From the early days of automobile history until the mid-nineteen seventies, the United Kingdom was known for automotive design that showcased craftsmanship and technical prowess by creating the best driving cars in the world. While American classic cars are known for being bulky and cumbersome to feed the North American post-war appetite for excess, and German design efforts went into creating cars that could speed through the autobahn, British car designers were focussing their energies on creating cars that are a joy to drive. Easily manoeuvring through narrow streets and tight turns, British cars like the Jaguar and the Austin Healey were inspired by British racing tradition and elegant style to become some of the most sought after collector cars in the world.
What makes a car "Classic"? Among car enthusiasts, classic cars are usually considered to be models that have unique design aspects and are exceptionally well-built examples of a particular era, manufacturer or type of car. Classic car designs remain popular and often increase in value long after their production has ended.
In the UK, insurance companies have a broader definition, using the word classic to describe any vehicle over twenty years old. The oldest of the classic cars are further defined as veterans if built before 1905, Edwardian from 1905-1918, and vintage vehicles were built from 1918 to 1930.
The earliest British cars, like the Rolls Royce, were hand-crafted. Engineers examined every piece of the vehicle as it was being manufactured. This hands-on approach led to quick improvements in vehicle design, meaning that only small numbers of each model were produced before the next model was created. These vehicles were also made with high quality parts and elegant design. Owing to these qualities, vehicles produced prior to the 1930s are very rare and valuable.
By the mid-century, British car designers were taking their inspiration from the race tracks. Engines were becoming more efficient, the cars became easier to handle and drivers were able to feel like the car was an extension of their body as they intuitively sped around the roadways of the British country side. Cars like the Austin-Healy and the Jaguar had distinctive silhouettes with flowing curves and aerodynamic style that became signature notes of the British sports car industry.
Many collectors buy vintage vehicles as a form of investment. Some even buy newer vehicles to store, on speculation that they will become classics in the future. The hope is that classic vehicles will continue to increase in value. This is often true; many classic cars have increased in value to over a hundred times their original selling price. But, there is still considerable risk in purchasing a classic car as a long term investment. The market for classic cars may diminish as future generations do not feel the same attachment or love for the older vehicles. Despite the financial risk, classic cars are still considered to be a worthwhile investment for motorcar enthusiasts for the many years of enjoyment they get from driving their cars and taking them to collector shows.
The value of a classic car depends on its rarity and how close it is to its original condition. The most valuable cars are the ones that continue to run well, have all their parts and an original interior. Many collectors fund their passion by restoring classic cars to near original condition and then reselling the car for a profitable sum. Sometimes rebuilding a car can take years of searching for original parts before the vehicle is finally complete. For true enthusiasts, the hobby of car restoration is very rewarding, with every task done and hour spent on it, eventually leading to the day that they can take pride in displaying their handiwork at the next classic car show.