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KaptKaos None
5/1/08 12:38 a.m.

What makes a car a classic car?

This question was posed a few days ago on this forum and I have been thinking about it since. I have been able to come up with a few answers but not as many as I would like. Clearly, the readers here know when a car is a classic. Like Justice Stewart said “I know it when I see it.”

In addition to classic cars, I love to fly fish for trout. There are many species of trout and I like catching them all. There are things that are similar in all trout and then there are things that really differentiate them from other species. Rainbow Trout have beautifully colored sides. Brown trout have spots of brown and orange. Brook Trout, which technically aren’t really trout, have orange bellies when they spawn. These are all markers of trout, and I think that classic cars have similar markers. We just need to know what to look for.

Vent windows. Vent windows are a wonderful invention that allows the driver to open a window in the car, even if it is raining, and get fresh air directed on to the occupants or the windshield. Modern cars all have sophisticated climate control systems some more than others. Almost all new cars have air conditioning. Vent windows can keep you cool, dry and keep your windshield clear. I still don’t understand why cars don’t have them anymore.

Metal keys. We’ve covered this territory already, but classic cars have metal keys. They don’t have fobs with batteries and Bluetooth. They have simple metal keys that go into slots which open doors, glove boxes, trunks and start cars. Metal keys are durable, reliable and cheap.

Lap belts. I don’t think that there is a new car made that has a lap belt in it. All seat belts now-a-days are three point affairs. To be honest, lap belts aren’t all that effective in preventing injury. Certainly, they are better than nothing, but this list is not about merits of any particular technology, but about ways to identify a classic car.

Carburetors This is an easy one. I cannot recall the last production car that had carbs, but I am sure it was quite some time ago. Pretty much everything has been fuel injected since the late 80s. So, if you have carburetors, then you might be a classic.

4 speed manual transmission/on the tree. Generally speaking, classics had 4 speed manual transmissions. Some classics have 5 speed transmissions, but that is the maximum. There are some that have automatics, but never more than four speeds, more likely three and some with just two. If the shifter is “on the tree” it’s definitely a classic car, so you old Saab guys can stop right here.

Jump seats. The way back of our 1966 Ford Country Squire wagon had seats that folded flat into the floor. These turned the wagon from a six passenger car to a ten passenger car in seconds. Rumble seats or whatever else you might refer to them as fit into this category. The only problem here is that it forces you to consider the Subaru Brat as a classic and I am unprepared to do that.

Single Gauge/Speedometer. Most of us recall the original Beetle. It has one gauge, a speedometer, in the middle of the dash behind the steering wheel. Some had added fuel gauges later, but all it needed was the one gauge. No tachometer, no voltmeter, none of those other gauges. Just the speedo and some hash marks on it to tell you when to up shift.

No cup holders. No self respecting classic car has them. Back then, when people ate in their cars, they stopped. Manufacturers didn’t start adding them to cars until the 80s with the advent of the minivan. Sure, there were aftermarket ones and special mugs for taking your morning coffee with you on your commute, but they were not standard equipment. And I think the lack of cup holders helps to really define what a classic car is.

Honorable mention.

Here are some other markers that you might consider as well:

Cigar lighter

No dead pedal

Knock off wheels (although they seem to be making a comeback in high end wheels)

Flip up headlights

Cloth sunroof

Manual choke

Tim Baxter
Tim Baxter Online Editor
5/1/08 6:47 a.m.

A classic car is like a dominatrix. She takes your money in exchange for cruelty, yet there's no shortage of people who want to play with her.

André Rousseau
André Rousseau None
5/1/08 6:54 a.m.

And she will always cost more then quoted. Even if you do your own work.

The car, talking purely about the car...

Have no knowledge or experience with a dominatrix.

rconlon None
5/1/08 12:04 p.m.

A few more.

Bought new with bias ply tires.

Single stage paint.

Tool kit and full size spare.

Cheers Ron

KaptKaos None
5/1/08 1:11 p.m.


What was in your coffee this morning and can I have some?

Ian F
Ian F None
5/1/08 1:19 p.m.

I like Tim's definition better... maybe because by many of the previous criteria, our old '73 Volvo 1800ES wouldn't qualify...

