Entrance hall to the Metaverse

  • 07 May 2023
  • 3 min read
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Entrance hall to the Metaverse  image

Fritz Kaiser launched TCCT “The Classic Car Trust” in 2013: a bold project that aimed to give classic cars from the last century a sustainable future in the new millennium. This has now led to the creation of „Roarington, the Classic Car Metaland“, a virtual ecosystem for classic cars: an exciting journey into a fascinating future.

It’s a marriage between classic cars of 20th century and the digital present of the 21st century – and you can experience it at the eClassic Lounge on Herrengasse in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. This is where you will also find a very real 1947 Cisitalia 202 – an aesthetic and technical masterpiece by Pininfarina. This iconic car’s brother is kept at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, where it is celebrated as a ground-breaking example of post-war automotive design. The Cisitalia provides the backdrop to two simulators, equipped with the latest simulation technology and styled by design superstars Pininfarina and Zagato. Old and new have been brought together, and this meeting of worlds has been given a name: Roarington. Physical classic cars have been taken into the Metaverse by creating digital twins that can be driven on historic race tracks in the simulator. The driving experience is uncannily authentic: almost as though you really were driving a Cisitalia round the racetrack in the last century.

Fritz Kaiser, you presided over the birth of Roarington. Is this the fulfilment of a boyhood dream for a lifelong autophile?
Kaiser: I didn't grow up with gasoline in my blood, if that's what you mean. I’m an entrepreneur and at a young age I helped some famous sportsmen manage their financial affairs. One of these was a Formula 1 driver, for whom I negotiated contracts with Ferrari and McLaren. It helped that I was interested in the automotive market.

And this interest has never left you?,
Somehow I’ve got deeper and deeper into it. One of my companies marketed the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) for ten years after it started. I went on to become partner and chairman of the Red Bull Sauber Petronas Formula 1 racing team. And then the latest push into this world came about fifteen years ago.

What was that?
As I was saying goodbye to a businessman I had met at an event, he said with a twinkle in his eye that he was just off to a rally for classic cars in Morocco. It captured my imagination right away. I bought myself a Jaguar XK 140 Drop Head Coupé and drove it in the following year's rally. Two years later, my wife Birgit and I won the Morocco Classic Rally in a Mercedes 300 SL Roadster. This really fired my interest and my passion for classic cars.

Fritz Kaiser founded The Classic Car Trust (TCCT) in 2013. His initial aim was rather broad: to ensure that classic cars from the last century had a future in the new millennium. But this soon led to some very specific questions. What are the challenges for different stakeholders in this market? For manufacturers, collectors, dealers, auction houses, organizers, museums and restorers? How is the classic car market organized? Who is thinking about how the market is changing and where it is heading? How are modern environmental views and the rise of electric cars influencing the market? What do current mobility trends mean for the ongoing value of classic vehicles? His desire to gain a better understanding of the market as a whole has led Fritz Kaiser to explore some central questions deeply, and to initiate various market studies.

“The Classic Car Trust aims to ensure that classic cars from the last century have a future in the new millennium.”

Apart from any business interest, why are you interested in these issues?
Fritz Kaiser: Idealism plays a part. Take a look back at history. After the watershed of the Second World War, a new attitude to life emerged in society. Cars became a status symbol in a developing consumer society, and individual mobility became an important driver of economic prosperity. The automobiles of the industrial age made an important contribution to our present prosperity.

That’s all true, but does that still justify us attaching so much importance to these cars – what we now see as classics – today?
These cars were much more than status symbols that let people in the middle of the last century show off how well they were doing. They reflect the spirit of technological innovation that prevailed at the time and are often unique in terms of form, design and craftsmanship. Their magic, born from the engineers’ and designers’ passion for experimentation, is still apparent today. Back then, manufacturers used the Mille Miglia to showcase their new models. Those vehicles have become today’s classics and they continue to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, that line the roadside from Brescia to Rome and back.

