The idea of the modern classic has really come to the fore in the last few years. But how can a car be both classic and modern? Is this just pretentious word-play? Aren’t modern classics simply old cars that aren’t special enough to be proper classics?
It helps to define what we understand by ‘classic car’. A huge part of the appeal of classics lies in their simpler engineering, lack of electronics, and their less refined driving experience compared to new vehicles. We expect chrome, noise, smells, and the risk of interfacing with passing wildlife.
But from the 1980s onwards, electronics have played an increasing role in how vehicles work. Cars now have a very different character from their simpler predecessors. They’re much more complicated, faster, more reliable, safer… less characterful, some would say. And you usually struggle to fix them at the side of the road using bits of trees.
So does this mean they can never be classics? Now that they’re past their best-before date, many cars of this generation are just as rare, interesting and fun as their pre-electronic era classics. Sometimes more affordable too.
And that’s a problem. They’re more than just ‘old cars’, but they’re too different from traditional classics to be called classics themselves. The gulf between a 1950s Series Land Rover and a 1990s Renault Clio Williams is massive, and as poignant as the difference between the people who typically want them. How can they all be classic cars? How can magazines, auctioneers and broadcasters possibly cater for all these audiences at the same time?
Modern Classics magazine, launched by Bauer in 2016 to cater for this new niche, showcases ‘hero cars from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s’, still an enormous remit really. Feature vehicles have ranged from the Audi 80 B2 from the 1980s (a car which most mags would be perfectly happy calling a good old ‘classic car’) to the BMW E60 M5… which some might say wears any kind of ‘classic’ moniker about as comfortably as a bishop in a skirt.
Isn’t a modern classic what we used to call a ‘future classic’?
There has definitely been some overlap between the two terms in the last couple of decades. Is this a dastardly ploy by sellers of future classics to get buyers to pay more? A future classic isn’t a classic yet; but a modern classic is one already. As a modern classic you can charge more for it.
Or is the modern classic movement (if you dare call it that) really just an excuse for motoring journalists to write more about cars they can actually afford themselves? They’re not paid terribly well, bless ’em. And there’s only so many times you can get away with publishing ‘5 Future Classics To Invest In Now’…