Ignition key has platic cover, although that's all it operates... different key for the doors... and different again for the gas fill cover and the interior center console box.

3-point belts with auto-retractors

OE Recaro bucket seats... with adjustable lumber support...

electronic multi-port fuel injection (although on the plus side, it makes a MegaSquirt conversion a lot easier)

4 wheel disc brakes... with 4-piston, dual circuit front calipers and 2-piston rear calipers with drum-in-rear rotor emergency brakes.

Side impact door beams.

4 spd + O/D (debatable, but it is technically a 5 spd)

nice dead-pedal

electric rear window defroster

Guages: speedo, tach, fuel level, coolant temp, oil temp, oil pressure, clock. Granted, they are Smiths guages... so you're lucky if half of them work.

KaptKaos None
5/1/08 3:31 p.m.


My 914 doesn't meet many of the criteria either.

Obviously, I am not the decider of these things, but I thought that there should be some guidelines to help people. LOL

By the way, does your 1800 have cup holders?

Bret None
5/1/08 6:34 p.m.

Same here my 928 dosn't meet many of the criteria either.

But it is thirty years old as is my RB 78' MGB.

In the case of the 928 it's probably because it was so far ahead of it's time when it came out. Long list of firsts for a production car.

Whereas the MGB was coming to the end of it's live by this time. Lots of hold over stuff from the original.

Still think they're both classics.

Shinsen774 None
5/1/08 8:45 p.m.

My MGB meets almost all of your criteria!

Other criteria might include:

Chrome bumpers.

AM radio (or none) when new.

Bucket seats that fold forward without a latch to release.

No outside mirrors, or at last they were optional.

No reversing lamps. My '65 Mustang didn't have these and neither does my MGB.

rconlon None
5/2/08 1:09 p.m.

Every classic car that I have encountered has had at least one woman's earing under a seat. If more than one they are different.

Cheers Ron

Ian F
Ian F None
5/2/08 2:10 p.m.

Nope - no cup holders... although the spot on the tunnel behind the console and ahead of the seat belt latches works very well. :cool:

OFracing None
5/2/08 3:32 p.m.

How about having the headlight dimmer switch on the floor?

KaptKaos None
5/2/08 6:35 p.m.

That's a good one! Our old Ford Country Squire Wagon had that. Was that a mostly American car attribute?

Shinsen774 None
5/2/08 9:47 p.m.

Nope. My '64 MGB has the headlight dimmer switch on the floor

KaptKaos None
5/3/08 1:19 a.m.


5/3/08 7:32 a.m.

My own rule is pretty simple: It's a cool car and they really don't make anything very much like it anymore.

Snakedriver None
5/3/08 2:59 p.m.

I would like to submit that the convertible top come off the car and not in it, along with the sidewidows.

Also maybe any car that has a spare where the trunk ought to be!


KaptKaos None
5/3/08 10:49 p.m.

Hey Leo,

Maybe we should only include cars with wooden frames? :grin:

Snakedriver None
5/4/08 8:18 a.m.


I thought of that but I didnt want the tree huggers beating me up!

914s IMHO are the true evolution of the 356. I love telling that to 911 folks they turn red...I think cause they know its true!


PS. if we added wooden frames only, then the whole discussion of what kinds of termites live in Sports cars would dominate the forum!

Snakedriver None
5/5/08 11:45 p.m.

One other requirement:

The car must have been raced in the 24 hrs of Le Mans with the stock frame or unibody intact.


KaptKaos None
5/6/08 12:09 a.m.

Sweet!! :nice: My 914 qualifies!

Keith None
5/6/08 1:42 p.m.

So in other words, a classic car is a mechanically crude car.

Rev.Bubba None
5/6/08 1:53 p.m.

Do any of you guys drive a car with an unsynchronized gear box?

That one alone will make it a classic. Double clutching makes for fun down shifting and quick stops. :grin:

Keith None
5/6/08 3:38 p.m.

If you really want to learn, try downshifting an old Land Rover in low range. It's a lot harder than road speeds for some reason...

Shinsen774 None
5/6/08 4:57 p.m.

My MGB is not synchronized on 1st and reverse....takes some getting used to. I saw a You Tube video not too long ago about how to double-clutch. Interesting.

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