Definition of a Classic Car
1964 Impala SS with author (and toys)
Classics are what you make of them
When you go to a Cruise Night or Classic Car Show, the range of vehicles exhibited is often incredible. They will range from steam-powered horseless carriages through this year’s most expensive luxury sports car.
If you turn on the television and watch one of the auto restoration shows, you’ll see the same sort of range: anything from a frame-off restoration of a muscle car found in a garage or barn to some funky modifications to a run-of-the-mill modern car.
When you ask someone, “What’s your favorite classic?” you’ll receive a range of answers reflecting personal experience: the car their grandfather drove, the truck their dad had in college, the car they couldn’t afford when they were young. In short, a classic is (to most people), whatever they make of it.
1963 Chevy Biscayne
Can you remake an antique, Really?
Pretty much, cars built in the decades before they were born look exotic. By the time you’re old enough to notice cars, the ones you see on the road are younger than 15 years. Since modern cars are staying in service longer and the designs don’t change yearly, like in the era up through the 1980s, defining modern classics is rather difficult.
Add to that the remakes/redesigns of older production models and things become more muddled. If a remake of a classic movie is often questionable, what’s a remake of a classic car? Probably the first wildly successful reboot wasn’t a direct rebuild, but a look at an era: The PT Cruiser. Since Plymouth hadn’t manufactured a truck since 1941, the PT-125, it was a look at what a mini-van would have looked like if it had been built in the Plymouth Truck era, 1937-1941.
Then add modifications to the cars. Is a ’73 Chevy El Camino body put on a giant, jacked-up 4x4 truck body a classic car? If you take that same El Camino and make it a low-rider that drags the ground if you don’t activate the suspension, is that a classic? How about putting giant rims with super low-profile tires? It’s looking like a highway-ready version of that 4x4 again, isn’t it? Then again, is an El Camino a car or a truck? From the front it looks like a Malibu, from the back it looks like, well, a station wagon that had an accident.
Oooh, Barracuda (Plymouth, of course)
Flippin' Cars Ain't Flipping Right!
Once again, go back to those reality shows where they flip the cars. Watch what happens when they take the cars they’ve modded to the auction. It’s amazing. They’ll take a run-of-the-mill, what is to most folks a non-collectible car, and turn it into some sort of super hot-rod version that looks like the collector version.
An example of something like this would be taking a non-Super Sport (SS) Chevy, putting a modern high-performance engine, brakes, suspension, and you-name-it on the car. Modifying the body to make it a 1-of-a-kind car is generally part of the process. To finish, it gets all of the SS trim (or at least a modified, stylized version). It will definitely get the SS logos.
Is it a Super Sport? No. What is a Super Sport? When it was introduced in the early 60s, it was merely Chevy’s top-of-the-line trim package. It had nothing to do with performance characteristics. As the 60s wore on, it began to be more identified with muscle or performance cars however.
1964 1/2 Mustang, What?
So the first model year of the Ford Mustang is a 1/2 year? What the heck? Someone took one of the cars for a test drive a few months early. The cat was out of the bag. If Ford waited until it was time for the 1965 unveiling, they feared the competition would have a response ready.
Pony up to the Muscle Era!
Ford’s Mustang experienced a similar image change. When it was introduced in ’64½, it was supposed to be what we would consider a compact: a small, inexpensive car. Maybe Lee Iaccoca’s idea was making the Mustang the Model-T for a new generation. However, the buyers discovered that putting a large engine in those small cars made them rocket like nothing the competition could imagine. What did the competition do to compete? The “Pony” Cars: Chevy Camaro, AMC Javelin, Plymouth Barracuda, and, tangentially, the Chevy Corvair and Corvair Monza.
Field of (broken) Dreams
And now, for something completely different: The Definition of a Classic Car
The easiest definition to nail down is Antique Vehicle. Most states use a definition similar to that of Texas: “an antique vehicle is defined as any motor vehicle that has at least a twenty-five year old body, frame and motor.” Easy enough. No matter what the make, model, or modifications, age defines status.
But does mere age make it a Classic? I would not think that a 4-door sedan would be a classic. You might. Is your old grandad’s pickup a classic? To you, probably. It has a history you know. In your mind, it’s always got those associations of good times with your family.
To associations like the Classic Car Club of America, there are rigid parameters. To be a CCCA Grand or Full Classic, acceptable vehicles have to be built between 1919 and 1948. Additionally they have to be a “fine” or distinctive automobile. So no, there’s not a single Chevrolet or Ford on the list, sorry.
To the Antique Automobile Club of America, the number one point to be judged upon is authenticity. Everything on the vehicle has to be original. Parts that were painted have to be painted; chrome them and you lose points in competition. Add aftermarket parts, such as an air conditioner or seatbelts and you also lose points. However, their definitions of actual cars are far wider than the CCCA’s. To the AACA, vehicles merely have to be 25 years or older to be a Classic. Then they will then be sub-categorized into one of the AACA’s many vehicle classes. It makes sense: a 1958 Corvette and Impala are both made by Chevrolet, but they really don’t fall into the same category of car.
When a body meets a body, comin' through the rye.
Summary: You know 'em when you see 'em
In the end, it’s like when the Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court refused to give a clear definition of pornography, but said, “I know it when I see it.” What is your idea of classic or collectible may differ from that of everyone else, but to you it’s a classic. In the end, the AACA and, probably, your state will agree that 25 years of age makes your vehicle an Antique. Beyond that, quibbling begins.