27th February 2024

What is the meaning of 'Modern Classic'?

The term ‘modern classic’ seems to have been around for quite a long time now, so we should all know what it means, right? Probably, but then it’s still possible to start a lively debate just by asking what makes a classic car, never mind a modern one. That’s half the fun of the classic car community, that we’re a very broad church and extend a warm welcome to anything from a brass-era London to Brighton Veteran right up to a turbocharged hot-hatch that is still being used daily.

No set definition of Modern Classic

Modern classics, or Youngtimers as they are known across most of Europe, are generally from the 1980s, ’90s, and Noughties. However, there are plenty of examples of this breed that extend back into the 1970s or have an axle in the 2010s, so there’s no hard and fast criteria as there is with cars for the vintage and post-vintage periods as set down by the Vintage Sports-Car Club.

Just to make matters even more mind muddling, there are plenty of cars from the modern classic era that have long been regarded, fêted even, as solid citizens of the classic car firmament. Nobody is going to argue that a Ferrari F40 or BMW E30 M3 is anything but a classic and has been for a long time. So perhaps a modern classic is a more mainstream model that has taken a little longer to bounce back from being a depreciating used car to one that has begun to be valued, loved, and restored by enthusiasts who appreciate what it represented when new and now.

A key factor in establishing what makes a modern classic is how it makes you feel, and that still applies to those who are into a certain make, model, type, or generation of car. Just as some of us go gaga over a vintage Bentley, there are plenty who will swoon at the sight of an immaculate Renault 5 GT Turbo, the most basic specification Mercedes 190, or a Range Rover P38A. The great thing about this broad sweep of classic cars is it reflects what was on offer at the time and this period was one of huge changes and evolution in car design.

Red Renault

Getting into ownership with a Youngtimer

Does that define a modern class, then? Partly, and there’s a strong case for cars from this era being at the peak of automotive design for car fans as they blended superb driving dynamics with reliability, affordability, and individual looks. Take a look at the Ford Focus – whether it’s in 1.4 CL trim or the raucous original RS – and they both set a high watermark in all of these key areas.

There are other factors in setting out what decides which cars are modern classics. For instance, as earlier cars that have gained classic status become too expensive for many enthusiasts, those same potential owners move to the next generation to get their fix of fun. We see this with many makes and models, such as Porsche. As air-cooled models have risen considerably in value, many have looked to the likes of the 924, 944, and Boxster, as well as the water-cooled generations of 911 to get the same look, feel, and to be part of a community they might not otherwise be able to join. Long may that last, and this shifting ground also means cars like the original Porsche Cayenne are now being seen as modern classics. Who’d have thought 20 years ago that any SUV other than an early Range Rover or Jeep would be a classic? Now, there are many contenders for your attention and they are all worth a look.

Porsche Boxster

Cost doesn’t define a classic vehicle

Value on its own is not a good way to identify what defines a modern classic. Without doubt, there are many cars from the period we’re talking about that are now worth substantial sums and have risen in value massively in a short space of time – you only need to look at the sensational £596,250 paid for a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth in 2023. However, most similar cars sell for a tenth of that price or less.
And as Tom Jones might have crooned, you don’t have to be rich to be a modern classic owner. Check out the classifieds and there are legions of MINI Cooper S, Audi TT, and Volvo 850 models to pick from for far less than the price of a dull used hatchback. Then again, that dull used hatchback will probably be a classic itself if you wait long enough.

Is age the cut-off line, in that case? According to FIVA (the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens), a car has to be at least 30 years old to be considered a classic. FIVA also reckons a car should be in its original state and unmodified, but where would that leave any of those Max Power-style cars from the 1990s that have survived to this day? They are just as much a slice of a point in history as an immaculate Jaguar XK120. You might not be a fan of a body kitted Citroen Saxo, but plenty of others are nostalgic for them, so why not see them as a classic car?


In standard form a Citroen Saxo VTS is a cracking modern classic in most people’s eyes, which begs the question: does a car have to be sporty to be a modern classic? Undoubtedly, there is a bias towards quicker cars among modern classics, just as there is a with any era of classic, but it’s not an exclusive trait with any branch of the classic family tree. The leaning towards fun, fast cars is simply down to car enthusiasts always tend towards machines that are a bit quicker and more engaging to use, so sports models often rise to the top. However, there are many other modern classics that are celebrated that are not fleet of foot. Take a look round any of Footman James Coffee and Chrome gatherings and you’ll spot everything from a humble Ford Mondeo 1.6 L to a Vauxhall Belmont. Neither is quick or exotic, but they have the single most essential attribute that makes any car a classic: nostalgia. If someone has fond memories of a particular car and wants to preserve and enjoy it, that’s good enough for us.


Which car would you choose to define the term 'modern classic'? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

XKR Convertible. Superb engineering and classic appearance. Great value currently

BlueBoy, 02/03/2024

I recommend the SAAB 900 and 9-3 series of cars produced under the General Motors umbrella, I have had a 900 convertible and a station wagon and currently my daily driver is a 2006 9-3 Diesel convertible 6 speed manual, I get over 60 MPG on a run and as it has GM parts, I can get almost any thing to keep it on the road, I am a retired consulting engineer and have a wealth of expertise in classic cars in particular Jaguar but find the SAAB ticks all the boxes in terms of reliability, economy and style

Blueblood, 02/03/2024

Sorry. You missed out the Austin 3-Litre one of the best Modern Classics there is.

Chris, 02/03/2024