Classic Cars

When Does a Car Become a Classic Car?

Introduction to the World of Classic Cars

Welcome to the fascinating world of classic cars! These magnificent machines represent a bygone era, a time when automobiles were more than just a means of transportation; they were a symbol of status, wealth, and craftsmanship. Classic cars are a passion for many, and they hold a special place in the hearts of collectors, enthusiasts, and even casual admirers. I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived through classic cars when they first came out, and have experienced and appreciated their rise to classic car status. Included in this article are questions like: How old does a car have to be, to be labeled classic? How old does a car have to be before it’s labeled vintage? What is the historic status and what are the different types of license plates? And the answers.

Classic Cars

Defining Classic, Vintage, and Antique Cars

Before diving deeper into the world of classic cars, it’s essential to understand the terminology used to describe them. The terms “classic,” “vintage,” and “antique” are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings that set them apart.

A classic car is typically between 20 and 50 years old and has been preserved or restored to a condition that is true to its original design. These vehicles are not only rare but also possess unique features, designs, or historical significance that make them desirable to collectors and enthusiasts.

An antique car, on the other hand, is a vehicle that is older than 50 years and can usually date as far back as the 1930s. The art-deco influence changed the way cars were made and used into the 1940s and the post-war period. Post-war cars and muscle cars are included in this group.

Lastly,a vintage car is usually a vehicle that was manufactured between the years 1919 and 1930. These cars are characterized by their traditional designs, intricate details, and the use of materials and technologies that were prevalent in their time. These automobiles represent the earliest days of the automotive industry, and their rarity and historical significance make them highly sought after by collectors. However, this group also includes the very first cars from the ‘Brass-Era’ between 1896 and 1915.

It’s important to note that these age ranges are not set in stone and can vary depending on factors like the vehicle’s country of origin, its rarity, and its historical significance.

In the United States, the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) defines a classic car as one that was produced between 1925 and 1948. Meanwhile, the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) considers any vehicle 25 years or older to be an antique.

As the year’s roll by, the year of a classic car moves with them. I tend to think of classic cars as cars from the last quarter of the 20th century (1975-1999). However, as time goes by, cars from the beginning of this century will start to become classics. Eventually, when electric cars take over, any internal combustion-engined car will become a classic right up to the time when electric cars take over.

The 5 Classic Car Classifications Explained

Classic cars can be grouped into five distinct classifications based on factors like their age, rarity, and historical significance. These classifications are:

  1. Brass Era Cars: These vehicles were produced between 1896 and 1915 and are characterized by their brass fittings, such as radiators, lamps, and trim. Brass Era cars are considered antiques and are highly sought after by collectors due to their rarity and historical significance.
  2. Vintage Cars: As mentioned earlier, vintage cars are those that were manufactured between 1919 and 1930. They are characterized by their traditional designs, intricate details, and the use of materials and technologies that were prevalent during their time.
  3. Post-War Cars: These vehicles were produced between 1946 and 1969 and represent a period of significant change and innovation in the automotive industry. Post-war cars are often considered classics due to their unique designs, technological advancements, and cultural impact.
  4. Muscle Cars: Muscle cars are high-performance vehicles that were produced between the mid-1960s and early 1970s. They are characterized by their powerful engines, sleek designs, and aggressive styling, making them popular among collectors and enthusiasts alike.
  5. Modern Classics: These vehicles were manufactured between the late 1970s and early 2000s and are considered classics due to their distinctive designs, limited production runs, or historical significance. Modern classics are often more affordable and accessible than their older counterparts, making them an attractive option for those looking to enter the world of classic car collecting. They usually have more parts available.

Historic Status and Different Types of License Plates

Classic cars can hold a special historic status, which is often denoted by unique license plates. In the United States, historic or antique license plates are typically issued by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and are available for vehicles that meet specific age and preservation criteria. Each state has its requirements for obtaining these plates, so it’s important to consult your local DMV for more information. While these plates can vary depending on the jurisdiction, they generally serve to identify the vehicle as a classic, vintage, or antique car and may grant it certain privileges, such as exemptions from emissions testing or registration fees. The most common types are the:

  • Vintage Vehicle Plate
  • Historic Vehicle Plate
  • Custom Collector Vehicle Plate
  • Classic Car Plate
  • Street Rod Plate
  • Antique Plate
Classic Cars

Restored, Unrestored, and Modified Classic Cars

When it comes to classic cars, their condition and originality play a significant role in determining their value and desirability. Restored, unrestored, and modified classic cars each have their unique appeal and challenges, so it’s essential to understand the differences between them.

A restored classic car is a car that has been meticulously returned to its original condition through a process of repair, replacement, and refinishing. This can involve everything from rebuilding the engine and replacing the interior to refinishing the bodywork and repainting the vehicle in its original color. Restored cars are often more valuable than their unrestored counterparts due to the time, effort, and expense involved in the restoration process.

An unrestored classic car, on the other hand, has not undergone any significant restoration work. These vehicles often show signs of wear and tear, but their originality and patina can make them highly desirable to collectors and enthusiasts who value authenticity and history over pristine condition.

Modified classic cars are those that have been altered from their original specifications, either through the addition of aftermarket parts or modifications to the engine, suspension, or bodywork. While aftermarket parts are more readily available and these vehicles can offer improved performance, handling, or aesthetics, their modifications can also detract from their originality and value in the eyes of purists and collectors.

Converted Electric Classic Cars: A Modern Twist

With the growing popularity of electric vehicles and increasing concerns about the environmental impact of internal combustion engines, many classic car enthusiasts are turning to electric conversions as a way to preserve and enjoy their beloved vehicles while reducing their carbon footprint.

