Classic Cars – A Distortion of a Definition


Chris Pollitt

It’s an argument only slightly younger than the car itself; what is the definition of a classic car? Some are staunch and planted in their opinion, some have a more fluid idea of what they consider to be a classic. Fundamentally though, there is no set definition. You might argue that 40 years is the benchmark, given that’s the Government’s chosen age when it comes to tax and MOT exemption. You might say it has to be a car that has an ‘awooga’ horn, or something with wooden wheels. Or you might say it has to, at the very least, be a car that’s no longer in production. There are so very many trains of thought.

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Fundamentally though, to my mind, as long as you’re not trying to pass off a 7 year-old Honda Civic as a classic, you’re golden. I think it’s very much a subjective thing as long as there’s some consideration there. Take my driveway and the scrappers that reside on it for example. My Rover 800 is 24 years old. I would call that a modern classic at the very least. In fact, I would argue that mitigating factors like the fact Rover doesn’t exist anymore make it a proper classic. It’s a car designed in the 1980s, too. Others wouldn’t give it a second look. My Mk1 Ford Mondeo saloon is a harder sell, but it’s a modern classic, too, surely? BTCC heritage, a model that’s now past tense, and honestly, when did you last see one? As for my Daimler (which is literally being resprayed as I type this), it’s a Daimler. How can it not be a classic? You might argue it’s modern, to which I would have to gently remind you that the year 2000 was 23 years ago.

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Then there is the influence on the definition brought about by the individual. I’m 40, and as such, I remember these cars from when I was a teen. I couldn’t afford them, but I lusted after them. I now have them, and there’s a romance to that, a very personal link too. That’s what makes them classic to me. The majority of classic cars are owned because they were the dream cars of the past, the ‘one day’ poster cars. It doesn’t need to be rare exotica to qualify. It just has to be something that means something to you. Classic cars are emotive and their purchase is always, always driven by passion and heart, not logic. Leave that for the 7 year-old Civics of the world.

Here’s the other thing that muddies the water. Cars from thirty, even forty years ago are not that different to those of today. Sure, modern cars have more machines that go ping, more screens and more airbags, but the core technology (notwithstanding electric and hybrid cars) isn’t worlds away from what it’s been for decades. Hydraulic disc brakes, suspension designs, steering, so on and so forth. The leap from a 40 year-old car to a modern one does not span the same chasm as jumping from a 1943 car to one from 1983. Yet that massive advance in how cars were made seems to automatically make those earlier car classics, and rightly so. But in the case of the latter leap, if you can call it that, the design familiarity makes it harder for people to see cars up to forty years old as being proper classics.

As I say though, as long as you’re not being intentionally obtuse about it (see: 7 year-old Civic) anything can be a classic. It’s not a definition set in stone, it’s not official, it is in fact quite arbitrary. It’s also, ultimately, a deeply personal thing. Go to any big classic car show and you’ll see what I mean. Classic cars, modern classics, whatever – they all have a personal story attached, they all sit and gleam in front of an immensely proud owner. They all all represent a passion or a desire. The 7 year-old Honda is in the car park outside.

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