m kind of joking, but not really: loving things like cars is a kind of religion for people.”
As a shepherd of car culture, McKeel and his team are spreading the good word through events. His dynamic wife Soon Hagerty–who has an impressive resume of her own–now leads the company’s public relations, corporate social responsibility, events, and brand strategy. Together, they’re focused on making it easier for events to operate successfully and bring more cars to the public.
McKeel says his vision is to have a galaxy of events that represent different segments of the car world; it just so happens that the first few events that we acquired are Concours, the fanciest of the event realm. Hagerty also launched a more upscale product called Garage + Social in Toronto, Chicago, Delray Beach, and New York, where enthusiasts can enjoy garage space and events over a tumbler of Scotch and fellowship.
Concours events and other events that come with a higher price tag are not everyone’s proverbial cup of tea, McKeel recognizes, and praises Cars and Coffee meetups as the backbone of car culture.
“Cars and Coffee events have been maybe the biggest Godsend to come to the car world since I don’t know what,” he says. “They’re usually on a Saturday morning and for about two hours you show up and wander around, have a cup of coffee and you leave. An everyday car might be parked next to somebody who has a brand new Ford F150 pickup truck that he’s just as proud as punch to have. And maybe that’s next to somebody’s Ferrari or Bentley or something. I think that the openness of a cars and coffee model is more accessible to a lot of people.”
As for the concerns about homogenization, McKeel says there is a balance in place.
“Some homogenization is probably good, like standardizing ticketing registration for an event and making sure security and access and all those things are done well and professionally,” he says. “But one of the things that we’re very, very aware of (especially for Concours events like those in Greenwich and Amelia Island) they all have very unique characteristics that make them special. We want to preserve that.”
Another consideration is sponsorship dollars, and Hagerty is focused on helping events of all kinds to secure the funding they need to keep going. They’re also taking the pressure off manufacturers by giving them a broad view of events across the board to help them manage limited budgets. Each event is a small business, and McKeel is determined to help keep them alive, especially after the events of the last year and a half have decimated so many of them.
Just last week, Hagerty announced a merger with Aldel Financial Inc. and its intent to go public; that could fund a lot of Cars and Coffee meetups. Find the parking lots nearest you where local events are happening and support them too.
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