Home » Who Determines What’s Cool, Classic, or Collectible?

Who Determines What’s Cool, Classic, or Collectible?

The term “classic vehicle” conjures up different images for different people. For some it may be ’63 Stingray coupe or a ’57 Thunderbird convertible. For others it may be a ’32 Ford 5-window coupe a Depression-era Dusenburg. Still others might lean towards something like a Porsche 356 Speedster or Jaguar E-Type. None of these is a wrong answer, but neither are they definitive.

What got me thinking about this was a recent picture a famous automotive spy photographer colleague of mine shared on her personal Facebook page. It was a gathering of at least half a dozen Ford Fairmont station wagon enthusiasts in a Phoenix area parking lot. If you don’t recall, the Fairmont was Ford’s middle-of-the-road compact sedan, coupe, and wagon lineup from 1978 to 1983. It was the definitive bread-and-butter American family car of its day. It’s probably most notable for lending its “Fox” platform to the all-new-for 1979 Mustang.

What got me wasn’t just that someone bothered to keep 40+-year-old Fairmonts on the road, but they were all station wagons, to boot! The nerdiest of the sleeper cars. And they all looked to be in pristine condition. This was not your predictable cars-and-coffee crowd. And nobody bothered to tell them their cars weren’t cool, classic, or collectible. 

Because that would have been wrong on all three counts.

To steal a line from Madonna, beauty’s where you find it. And if Malaise-era station wagons are where you bump and grind it, well, you’re apparently not alone. Fans can be found for virtually every car ever built if you look hard enough. Edsel? Of course. Yugo? You betcha! Pinto? Yeah, even I was surprised by that one. But it proves my point.

Dodge Aries at Redwood Philly 2023
Dodge Aries K-cars at RadWood Philadelphia 2023

Says who?

So who determines what’s a “cool” vehicle, or what’s truly a “classic” car, or what is genuinely “collectible” merchandise? 

As for what’s cool, our popular culture often dictates that. The mere appearance of a particular vehicle in a TV show, movie, or music video can elevate an also-ran into a hero. The DeLorean DMC-12 may have become as obscure to the American public as the Bricklin SV-1 if not for a certain movie. The Back to the Future trilogy made an instant legend out of John DeLorean’s stainless steel gull-winged coupe two years after his company folded. Volkswagen Beetles will forever be referred to as “Love Bugs” and two fictional cousins from Hazzard County single-handedly made ’69 Chargers more desirable.

Classics often possess some special quality that sets them apart from their more ordinary peers. Exceptional beauty, perhaps, as demonstrated with “classic” lines and details. An Auburn Boattail Speedster certainly fits the bill as one such example. An early-‘60s Lincoln Continental convertible with its distinctive suicide doors comes to mind also. Others still might find “classic”qualities in something more common and modern as a Mercedes SL roadster from the ‘80s. Or a square-body Chevy C-10 pickup.

Old van at car show
Of course it’s a classic

Collectibles are as tough to define as anything. You might expect rarity to lead the charge in this department, but nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the most collectible vehicles of all time are also the most plentiful. For years it was Model T Fords, followed by Model A’s. Volkswagen Beetles are another strong contender, along with British Minis. After all, it’s easier to be a collector if there is a lot of inventory in circulation.

You and me

So, back to the original question: who determines what’s cool, classic, or collectible? 

The answer, of course, is each one of us has our own standards for these qualities. And these standards are driven by our own unique experiences. The old car and truck hobby is driven by nostalgia, a desire to relive memories of a better time. Presumably a simpler time. A time when, frankly, we probably didn’t know better. How else can you explain an affinity for Pintos?

Mazda RX-7s at Carlisle
Cranky Frank was wrong about plastic classics

As I wrote this, I was reminded of the time I worked at a dealership under an older service director named Frank. Cranky Frank, we called him. He was old enough to be my father; I know because I had once worked with his daughter when we were both in high school. Cranky Frank was into 1960s Buicks and used to regularly tell me no one would ever bother to preserve, let alone restore, the cars coming through our service drive daily. These included Volkswagens, Saabs, and Alfa Romeos in the early 1990s. “All plastic and electronics,” he used to bark. “No one’s gonna give a shit about them.”

But a number of events have actually popped up in recent years to celebrate these unexpected classics and collectibles. From Concours d’ LeMons to RadWood and countless others around the world, Cranky Frank could not have been more wrong.

Drive what you love, love what you drive.

Saabs at Carlisle
Quirky is the quality that makes old Saabs so lovable

Comments are closed.