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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
10/16/20 2:14 p.m.
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If we asked you to describe a classic car, you would likely pick something like a '60s British roadster or a '70s Italian sports car. But what about more modern cars from the late '90s and early 2000s? Sure, they aren't nearly as old as the aforementioned European cars, but some would still consider them classics.

What if, then, it has more to do with than just age—what if, for example, it's who sells the car? What kind of impact does that have on considering whether or not a car is a classic?

For example, take this 2005 BMW M3 we recently featured over on Classic Motorsports. It may only be 15 years old, but when it's being sold by one of the country's top classic dealers, Fantasy Junction, we're going have to take that as evidence that the E46-chassis M3 can be categorized as a classic car.

What is your take? In your eyes, what boxes does a car need to check (or not check) to be considered a true classic car?

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Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/16/20 2:52 p.m.

The Germans call them "youngtimers". Cars that don't interest the classic car crowd, but are a few decades old and interesting.

Classic cars are like classic rock. The list was frozen about 30 years ago and hasn't changed yet, because the demographic that uses the term hasn't changed.

84FSP
84FSP UltraDork
10/16/20 3:09 p.m.

25yrs old when I get cheap plates that never need renewing :)

slowbird
slowbird SuperDork
10/16/20 3:17 p.m.

Sometime after the manufacturer stops making replacement parts for them, but before the aftermarket fully picks up the slack. cheeky

rustomatic
rustomatic Reader
10/16/20 4:34 p.m.

It's style and hardware, but mostly style, and some hardware.  Cases in point:  1.  Dodge with 12-valve Cummins (my Gen 2 looks kind of like a Class 8 tractor--this is from the early Viper era); 2.  E28 BMW (what the hell has these kinds of lines anymore?); 3.  The Ford Falcon, any era really, but my 1963.5 is like a mini version of the Galaxie of the same year.  I fail at explaining most forms of style, as I have no training in doing so, but when you see it (or in some cases, hear it, 12V), you know it. 

You just can't have it anymore (at least the retail version); therein lies the classic sensibility.

Cooter
Cooter UberDork
10/16/20 4:46 p.m.

Usually right after I sell mine.

rob_lewis
rob_lewis UltraDork
10/16/20 4:51 p.m.

That point in time when the cars you couldn't find for sale anywhere start showing up on the auction blocks at 10X the original price. 

-Rob

mtn (Forum Supporter)
mtn (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/16/20 5:05 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

The Germans call them "youngtimers". Cars that don't interest the classic car crowd, but are a few decades old and interesting.

Classic cars are like classic rock. The list was frozen about 30 years ago and hasn't changed yet, because the demographic that uses the term hasn't changed.

I really like this.

I think part of the problem is that what we generally hear described as classic cars are not in any way modern, and haven't been for a long time. Obviously these are guidelines, but my loose definition of a modern car is that it contains all of this: 

  • Air conditioning
  • A crumple zone
  • At least one airbag
  • A spot to plug in a cell phone to charge (i.e. cigarette lighter)
  • Will not leak (badly, anyways)
  • Able to take a cross country trip with no planning aside from filling it up and maybe changing the oil
  • Does not need me to do anything other than fill the gas tank during said cross country trip
  • Fuel injected (see point above)

There are exceptions to this, of course, but in general that is my criteria. I think that generally anything from 1990 forwards fits this bill; you can even go back to some from the mid-late 70's for some of them (thinking Mercs and Volvo's).

In 1990, a 10 year old car was probably really old. And 100k miles? Time to get rid of it, that thing is on its last legs. Today I DD a car that is 19 years old with 290k miles, and if I didn't live in an emissions state I'd not have to do anything to it other than change the oil in the next 6 months. Another example: In 1990, when I was born, my dad owned a 1959 Austin Healey 100-6. That was a 31 year old car, a classic by any definition even in 1982 when he bought it. When he moved from St. Louis to Chicago in 1987, he broke down twice - and this was one in good nick too, he won numerous car shows with it. Today, it is 2020. My daughter was born earlier this year. I'm considering buying dads 1991 E30. About the only definition by which it wouldn't meet most folks' criteria of being modern is that it only has 1 airbag and no OBDII. We're driving it 300 miles at some point in the next month. Our only consideration is, should we change the oil before we go. Is it a classic? Well, probably, but only because of its age and cult following.

 

What is really interesting is that I think this is changing quickly. We had "classic cars" (vs. antique cars, which I'm arbitrarily calling pre-war) from probably 1946 through the 80's. Roughly 40 years. This wave, we had "modern safe" cars from the early 80's through the early 90's, when we got OBDii which took us to... well, today, but really the change started 10 years ago. Call it 1.5 generations right there, and in 30 years. Next? Electric. 10 years from now I'll be pretty surprised if the average car doesn't get 45 mpg. And self driving will take over from that pretty soon after.

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/16/20 5:22 p.m.

Those of us who don't get exposed to them don't realize how much more advanced cars are today than they were 10 years ago. I get to see clear generational jumps with the Miatas - we have an early 90's platform that got updated, then a 2006 platform, then a 2016 platform. The gulf between the 2006 and the 2016 in terms of platform integration is astounding. Even in the way the parts were designed, the engine block on that new car looks like it has about 1% body fat. My point being is that your definition of a current car spans a pretty wide range, more than "modern safe" does. But the changes are far less obvious than they were in the 80s.

