Classic, Vintage, and Antique Cars: What’s the Difference?

Classic cars, red, yellow, and black

The phrase “classic, vintage, and antique cars may seem redundant. After all, people often use the terms synonymously. However, those three descriptive words represent entirely separate categories when discussing vehicles. We know what you’re thinking—can’t we just call them old cars?

Any car enthusiast will tell you that labeling these incredible relics of automotive history “old cars” is an injustice to the purpose they served in revolutionizing the way we travel. Scan this brief overview of the differences between vintage, antique, and classic vehicles and walk away with a better understanding of what makes each category so unique.

Age of the Vehicle

Experts, fans, and collectors categorize classic, vintage, and antique cars based on specific criteria. There are many different ways to determine which group a vehicle might fit into, such as any iconic vintage features.

Typically, the first characteristic people look for when categorizing an older car is its age. Below we’ve listed the specific age groups that determine how old a vehicle must be to fit into these particular categories.

  • Vintage Vehicles—to consider a car as vintage, its manufacture date must be between 1919 and 1930, or approximately 90 years old today. It’s typically a “survivor,” meaning it has a history of modifications and restoration to the original manufacturers’ specifications.
  • Antique Models—for a vehicle to fall into the antique category, it must have originally hit the market in or before the year 1975. In other words, it must be at least 45 years old.
  • Classic Cars—for a vehicle to be a classic model, its manufacture date must be before the year 2000. Or, in less specific terms, it should be at least 20 years old.

Age isn’t the only determining factor in categorizing these beautiful pieces of the past. You can also refer to their historic status to see which category they fall under.

Historical Status of the Vehicle

The historical status of a vehicle is essentially the title you earn when you register one of these older models with your state. Before registering a car as historic, it must meet unique criteria. These criteria generally revolve around the age of the vehicle in question.

The requirements will change slightly from state to state. Generally, if you hope to snag that historic status, your car must be between 20 and 30 years old. Additionally, whether you’re working with the top vintage vehicles or newer classic models, you can only drive historic vehicles to:

  • Automobile exhibitions
  • Parades
  • Club activities

Owners can also bring them to auto or body shops for tune-ups and detailing services. Additionally, if you’re planning to sell your vehicle, certain states will permit driving them to car auctions where they’re sure to stand out.

In short, some stark differences determine whether a vehicle is antique, classic, or vintage. The most prominent among them are the vehicle’s age and historical status. Understanding these differences is crucial if you’re into restoring, purchasing, or collecting older vehicles.

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