All sorts of organisations have their own definitions as to what constitutes a classic car. The Classic Car Club of America, for example, states that to be a classic, the car must be between 30 and 59 years old. A car older than 59 years is apparently a ‘pre-antique’, then ‘antique’ if it’s over 60 years old. Some insurance companies will offer classic car insurance on a car if it is over 15 years old, while the UK government consider a car to be ‘classic’ in terms of being exempt from car tax if it was manufactured before January 1973 (or January 1974 come 2014).
These definitions are all useful to some extent for insurance, legal or tax purposes, but they do little to help define the essence of a classic car. It could be argued that we all know one when we see it but that of course is little help either. Certainly some models just scream classic with barely a voice raised in protest: a Jaguar E-type for example, or certain older Ferraris and Aston Martins. But surely it is more than that; surely a car does not have to be expensive to be a classic?
Obviously many cars that were not originally expensive have become classics. The original Mini, for example, must surely be thought of as a classic. Another attempt to define the classic genre concentrates on scarcity. Certainly the law of supply and demand would seem to indicate that if there are not many of a certain model around, then the price would go up, thus making it collectible and perhaps a classic. But there are plenty of those original Minis around, along with VW Beetles and even Morris Minors yet few would argue that those cars are classic. So if a hefty price tag cannot define a classic and neither can scarcity, then what else is there?
Perhaps a classic is a car that defines its niche at a certain point in time. You could say that about the Mini and maybe the VW Beetle. The VW Golf also pretty much defined the small hatchback for a time but is it a classic? That might be debatable. You could argue that the Ford Sierra defined the saloon market for a time but you might find fewer people who would call that car a classic. Its older brother, the Cortina, most certainly defined that niche and maybe more people would be inclined to call it a classic but is that just because it is older?
It seems then that the classic car is more than the sum of these parts. Certainly age, scarcity, expense and the ability to define a niche in its time, all contribute to a car being a classic but they do not guarantee elevation to that status. Instead, what defines a classic car is something far more ephemeral. That thing is ache – it is the ache of longing you feel when you see a certain car. Beauty will contribute to this but classic cars can be desirable without being pretty. Classic car status is in the eye of the beholder. It happens when some feel the ache of desire for a particular model and when enough do, a classic is born.
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