- Nate Kuhn
What makes a car a CLASSIC?
I am (like we all technically are) getting older. I don’t really feel any different, and haven’t changed much over the past decade, let alone just a year. But as I have crested the big 4-0 earlier this year, there are certain things that have come to my attention that are interesting, enlightening and I have indeed gained some wisdom as a result of another trip around the sun.
I was listening to the Everyday Driver Car Debate podcast recently, (this episode, actually) and the subject of a debate was finding a CLASSIC car. The person who submitted the debate DID elaborate on what he meant by that (in his case, it seemed to my ears like he wanted a P.O.S. Italian car that never worked), but during Paul and Todd’s segment the definition and boundaries of what was/was not a CLASSIC car was debated nearly as much as the future car purchase.
It’s one of those terms that seems a bit hard to quantify or nail down. It means something a little different to everybody, and gets a bit heated when trying to draw the line of what is and isn’t a CLASSIC car.
If you ask my dad, Classic cars are pre-oil crisis - pretty much ending in the early 1970s - and that goes for ANY car, not just cool collectible ones. That’s a line in the sand, but surely that can’t be it. If you ask a 22yr old the same question, he may point to those same 60’s cars, but also may rope a 1989 Mitsubishi Starion or a 92 VW Corrado in the mix. My 69 year old father would absolutely huff and haw at this, but I actually think they’re BOTH right.
Most things don’t have such a gray area of era - a “gray era”? Usually there are other words that describe things from the past that are collectible/special/nostalgic. They’re VINTAGE, they’re Victorian, etc. Clothing, architecture, and other collectibles have more specific names/genres for their old stuff in a way cars don’t. But classic cars are as personal to their admirers than nearly anything else on the planet. In fact, the only other thing that comes to mind that has a similar issue with classification is music. And I think we can use both to aid in a proper definition on this very crucial topic that we are all losing absolutely no sleep over…
If what I’m about to describe hasn’t happened to you yet, just wait a bit longer, because it eventually will. You’ll be listening to music, and at some point you’ll be absolutely devastated when some song/band/artist that you love is referred to as “Classic Rock”. It happens to me more often than I like to admit.
Wait, I'll say… This must be a mistake. Nirvana isn’t “Classic Rock” - they broke out when I was 10 or 11 years old. I REMEMBER listening to them on the radio when their big album broke (technically their 2nd but let's not get in a debate about when they ‘made it’). No, that’s not CLASSIC rock at all, Classic rock is stuff like The Who, The Beatles, and Elvis. What’s going on here?
But it’s true. In my head, it wasn’t that long ago, but we’re talking about 30+yr old music, just like how I remember The Who, The Beatles and Elvis when I discovered them as a child. But in the same breath, I will NEVER refer to the music that first came out as I was growing up as “Classic Rock” even if I recognize that it is just that to some people that are younger than I am.
Cars are the same way. To somebody born in 2003, a 1986 Toyota MR2, Fox Body Mustang Or a Contour SVT might be a classic car in a way they won’t ever be for ME. I think it’s all about perspective, and far less about the actual age of the thing.
I feel like the most agreeable divider of the term Classic (for both music and cars) is if it’s older than you are. I feel this is true because classic status is far less about technical age, more about the impression they make on you.
When you live during something’s relevant lifespan, there’s a connection you have to it that you feel like you are a part of that thing. Not pretending that being alive when a Dodge Viper first rolled off the production line means you have any sort of OWNERSHIP over it, but if you were around to see one on the road in 1992 that left the same dealership floor as a Dodge Dynasty, you understood how earth-shattering that car was on the streets. The absolute jaw dropper shape, sound and performance of that car in the early 90s was a rift in the market that was unbelievable.
Being just 11 years old and 5 years before even getting my driver’s license didn’t matter. I was there, and remember the birth of that car as a part of my life story and can not ever relegate it as a CLASSIC car. Because at that same time, CLASSIC cars were already a thing to me and this was definitely not that.
So perhaps classic cars, like classic rock music, are a sliding scale. Or at the very least a loose definition relative to the age of the individual and not something to get upset/depressed about when something you wouldn't deem a “classic” is referred to as such.
If you’re still reading, I'm sure you’re waiting for a point to emerge - a ruling that defines this undefinable term in the best way my 40 years of wisdom can offer. So here goes:
I think anything that had its heyday/day in the sun/first span of life before you were around to witness it is a classic. That means whenever or however you discovered it after that initial era (be it a 1993 RX7, 1963 Corvette, Weezer’s Blue Album or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) was in a time where it already was ‘a thing’ that (usually) older people already knew about because they lived it in real time. I think that’s a classic. It’s more about personal perspective on the object, less about how many years old it is.
Lets give it a try. Model T? Classic car to basically EVERYONE alive. That’s an easy one. A 1970 Dodge Challenger is on MY list (being born in 1981) but might not be on EVERYONE’S list. I don’t consider a Z32 300ZX like Todd has as a classic car, but people in their 20’s absolutely might.
So the answer is… that there really is no answer. A car doesn’t have to be finicky, run like crap, be rare or even culturally significant to be a classic car. But if you weren’t around for its initial run, I think that is good enough criteria to make it a Classic car to YOU. It’s all about perspective, and that gives us all different boundaries.
So with this hugely un-scientific discovery, we can validate our conflicting opinions and argue on the internet about something else now!
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.