Antique, Vintage, and Classic Car History 101

Some people use the terms "antique," "vintage," and "classic" interchangeably, but these terms all have distinct meanings when it comes to cars. Vintage cars were produced between 1919 and 1930. Antique cars were produced before 1975. And classic cars were produced in 2000 or earlier. Because there's overlap between these categories, other factors also come into play when discussing old and collectible cars, like their historical significance. Each state has rules about which cars are eligible for different types of special license plates for these vehicles. And some insurance companies also offer different insurance packages for antique, vintage, and classic cars. Most collectors, however, identify their car by the most restrictive category. For example, a 1928 Packard may be called vintage, antique, or classic, but since only cars produced in an 11-year span can be called vintage, it's most likely that collectors would use this label.

Karl Benz and the First Automobile: 1885-86

Karl Benz, a German engineer, designed and built a gas-fueled engine mounted on a three-wheeled body that was the first working, practical automobile. Benz received a patent for his invention in January 1886. It wasn't until 1891 that Benz built a car with four wheels. The engineer founded Benz & Company in 1900, which would go on to become one of the most recognizable car brands in the world.

Henry Ford: The Automobile Industry and Mass Production

Henry Ford had a simple idea: He wanted to make a car that the masses could afford. The result would be that he would make less money on each vehicle, but he would sell more cars, so he would make more money overall. Designing an affordable car also meant designing an affordable way to manufacture these vehicles. Ford first designed the Highland Park Plant in Michigan with a moving assembly line. Each worker had one job, which was a less expensive and more efficient way to build a car. The first Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908.


The Studebaker company was founded in 1852 as a coach-, wagon-, buggy-, and carriage-building company. They released an electric car in 1902 and a gasoline-powered car in 1904 through a partnership with other companies. In 1912, Studebaker released the first car fully manufactured by the Indiana-based company. They experienced moderate success in the ensuing decades but experienced financial problems following World War II. The last Studebaker was assembled in 1966.


Packard Motor Car Company first sold a car in 1899. The company became known for building luxury autos. Packard pioneered options like air conditioning, 12-cylinder engines, and modern steering wheels. During World War II, the company produced engines for the Army and Navy. But in the post-war era, the company struggled. Eventually, they merged with Studebaker in the 1950s, but it wasn't enough to save the company; 1958 would be the last year that a Packard was produced.


MG was founded during the 1920s as a sports car company. The two-seater open sports car is the best-known MG, but the company also made coupes and sedans. The company changed hands many times, and in 1968, it became a part of the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Currently, the brand is owned by the Nanjing Automobile Group, and the company started producing cars in China in 2007.

Chevy Corvette

Chevrolet debuted the Corvette at the 1953 Motorama show. Chevrolet's sales were slumping, and the Corvette was the company's gambit to reach new customers by offering a sports car in the style of British cars like the MG. It was a good bet. More than 1.5 million Corvettes have been sold over the decades, and currently, Chevrolet is producing and selling the car's eighth generation, the C8.

Chevy Corvair

The Chevrolet Corvair was available from 1960-69. Chevrolet produced this car to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle, and it was the only American-made passenger car with a rear-mounted engine. The Corvair was available as a sedan, coupe, convertible, station wagon, and passenger van. About 1.8 million cars were produced during the nine-year run of this collectible vehicle.

Ford Thunderbird

Ford has produced and discontinued the Thunderbird twice. The T-Bird was first introduced in 1955 and was in continuous production until 1997. Ford then reintroduced a retro-styled T-Bird in 2002 and discontinued it once more in 2005. The Thunderbird went through 11 different design generations. During those years, the car was available in a variety of body types, including a five-seat convertible and a six-passenger coupe. The 2002-05 Thunderbird was available as a two-seater convertible.