DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Last year, Dave Rodham bought two Ford Mustangs -- a red one because it looked cool and then a white one with a big V-8 engine because it sounded cool.
For Rodham, 63 and retired, those were his 50th and 51st cars.
"I have to have a new car every year-and-a-half to two years," said Rodham, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who said he pays cash for his cars. "After I retired 10 years ago, I didn't have anything else to do, so I went out and bought new cars."
For generations, car buying declined as consumers entered their golden years. Now, boomers are refusing to follow their parents' lead and go quietly into the car buying night.
The 55-to-64-year-old age group, the oldest of the boomers, has become the cohort most likely to buy a new car, according to a new study by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute. Graying boomers replaced the 35-to-44 year old age group, who were most likely to buy four years ago.
The findings show there are plenty of miles left in boomers' automotive passions and pocketbooks. They also suggest the billions the auto industry spends to try to woo the elusive Generation Y, the children of the boomers, would generate a higher return on investment if targeted at older drivers.
"You shouldn't be chasing the younger people, you should be looking at the older people," said Michael Sivak, author of the study. "Baby boomers are trying to extend their youth as long as they can, both in terms of taking care of their bodies and in their expenditures."
And the recession is extending the working years and peak earnings period of the 76 million Americans who were born from 1946 through 1964 in a post-World War II birth boom.
"People's nest eggs were decreased, including their retirement portfolios, by the recession," said Lacey Plache, chief economist for auto researcher Edmunds.com "We can expect these people to be in the workforce longer and, as a result, buying cars longer."
There's also a strong psychological reason driving boomers back to the car dealer's lot year after year: Their cars define them.
"The car was a phenomenon of the 20th Century," said John Wolkonowicz, a Boston-based automotive historian and a former Ford Motor Co. product planner. "For people who grew up and lived in the 20th century, the car was freedom, it was status, it was an extension of you, a visible expression of you and your personality. A 20-year-old doesn't see the car the same way."