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Vintage Versus Antique Cars

We have all heard of Vintage and Antique cars right? But what do these terms really mean? Is it possible to define them using the English definition of the words or has the car world given up and created a universally acceptable definition of its own? Considering the answers to these questions are Yes, No idea and Maybe – it’s worth a discussion.

When comparing and trying to place different vehicles into either the Vintage or Antique category, its logical to evaluate the meaning of the two words. Unfortunately the dictionary isn’t much help here with pretty vague generalisations about both.

Apparently Antique means ‘a collectible object that has a high value because of its age and quality’, so not much help, however there is a generally acceptable ‘Non-Dictionary’ definition when it comes to Antique vehicles – its cars built before World War 1, which also make them more than 100 years old. 


The first commercially viable petrol-powered vehicle was pioneered by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler in 1885. Later that century the De Dion Motorcar company were prominent, producing production ready vehicles for the predominantly European emerging markets. At the beginning of the 1900’s Oldsmobile became the bestselling automobile in the US, to be later surpassed by Henry Ford’s company’s’ offering in 1908.

As far as Antique vehicles go some of the most prolific manufacturers were Ford, Austin, Renault, Cadillac, Fiat and Mercedes Benz. Renault had their ‘Type D’ from 1901, Cadillac had the ‘Runabout and Tonneau’ from 1902, Ford had their popular ‘Model T’ from 1908, and Austin made their cleverly named ‘Austin’ from 1906. Just prior to World War 1, the United States were thoroughly dominating the automobile market, producing in excess of 80% of the total worlds production. By this time Ford with the Model T had easily outpaced its US competition and built more than 3 million vehicles.

When looking at the definition of the Vintage vehicle, there again is no standard. The word Vintage simply means ‘age’ and typically dealers in Vintage furniture or other items would consider anything at least 40 years old to be Vintage. In the context of vehicles however, research shows that the ‘average definition’, if that’s a thing, is that Vintage cars are those built from 1919 to 1930 with this starting year matching up with the end of the Antique years and using World War 1 as an effective changeover period.

After World War 1 was over, car manufacturing for the masses began again in earnest. The market had boomed, and many more manufacturers had entered the market. Ford were building their new Model A, Austin had their Model 7, and Chevrolet had their luxury tourer models.

Other lesser-known manufacturers were also selling successfully – names such as Nash, Willys, Studebaker, Crossley and Hudson, many who came and went during those years. The most luxurious and expensive of the Vintage vehicles was the Rolls Royce Phantom of which many lovingly restored examples still inhabit car shows today.