What makes an old car a classic car?

Old car at night

Is a car defined as a classic because it’s old? The simple answer is, no. Just like a Toyota Camry today wouldn’t be a classic in 50 years time even if it was the only ‘survivor’. So why all the hero worship for old cars the equivalent of said Camry?

As we move further into the digital age with everyday objects becoming ‘smart’, we are perhaps clinging tighter to all things mechanical, in the knowledge that it may be pulled from beneath us at any time.

Then there’s the other factor of expected increases in value.

“Aden’s picked up a 1983 XE Fairmont Ghia sedan in mint condition, he must know something we don’t!”

1983 Ford Fairmont XE Ghia sedan

Unfortunately, Aden (not a real person!) doesn’t know anything really. He just wants in. He wants to join the ‘old car club’. Purchase the unexpected, the unloved, the uncool and it’s like you’re listening to Black Flag while everyone else is rocking on to U2. It’s all in his head which is perfectly fine, as long as he doesn’t start espousing the objectionable rhetoric of classic cars as investments. 

The 911 factor

Thanks to the incredible financial return that classic 911s have enjoyed for the last ten or so years, many seem to think anything old and remotely preserved, is also capable of achieving dizzying heights of returns. 

Porsche 911 S

Rapidly rising prices and the cool factor associated with old 911s helped along by the likes of Magnus Walker meant speculators and investors now saw classic cars as a means to make money. And make money they did, even on brand new cars, the Porsche 911 R being a prime example. 

Pre-911 mania, a classic car which was considered special was defined by production rarity, design, competence, and/or racing history. Tick all those boxes (eg Porsche 911 2.7 RS) and you have an appreciating asset which finds its place in the history books and deserves its credit. 

Everything else was just old car, and the values reflected that. Real enthusiasts could finally get their hands on their childhood dream car and enjoy it for what it is. 

Resto-modding gone mad

Since Magnus Walker came on the scene, and Singer reimagined what a 911 could be and do, every Tom, Dickhead, and Harry have been applying their wrenches to ‘improving’ whatever they could get their hands on. Commercialised resto-modding is the new religion in the hope that cashed up wannabes will pay exorbitant amounts for the end result in the hope it will be worth double in years to come, with the cars often ending up worse than if they just left the poor things alone.

Singer 911 Porsche Arpit

Singer virtually created a whole new market. Rob Dickinson didn’t set out to make money or capitalise on a trend, he did it out of curiosity and passion. Now we have opportunists dissecting the idea and wondering what else is out there they can apply the same process and rationale to, which unfortunately drives up market prices artificially because of demand. 

It’s worth more because…?

Undoubtedly attrition will naturally drive prices up but low numbers should not be an invitation or right to ask obscene amounts of money. 

Some advertise their car is special because it was specced with a rare colour (that nobody wanted) including other dubious options (painted indicator surrounds; logo crest in the glovebox) and the only one in the country to have a cat pee on the sunroof. Is this what it’s come down to?

Would you define every obscure B-side song a classic simply because it’s old and never played? The success and acclaim of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy doesn’t automatically make Clooney’s effort any more tolerable simply by association, the same can be said for a long hood 911 S and 924.

The most endearing aspect of old cars common to all is their mechanical engineering. If that’s the only redeeming feature, then let’s just leave it at that and not glorify it.

Real classics fulfil certain criteria, everything else is just another car to be driven and enjoyed.

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