Meanwhile, in another thread on this forum, a Rover V8 was just described as "modern". Based on a design from the 60's, dragged through production long past the sell-by date and discontinued a decade and a half ago. We are not exactly cutting edge :)

Your definition of "modern" matches my early-production 1990 Miata. Well, it doesn't have an airbag because it's Canadian, but if it was a US car it would. And it doesn't have AC for the same reason. So I'm going to say that your definition applies :) And I DID take it on a cross-country trip last fall.  And like your dad's 100-6 - my mom's first car was a 1964 MGB. When I was in high school, that would have definitely been considered a classic. That Miata is now 5-10 years older depending on which end of high school we're talking about :) Maybe it's me being old, but it doesn't feel as old now as that MG would have then.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
10/16/20 5:35 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

Anything with knock off ( Rudge ) wire wheels and a hand crank to start it is probably a classic.  Anything where the body panels are formed over wood is most likely a classic. 
     Anything British motor with a bore smaller than the stroke will be a classic.  Suicide doors are most likely a indicator of classic. Anything with a fold down windshield quailifys as a classic. Anything where the heater is an option is a classic. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/16/20 5:36 p.m.

Did you know I used to have a classic Toyota Tundra? Suicide doors, baby!

chada75
chada75 Reader
10/16/20 5:45 p.m.

When the Internet gets mad on someone customizing an older car with "Why you ruin classic?"

mtn (Forum Supporter)
mtn (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/16/20 6:55 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

 And like your dad's 100-6 - my mom's first car was a 1964 MGB. When I was in high school, that would have definitely been considered a classic. That Miata is now 5-10 years older depending on which end of high school we're talking about :) Maybe it's me being old, but it doesn't feel as old now as that MG would have then.

Totally agree. And I’m only 30. 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
10/16/20 6:59 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

The Germans call them "youngtimers". Cars that don't interest the classic car crowd, but are a few decades old and interesting.

Classic cars are like classic rock. The list was frozen about 30 years ago and hasn't changed yet, because the demographic that uses the term hasn't changed.

The classic rock stations around here play grunge and Green Day.

 

I am always yelling at the radio to stop playing that, I was in junior high/high school when that song came out, it's not old!!!

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 UberDork
10/16/20 7:56 p.m.

To throw another loop into the question. What's the difference between antique and classic? And the distinction between them? Can a car be one and not the other?

GTwannaB
GTwannaB HalfDork
10/16/20 8:10 p.m.
slowbird said:

Sometime after the manufacturer stops making replacement parts for them, but before the aftermarket fully picks up the slack. cheeky

Then every 5 yr old Ford is a classic 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
10/16/20 8:48 p.m.
GTwannaB said:
slowbird said:

Sometime after the manufacturer stops making replacement parts for them, but before the aftermarket fully picks up the slack. cheeky

Then every 5 yr old Ford is a classic 

ZR1 Corvettes and Buick Grand Nationals were instant classics!

slowbird
slowbird SuperDork
10/16/20 10:05 p.m.
GTwannaB said:
slowbird said:

Sometime after the manufacturer stops making replacement parts for them, but before the aftermarket fully picks up the slack. cheeky

Then every 5 yr old Ford is a classic 

Not gonna argue with that! laughcheeky

Keith Tanner said:

The Germans call them "youngtimers". Cars that don't interest the classic car crowd, but are a few decades old and interesting.

Classic cars are like classic rock. The list was frozen about 30 years ago and hasn't changed yet, because the demographic that uses the term hasn't changed.

I was quite disturbed to recently (okay, within the last five or ten years) to discover Soundgarden, STP, and Nirvana had been assimilated into the local classic rock station's library. Shortly before, they started bringing the Clash into rotation. My point is that when something is good enough, it is begrudgingly brought under the classic umbrella (witness NA Miatas, but not Festivas). 

In the books I read as a child, classic cars were 25+ years old. Antique were 35+ for what it is worth.

Here are a few definitions:

1. Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.

2. A work of art of recognized and established value.

3. Serving as a standard of excellence; of established value.

4.Characterized by simple tailored lines in fashion year after year.

Speaks well to the idea that good stuff is an instant classic.

Edit: I see some of this has already been covered.blush

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/17/20 2:42 p.m.

I believe our friends at Motorsport Marketing have been dealing with this over  at Classic Motorsports. Like, when do you get to have a Miata project in that magazine instead of the constant parade of British and Italian stuff?

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 Reader
10/18/20 7:07 a.m.

When it's getting fixed more than it's getting driven.

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
10/18/20 7:50 a.m.

Classic Car????    Anything that is about as old as me.  

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) PowerDork
10/18/20 7:50 a.m.

A car with wind up windows, manual seat tracks, no airbags, ascending prices............like my 1991 VW GTI 16V.... :)

Peabody
Peabody UltimaDork
10/18/20 8:47 a.m.

In reply to wheelsmithy (Joe-with-an-L) (Forum Supporter) :

I recently asked my friend, how do you think Billy Idol feels about being played only on the oldies station now?

It's just a name, and to me not an important one. When it becomes old enough to get a classic plate, it's a classic.

 

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
10/18/20 10:34 a.m.
wheelsmithy (Joe-with-an-L) (Forum Supporter) said:I was quite disturbed to recently (okay, within the last five or ten years) to discover Soundgarden, STP, and Nirvana had been assimilated into the local classic rock station's library. Shortly before, they started bringing the Clash into rotation.

It was bad enough when they started using Beatles songs used as Muzak on elevators, but now there's a TV commercial for diapers that uses Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" as the theme song.  frown

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