Classic cars are a notable subject of debate.
The definition of ‘classic’ varies when it comes to cars. There is no set criteria or definition as to what constitutes a “classic car.” Parameters differ due to many factors such as location, car club policies, government definition and insurance and taxation.
We often misuse the word "classic" when it comes to cars. Sometimes it is based purely on nostalgia. There are also lots of newer definitions that have come to the fore in recent years, such as “modern classics.”
Generally, the three main categories of historical vehicles are classic, vintage and antique.
What is a classic car?
The general rule of thumb is to look at age and historical interest. Typically, vehicles 25 years and older are “classic.” But this can vary depending on your country or car club!
For example, the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) defines a “Full Classic” as a “fine or distinctive automobile, American or foreign built, produced only between 1915 and 1948.”
The CCCA definition also states a “classic” was a “high-priced, top end vehicle when new and was built in limited quantities.” Mass-produced assembly line vehicles are not considered classic.
However, the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) recognises “motorised vehicles 25 years old or older, which were built in factories and specifically designed and manufactured for transportation use on public roadways and highways.”
The Vintage Car Club of Canada recognises vehicles that are 25 years and older as “classic.”
In the United Kingdom, there is no set definition. However, tax policy is a useful guideline. Vehicles older than 40 years are exempt when it comes to paying annual road tax. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the UK government’s department for collecting taxes, defines a “classic car” as being over 15 years old and valued over £15,000.
The vehicle in question should be as close to the manufacturer’s original specification as possible. Heavily-modified or restored “RestoMod” vehicles are not considered “classic.”
In pop culture, magazines and television shows can have an impact on whether a car can be considered “classic” or “collectible.” Opinions on definitions remain largely subjective: for some people, a car’s age is the leading factor. For others, it could be the vehicle’s historical importance.
What is an antique car?
The next two categories can cause confusion. There are sometimes overlaps between classic , vintage and antique cars.
Some groups classify “classic cars” as being between 25 and 40 years old. Antique cars are generally considered to be cars that are 45 years and older. So, as a rule of thumb, antique cars are older than classic cars.
Again, vehicles must consist of original materials and components according to manufacturer specifications. Heavily modified vehicles would not necessarily be considered antique. However, some modification may be allowed in certain cases where original components are hard to find/replace.
As of 2020, cars made pre-1975 can be considered “antique.”
What is a vintage car?
Vintage cars are generally classed as vehicles manufactured between 1919 and 1930, such as the “Brass Era". Some groups only class vehicles made pre-1925 as vintage. Older hot rods are not generally considered vintage.
The terms “classic”, “antique” and “vintage” can differ in definition between countries and states. Similarly, they can also differ between insurance companies or for tax purposes. It is always worth researching what category your car falls under.
What is a modern classic car?
“Modern” classics are a hotly-debated category which differs depending on generation. Roughly defined, modern classic cars are vehicles that are 15 years or older.
However, many factors contribute to identifying a modern classic car. For instance, is it an iconic vehicle?
The term “future classics” refers to vehicles that could be deemed classic further in time. Identifying future classics and keeping an eye out for upcoming trends is an important aspect of collectible car culture.
What makes classic cars valuable?
Several key factors determine whether a classic car is valuable. The car’s age can be significant, as can the make and model year. Some manufacturers are more desirable, while some models are rarer than others. Limited production runs of vehicles can often have a significant effect, although rarity does not guarantee value!
Provenance is also very important – this is a detailed, chronological history of the car’s ownership timeline since its production. Who has owned the car? Where has the car been? It is important to determine value and authenticity. The higher a car’s provenance, the more value the vehicle is likely to command.
Popularity among collectors, design, mileage, usage and the vehicle’s original price also help determine value. The condition of the car carries great importance – cars in perfect condition are usually more valuable.
Are classic cars a good investment?
For the most part, yes. The classic car market has grown substantially over the past 50 years, more so than other popular investment markets like art. However, in the last two years, the collectible car market has begun to steady.
Racing Edge spoke to industry experts about what makes collectible cars an attractive, alternative investment.