What makes a great classic?

Hiring out classics means I have to think about what cars will be successful and profitable. It isn’t always obvious. When I first started the business I looked at what other classic cars were available and thought that might give me an idea of what would work and what wouldn’t. I found that 85% of classics available to hire are British roadsters or coupes from the 60s and early 70s. Jaguars, Triumphs and MGs predominate. So do the E Type or MG embody the essence of a great classic? If their popularity with hirers is anything to go, it seems so.

So I thought I might try to understand why some classic cars are more popular or more revered than others. Let me just say – I think all classics deserve preservation, even if the Morris Ital. But what has made cars like the MG, Triumph TR6 and E Type great classics? They are fairly abundant, parts and repair are relatively easy to resolve because there are plenty of specialists and parts sources. They generally look good, they’re good to drive and they’re from an era generally acknowledged as a boom time for British car manufacture.

But does that really nail the essence of a great classic car? I don’t think so. Although I hire out an E Type and it is a great car, it’s not always been on my list of favourite classics. Neither have the MG or Triumph. There are other factors at play here. When you rent out classic cars like the Jaguar E Type, MG B and MG GT or Triumph TR6 you need cars that are reliable and easy to maintain. These cars deliver just that.

To define a really great classic car needs a broader definition. Every time I hire out a car through my company http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk/ I ask customers to fill in a three page questionnaire about the car they’ve driven. The results are really interesting and I think illuminate what makes a great car. Customers are asked to explain why they like the car and rate different aspects of the driving experience. I’ve boiled all that research down into five rules that I think a car has to meet in order to be great. A great classic doesn’t have to meet all five rules, but the more it does the greater it is. See what you think:

1. It looks distinctive – good or bad (good is better) – and therefore be memorable

2. It is in some way representative of the era in which it was made – evoking nostalgia

3. It is dynamically strong in terms of performance or handling

4. It is made by an evocative brand such as Ferrari or Porsche

5. It was recognised as a good or distinctive car when it was in production

A great classic can be very strong on one of these and weak on the others strong in all of them. But it needs to be well represented on one. I’ve tested this theory on most of the classics I can think of and it seems to work.

Ultimately, I think, all old cars have value. If one person somewhere thinks the FSO Polonez deserves recognition then that’s what classic cars are all about. Rules are there to be broken and those 5 above aren’t meant to exclude any cars, just to help understand why some cars seem to be more popular than others. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. At the end of the day some classics are greater than others but they’re all classics in one way or another and they all deserve to be preserved. Vive la classics etc.

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