Definition of a Classic Car

By David Schultz from the November 2013 issue of Hemmings Classic Car

At a recent Car Show meeting, the subject was once again brought up as to the definition of a classic car. Richard G. submits this excerpt definition for consideration from the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA):

In the words of the CCCA:

A CCCA Classic is a “fine” or “distinctive” automobile, either American or foreign built, produced between 1915 and 1948. Generally, a Classic was high-priced when new and was built in limited quantities. Other factors, including engine displacement, custom coachwork and luxury accessories, such as power brakes, power clutch, and “one-shot” or automatic lubrication systems, help determine whether a car is considered to be a Classic.

The CCCA is considered to have invented the term classic car [1] , which was coined to describe the vehicles covered by the Club’s interest. While the term is nowadays used to describe any interesting old vehicle, many in the US consider it only properly used to describe vehicles considered eligible for the CCCA. This may be considered analogously to the correct usage of ‘Classical music’ to mean only from a specific historical period, even though many people use the term to mean any orchestral work.

However, a Los Angeles car buff attorney, Robert Gottlieb, coined the term “classic car” in his 1951 Motor Trend columns, for the cars many people considered white elephants, then languishing on the back rows of used car lots in any city. Today, excluding “associate members,” aka wives, the CCCA has only 2,500 members, about its membership in the 1970s.

In order to avoid ambiguity, the CCCA generally refers to classic cars that are eligible for the CCCA  ‘CCCA Full Classics’, ‘CCCA Classics’, ‘Full Classics’, or just capitalizes them as ‘Classics’.

The CCCA has a narrow focus, tending to be interested only in the high-priced cars available in a limited time period. Racing cars and serious sports cars are not covered by the CCCA, either.

Eligible Vehicles

The Classic Car Club of America publishes an officially sanctioned list by makes and models of Approved CCCA Classic Cars. Some makes that are not very well represented in the Club are accepted on a “Considered by application” basis. A Club member may petition to have a vehicle not listed in Approved CCCA Classic Cars approval and accepted. Such approval may be given if the car is one of a similar standard to vehicles already accepted into the Club.

Cars older than 1915 may be accepted if they are nearly identical or fundamentally the same as eligible vehicles built in 1915 or newer. Cars built after 1942 and up until 1948 are only accepted if they are nearly identical or fundamentally the same as the prewar vehicles; the focus of the club is on the prewar, but this accepts that many cars built immediately postwar were actually the same vehicles as were available immediately before hostilities began.

The Classic Car Club of America publishes a list of Approved CCCA Classic Cars that are recognized CCCA Classics on its website.


[1]  Classic Car: A classic car is an older automobile; the exact definition varies around the world. The common theme is of an older car with enough historical interest to be collectable and worth preserving or restoring rather than scrapping. Cars 20 years and older typically fall into the classic class.

Organizations such as the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) and the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) maintain a list of eligible unmodified cars that are called “classic”. These are described as “fine” or “distinctive” automobile, either American or foreign built, produced between 1915 and 1948.

Post–World War II “classic cars” are not precisely defined and the term is often applied to any older vehicle.

Reference :

Official Site: and Antique Automobile Club:

Listing of CCCA Classic Cars

Information presented by Richard G.

Another opinion submitted by Jim D. (a previous discussion in November of 2016):

So, what exactly is a ”Classic”?

By David Schultz from the November 2013 issue of Hemmings Classic Car

As I look at the large file of Hemmings Classic Car magazines in my den, I realize it has been six years since Richard Lentinello asked me to write a regular column on Classics for this magazine, that is, “Classic” (with a capital “C”) as defined by the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA).

The circulation of Hemmings Classic Car has risen significantly since I wrote those first columns in which I shared the CCCA founders’ definition of what constituted a “Classic” car. It’s a subject worth revisiting for current readers.

When the CCCA was founded in 1953, it was already too late to copyright the term “Classic car.” And it’s only gotten worse as the years have gone on; the term “classic,” when referring to an automobile, has become essentially generic.

In the early 1950s, several publications, most notably Motor Trend magazine (specifically, Robert Gottleib), began using the term and even asked its readers to supply their definition of “classic.” They did so. One entry was chosen as the best-written definition and the writer received a 1930 Lincoln LeBaron convertible coupe for his efforts!

Ironically, when the CCCA was launched in 1952 many of the cars that were identified by the club as Classics weren’t all that old–a 1932 Cadillac V-16 was a 20-year-old automobile. A 1941 Lincoln Continental was 11 years old.

It wasn’t unusual for a 1930s Packard Twelve to be used as a tow vehicle for a brass era automobile.

The CCCA founders had decided that automobiles defined as Classics actually represented a Classic era–specifically, 1925 to 1942. The founders also came up with this description of a Classic: “fine or unusual foreign or domestic automobiles…distinguished for their respective fine design, high engineering standards and superior workmanship.” The club’s stated goal was the “restoration and preservation” of these fine automobiles, although in my opinion there has been too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

The original definition has held up quite well over the years. Eventually, the club decided to adjust its parameters. First, automobiles built through 1948 were eligible for Classic status. Next, automobiles built prior to 1925 but virtually identical to their 1925 Classic counterparts were accepted as Classics. And that’s where it rests today.

Over the years, the club has, to its credit, added to its list of “Approved Full Classic Cars,” recognizing automobiles that had initially been overlooked for Classic status. The club’s classification committee takes this task quite seriously.

Personally, I believe the Classic Era extended roughly from 1916 to 1942. Those years cover what many automobile aficionados term the coachbuilt era, that is, when Classic automobiles carried bodies built by master coachbuilders.

As I noted earlier, the term “classic” has been used for many years to describe a variety of automobiles. However, thanks to Richard Lentinello and Hemmings Classic Car, readers of HCC now know how one of the oldest and most respected collector car clubs–the Classic Car Club of America–defines a “Classic.”

Several readers have inquired about the 700-plus mile round-trip I took in June in my 1936 Pierce-Arrow, driving on 45-year-old tires and tubes. I made the trip without a problem. However, when I opened my garage door three days after returning I was surprised to see three flat tires. The stems had failed on all of the tubes. The car now has new tubes in all tires and is ready for its next long-distance adventure.