There is a great deal of confusion about the terms “classic”, “collector car”, “collectible car”, and some good definitions are long overdue. Here is what the appraiser feels is a general professional consensus concerning these terms:
A classic car is an automobile that is listed by the Classic Car Club of America, built from 1915 to 1948, and selected for its particular attributes, whether they be of a historical nature, a design breakthrough or a marketing trendsetter. Generally speaking, a true “classic” had to be a very special car the very day it was made. At present, there are no classics listed after 1948, and obviously not all cars made before 1948 are on their classics list! A complete listing of all certified classics can be viewed on the Classic Car Club of America website.
This term came about as an attempt by the Milestone Car Society to more precisely identify potential future classic cars, based on the presumption that the Classic Car Club of America would continue to add to their list (which they never did, and least not up to now). One sees this term used now and again, but it really hasn’t caught on in common usage within the old car community. The Milestone Car Society attempted to include cars built between 1945-1972, and the list was well thought out, although it is now badly in need of revision. A more common label one hears for cars in this state of limbo is “future classics”, which is an unfortunate term and not the fault of the Milestone Society. Many predictions like this have failed to come true (remember when we were all supposed to buy 1976 Cadillac convertibles and DeLoreans? One rule of thumb that might work is: “If you see it on a t-shirt or baseball cap, it’s probably a Milestone Car”.
Quite simply, any car that is actively collected by a discernible number of hobbyists, and for which a market has been established and a club formed. So the term “collector car” covers a broad spectrum, and just about any from the 1970s or earlier that has survived and has an organized fan club could be labeled a “collector car”. Some collector cars are quite humble in their origin.
There is a subtle but important distinction between a collectible and a collector car, in that a collectible car could have only a relatively few devoted hobbyists who are interested. So, theoretically, a collectible car might not have any club associated with it, or any particular value attached to it–all this term really means is that someone, somewhere, is saving and perhaps restoring this type of car, for better or worse. In other words: “Everybody is somebody’s baby”.