Classic Cars - How old does it have to be?

10 replies [Last post]
Mr Bizzle
Mr Bizzle's picture
Joined: 2011-06-01

An interesting debate is going on between a couple of my group. How old does a car have to be, to be considered a classic?

Both of my weekend cars:

- 1993 Nissan 200sx S13


- 1993 Mazda RX7FD3s


Are both going to be twenty years old within the next year or so. When do they become classics?




James Elliott
James Elliott's picture
Joined: 2011-03-11

I/we hate this question. So often classic is in the eye of the beholder. And age alone is very rarely relevant. For every one who says an Elise was a classic on day 1 of production, there is another who says that a Marina will never be a classic even in 100 years.

The official strictures don't help much, what with an official VED related definition of an historic vehicle based on a system that is deeply flawed. When the tax exemption was introduced it was "rolling" annually for everything over 25 years old. But then that stopped leaving (in the UK at least) everything built pre-1973 officially as historic and everything built after not and never to be. The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs is campaigning for some common sense here and for the reintroduction of the rolling scheme, but with a 30 year threshold. Still includes an awful lot of cars that most would struggle to call classic and exludes a load more that are surefire classics.

So how do you judge it? The briefest overview of a few of the criteria you might choose to apply.

Pragmatically: if it is out of production and has been in C&SC it is probably a classic, or well on its way to being one. Is there an owners' club dedicated to them? If so, they are probably a classic. Can you insure them on a classic policy? If so, they are probably a classic.

Financially: we have always looked for values "bouncing". ie once a car has finished depreciating (of course some never do and I guess those are the true examples of classics at birth) and values are starting to rise, then it is clearly collectible and therefore a classic.

Emotionally: do fellow owners flash each other when they pass on the roads? Yes? Then it's a classic.

There are loads of other factors, too, of course, but one man's classic is another man's scrapper anyway so it is a bit of an endless debate.

Joined: 2011-06-10

Did'nt Setright say something like "Any car that is old enough and any car that is good enough"?  I have a 94 MX5 - a proper car rather than lots of rubbish "classics" out there - but will never be be a classic of course.  Too fast and reliable I guess...

MrBenovich's picture
Joined: 2011-04-12

Ah. That old chesnut.

Well, it will always cause much debate and the exchange of views. Is age really the best measure? Is it enthusiasts following? Is it provenance? Is it exclusivity, timeless engineering or the ability to simply turn heads on the street as an unusually interesting car?

Maybe one measure could be if passer's by/pub patrons/car park pedestrians/others simply stop to say "Nice car mate." and ask a bit about it. Most modern performance cars (Lambo's, Skylines, Porsches, Bentleys) carry a certain aura which, I feel, deters enthusiasts from saying anything to the owner for fear of inflating their ego. Or getting a snotty, attitude filled response.

Perhaps it is, as James Elliot says, in the eye of the beholder. I remember being ribbed upon high by colleagues for owning a brace of Renault 5 GT Turbo's and daring to refer to them as 'classics'. Yet many others would enjoy seeing them on the road and often adhere to the above point. They were both 20-years old, defining in their design/engineering (for that period of automotive history),original, in good order, and had club membership status. So adequately qualifying in the same manner a Honda NSX or MX5 would do...


Joined: 2011-05-31


'85 928 S2

MrBenovich's picture
Joined: 2011-04-12

@ Green928 - Now you're talking !

Joined: 2011-06-08

It's difficult to say specific time period for becoming a classic vehicle.It happens automaticaly when the time passed.


GreaseMonkey (not verified)

Possibly another point is familiarity.

Of course most now accept Minors, Minis, MGBs or VW Beetles as classic even though they are still as common as MX5s, and that is probably because they were historically defining in their day and familiarity has not devalued them any further. The example of a Marina is a good one, also once common, but nothing remarkable at the time (except to say they could still use lever-arm dampers in the seventies) and while rare now, nobody misses them. Classic status generally can not be designed into a car, but there is an instinct that tells us when we get slapped in the face by a new McLaren F1 or Lotus Elise that tells us from day one, 'here's something special' in a similar way to the reactions fifty years ago when the E-Type caused the world's population to make a mess in their underwear. Another difference in recent times is the manipulation of marketing in making us more brand aware - think merchandising and how many T-shirts or baseball caps are sold on the back of some professionally created 'image'. So, and particularly in the sports car market, there is a tendency to want to believe that whatever whizz-bang multi-valve bolide one has just invested in will immediately earn classic status for no other reason than the owner wants it to. I doubt when John DeLorean introduced the Pontiac GTO he would have had any thoughts about a future classic reputation, just what do we need to whup those other cars on Woodward Avenue and get them moving out of the showroom tomorrow. And yet here was a car that was basically a granny grocery-getter with a mega motor and attitude. It had the nastiest plastic trim and handled like an olive on a wet bar counter but kids wanted them, and still do - check the prices now. Sure a 300SX will beat it in every test you can devise except for presence. Some things can come good with the passing of time, and some will stay ordinary. Sorry if your current wheels of choice fall into the latter category but thems the breaks.

Chris Martin (now giving his soap-box a rest for the night).

Joined: 2012-08-26

I suppose if it's listed in the Buyers Guide it must qualify as a classic.

BUT   I've got a Honda S2000, which is listed, and I use it as an everyday car, having had it from new.

(How can a car that was made until a couple of years ago be considered a classic?)

Swordfish's picture
Joined: 2011-08-26

Well I havent really had any Classic experience first hand since I was forced to sell my 64 TBird, 67 DaimlerV8 250 and scrapped a Sceptre and Hunter Estate as well as a Maxi, which I used virtually fault free for nearly 5 years, and a 25 year old Mark 5 Cortina that the insurance company said was classic but very few at shows back then 15 years or so ago before it went to that great banger racing track in the sky, would accept it as such.

