The History of Classic Car Recognition

Whilst we all know the difficulties of trying to collectively define a classic car, how about defining when people started calling old cars classics?

It’s a tough one, but here at Heritage Classic Car Insurance, we have given it a good go.

A quick car history recap

Since Karl Benz gave us what is widely accepted as the first petrol production car in the 1880s, we have seen what is today recognised as different motoring eras.

Cars manufactured prior to 1905 are Veteran. Cars made between then and December 1918 are from the Edwardian era (or the Brass era for our friends across the pond). From 1919 to 1930, we generally see the cars as Vintage. After that, they are known as pre-war, post-war and modern cars.

So when was the first ‘classic’?

Good question! It’s hard to tell!

There’s nothing to say that a gentleman in 1937 couldn’t have gazed lovingly at a 1923 Lancia Lambda and found himself thinking ‘what a classic motor!’ 

There have been rapid changes since we ditched the horse drawn carriages and started recognising our cars based on their respective eras. So, let’s take a look at the more ‘recent’ classics in history instead.

So how about modern classic recognition?

This is another difficult question, but we believe that we can point to a few significant moments in our generation.

Motorfest, which started in 1986 in Sydney, marks an early occasion of classic recognition taking shape in the form of a festival. At this time, cars were only recognised as classics if they were at least 30 years old. However, for the first cars that were ‘recognised’ at all, we can definitely go back further.

How about 1973? It’s the year that Classic Cars magazine was launched. It was the first UK title dedicated to classic motoring.

Well, when a magazine is launched, there must surely be an audience to read it, so we must go back further still. Interestingly though, 1973 is the same year that the

Manx Classic Car Club launched, originally for owners of pre-1940 cars.

Let’s jump back two decades more to 1952; the year that saw the launch of The Classic Car Club of America! Now we’re getting somewhere. Although it must be said that in looking further back in time we’ve ended up closer to our Lancia-loving gentleman than we are to our own generation.

It looks like ‘Classic’ recognition is just like classic definition, something that cannot quite be pinned down due to the subjectivity involved.

If you have any interesting thoughts on early and more modern classic recognition, get in touch via our Facebook page. Give us a call on 0121 248 9229 if you need to cover a classic of your own.