Could we still make cars like that today?
Many of the classics from that time are unique cultural assets and, as such, actually run counter to today's aerodynamic but interchangeable cars, which are industrially manufactured using the same chassis platforms and the same kind of components.

“These cars reflect the spirit of technological innovation and are unique in terms of form, design and craftsmanship.”

You have conducted numerous studies of the classic car market since TCCT was founded, and continue to collect a wealth of data. What insights have you drawn from this?
This is a niche market with significant emotional values originating in the last century. Some collectors' pieces can easily be worth several million. I’m talking about the value of a single car. The 100 most important collectors in the world own cars that together are worth more than 10 billion dollars. These assets are looking for a sustainable future at a time of rapid and fundamental change.

How do you mean?
The most important collectors are often in their seventies or older. Our data shows that the market has a succession problem. This raises a question: who will take up the baton? Will it be the daughters and sons of current collectors? Do they still have any interest in or affinity with classic cars? And then the price of collectable cars is so high today that you wonder who in the young generation could afford them. Other cultural assets benefit from better conditions. The fine arts, for example. Art is taught at schools. Art museums loom much larger in the public consciousness than car museums. Why art has so much greater significance than cars as a cultural asset is a matter of speculation.

What conclusions do you draw from this?
Fritz Kaiser: That we must address the issue as a high priority. That the global classic car community needs to organize itself to ensure these important cultural assets are not forgotten and lost. Because this wouldn’t just mean that some collectors’ pieces suffer a painful drop in value; it would fundamentally change the DNA of traditional car brands and the memory of their historic racing successes.

The Mille Miglia is now a kind of moving museum. But the spirit of the times is pointing towards protecting the environment, e-mobility and public transport. Is there still a place for roaring engines?
Well the facts can’t be denied. There are already some cities that won’t let classic cars drive on the streets without a special permit. So we need to find new ways and means to prevent these great cars from rusting away in garages, and losing billions of dollars of value.

Fritz Kaiser believes that this niche market can only have a healthy future if the major players in the automotive and classic car scene work together and rally round a shared goal. His personal contribution to this overarching goal is to organize TCCT Forum events that bring these people round the table to discuss ideas that might secure a future for the scene. It helps that he can tap into the personal contacts he made during his time in Formula 1. One of these is Jean Todt, formerly Team Director of Ferrari F1 and President of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). Together with Todt, Fritz Kaiser organized what he calls “a small World Economic Forum for the Classic Car market” at the FIA headquarters in Paris in 2019, which brought together sixty key figures from the scene.

Among other things, the group discussed the data collected on the classic car market at the time, and sketched out possible ways of inspiring enthusiasm for classic cars among the younger generation. It seemed clear to everyone that advances in digitalization could play a decisive role.

Fritz Kaiser concluded the forum with a pithy call to arms: “to promote old cars with young people” and to analyze “eSports for Classic Cars”. The Paris Meeting in 2019 thus saw the birth of eClassic. Unsurprisingly he also took “young people” from his own family on this journey. His son Alex Kaiser was at that time completing his final semesters at university in Madrid.

“To promote old cars with young people,” is Fritz Kaiser's summary of one of TCCT’s main goals. What made a “young person” like you want to join your father's project?
Alex Kaiser: Originally, it was just a matter of me finding time out from my studies to help my father with some of the things discussed at the Paris meeting: “eSports with Classic Cars” quickly became the main focus of attention.

How so?
We conducted a survey on social media and classic cars because we wanted to know the extent to which classic cars are being discussed in the digital gaming world and on the relevant forums. We found that classic cars aren’t a particularly prevalent subject, but that when they are discussed, they trigger large and persistent numbers of reactions and comments.

What do you conclude from this?
That in these circles classic cars are valued far more than brand-new ones. It also means that as you work down the age pyramid, interest in classic cars doesn’t just come to a halt, but that we can get young people inspired if we take the right approach.

“This is a billion dollar niche market and these assets are looking for a sustainable future at a time of rapid and fundamental change.”