When I picked up my 1969 Viva, after going to Whitham by train, then had a little go round the station car park, paid the man, and went straight off down the a12, I was quite impressed that she sat at 60 with the occassional burst of 70 and then there were those marvelous things from the past like quarter lights, and windows with winders.but little else to distract like in moderns, oh there is a discret sterio but I was too busy listening for ominous sounds to worry about music, this was attainable motoring for the upwardly mobile masses, back in the 60s with a little style for the family market thrown in for good measure, so needed to be little else. I also recal the Motor declaring the SL90 the best £700 pound car back then, how times have changed.

Bearing in mind this is a 44 year old car,and the last one I drove was an SL estate way back when , I was impressed. OK there was a bit of bobbing about in the lorries slipstreams and on acceleration some deliberation on changing into second.

The best bit was on pulling into a country garage, en route to my sailing club, was a youngish looking chap saying, what a loveley car, wow is it original, thats what you call a real car, you can work on them, not like these things(his Focus, if they go wrong you have to plug them in to a b computer). Oh and his Mum had had one too.

Deciding to journey  home down alongside the River Strour, I could detect quite a few turning heads and even a Farm guy out in the sticks  following this passing little car-I remember back in the day Viva HBs had that effect.

I was getting quite into the groove, by then finding the at first recalciegent clutch/gearbox (apart from maybe 1st to 2nd)really slick just like I remember HA/B/C Vivas were renowned for, and even a bit of double declutching came into play as to the boggo drum brakes, which were improved by the addition of some fluid but nothing like as sharp as those 90 ones.

Once on holiday I not only persuaded my dad to take me to have a go on an airfield but my uncle came along too as did some other friends staying in the farm house ,  I could boast of having driven Mum's Viva HA, Uncles Consul Classic , A Corsair V4, and finned Sunbeam Rapier all in one day!not bad for a 14 year old. No one then could have conceded any of those would ever be classed as Classics albeit Ford had the temerity to call their 315 series just that.

So I cannot define a real Classic, even though one was very on behalf of American Clubs then,active in times of yore trying to help convince the powers that be old cars were actually an asset to the system, not the contrary..The result was not a date to be for vehicles made before 1960, as at first muted, during a meeting wherein various delegates from all manner of clubs, 39 in total, journeyed to Swansea, to try and obviate the nonesense about old vehicles being environmentally harmfull(my Viva does need a petrol additive ) but the combined total  of old vehicles at that time was reckoned to be 00.01per cent, of all vehicles used of any age.

The best date we could settle for was a 25 year revolving one, but that took another two years to be agreed upon, from 1997, which Gordon Brown stealthily reversed and left at pre 73, after New Labour took control a few months later.

I remember a Vicar of all people making waves as to his Allegro he was rebuilding  (I think he had quite a few re seeing a feature on them via UTube) wouldnt then qualify for the free tax, seemingly now taken for granted by many since, as his car was from 1973, however I gather the revolving VED is to be put back again in 2014. Also you will not have to keep declaring your vehicle for SORN after the first decleration.

Well after all that time which coincided with my offloading of cars and home, back then, I can actually enjoy free tax on at least one vehicle myself.

Whether I can get back in my distinctly non Classic Mondeo with all its refinements(when I said to the guy in the garage I had one he pointed to the Viva and said I would sooner have that)-and here is the thing I think he maybe right.

I also realised that my preference to fast motorbikes for fun , just how much fun I had already in the little Viva-no one would have imagined back in 69 such would fall under the Classic banner, but I have long since not been interested in mid engined ferraris or 911 Porkers either.

However to just use an old car again all year round might be on a wing and a prayer, and dont you still have to have a modern as well to get classic car insurance-again my last experience of such was you had to?

However generally before the Classic thing had become a lifestyle activity(and why not-I had loads of pleasurable experiences as a result)it was recognised that cars of the ilk of a Cord 810/12, or Auburn Speedster, Lagonda V12 and many post war cars like the 300SL Gullwing, Pegasos, Delages and Delahayes, were often referred to as 'real Classics' as they had missed the boat(tail)period referred to as Vintage

The guy who sold me the Viva asked what I was gonna do with it, to wit my reply was use and enjoy it, however whilst tempted by a same colour modded one that was a 90, with GT bonnet and replica Minilites, did that make it worth the 1000+pounds someone paid for it, more than my standard one, and it was miles away so hopefully this one was the better choice.

Having thought time and tide may have made the performance of a standard one feeble, as described in C&SC once,with the higher axle ratio, of the standard engined basic/Deluxe/and SL(apart from the Estates) I found 60 on the A12 and the odd burst of 70 quite adequate, and past experience of driving older vehicles usually slows me down anyway, so in real terms have things improved as much as 40 odd years should have and actually it was quite as lively as I recal .

 Sorry had my finger over the i pad eye,

 maybe the Viva isnt quite in the same class but then I reckon to have seen far more Stangs than Vivas, in recent times and there is no way its gonna get Brabham stripes a bigger engine or wider wheels either.

Mario Laguna
Joined: 2011-08-29

"However generally before the Classic thing had become a lifestyle activity(and why not-I had loads of pleasurable experiences as a result)it was reckognised that cars of the ilk of a Cord 810/12, or Aubern Speedster, Lagonda V12 and many post war cars like the 300SL Gullwing, Pegasos, Delages and Delahayes were often referred to as real Classics as they had missed the boat(tail)period referred to as Vintage"

Nice to read somebody thinks much of Pegaso. So rare referring to Pegaso in a favourite classic list.
If rarity is among criteria to be eligible as a classic, note this: ENASA only sold a total production of 84 Pegasos from 1951-1956.
Another old debate: may a car made in big numbers be a classic?