Converted electric classic cars typically involve replacing the original internal combustion engine with an electric motor and battery system. This not only eliminates the need for gasoline, but it can also provide improved performance, reduced maintenance, and a more environmentally friendly driving experience.

While purists may argue that converting a classic car to electric power detracts from its originality and historical significance, others see it as a way to ensure the continued enjoyment and preservation of these vehicles in a changing world. As electric conversion technology continues to advance and become more accessible, it’s likely that we will see more and more classic cars making the switch to electric power.

The Popularity of Classic Cars in Pop Culture

Classic cars have long held a special place in popular culture, appearing in film, television, and music as symbols of style, nostalgia, and rebellion.

From James Dean’s iconic 1949 Mercury in “Rebel Without a Cause” to the sleek Aston Martin DB5 featured in numerous James Bond films, the Plymouth Valiant in the cult classic 1971 film ‘Duel’, and the array of hot rods in ‘Grease’, classic cars have become an integral part of our cinematic landscape.

Natalie Cole’s ‘Pink Cadillac’, Sinitta’s big red ‘GTO’, Prince’s ‘Little Red Corvette’, Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’, and Maren Morris’s ’80s Mercedes’ are all part of classic car music history.

Classic car television shows like Top Gear and Wheeler Dealers have a loyal following as do Youtube channels and Twitter pages dedicated to classic cars and their restorations, which leads me onto another part of car culture – classic car clubs and communities.

Classic Car Clubs and Communities

One of the most rewarding aspects of classic car ownership is the opportunity to connect with like-minded enthusiasts and share your passion for these remarkable vehicles. Classic car clubs and communities offer a supportive, inclusive environment where you can learn from others, share your knowledge, and form lasting friendships based on a shared love of all things automotive.

There are countless classic car clubs and communities around the world, catering to a wide range of interests, makes, and models. These organizations often host events, rallies, and shows where members can showcase their vehicles, swap tips and stories, and enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship that comes with being part of a community of enthusiasts. You may be surprised to learn that members get access to premier events and even international events with affiliate organizations overseas.

Classic Cars

What to Look For When Buying a Classic Car

Purchasing a classic car can be a thrilling and rewarding experience, but it’s essential to know what to look for when forking out good money. When evaluating a potential classic car purchase, consider the following factors:

  1. Condition: Assess the overall condition of the vehicle, including the bodywork, paint, interior, and mechanical components. Look for signs of rust, damage, or wear that could indicate potential issues or costly repairs down the line.
  2. Originality: Determine whether the vehicle has been restored, modified, or is in its original condition. While restored and modified cars can be appealing, their alterations can also affect their value and desirability among collectors.
  3. Documentation: Verify the vehicle’s history, including its ownership, maintenance, and restoration records. This information can not only help you confirm the car’s authenticity and provenance but also provide valuable insight into its care and upkeep.
  4. Rarity: Research the vehicle’s production numbers, options, and features to determine its rarity and desirability. Cars that were produced in limited quantities or feature unique attributes can command a premium among collectors.
  5. Market Trends: Stay informed on current market trends and values for the specific make and model you’re interested in. This knowledge can help you determine a fair purchase price and potential future appreciation.
  6. Classic Car Value: Classic Car Value is an online collector and classic car valuation tool to help you find accurate pricing by gathering data from both online and offline sources.

Where to Buy or Rent a Classic Car

If you’re looking to buy or rent a classic car, there are several resources available to help you find the perfect vehicle. These include:

  1. Online Marketplaces: Websites like Classic Cars, Collector Car Ads, Classic and Sports Car, and Barn Finds offer extensive listings of classic cars for sale, with detailed descriptions, photos, and pricing information to help you make an informed decision.
  2. Auctions: Classic car auctions, such as those held by Raleigh Classic Car Auctions, Auto Hunter, Mecum Auctions, Barrett-Jackson, Hemmings, Bring a Trailer, RM Sotheby’s, and Bonhams, can provide an exciting opportunity to bid on rare and desirable vehicles in a competitive environment.
  3. Dealerships and Showrooms: Many classic car dealerships and showrooms specialize in the sale and restoration of classic vehicles, offering a curated selection of cars and professional guidance to help you find the right one for you.
  4. Private Sellers: Some classic car owners choose to sell their vehicles privately, either through online listings or word of mouth. Buying from a private seller can offer a more personal experience, as well as the opportunity to learn about the car’s history and care directly from the owner.
  5. Rental Companies: If you’re interested in buying a classic car, perhaps driving one first to see if it’s the right car for you is a great idea. You can rent a classic car through companies like DriveShare, Vinty, American Classic Rentals, Legends Car Rentals, and Monterey Touring Vehicles which offer a wide range of classic vehicles to choose from, along with insurance and roadside assistance for a worry-free experience.

Classic Car Insurance Premiums

Protecting your classic car investment is essential, and specialized classic car insurance can provide the coverage you need to safeguard your vehicle’s value and ensure your peace of mind. Classic car insurance premiums are often lower than standard auto insurance rates, as these policies take into account factors like the vehicle’s age, rarity, and limited use.

When shopping for classic car insurance, be sure to work with a reputable provider that specializes in this unique type of coverage, such as Hagerty, Grundy, or American Collectors Insurance. These companies understand the specific needs and challenges associated with classic car ownership and can tailor your policy to provide the best possible protection.


The world of classic cars is a captivating and diverse realm, filled with rich, practical and cultural history, craftsmanship, and passion. As you delve deeper into this fascinating community, you’ll discover a wealth of knowledge, connections, and experiences that will enrich your appreciation for these remarkable vehicles and the people who love them.

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