This insight is driving the story forward. Also in 2019, Fritz Kaiser and his two sons Alex and Max attended the traditional classic car event in Pebble Beach, California. They took part in the competition with their Lamborghini Miura, which was made world famous by the film “The Italian Job”, and received one of the coveted awards. Some technically advanced simulators where on show at the event – Aston Martin had one at an exhibition there. They also visited the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, where there is a gaming room. A bold vision was born: to develop simulators for classic cars that match the quality of the physical originals in terms of design, so that even young digital natives say: “That’s cool!” It’s not an easy task. A project objective was defined: “We want to develop a high-end simulator that matches the technical level of Formula 1 simulators, with a classic car look and feel, with easy operation and a great driving experience.”

And? How was that possible?
Fritz Kaiser: It was a complex project that we mostly managed remotely during the Covid pandemic. We asked the company Racing Unleashed to take their Formula 1 simulator and convert it for classic cars. Based on Assetto Corsa Pro’s simulation software, we developed our own classic car world; and then the famous designers at Pininfarina and Zagato created the simulators, which are modern masterpieces. To keep things simple we developed our own starter system and an app that makes it easy to navigate this new digital world of classic cars. Finally, a professional Formula 1 test driver helped us adjust the motion engine to match the driving experience typical of specific classic cars.

What did this landmark achievement mean?
It meant we now had a marketable product. The next job was to launch these incredibly innovative and beautiful simulators on the market. It stands as a use-case that shows what this technology is capable of when packaged in a classic car design.

St. Moritz. Summer 2021. Bernina Gran Turismo St. Moritz. The traditional Bernina hill-climb race for classic cars. 52 bends. 5.7 kilometers of road to race on. 500 meters of ascent from start to finish. The ideal backdrop for presenting the Pininfarina and Zagato classic car simulators to a wider public for the first time. 76 participants have registered. They experience a world’s first. Six simulators have been set up in a paddock at the Grand Hotel Kempinski in St. Moritz. The race-day buzz is palpable. Participants can only start the real race if they first complete a training run round the mountain course on the simulator. It’s an unprecedented training offer, which will make the racing safer and is gratefully accepted by the drivers.

“We need to promote old cars with young people.”

How did you get the Bernina mountain route onto the simulator?
Alex Kaiser: First of all we hired geologists who usually specialize in surveying caves. We felt this was necessary because the route and its surroundings present a challenging topography full of valleys and mountains. We got precise altitude measurements from satellite data.

How did you scan the roads so accurately?
We scanned them at thirty-meter intervals with LiDAR scanners, which send lasers in all directions and back again. This gave us a point cloud representing the roads and mountains. All this data was then transferred into a 3D model, which was a complex process, and finally tested on the simulator. The car we used was a Porsche Carrera 911 from the 1980s, because these models often won the Bernina mountain race in the past. But you could of course use a digital twin of any real classic car.

The discussion about classic cars in the digital space, simulators and digital twins of real cars continues to move forward. It has now extended to non-fungible tokens, the Metaverse and its significance for the classic car market. A year later, TCCT once again sent out invitations to the forum in St. Moritz to a presentation of what Fritz Kaiser calls “the next big thing”. A small group of eClassic founder members and selected key figures are talking about the vision of a “Classic Car Metaland”. Markus Gross, ETH researcher and Disney Chief Scientist, presents an overview of the Metaverse. At the end of the forum one thing is clear: TCCT is continuing to pursue this path into the Classic Car Metaland – which it now calls Roarington.

“We are enhancing the real-life world with new technological opportunities and create great new lifestyle experiences with classic cars that are also accessible to a younger generation.”

Will this be the end of the story?
Fritz Kaiser: With Roarington, we are building a virtual ecosystem for classic cars – a kind of digital overlay of our real-life classic car scene. We are enhancing the real-life world with new technological opportunities and creating great new lifestyle experiences with classic cars that are also accessible to a younger generation. In this phase Roarington, the Classic Car Metaland, is entering the Metaverse using a combination of innovative technologies that already work today. This is turning the hitherto unthinkable into a fascinating reality. For me, this is the entrance hall to the Metaverse.