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A Guide to the Unique Classic Cars of Yesteryear

classic car on route 66

There’s something about the purr of the engine and beautiful craftsmanship of a classic car that takes you back to a different time and place. Modern relics of when life went slower and dreams came faster, classic cars bear witness to a bygone era that was full of hope, innovation, and preservation.

Ride along as we cruise through the lifetime of automotives, highlighting their monumental impact at the turn of the 20th century and relevance in today’s future-focused world.

What is considered a classic car?

Old cars have distinct characteristics that make them all a little different—most notably, age. For car club members, collectors, aficionados, and classic car insurance providers, old cars are grouped into three categories: antique, vintage, and classic. Understanding what these categories mean can help you determine what’s considered a classic car.

  • Antique cars are the oldest of old cars, dating back to the dawn of the automotive industry in the early 1900s. Often dubbed “horseless carriage” cars, vehicles from this age are now used as more of a showpiece than a way to get around town. The most recognized classic car of this era might be Ford’s Model T, made in 1908.
  • Vintage cars were manufactured between 1919 and 1930. Although you may catch some vintage cars on the road, many of these highly coveted pieces of automotive history are precious instruments with a hefty price tag. The most beautiful vintage cars include the 1928 Duesenberg Model J and the 1925 Rolls Royce Phantom I, the luxury vehicle synonymous with the Roaring Twenties.
  • Classic cars are vehicles over 25 years old. These cars, which you’ll typically encounter at car shows—or as classic cars for sale—are still drivable. Casting a wide net, there are several makes and models that fall under the classic car definition. Manufactured for 65 years, from 1938 to 2003, the Volkswagen Beetle is one of the longest-produced vehicles and perhaps the best classic car for everyday use.

fast red classic car on road at sunset

The Fastest Classic Cars

The Model T, one of the first mass-produced automobiles, topped speeds of 45 miles per hour. And ever since then, there’s been a need for speed. Street racers—and people who just wanted to go faster—would modify their car’s engine and body to amp up its speed and aerodynamics.

Movies like “Rebel Without a Cause” in 1955 and “Grease” in 1978 thrust speed-modified classic cars into the spotlight.

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Today, these fast classic cars continue to be admired for their ingenuity and style. To identify the types of speedy cars you’ll find in museums or movies, we break it down right here:

  • Street rods. Also known as hot rods, street rods are cars manufactured before 1949. Modified to go fast and look cool, street rods are built to perform better on today’s roads.
  • Muscle cars. First introduced in the 1960s, these large-and-in-charge cars are designed to rule the road. Their powerful engines allow them to reach high speeds and take straight-lined open roads with ease. The 1963 Shelby Cobra 260 might be the fastest classic muscle car of all time!
  • Sports cars. Small and nimble, these two-seater cars are meant to go fast faster. With quick acceleration, sports cars are zippy, hugging curves and zooming through obstacles without slowing down.

classic cars in classic car museum

Classic Car Museums Near Me

Get an in-person experience and immerse yourself in classic car culture. Visit a car museum during summer break. There are several all across North America, and there’s sure to be one near you. Here are some of the most notable classic car museums.

  • The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Michigan, USA. Take a joyride in a Ford Model T, go back in time at the outdoor Greenfield Village, and check out the display of classic cars.
  • Reynolds-Alberta Museum. Alberta, Canada. Explore 26 to 50 car and automotive artifacts from the 1890s to today, including the 1929 Duesenberg Phaeton Royale Model J.
  • Petersen Automotive Museum. California, USA. The Petersen spans an entire city block and features over 250 iconic and rare vehicles from around the world in its permanent exhibit. It hosts traveling shows, too.
  • Canadian Automotive Museum. Ontario, Canada. This museum showcases significant Canadian-built and Canadian-owned antique and classic cars.

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  • America’s Car Museum. Washington, USA. True to its slogan, “celebrating America’s love affair with the automobile,” this museum boasts a collection of 250 automobiles spanning over 100 years.

Summer Classic Car Shows 2024

Take in the most wow-worthy throwback rides. This classic cars list for car shows highlights events in the United States and Canada.

mature couple driving classic car convertible in summer

7 Things to Add to Your Summer Bucket List

Beyond your journey to discover the most unique classic cars of yesteryear, there’s so much more to do this summer. Check out our article,7 Things to Add to Your Summer Bucket List,” for fun and adventurous outdoor activities.