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What Makes a Classic Car Classic?

Updated August 12, 2014

What is a classic car?

There are a number of formal definitions kicking around as to what makes a ‘classic’ car. Most of these are based around the age of the vehicle; the Classic Car Club of America holds that a car is only ‘classic’ while it’s aged between 20 and 40 years; as soon as it becomes 45 years or older it becomes an ‘antique’. Of course, this definition is far too wide; my mother’s Fiat Uno is between 20 and 40 years old, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a classic. In the UK, the HM Revenue & Customs address this by defining a classic car as one which is over 15 years old and is worth more than £15,000; mum’s Fiat wouldn’t be a classic under this definition by any stretch of the imagination.

Scrap the definitions

The problem with formal definitions is, they completely miss the point of classic cars. The reason why people are so obsessed with classic cars is that je ne sais quoi; it’s not something you can even put your finger on, so why try? One car blog comes up with the definition that a classic car is ‘a car that retains its appeal even after it’s no longer produced’. It’s probably the closest we can get to an actual definition, though is somewhat vague – if a car retains its appeal to me, but not many other people, can I still call it a classic?

It’s probably best to scrap the definitions altogether; the notion of anything being a ‘classic’ of its kind is always going to bring up debate; let’s stop that trend in its tracks and just appreciate each iconic car for what it is. Whether you like the smooth, rounded corners of Corvettes, the sharpness of a Triumph or the retro contours of a classic BMW, the beauty is surely in the eye of the beholder. Classic cars are considered ‘classics’ usually on account of their aesthetics rather than their reliability or functionality; for this reason, it seems to me that any person who can put up a good argument for a Fiat Uno’s induction into the canon of classic cars should get their way.

It’s not all good news.

Unfortunately, owning a classic car isn’t just about scraping together the funds to acquire the beauty; if it were that simple, everyone would own one. Classic cars are expensive to run and maintain, usually on account of their age and the scarcity of parts. If you’re not sure whether your car counts as a classic, check with your local mechanic to determine how long you’d have to wait for spare parts for it; the longer the wait, the more of a ‘classic’ you can assume your motor is – and the scarcer your spare parts will be. While some fairly generic parts, like the windshield might be easy to source, you’re likely to have to wait a while for proprietary engine parts. Complaining to your friends about how long it took your mechanic to source the carburettor for your 1966 Chevrolet Corvette might not impress, them, but it will certainly reiterate your car’s classic status.

Catherine Halsey is based in Edinburgh and writes for a digital marketing agency. This article links back to



Calvin Escobar
About Calvin Escobar

The Car scene is so diverse Where I come from, most enthusiasts recognize the amazing engineering (particularly the engines). The bulk of the ridicule originates from the manner in which many of the vehicles are modded/maintained. Thus, the jokes and or hate tends to be aimed more at the owner rather than the machine. All of which makes seeing properly sorted old Toyota's and Hondas at car meets, auto shows, and track days all the more refreshing.

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