Montana’s Car Culture

It is a beautiful, summer, Montana morning. You hop into your classic 1960s era Mustang. You start it up and hear that engine come alive. To any car enthusiast, cold-starting your car is the best sound in the world. Americans love their cars and trucks. Montanans are no different from the rest of America when it comes to loving their rides.

When most think of Montana, they are most likely thinking about big, diesel pickup trucks with mud tires, a lift kit, and exhaust pipes that you can hear from across town. This is partially the truth. Montanans love their trucks. They are the workhorse for many people in towns all across the state. These trucks do the heavy lifting on farms and ranches. They help people reach hidden rivers to fish, and quiet mountainsides to hunt. The community of truck owners is very large, especially in this beautiful part of the country. Pickup trucks are amazing pieces of machinery for their durability, last-ability, and the ability to be outfitted and customized to the owner’s liking. However, there is much more than just the good old American pickup truck community— and it may be a surprise to those who are not familiar with Montana. 

In the beautiful summers of Montana, people love to bring out their prized possessions— the American muscle car. Bozeman has a blend of both the American icons of the 1960s and 1970s and their modern counterparts. Cars like the first generation of Ford Mustangs, the Dodge Charger R/T, the Plymouth Roadrunner, all come out in the summertime. Seeing these vehicles around town is always a treat. There is no mistaking the sound of a carbureted motor. When one of these classic cars comes around the corner, every head turns to see what is going on. The best part is, if you see the owners around town, you can almost always strike up a conversation with them. That is what is so special about the car community— no matter where you are from, people will talk about cars all day long with you.

Since this is Montana, all-wheel-drive vehicles are pretty much a necessity in the winter besides a four-wheel-drive truck. The most popular manufacturer in town for these AWD cars is not American, it is the wagons, hatchbacks, SUVs, and sedans from Japan— more specifically, Subaru. The Subaru Outbacks are among the most popular choice for their affordability and reliability on the roads. You can always find these cars with roof racks built for skis and snowboards for the winter or extra storage for the ones who like to go out to camp in the summer. One of these cars has a following like no other and even has a community of its own and that belongs to the Subaru WRX (short for World Rally Extreme). These cars are affordable and easily modifiable. They gained popularity due to the fact that these cars dominated the sport of rally racing in the 1990s due to excellent all-wheel-drive platform, superior suspension, and engine reliability.

Another popular car manufacturer that Montanans love is Audi. Audi combines luxury, sportiness, and the dependability of German engineering. Most people from out of the state probably do not see Montanans driving an Audi, but there is definitely a community of car enthusiasts that love the European automobiles. Audi dominates over Mercedes-Benz and BMW here, simply because Audi offers vehicles with AWD in most of their models. 

To the average consumer, a car is just a tool to get from point A to point B. They might say that loving cars is just a hobby. However, to the real purist car enthusiast, it is more than a hobby— it is a passion and a lifestyle. A car or truck is an extension of one’s personality. These people put in hours of sweat, blood, and tears (and dropping the 10mm socket into the engine bay) to work on their vehicles and do what they love best. Automotive enthusiasts understand each other. It is a community of people that always have each other’s backs. Car culture is very expansive because no matter what state you happen to find yourself in, there are always car shows, car meetups, and groups to join.

One of the liberties we have in Montana is that fact that there are plenty of open roads to explore that are not all jammed up with traffic. Go for a cruise in your car with the windows rolled down and enjoy the summer. Is there a meetup near you? Go to that car meet. You never know who you will meet there. The car culture that Montana offers is welcoming and there are new people and new friends to meet all the time. Are you a photographer? Go try and shoot some photos of cars. Cars and photography are a great blend of art and passion. There is so much to do in the automotive world. Share your knowledge, meet new people, inspire the next generation of automotive enthusiasts, and keep Montana’s car culture alive and well.

The car culture does not discriminate. As long as you are passionate about the automotive world, there is a place for you in this vast community. Sure, there is some competition between the truck and American muscle fans and those who are fans of European cars or JDM cars (Japanese Domestic Market), but in the end we all share the same passion.  Again, this culture, the cars we drive, are an extension of who we are and our personalities. 

If you are interested in meeting a variety of people, or are a car enthusiast yourself, be sure to stop by the “Cruisin’ On Main” Annual Car Show on Sunday, August 18th from 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. People from all over Montana come to share their passions with their fellow Montanans. Stop by to meet the people who make up Montana’s great car enthusiast community and culture.   

Jake Culbertson has been an automotive enthusiast and photographer for the last 5 years. He is currently a student at Montana State University.