How do you define a classic?

Andeh

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I've had a rather heated debate with some 'classic' car hacks on Facebook about what constitutes a classic car. So I thought I'd open it up to FG and see what you all think.

How do you define a classic? 25 years+ old? Sporting legacy? Technical achievement? Can a ten year old car be a classic? Or is it simply retro, or an old car?
 

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Personally I think the definition is by its very nature completely intangible.

Some cars are, for whatever reason, instant classics. Others by their rarity, a place in iconic movie history, their ground-breaking technology or whatever, have classic status almost thrust upon them.

One can no more have a hard and fast rule about what makes a car a classic than you can about what makes a woman beautiful, a man handsome, a piece of music soulful or a film incredible. Everyone has different tastes and opinions about all of the above.

You can say (almost) categorically what makes any of them bad but just as there will be people who love weird cult B-movies that were panned by the critics you will have guys who go ice-cold thick banana whips for the Morris Marina as we all saw a few years ago.
 

Andeh

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But Veteran and Vintage cars both have hard labels with defined age limits, couldn't the term classic following a similar suit? Or are we needing a new term for mid-century cars traditionally viewed as classics, in similar ilk to veteran and vintage I wonder...
 

GRtak

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Retro is a new(er) car designed to look like a classic car with the same name. Examples are VW Beetles and Fiat 500s.

Classic cars can mean many things, and there are groups that are somewhat militant about the definition they prefer. I hear it used mostly for cars that qualify for the Historical License plates in my state(at least 26 years). I have heard references to various ages between 30 and 60 years.

Antique is pretty straightforward. I think it is 75 years or older.

I think it is just a way that bitter people try to keep cars they don't like away from theirs.
 

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Yes but that is simply a dating procedure. It doesn't define whether something is a classic or not. Face it some cars that qualify as "vintage" are utter pieces of crap and only have value because of history and the fact their owners cherish them.

It does inspire an interesting thread for the game forum....
 

Andeh

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I clearly must be one of the bitter then!

I should state the context, namely I am tired of reading in classic car magazines/papers about contributors own cars, and these cars lately have been a Rover 100, a Rover 75, a Rover 415, a Ford Ka, numerous late 90s Jaguar XJs and a Ford Puma.

None of these cars, in my eyes, belong in a classic car publication. Perhaps in the future they do, but right now, I couldn't give a toss about them, and paying money to read someone's stories about driving one in a classic car weekly, is very dull to me.

I'm not sure if I'm just a car snob... I love my little 80s Fiesta, but is it a classic? Hell no, it's an 80s econobox. At the same time though I view the Anglia as classic, despite being closer to the Fiesta's age, than the Fiesta is to present.
 

public

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Quite often I feel, that one does not define a classic any more. Due to the idea of what constitutes a modern car, there are only established classics that have been classics for the past 20-25 years, and then there are future classics that will never become actual classics despite having had the future classic laurels placed on them for the past 20-25 years. A classic car must always have a feel of "the old world" about it, and since everything has been trouble free for so long, it is difficult to have similar feelings towards a 30-year-old car that's from 1986 and not 1966. New cars are not fundamentally different from 1997 cars, except that they have different infotainment and powertrain options; a new-for-1997 car was often noticeably improved compared to a 1987 car. A Miata will only be an old car or a "future classic", but it's a classic car only in Looper.
 

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The word classic itself has different definitions, and so it does applied to cars. It's just too vague to try and categorize cars with it.

  • An outstanding example of its class or era
  • A typical example of its class or era
  • The most famous example
  • Having a "classic" styling, whatever that means to you (ancient Roman? :p)
  • Just any old car

In general, I think people mean old cars. Like related to car magazines or classic meets or races. But when people talk about future classics, I think they are mostly talking about car's value going up ;) Which has nothing to do with any of its qualities, only with supply and demand. Some are instant classics by that measure.
 

