A Classic by Any Other Name...
Since the early days of automotive history, people have been collecting and restoring all types of automobiles. Somewhere along the way, the term Classic Car (with the uppercase Cs) was coined to describe a certain type of older vehicle to other automotive enthusiasts. However, what Classic Car means exactly varies widely among automotive enthusiasts and collectors -- even today.
Founded in 1952, the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) claims to have invented the term, and thus its members believe that the true definition of the term belongs to them.
According to the CCCA: "A CCCA Classic is a 'fine' or 'distinctive' automobile, either American or foreign built, produced between 1925 and 1948. They are also sometimes called 'Full Classics,' or just plain 'Classics' (with a capital 'C'). Generally, a Classic was high-priced when new and was built in limited quantities. 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 to be a Classic."
The club maintains a rather exclusive list of the vehicles they consider Classics. It consists of primarily high-end, hand-built, mostly pre-war luxury cars such as Duisenberg, Auburn, Franklin, and other limited production vehicles of that period. "Full Classics" in CCCA parlance these cars are truly fine automobiles and have deservedly earned their place in history.
One troubling aspect in siding with the CCCA interpretation of a Classic Car is revealed in the club's very low membership figure of less than 6,000. The membership consists mostly of investment collectors and museum curators and is pretty much devoid of grassroots restorers and the casual automotive enthusiast, an important element for perpetuating the American automobile culture.
These points aren't meant to lessen the CCCA's great contribution in preserving this era of automobile history. It's arguably true that in 1952, the CCCA's list of prestigious vehicles were "Classic Cars." Today, a more accurate term for their list might be "Antique Cars" or perhaps even "Classic Antique Cars."
A great deal of the reasoning behind the Antique Car term stems from laws passed by many states defining Antique Cars as "vehicles 25 years old and older, which have been maintained in or have been restored to a condition which is substantially in conformity with manufacturer specifications and appearance."
Generally, the 25-year mark is regarded as the benchmark for the majority of states adopting the Antique Car classification. However, as an example, Pennsylvania has adopted the 15-year rule as their standard for this classification. Other states have followed suit, passing similar statues that define Classic and Antique vehicles.
Many states base their vehicle age criteria on the design life time of most vehicles, which is around 10 years. I can tell you from personal experience and having lived in areas where the roads are salted in the winter months, cars older than 15 years could most definitely be considered Antique and good examples are rare. Such a distinction is especially rewarding for owners that have taken the extra steps to care for and impeccably maintain their vehicles in that type of environment.
Formed in 1935, the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) is this country's oldest and most prestigious automobile club. Boasting over 50,000 members, this distinction places the organization in a position of great importance when it comes to setting industry standards among the automotive community.
In August of 1974, the club announced the inclusion of vehicles 25 years old and older into the Classic Car classification. The rule went into effect February 1, 1975, to the delight of many Classic Car enthusiasts.
While the argument of what is or isn't a Classic Car is still a hot topic between purists and everyday enthusiasts, the undeniable fact is that the AACA classification pretty much drives the restoration and enthusiast marketplace today.
And that market is substantial. The specialty aftermarket parts and services sector is a multibillion-dollar-a-year business, and owes much of its success to Classic Car interests and enthusiasts.
The Specialty Equipment Manufactures Association (SEMA) which supports and tracks data for this sector, revealed the restoration market did $1.2 billion (retail) in 2004. That's about 12% share of the special-equipment marketplace. And the $1.2 billion jumped nearly 10% from the prior year and has grown every year since 1992.
The 25-year rule also assures continued participation among automobile enthusiasts, restorers, and collectors, and supports a healthy aftermarket in restoration parts and supplies that keep these classics on the road. For people like myself, it's good to see more and more people discovering Classic Cars and making it their hobby or even their business.
Henry Ford's dream to "build a car for the great multitude" and the culture born out of great men like Ransom Olds, David Buick, and other automotive pioneers is being kept alive by today's restorers, collectors, and enthusiasts, who love their Classic Cars, no matter what term is used to define them.
Join me throughout 2006 as we answer your questions on Classics, traverse automotive history, and discover today's news about America's love affair with the automobile.