Classics 101: An Introduction to Classic Cars
Classics On A Budget
America’s great classic cars defined an era, but they are very usable cars that don’t have to cost a mint.
Founded in 1952, the Classic Car Club of America is dedicated to “furthering the restoration and preservation of fine or unusual motor cars which were built between and including the years 1925 to 1948.” The term Full Classic was trademarked by the CCCA to ensure its exclusive association with recognized cars. The designation can add value and prestige to CCCA-eligible automobiles.
The Full Classics here represent the best-of- the-best American cars built in the years surrounding World War II, from around 1938 to 1942 and from 1946 to 1947 or 1948 – the end date varies by make. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call them ‘later’ Full Classics.
A little bit of history...
Most affordable later Full Classics are top-line regular production models. Two-door coupes and fastbacks are much scarcer than corresponding four-door sedans and more valuable, although most are still considered affordable. Later Full Classic convertibles and special or coach-built closed models in very good or better condition are usually priced beyond our budget.
Relatively uncomplicated mechanically, the later Full Classics include some of the most reliable, best performing and enjoyable-to-drive cars embraced by the CCCA. Not that you should discount an earlier Classic; the CCCA’s David Schultz reminds us that “there are [also] many very affordable and drivable Classics from the early Classic Era. It comes down to the experience one is seeking from owning and driving a Classic automobile.”
As an investment, buying a later CCCA Full Classic might be compared to owning a relatively smaller and more affordable – but still exceptionally well-built – ’40s colonial revival home in a prestigious neighborhood of grandly scaled ’20s and ’30s Tudors.
Finding your later Full Classic
Where to look? Ads in hobby publications are a time-honored resource. Affordable Classics may also turn up at almost any collector car auction, so watch auction ads and check online sale catalogs. Sales associated with large collector events and auctions held in conjunction with major Concours usually include tempting later Full Classics; check out the Car Corral at swap meets, too. Hemmings Motor News, the CCCA Bulletin, regional publications and Web sites include classified ads that may offer member-owned cars coming out of long-term ownership. It is always best to check out a car you’re considering in person before committing to it. Hiring a professional appraiser to evaluate the vehicle is usually well worth the added cost.
Only certain premium-series models and/or model years are eligible for CCCA Full Classic status. You can check the qualified models on the Approved CCCA Classics list at classiccarclub. org/grand_classics/approved_classics.html.
Now, let’s get to the specific later Full Classic cars and models most likely to be affordable:
1936-’48 Cadillac V-8 — Select Series
1940-’47 Senior Series Packards
1940-’48 Lincoln Continental V-12
1936-’42 Buick Series 90 Limited; 1940 Series 80 Limited
1940-’48 Chrysler Crown Imperial
BOB LICHTY’S PICKS
1941-’47 Cadillacs: “At the top of the list in terms of availability and desirability. These are driver’s cars and very dependable. Seek a 1941–’42 Series 63 or stylish longwheelbase Series 67 if you want something different.”
1940-’47 Senior-Series Packards: “Highly sought-after by Motorcar Portfolio customers. However, among the later Full Classics, these Packard models have proven the hardest to come up with.”
1940-’48 Lincoln Continentals: “Incredible bargains right now. Suspect their long-standing popularity with CCCA members resulted in an unusually high survival rate, which belies the cars’ limited-production scarcity.”
1936-’42 Buick Series Limited and 1940 Series 80 Limited: “The superb Series 90 Buicks have been largely overlooked by CCCA members. The later Limiteds drive even better than Cadillacs.”
1940-’48 Chrysler Crown Imperial: “They are quite rare but also very affordable, possibly due to their garage-challenging length and comparatively uninspired styling. The short-wheelbase 1941 Town Sedan is an exception.” Coincidentally, he’d just added one to his inventory shortly before we talked.
To see this article in its original format, view the pdf version of the Winter 2010 issue of Hagerty magazine.