Classic Car History
Updated September 28, 2013
Long before smart phones and social media, automobiles were the machines that signified the emergence of a modern mobile society. More than any other object, cars were treated as an extension of yourself, a reflection of your style, money and social status (or lack thereof). LIke people, cars have their own unique personalities that have endeared them to their owners. Cars are a reflection of their eras, and are stamped with the memories of the years in which they were made. Because cars are symbols of their times, they are objects of nostalgia, and people see owning them as a way of recapturing history.
Some people simply study types of cars and their eras, but the most serious students of the automobile actually restore or collect them. To those who don’t care about automobiles, being ultra serious about antique or cars may seem like madness. If it is madness, then it is a madness with some very serious method to it. Unlike people, cars don’t just get old. Depending on how old they are, cars are classed as being Antique or Classic, or Vintage. Here’s how they are defined:
According to the DMV of the state of Pennsylvania, an Antique motor vehicle is a car that was made at least 25 years prior to the current year. Reproductions don’t count. Junk doesn’t count either. In order to be an Antique car, the vehicle has to have been restored or maintained in a condition that is in accordance with the specifications of its original manufacturer. The condition qualification holds for all antique car classes. A Classic motor vehicle was manufactured at least 15 years prior to the current year.
Cars are also classified according to eras, which are: Antique era (1890s to the 1930s), Pre-War Classic era (mid ‘30s to the early ‘40s), War Classic era (early ‘40s to early ‘50s), and Post-War Classic era (1950s to early 1960s). The Classic era extends from the early 1960s to the early ‘80s. Cars made after the early ‘80s are considered modern.
According to auto restoration hobbyist Baron Micah of McDonough, Georgia, restoration of an antique car requires meticulous attention to detail. For total restoration, the entire car has to be taken apart and examined. Every defect has to be noted and fixed. Restoration materials have to match the original. For instance, if the original seat was leather, then the restored seat must also be leather. Rust has to be removed, and steel has to be replaced with steel. Bondo (putty) is not allowed.
Finding original parts or getting the part manufactured is one of the biggest challenges in automobile restoration. Original parts can be found online or purchased from a manufacturer or dealer. There are manufacturers who specialized in making exact duplicates of antique or vintage car parts. For example Lang’sOldCarParts in Winchendon, Massachusetts manufactures and supplies parts for the Ford Model T, or DearBornClassics, a site run by the Eckler’s family, that specializes in Ford cruiser parts.
According to the AntiqueAutomobileAssociationofAmerica the details of a car must also be consistent with the original. Chrome plating was first used on the Oldsmobile in 1925, but it wasn’t used on other cars until 1928. Authentic restorations have to be consistent, and authentic restorations cannot use chrome on vehicles made before those dates. Headlights, batteries, belts and tires have to be consistent with those used by the original manufacturer. Modifications to accommodate disabled persons are allowed, but have to be “done in a workmanlike manner in keeping with the design and era of the vehicle.”
The ultimate objective for restoration of an antique car is to have a fully functioning vehicle that is basically identical to what it was when it first rolled off the lot. For the restoration hobbyist, a fully restored antique automobile gives a sense of pride and accomplishment. It also can bring in considerable cash. Fully restored antique automobiles have been sold on Ebay for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Fact sheet antique and classic vehicles and vintage restoration plates. (n.d.). Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved August 22, 2012 from http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/fact_sheets/fs-ant.pdf
- Official judging guidelines. (2012). Antique Automobile Association of America. Retrieved August 22, 2012 from http://www.aaca.org/images/2012_Judges_Guidelines.pdf
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