Except for most pre-wars cars there is not a standard definition as to what constitutes a classic car. Does it matter that there is no clear view?
For very old vehicles, typically built before about 1930, there are clear definitions. Vintage (before 1905), Edwardian (1905 to 1918) and Veteran (1919 to 1930) all have formal, and widely accepted, definitions. It is similar elsewhere with Classic and Full Classic in the USA.
Classic Car is Widely Used but a Poorly Understood Term, Old Cars Are Classics
It seems to be fully accepted that any car more than 25 years old qualifies as a classic. However it becomes less clear with younger models.
Insurance companies (UK) tend towards using 20 years or older as the qualifying age for special classic car insurance. The UK tax authorities use 15 years as cut-off between modern and classic cars when assessing them for taxation on benefits in kind but they also add a current value to that judgement of £15,000 ($25,000).
In the USA authorities use an age threshold of around 15 years and require the vehicle to be substantially in the form it was manufactured; presumably to rule out Hot Rods, Custom cars and also exclude continuation models or replicas which are really new vehicles.
All age based definitions use the age of the particular car not when the model came into or went out of production. With the lower age definitions it is possible for some examples of a current production car to be considered classic, although usually only for niche marques such as Morgan.
Historic Cars Are No Longer Made
Generally there seems to be acceptance that the model should be out of production although as already suggested there may be exceptions. Current models may be "future classics".
Rarity, History, Nostalgia Make Cars Collectable
Cars with an interesting history, even if very modern, are certainly collectible: for instance the Aston Martins that survived the filming of the James Bond films. They will become classics but do they qualify when only a few years old?
Rarity adds to the classic status as long as it gets into production – there are models that never reached customers and are now forgotten
So when does a limited edition or specialist version become firstly collectible and secondly classic? In this context a limited edition might be a limited run of a specialist version, for example: to allow the model to qualify for competition – homologation specials. The marketing “Limited Edition” has little impact on the possible “classic” status of mass market models; these are often end of life promotions.
Many manufacturers have built specials from the original 1960s Ford GT40 to Audi Quattro in the 1980s Porsche, Aston Martin and others produce road-going but thinly disguised competition cars; they are often bought by collectors from new. They may achieve classic status early if particularly successful in competition.
New or Interesting Automotive Technology
Technology can have an impact on classic status. Cars that are the first, only or last model to use a significant technology are usually regarded as classics at an early stage due to their place in motoring history.
The NSU Ro80 was the first car to use a Wankel rotary engine and it was regard as a classic almost from its launch in 1967. If Mazda had not used the Wankel engine extensively the NSU would have been even more noteworthy.
Is a Classic Car Definition Needed?
Does it all matter?
After all, for most purposes the term “classic” is entirely arbitrary and simply reflects the fact that a car is old, out of production and some people collect them. Eventually all cars fall into that category, even some real dogs – there are collectors and owners’ clubs for almost every car model built.
So the answer is no. Classic or not is a personal viewpoint.
What is important as that both the best and worst car is part of motoring history and that examples are being conserved. In the process a lot people gain enjoyment or a living from it.
First seen on Suite101