When Does Old Become New? Restoring a Classic

Filed under: Classic News |
They don’t make them like they used to!

This old cliche may ring true for many things, from people to property, but one surprising place it cannot be aptly applied is to cars. The lifespan of a car has, in fact, grown considerably in recent years. Whereas warranties used to cover a range of around 30,000 miles, they now cover up to 100,000. AARP reports that the average life expectancy of a car is now 12 years or 200,000 miles, which is significantly longer than the 100,000 miles expected before the new millennium. 

Of course, there are some notable exceptions. The previously quoted article by AARP takes note of a still-operating Volvo P1800S, bought in 1966. That particular Volvo model is part of a list of notoriously immortal cars so well built they regularly clocked over the converted 200,000 miles milestone without so much as a whimper of complaint. 

These gems are a rarity, however, and most vehicles eventually find they’ve outlived their sell-by date within the expected mileage range. Despite that, you’ll still see 70-year-old Mini Coopers driving around at events and rallies — just as you’ll find cars with over a million miles on the clock and counting.

But this mismatch between life expectancy and actual age poses a dilemma. 

To stave off the effects of time, we restore old cars. We take classics and we revive them with new parts. That 70-year-old Mini is not running on all of its original components, that much is for sure. It may have stripped away almost everything, with replacements made to all its components from the engine to the bodywork.

So, does that mean it’s no longer a classic? If most of the parts that now make up a car were manufactured or reproduced within the last few years, does that mean it's actually newer than a 2005 Renault Clio?

Defining a Classic Car

There is no such thing as a defined classic car. 

Some classifications exist for old vehicles, such as “vintage” for those built before 1930, and “veteran” for cars manufactured before WW1 but “classic” is not a defined period of car time. 

Instead, “classic” is defined by the individual. What makes a car classic to a person or community of people is based very much on perception. It relies not just on age, but pedigree and branding, as well as history and motoring achievements. There are plenty of old bangers over 50 years-old in the scrap heap nobody would consider a classic. But you’d be hard-pressed to encounter an original 1990 Lamborghini Diablo and not consider it to be part of the classic car line-up. 

What that means for the classic car is it doesn't fit into specific parameters. You don’t have to meet certain criteria to own a definitively classic car. We, as car enthusiasts, choose what is classic and what isn’t. 

The Reality of Classic Cars

Classic cars as we know them today cannot exist without restoration. The engineering that drove them fifty-odd years ago was simply not designed to sustain a lifespan of more than a few years, and we’re decades on from that now. But just because your classic features new parts, that doesn’t mean it's not actually classic.

True classic authenticity is nothing but in the eye of the beholder. 

What makes the Ferrari 250 GT an absolute classic to live on through the ages is its iconic design (both exterior and interior). The rumble of the engine is next on the list, but as you make your way further into the details — to the little bits and pieces that make the car run — concerns about authenticity become much more superficial. 

As long as the car looks, feels and sounds like the original, then what makes it move becomes less of a problem. What makes a classic car is how you appreciate and enjoy the vehicle, and nothing more. With that said, there are ways to preserve as much of the original magic as possible to give your classic the look and feel that leaves a mark. 

How to Keep Your Classic Car Truly Classic

The first thing to do is join up a club or organisation dedicated to your particular classic car. Here you can swap stories, discuss restoration, and discover what really matters to your community. Many classic car fans enjoy not just involving themselves in their classic car adventures, but other people. If you know the standards of your community, then you’ll be much better equipped to meet them.

The next thing to do is seek out the best possible car parts and replacement pieces to match the originals fitted to your classic car. You may be able to find great condition spare parts that have come off other models, or new parts designed to match up to the old. You may also be able to restore the parts themselves, so the original elements are still in use but refurbished.

So relax and enjoy your classic car journey. If you can’t get what you need to be utterly original, then there are many other options to adapt and change the inner components of the car to have it look and feel like a classic — while running like a new car. You can always keep a lookout for original pieces if absolute authenticity is important to you. But making compromises to keep your beautiful old car running is not going to destroy its classic nature.

Classics are like art. They are what we make them.