What makes a car a “classic?”

1975 Mercury MonarchI picked up the latest issue of Hemmings Classic Car today, and found an unusual mix of vehicles on the cover.

A gorgeous 1962 Chrysler New Yorker wagon was the main attraction, but it shared space with a 1991 GMC Syclone and a 1977 Mercury Monarch.

Any vehicle over 25 years old is considered “vintage” (which makes me feel rather dated), but you don’t need to attend the Pebble Beach Concours to know that “vintage” and “classic” are not the same.

Cars from the 1960s or earlier have the strongest hold on the “classic” title, but lately I’ve noticed many cars from the 1970s and ’80s making their way into classic-car discussions.

This is partially because of economics: as cars get older, they become rarer and more expensive. Many of the most desirable classics have been priced out of the average enthusiast’s range, leaving him or her to get creative.

It’s more than that, though.

No one is going to deal with the trials and tribulations of an old car, unless they really want to.

People often collect cars (and other things) to recapture their youth, and not everyone grew up during the age of tail fins.

The nostalgia factor is often masked by a car’s other positive qualities; you don’t need to be a child of the ’60s to appreciate a first-generation Camaro.

However, as newer cars transition from cheap transportation to potential collectibles, people’s personal attachment to them becomes more apparent. Why else would you buy a Mercury Monarch?

The Monarch, and its Ford Granada sibling, have been the butt of many jokes, but perhaps that will change as people become nostalgic for the days of the Carter Administration.

If that happens, old car mavens will still be able lament about how “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” but people might answer “good.”

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