What is the definition of a Classic Car?

Classic Car Club of America

The Classic Car Club of America defines a CCCA Classic as follows:

A CCCA Classic is a “fine” or “distinctive” automobile, either American or foreign built, produced between 1925 and 1948. Other factors, including engine displacement, custom coachwork and luxury accessories, such as power brakes, power clutch, and “one-shot” or automatic lubrication systems, help determine whether a car is considered a Classic.

This rather exclusive definition of a classic car is not universally followed, however, and this is acknowledged by the CCCA: while it still maintains the true definition of “classic car” is its, it generally uses terms such as CCCA Classic or the trademarked Full Classic to avoid confusion. For the CCCA full definition click here.

United States legal definition of a Classic Car

Legally, most states have time-based rules for the definition of “classic” for purposes such as antique vehicle registration; for example, Most states define it as “A motor vehicle, but not a reproduction thereof, manufactured at least 20 years prior to the current year which has been maintained in or restored to a condition which is substantially in conformity with manufacturer specifications and appearance.”

Despite this, at many American classic car shows, automobiles typically range from the thirties to sixties. Examples of cars at such shows include the Chevrolet Bel-Air, Ford T-Bucket, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Deuce Coupe, and 1949 Ford. Meanwhile, the Concours D’Elegance car shows feature prestigious automobiles such as the Cadillac V16 or pre-1940 Rolls-Royce models. “Classic” cars at these shows seldom go beyond 1972. Any cars from 1973 onward are defined as “modern customs”, “exotics”, or “collectibles”.

Americans are divided on the exact era in which a “classic car” can be identified. Many Americans divide automobiles by separate eras: horseless carriages (19th century experimental automobiles such as the Daimler Motor Carriage), antique cars (brass era cars such as the Ford Model T), and classic cars (typically 1930s cars such as the Cord 812 through the end of the muscle car period in the 1970s – a majority use the 1972 model year as the cutoff). The late seventies are disputed as being “classics”, as the oil crisis of 1973 brought several now-infamous cars such as the Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin. The 1980s are often viewed as the early modern period due to the rise of Japanese automakers such as Toyota and Nissan.

Antique Automobile Club of America

The Antique Automobile Club of America defines an antique car as 25 years or older. A Classic is defined as 20–49 years old.

United Kingdom

There is no fixed definition of a classic car. Two taxation issues do impact however, leading to some people using them as cutoff dates. All cars built before January 1, 1973, are exempted from paying the annual road tax vehicle excise duty. This is then entered on the license disc displayed on the windscreen as “historic vehicle” (if a car built before this date has been first registered in 1973 or later, then its build date would have to be verified by a recognised body such as British Motor Heritage Foundation to claim tax-free status). HM Revenue and Customs define a classic car for company taxation purposes as being over 15 years old and having a value in excess of £15,000. Additionally, popular acclaim through a large number of classic car magazines plays an important role in whether a car comes to be regarded as a classic. It is all subjective and a matter of opinion. The elimination of depreciation is a reason for buying a classic car; this is a major cost of owning a modern car. Picking ‘future classics’ that are current ‘bangers’ is a pastime of people into classic cars in the UK. Successfully picking and buying one can result in a profit for the buyer as well as providing transport. An immaculate well cared for prestige model with high running costs, that impacts its value, but is not yet old enough to be regarded as a classic, could be a good buy, for example.A change in the taxation class is due to take force in April 2014, by moving the cut-off date of the historic vehicle class from January 1973 to January 1974, thus including all cars registered and built in 1973 as historic.

Modern classics

These vehicles are generally older, ranging from 15 to 25 years, but are usually not accepted as classics according to the Antique Automobile Club of America. In the UK the Modern Classic definition is open to the discretion often by Insurance Brokers and Insurance Companies who regard a Modern Classic as a vehicle that is considered collectible regardless of age.[7] The usage of the vehicle limited to recreational purposes and/or restricted mileage, is also taken into account.

Classic car styling

There was a worldwide change in styling trends in the immediate years after the end of World War II. The 1946 Crosley and Kaiser-Frazer, for example, changed the traditional discrete replaceable-fender treatment. From this point on, automobiles of all kinds became envelope bodies in basic plan. The CCCA term, “Antique Car” has been confined to “the functionally traditional designs of the earlier period” (mostly pre-war). They tended to have removable fenders, trunk, headlights, and a usual vertical grill treatment. In a large vehicle, such as a Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow, or in a smaller form, the MG TC, with traditional lines, might typify the CCCA term. Another vehicle might be a classic example of a later period but not a car from the “classic period of design”, in the opinion of the CCCA.

Safety

Car accident in 1930

Drivers of classic cars must be especially careful. Classic cars often lack what are now considered basic safety features, such as seat belts, crumple zones or rollover protection. On September 10, 2009, ABC News ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘World News’ showed a U.S. Insurance Institute of Highway Safety crash test of a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu in an offset head-on collision with a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan. It dramatically demonstrated the effectiveness of modern car safety design, over 1950s X-frame design, particularly of rigid passenger safety cells and crumple zones. The 1959 Chevrolets used an X frame design which lacked structural rigidity; had the IIHS used a pre-1958 Chevrolet with a Unibody design, the results would have been much better. Vehicle handling characteristics (particularly steering and suspension) and brake performance are likely to be poorer than current standards, hence requiring greater road-awareness on the part of the driver. In certain areas of the United States, using a classic car as a daily vehicle is strongly discouraged and may even be considered illegal in some places.

Retro-styled (color-coded with chromed buckles) 2-point and 3-point seat (safety) belts are manufactured according to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). However, most classic car bodies (manufactured before the late 1960s) did not include safety belts as standard equipment, and do not include readily available reinforced mounting points, on the vehicle body, therefore it can be problematic to install such equipment properly: specific studies and calculations should be performed before any attempts. Proper installation is critical, which means locating attachment points on the body/frame, assuring the strength by proper reinforcement, and following the seat belt installation instructions properly to reduce the risk of malfunction or failure.Some classic car owners are reluctant to retrofit seat belts for the loss of originality this modification implies. There have also been instances of cars losing points at shows for being retrofitted with seat belts.[13]

Fitting modern tires is also a suggestion to improve the handling. However, most modern tires may be much wider and have a lower profile than those used on classic cars when new, therefore they may interfere with suspension elements and the tire walls may become damaged. The suspension of a classic car may not be suitable for radial ply tyres, having been designed to only accommodate bias ply tires. Narrow classic car wheels may have been designed for narrow high profile tubed tires and not be suitable for modern tubeless radial tires. Another problem with modern tires on classic cars is that increased grip requires increased steering effort; many classic cars do not come with power steering. Many major tire companies have dedicated classic car tire marketing departments and will be able to give expert technical advice to address all these issues. It is important to know how radial tires will affect the performance of a car originally fitted with bias-ply tires, and the considerations needed to compensate for the differences.

Upgrading braking using either bespoke parts, parts produced by the vehicle’s manufacturer, from later versions of the same model or later models that may be compatible with minor modification, is an effective method of improving safety. Popular examples include drum brake to disc brake conversions, or adding a vacuum servo to cars with front disc brakes that did not originally have one.

Despite these concerns, classic cars are involved in significantly fewer accidents.

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