Classic Car - Definition - United States Legal Definition

United States Legal Definition

Legally, most states have time-based rules for the definition of "classic" for purposes such as antique vehicle registration; for example, Most states define it as "A motor vehicle, but not a reproduction thereof, manufactured at least 20 years prior to the current year which has been maintained in or restored to a condition which is substantially in conformity with manufacturer specifications and appearance."

Despite this, at many American classic car shows, automobiles typically range from the thirties to sixties. Examples of cars at such shows include the Chevrolet Bel-Air, Ford T-Bucket, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Deuce Coupe, and 1949 Ford. Meanwhile, the Concours D'Elegance car shows feature prestigious automobiles such as the Cadillac V16 or pre-1940 Rolls-Royce models. "Classic" cars at these shows seldom go beyond 1972. Any cars from 1973 onward are defined as "modern customs", "exotics", or "collectibles". For interest, cars such as the AMC Gremlin or Ford Pinto may be exhibited.


Americans are divided on the exact era in which a "classic car" can be identified. Many Americans divide automobiles by separate eras: horseless carriages (19th century experimental automobiles such as the Daimler Motor Carriage), antique cars (brass era cars such as the Ford Model T), and classic cars (typically 1930s cars such as the Cord 812 through the end of the muscle car period in the 1970s – a majority use the 1972 model year as the cutoff). The late seventies are disputed as being "classics", as the oil crisis of 1973 brought several now-infamous cars such as the Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin. The 1980s are often viewed as the early modern period due to the rise of Japanese automakers such as Toyota and Nissan.

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