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Regarding 10-year-old classics, it was different back in those days when a ten-year-old car could be a used up piece of shit. It takes really "special" use these days for that to happen, but in the '80s it wasn't unheard-of. So if you had somehow managed to keep, say, a late Citro?n DS in operating order for ten years, it was seen in a different light.

Of course, we are now looking fondly to some cars unveiled in the late '90s, and those can have been in production quite long.
 

Matt2000

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It has to smell classic. Once a car reaches a certain age it gains this smell, some get it sooner than others. Sierras and the like have it now, cars like the E46 will probably gain that smell over the next decade.

It's probably the smell of rust.
 

sifu

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it has classic written on it..
 
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Lastsoul

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Classic car is even more confused term than a sports car.

public has a very good point, however. The term classic car seems to be stuck in time, meaning roughly anything before the 1970s. Or at least it has to have chrome bumpers. So 80s British is fine, but the Porsche 928 is too modern.

And as cars tend to last longer, it takes a decade before the car is even considered old. I mean, E60 BMWs still look fresh and modern, right? It's a decade old car! But surely original Lotus Elans were considered classics at the age of ten? I mean those few examples that survived so long.
 

public

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public has a very good point, however. The term classic car seems to be stuck in time, meaning roughly anything before the 1970s. Or at least it has to have chrome bumpers. So 80s British is fine, but the Porsche 928 is too modern.
It's really easy!



Classic



Not classic :p
 

Andeh

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It seems we've got largely similar opinions public. Amongst my circle of friends the rule has always been "chrome bumpers, round headlamps". There is something different about cars from that period, which I think are classic. The rest are too modern, too similar to what we have now, and fundamentally mostly too dull to be classic to me.
 

public

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Anyway, to make some more points, is that back in the old days there wasn't anything like a "Youngtimer", a possibly German-coined phrase which refers to people enthusiastic about old modern cars. I think that's a pretty good umbrella term, as it doesn't carry the baggage of calling something a classic, but still you get the message that the car is something cherished instead of being in the process of being run into the ground.

It seems we've got largely similar opinions public. Amongst my circle of friends the rule has always been "chrome bumpers, round headlamps". There is something different about cars from that period, which I think are classic. The rest are too modern, too similar to what we have now, and fundamentally mostly too dull to be classic to me.
I was reflecting my feelings more than stating my own opinions: as a classic car writer, I have to broaden the horizons as the magazines cannot simply be about the same old Minis, Mustangs and Alfa Romeos, but one has to accept the Sierras and 240:s along. One of the watershed moments is the transition from W123 to W124 in 1984-85, as the former is as old hat as an '80s Merc can be, and the latter was made nearly til the end of the 1990s.
 
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public

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Also, one of the core issues is that classic motoring faces an age problem. Part of classic car nostalgia is to feel warmth towards the cars one has grown up with, and that's why '80s cars are such a big deal to so many people these days. People born in the '80s have the money to fund project cars from that time, to restore something they dreamed about as kids. But what about pre-war cars or 1940s cars? The people feeling a nostalgic connection to those are 70+ year old, and as such a dying breed. It's one of the reasons this place is closing. Obviously you, Andeh, with your own projects are a different kind of hobbyist, but...

- - - Updated - - -

Sure-fire modern classic, just like the 300M.
 

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Maybe we could just ditch the classic car term? Let's replace it with "interesting car" or "worthy car".

A car is much more than a mechanical representation of the time it was designed and build in. Some cars were way ahead of their times, yet they never become truly fascinating. On the contrary, many Soviet cars look fine today, yet they were utterly outdated when they rolled out from the factories. Some cars were heading to oblivion, but were saved because of popular culture.

Trabant is a good example. As a car it's utterly crappy shit. But no other mass produced item is such an important symbol. It just doesn't represent transport at it's most basic from, it's flimsy composite body panels remind us about history and lost culture.

So it's all about the point of view, not even the greatest collection of mechanical parts is enough. Thats why so many cars from the 1910s to early 1940s are getting less and less valued, they're generally less interesting to the current people. Nobody alive today can relive their memories by restoring or driving a 1920s Peugeot.
 
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