The term classic car is used to describe older cars which decreased in value less slowly than others, and eventually appreciate in value over time.
They are generally considered to be well-built and well-designed examples from a particular manufacturer or time period which have remained popular after their production has ceased.
Vehicles which have innovative or trend-setting design and mechanical engineering can also be termed ‘classics’, as can many vehicles that were produced in limited numbers and are considered rare. For collectors, ‘classics’ are cars which retain their appeal over time, increase in value and become sought-after making them collectible.
However, there are many different theories on what makes a car ‘classic’. In the United States the Classic Car Club of America states that only cars built between 1925 and 1948 can be considered ‘classics’, but many states license cars older than 20 to 25 years old as antiques.
The Antique Automobile Club of America states that any car over 45 years old is an antique, whereas classic cars are those between 25 and 45 years old.
Many experts agree that any car over 25 years old can be considered a classic, and in the U.K insurance companies tend to use the term for cars over 20 years old. Both the U.S and U.K authorities use a 15-year cut off date for taxation purposes.
In the U.K there are clearer definitions for older cars; ‘veteran’ cars are those built before 1905, ‘Edwardian’ between 1905 and 1918 and ‘vintage’ between 1918 and 1930.
Some believe the production of a car needs to have ceased before it can be described as a classic, but others believe there can be ‘modern classics’, newer cars still in production with innovative or unusual designs.
As many collectors purchase classic cars as alternative investments, some speculate on which new models could be considered ‘future classics’ and buy them with the hope that they will appreciate in value over the years. Others choose to collect established classic cars, those whose values have already begun to rise or have been appreciating for many years.
A classic car is a vehicle that has appreciated in value over a period of time, and by that definition the collectors markets plays a large part in determining what is considered collectible.
The valuation of an older model will only rise if enough people want to buy one, and the demand combined with a limited supply due to its age can sometimes see a car’s value increase by up to 100 times its original selling price.
There are classic car collectors clubs for almost every model imaginable, and for many collectors the term ‘classic’ is arbitrary; it can be considered a matter of taste, and some models are described as classics by their enthusiasts and hated by others.
The value of a classic car depends on its condition and rarity.
The most valuable are those with all their original components and interiors, or cars which have been restored as close as possible to their original factory condition. Some collectors carry out the restoration themselves, whilst others have them rebuilt by companies who specialise in older vehicle..
Many collectors display their vehicles at classic car shows, competitions and vintage rallies.
The first cars
The first production of automobiles was by German engineer Karl Benz in 1888, and his Benz Patent Motorwagen was the world’s first commercially-available automobile. The first company formed exclusively to build automobiles was Panhard et Levassor in France in 1889, who were soon followed by Peugeot in 1891.
In the United States the first manufacturer was brothers the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, founded by brothers Charles and Frank Duryea in 1893. They were followed and surpassed by the Olds Motor Vehicle Company (later known as Oldsmobile) in 1897, and by the turn of the century the mass production of automobiles was in full swing on both sides of the Atlantic.
The early years of the 20th century saw the founding of many notable manufacturers such as Cadillac (1902), Ford (1903), Rolls Royce (1907), Bugatti (1909), Aston Martin (1913) and BMW (1916).
It also saw cars shift from being driven purely by hobbyists and enthusiasts to average consumers, and the high level of competition between manufacturers led to a rapid level of technological development.
This period, from the turn of the century to the end of the First World War is known as the ‘Brass Car’ or ‘Edwardian’ period and vehicles from this era are fairly rare.
The biggest challenge for collectors is the restoration, as most replacement parts need to be manufactured by hand and production manuals are almost non-existent. However, there are a large numbers of collectors who specialise in this area and well-restored or original-condition models are both highly sought-after and highly valuable.
The period between the end of the First World War and 1930 is known as the ‘vintage’ period, during which several notable companies were born such as Bentley (1919), Jaguar (originally known as the Swallow Sidecar Company, in 1922), MG Cars (1924), Chrysler (1925), Volvo (1927) and Ferrari (1929).
Closed bodies as opposed to open tops became the standard, and by 1929 90% of all cars manufactured were closed (compared with 1919 figures, when 90% of all cars sold were open-top).
The development of the internal combustion engine continued at a fast pace, and the era saw a wide range of vehicles from the small, affordable Austin 7 and the Ford Model A to the high-end luxury giants such as the Rolls Royce Phantom 1 and the Bugatti Royale.
The pre-war years also saw the beginnings of notable manufacturer Porsche (1932), design classics such as the Volkswagen Beetle (1938) and innovative performance cars like the Ford Model B (also known as the Ford V-8) in 1932.
Post World-War II
The post-war years saw several important developments.
European and Japanese manufacturers began to offer serious competition to American companies in their domestic markets, and the market grew in two directions at once: compact cars such as the revolutionary Mini and the Fiat 500 were incredibly popular and successful, just as many American (and some European) manufacturers began to focus on size and performance.
Muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang, the Dodge Charger and the Plymouth Road Runner began to dominate the American market, matched by Lamborghini in Italy (1963) until the international oil crisis of 1973, when new emissions laws combined with foreign imports, declining design quality from American companies and the need for fuel-efficient models led to the partial decline of the American car industry.
Of this era, American muscle cars are some of the most popular with current collectors.
The modern era of automobiles has (like all other eras) seen rapidly developing technologies and competition between manufacturers, despite the consolidation of many companies.
The market has seen the development of 4-wheel drive Sports Utility Vehicles, luxury high-performance super cars such as the Bugatti Veyron, hybrid cars which combine internal combustion engines with electric propulsion systems and mass-produced electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf.