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Classic, Vintage and Antique – How Can You Tell?

A decent slice of the driving population isn’t into new cars so much. OK, they might drive newer models to get from A to B and for general bread-and-butter driving. But when they drive for pleasure, they look to the past: to classics, vintages and antiques.  Sometimes, you may hear the word “veteran” bandied about.

When we hear the word “vintage” pop into our heads, we usually get mental pictures of something with big goggly headlamps, seriously sprung upholstery, a square top and big mudguards.  The Ford Model T would be a prime example.  When “classic” is mentioned, mental images get a bit more fluid, with some people thinking about traditional VW Beetles and others picturing big old American numbers.  Mention an “antique” car to the person on the street and he or she would probably give you a funny look.

So what makes a classic a classic?  What’s the definition of a vintage car?  Is it the age or the styling?

A Model T Ford from 1910: an antique or veteran car.

A Model T Ford from 1910: an antique or veteran car.

Defining veteran, vintage and antique cars is the easy part.  Veteran and Antique cars are the same thing: anything that was made before the end of World War 1 (that’s 1919 for those who don’t remember history lessons from high school).  A veteran car is something that was made between the wars, more or less: between 1919 and either 1925 or 1930, depending on which authority you listen to.  This means that the classic Beetle just misses out on being a vintage car, as it was first made in 1938.  Model T Fords, however, can be veterans or vintages, as they were produced from 1908 to 1927.

1926 Bentley: a vintage car

1926 Bentley: a vintage car


Defining classics is much harder.  Exactly how old a classic has to be to count depends on where you are and who you listen to, with 15 years old, 20 years old, 30 years old and 27–65 years old all being given as the age for a classic by various authorities, clubs and insurance companies.  However, there’s more to it than that.  A classic car has to have “collectible” quality and to be a true classic, it has to be in original condition.

1961 E-type Jaguar: definitely a classic

1961 E-type Jaguar: definitely a classic

Of course, the idea of what is considered “collectible” or desirable will vary from person to person.  This is where personal preferences kick in.  Obviously, luxury vehicles tend to make the grade (e.g. the E-type Jaguar  pictured here).  So do a lot of the big American muscle cars of the 1950s.  But when it comes to cars that were once your typical family drive, things get a lot more fluid.  A classic has to have a lot of sentiment attached to it in some form.  It has to be “iconic” in some way.  And that’s a quality that’s hard to pin down.

However, it would be fairly safe to list certain older family style vehicles as being sure-fire classics:  VW Beetles (as already mentioned), Minis , Kombis, Holden Kingswoods, Ford Cortinas and Fiat 500s would be my picks.  I’m sure there are lots more!

Picking what’s going to be a classic in the future is harder, although some enthusiasts have a go at trying to buy up “sleepers” and hanging onto them until they become classics.  This is a bit of a gamble, as they may never get that collectable quality to them.

It is usual for articles of this type to suggest lists of future classics.  I am not going to attempt this, apart from guessing that the hot sports cars of the 1980s and 1990s (Porsche Boxters , Nissan 350Z Roadsters , Mazda MX-5 , BMW Z4s ) will probably make the grade.  However, I will propose a couple of rules of thumb:

  • If it was your typical car driven by university students when you were a kid, it will probably be a classic when you’re middle-aged.
  • If you drooled over it as the latest luxury car in magazines, car yards and dealers’ windows when you were a kid, it will probably be a classic when you reach retirement.

Happy driving,



  1. Natasha says:

    Woo…. Great article. Add few more Vintage car images please. Am looking for information regarding old vintage cars. If possible kindly send the source of your article. If you ask me, I just Loved The A Model T Ford from 1910 the antique car. Hope you won’t let me down. Natasha

    September 24th, 2014 at 9:34 pm

  2. malcolm mawson says:

    Dear Megan

    Your article written on my birthday (22 september) has prompted me to share a desire of mine!

    My first car was a 1935 Morris 8 sports (convertible) with running boards & wire wheels— I believe 1935/36 was a rare model– –other pre-war 1937/1938 models had steel wheels. The convertibles were hardly a classic car but had great lines for its age. Also compared to the sedan version which was plain ugly.

    As far as I am aware Morris production did not recommence
    exporting the Morris 8 after WW2 –my recollection —the pre war was superseded by the Morris series E around 1946/47.

    As 2015 will represent 80 years since my first car took to the road (1935 ) I have been considering purchasing a Mustang
    2.3 litre turbocharged four-cylinder model as a replacement!

    My problem is ordering the Mustang in QLD—the local ford dealership—-whom I contacted earlier this year — put me on a mailing list. I have now just received a newsletter from Ford Australia advising it has received 13,000 expressions of interest ahead of the 2015 launch.
    The announcement also said a US $2000 deposit will reserve a car and “secure your Saleen VIN number”

    It may therefore be over a year or more before the Mustang is readily available unless you can get me on a priority list for delivery next year .

    I would appreciate your assistance /recommendations to achieve delivery next year to achieve the 80 year goal.

    Kind Regards

    Malcolm Mawson

    September 24th, 2014 at 9:39 pm