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Future Classics, Part 1

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

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Future Classics, Part 1

Bill Crittenden
March 20, 2006

What's the difference between a classic and an old car?

Well, instead of trying to figure out what will make a classic, why not just look at what past cars are classics now?  There are a few elements of each classic, although most classic cars rate favorably in more than one category.

Styling

Some of the great classics are truly rolling works of art.  Especially certain pre-World War II cars, such as the Cord 812, Bugattis, or an Auburn boattail.  Porsche's Speedster and Mercedes-Benz's 300 SL gullwing are also excellent examples.  The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is probably the most recognizable classic car.

History

A few cars are historic icons, transcending automotive history and becoming a part of American (or world) history.  Henry Ford's Model T has a place in history because of the assembly line it was built on.  Preston Tucker and his 1948 car pioneered many safety features now on today's cars, were the subjects of a major criminal trial, and then the subjects of a major Hollywood movie.

Racing Success

Some classics aren't made on the street, but on the track.  Due to homologation or financing, a lot of the most successful race cars are available as street models.  Among these are the Ferrari Daytona GTB/4, although nearly any Ferrari could claim racing heritage as a reason for its popularity.  The popular red color on Ferraris comes from the red that the Ferrari factory racing cars were painted.

The Plymouth Superbird was specially built for NASCAR, but Chrysler needed to sell them as street cars to make them NASCAR legal.  Their outrageous styling made them difficult to sell back then, but a combination of their rarity, their style and a racing history that includes Richard Petty makes them among the most desireable cars of the era.

Luxury

The most luxurious cars of every era tend to be classics, simply because they were the dream cars of the era.  Duesenberg, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce and Bentley regularly contributed to the list of classic cars throughout their histories.

Performance

The mention of classic high performance cars might generate a different response than one based on the most luxurious, but the reason is the same.  The best cars endure in our memories.

Also similar to luxury, the cars that are classics based on being the fastest of their times usually come from a narrow range of manufacturers that specialize in this type of car.  Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and BMW are regular contributors.

Note that the list of classic cars that one thinks of when performance is the criteria is similar to the cars mentioned for racing success.  Similar, but not the same, because not every high-performance car is known for its track success and not every winning racecar translated into a hot street car.

Future Classics

Here is a list, based on the criteria above, of today's cars (or those made recently) that I think will be classics in the future:

  • Bentley Continental GT  The Bentley coupe is a departure from the stodgy style Bentley inherited from its days in the Rolls Royce house.
  • BMW M3  Racing success and the distinction of sports car performance in a sedan make this car a candidate for classic status.
  • BMW M5  Bigger brother to the M3.
  • Bugatti Veyron  Any car that can lay claim to the title "world's fastest production car" is going to be the subject of car posters and childhood dreams for years.
  • Chevrolet Corvette  The Corvette is already a classic, and since its rebirth in the 1980's it has only gotten better with each redesign.
  • Ferrari 612 Scaglietti  A well-balanced combination of style, luxury and performance set this car above most other grand tourers.
  • Ferrari Enzo  Pure performance, the closest a driver can come to taking an F1 car out for a Sunday drive.  Certainly doesn't blend in with traffic, and a lot of people love that style.
  • Ford GT  The old Ford GT40 is a classic, and the new GT is almost the same car.  But can the new GT do it without the racing history that made the original so famous?  Obviously, I think so, or it wouldn't be on this list.
  • Ford Mustang  The Mustang is also already a classic, and like the Corvette, gets better every time they change it.
  • Jaguar XK8  Not quite retro, but certainly insprired by the swooping sports coupes of Jaguar's past.  One of the best looking cars on the road.
  • Maybach 57  With features not found on any other production car and the status that comes with owning one of the customizeable cars the Maybach is assured a place in automotive history.
  • Maybach 62  Bigger more expensive version of the Maybach 57.
  • Mazda Miata  Its popularity has kept the car in showrooms for well over a decade already, and there's no sign of it quitting yet.  A large fan base should keep the cars popular much longer once Mazda finally stops making them.
  • Mazda RX-7  This unique sportscar will always have fans of its styling and engineering.
  • McLaren F1  Held the street car speed record until the Bugatti Veyron outdid it.  Not the fastest anymore, but with better handling and more style than the Veyron.
  • Nissan R-34 Skyline GT-R  The pinnacle of Skyline performance until new emissions regulations ended use of the RB26DETT engine.  The Skyline returns to its touring roots, but the last pure sports car Skyline is still more popular than the new V35.
  • Toyota Supra  The last of the Supras to see American shores stopped coming after the 1997 model year, but this sports car continues to be popular, and their prices aren't depreciating.

    ©2006 Bill Crittenden



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