What makes a classic car or motorbike?

17 February 2020

Classic cars are far more than vehicles. For collectors and enthusiasts, they’re practically family members.

But, what defines a classic car? More importantly, at which point does a car become classic? Can it be defined simply by its age, or can classic cars (and motorbikes) surface at any stage during their lifetime?

You might be suspicious that your beloved car or motorbike has, in fact, reached classic status, but how do you know that’s the case?

Consider this your definitive guide!

What does HMRC say?

Given they’re the people you have to register your car tax with, and given that car tax and insurance plays a major role in the definition of classic cars, HMRC is definitely a good place to start.

According to HMRC, a classic car must be 15-years-old or older and have a value of £15,000 or more. Simple! For many people, that solves the conundrum instantly.

This enables it to be insured as a classic car by some insurers (although its worth bearing in mind that your age comes into play sometimes, too - you may need to be over 25 to qualify for a premium).

When it comes to the practice of using car tax exemption as a definition, any vehicle aged 40 years or older is considered a classic.

What classifications of classic car are there?

You may not be aware that there are several definitions of classic car, depending on their age.

Here are the most common:

  • Veteran. Anything made before the First World War.
  • Vintage. Any vehicle built before 1930.
  • Post-vintage. Cars or motorbikes made between 1930 and 1945.
  • Classic. The term most people are familiar with, but what defines it remains a matter of opinion, as you’ll be discovering while reading this blog.

What defines a modern classic?

This is much tougher to answer because modern classic cars and motorbikes often creep up unawares - and are accompanied by lots of debate online.

For instance, some people would call the E92 BMW M3 a classic, while others will argue to they’re blue in the face that the Vauxhall Monaro is a classic in waiting.

In truth, modern classic cars and those set for superstardom in that field are much harder to spot; it’s a really personal thing.

It could relate to a limited production run, an engine that was beyond the needs for ‘normal’ road users or something about its design that lasted a few years before becoming either wildly outdated or too futuristic (you be the judge of which).


Defining whether or not your car or motorbike has reached classic status is relatively straightforward if it is of a certain age.

However, if it was built post-1945, the arguments you have for it being classic may be entirely personal. But, you know what? That’s absolutely fine! Who is anyone to tell you that your beloved car or motorbike isn’t a classic?

If you think you’ve got a classic car, call it just that. You never know - in ten years time, you may prove the naysayers wrong and make a tidy little sum at a classic car auction.

Or just keep it - that’s what we’d do!

Recommended reading: Historic (classic) vehicles: MOT and vehicle tax (Gov.uk)

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