What Makes a Car a Classic?

By Lesley Barker

Just because a car is a vintage model in perfect shape does not make it eligible to be called a classic car. This is a very specific term that only applies to certain cars built over one 23-year period. Of course, uninitiated people apply the term more widely, and governments use the term "classic car" to describe which cars can carry antique vehicle license plates.

Identification

According to the Classic Car Club of America, a classic car is defined by three criteria. First, it must be a "fine or distinctive automobile." Second, it has to have been built either in the United States or abroad during the years between 1925 and 1948. Finally, it has to have been originally a high priced car.

Significance

The Classic Car Club of America maintains a listing of those cars which meet the standards of these three criteria. They are certified as either CCCA Classics or as Full Classics. If a member of the Classic Car Club believes that another vehicle should be awarded this designation, a petition can be made. However, additional models have rarely been certified as CCCA classics.

Size

According to the research of John Lee, a Classic Car Club member, 1,366,843 American classic cars were produced. Packards and Cadillacs account for over half of them. 388,980 classic Cadillacs and 336,799 classic Packards were made.

Types

The other classic cars were made by 37 other American car makers. The list includes such familiar names as: LaSalles, Lincolns, Buicks, Studebakers and Chryslers. The classic car maker who produced only one known vehicle, according to John Lee, was Julian.

Considerations

Each state has a law that determines which cars qualify for antique vehicle registration. Many states, like Pennsylvania for example, set the eligibility for this special license category as pertaining to cars that are more than 15 years older than the current calendar year. The cars must also be in their original condition to qualify. While these cars may be classic cars according to the law, the Classic Car Club would not certify one of them as a true classic. Instead, they would be called modern classic cars.

About the Author

Lesley Barker, director of the Bolduc House Museum, authored the books "St. Louis Gateway Rail—The 1970s," published by Arcadia, and the "Eye Can Too! Read" series of vision-related e-books. Her articles have appeared in print and online since the 1980s. Barker holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Washington University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Webster University.