Classic and collector cars are generally divided into a number of different groups based on major designs and technology. Although the exact boundaries of each group can be ambiguous, scholarship has defined them as follows:
Antique Cars / Brass
The brass era was named for the widespread use of the fancy brass fittings and brass lanterns that were a natural addition to the new 'horseless carriage'. The Brass / Antique era lasted from around 1905 through to the beginning of World War I in 1914. It was in this era that first mass produced vehicles with gasoline engines, immortalized by Henry Ford's model T. Ford revolutionized the automotive industry with the introduction of assembly-line production, which in turn made it possible for Ford to offer their car for sale at a much more affordable price. 1905 was a signal year in the development of the automobile, marking the point when the majority of sales shifted from the hobbyist and enthusiast to the average user. The vehicles of this time were far from luxurious, there were no doors, heaters or windshield wipers and when headlights were finally added they had to be lit with a match. The engines had to be started with a crank that would often kick back sometimes resulting in a broken arm. In many cases it took two people to turn the steering wheel and gasoline was not always easy to find. A lack of roads coupled with tire technology that was in its infancy resulted in all too frequent flat tires.
A custom car is a phrase that became prominent in American pop culture in the 1950s, and has enjoyed special interest popularity since that time. It relates to a passenger vehicle that has been modified in either of the following two ways. First, a custom car may be altered to improve its performance, often at times by altering or replacing the engine and transmission. Second, a custom car may be a personal "styling" statement by the owner, making the car look "unique" and unlike any car that might have been factory finished. In fact paint jobs have become such a part of the custom car scene that now in many custom car competitions; awards for custom paint are as highly sought after as awards for the cars themselves. Starting in the 1950s, it became popular among customizers to display their vehicles at drive-in restaurants. However with the coming of the muscle car, and further to the high-performance luxury car, customization started to declined. One place where it persisted was the US Southwest, where Lowriders were built similar in concept to the earlier customs, but of post-1950s cars. The practice of displaying custom cars at drive-ins still continues today, especially in Southern California.
Drag racing vehicles are special in that they are specifically modified to be lighter and more powerful than in their standard form to be able to compete competitively in drag races. Typical races are an acceleration contest from a standing start between two vehicles side by side over a measured distance. The accepted standard for that distance is either a quarter-mile (1,320 feet / 402.3 m) or an eighth-mile (660 feet / 201 m). A drag racing event is a series of such two-vehicle, tournament-style eliminations. During drag racing events, vehicles are classified by various criteria that take into account the extent of modifications to the car. These criteria include engine capacity, configuration of cylinders, frame type, vehicle construction materials, wheelbase, horsepower to weight ratio, number of cylinders, whether or not power adding devices such as turbochargers, superchargers or nitrous oxide are employed, vehicle type (such as car, truck, et cetera), or even make and model for limited entry fields. The aforementioned divisions are in place to ensure that the cars are evenly matched during the race.
Grand Tourer (GT’s)
A Grand Tourer is a high-performance automobile designed for long-distance driving. Gran Turismo is the Italian term commonly used by manufacturers meaning ′Grand Touring′. Any such car could be considered a grand tourer, but the traditional and most common body style is the two-door coupé with either a two-seat or a 2+2 seat arrangement. Grand tourers differ from typical sports cars in that they are usually larger, heavier and tend to make less compromise in comfort for the sake of driving ability. For this reason, most have front-mounted engines, which leave more space for the cabin than mid-mounted engines. They also tend to have softer suspensions to provide excellent ride quality. However, grand tourers do have similarities with sports cars, such as their use mainly of rear wheel drive. If the car has very high-performance capabilities the term sports car may be used to describe a car with grand touring qualities and could even be considered to be a Super Car.
A hot hatch is an informal or slang term for a high-performance derivative of a three (or sometimes five) door automobile. The term is more popular in Europe because of the popularity of the hatchback configuration. The United States also uses the term sport compacts, however this deviates from the true original meaning of the hot hatch terminology. Vehicles of this class are typically based on a budget, family-oriented cars equipped with improved suspension and a more powerful engine. Front mounted petrol engines and front wheel drive is the most common power train layout. The design most often considered to have started the hot hatch genre is the 1977 Volkswagen Golf GTI (Rabbit – North America).
Hot Rods / Roadsters
A wide range of home made and backyard maintained vehicles from the 1930's through to the beginning of the Muscle Car era (about 1965), reaching its height around 1955. During this time, there was an adequate supply of what hot rodders called "vintage tin" junk cars manufactured prior to 1942 that could be had cheaply. Hot rods are typically American cars with large engines modified for linear speed. Nobody knows for sure the origin of the term "hot rod." The term seems first to have appeared in the late 1930s, when kids from southern California would race their modified (or “hopped up”) cars on the vast, empty dry lake beds northeast of Los Angeles under the rules of the Southern California Timing Association. One explanation is that the term is a contraction of "hot roadster," meaning a roadster that was modified for speed. Open roadsters were the cars of choice to modify because they were light. Hot Rods built around a model T Ford (also known as T-Buckets) are the most well known but since the last Model T was built over eighty years ago, modern T-buckets are generally replicas as there are few genuine Model Ts left in scrap yards to build upon.
A Lowrider is a car or truck which has had its suspension system modified (sometimes with hydraulic suspension) so that it rides as low to the ground as possible and often have user controlled height adjustable suspension. Lowriders are very often classic cars from the 1950s which rode low to begin with, although large numbers of 1940s and 1960s cars are also modified and to a lesser degree newer vehicles also. The 1964 Chevy Impala hardtop or convertible is one of the most popular Lowriders, and to a lesser extent other 1958-1964 Impalas.
A muscle car is an automobile with a high horse power engine, modest weight and capable of producing high levels of acceleration. The term principally refers to American, Australian or South African models and generally describes a 2-door rear wheel drive mid-size car with special trim. Commonly found with a large, powerful V8 engine intended for maximum torque on the street or in drag racing competitions. Other factors used in defining this category of car are their age and country of origin. A classic muscle car is usually made in the U.S. or Australia between 1964 and 1975. The term "muscle car" did not enter common usage until after production of the cars had essentially ended. It is generally accepted that popular, widespread usage of the term took hold by the early to mid-1980s. During their heyday, print media usually referred to this class of vehicle as "Supercars".
The pony car is a class of automobile launched and inspired by the Ford Mustang in 1964. It describes an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image. While most of the pony cars offered more powerful engines and performance packages (enough to qualify some into muscle car territory) a substantial number were sold with six-cylinder engines or ordinary V8s. The pony car was primarily an American phenomenon, but in 1969, Ford created a highly successful European equivalent in the Ford Capri. It had a combination of style and image very much in the spirit of the Mustang. The pony car class that the Ford Mustang helped create is the only class of muscle car that still exists today.
Roadster / Spyder
Roadster is the North American term used for a 2-seater lightweight car without a permanent top. The term Spyder is more commonly used in Europe. Traditionally, roadster bodies were used on anything from a Ford Model T to a Cadillac V-16. It was a body style favored by those who preferred enjoyment to practicality. With most modern day production roadsters the use of the name "roadster" is more of a marketing gimmick than a technical label, recalling the feeling of an open-top vehicle for enjoyment, like those of the past.
Supercar is a term generally used for a high-end sports car, whose performance is highly superior to that of its contemporaries. It has been defined specifically as "a very expensive, fast or powerful car with a centrally located engine". Stated in more general terms: "it must be very fast, with sporting handling to match," "it should be sleek and eye-catching" and its price should be "one in a rarified atmosphere of its own". Of course the proper application of the term is subjective and disputed, especially among enthusiasts. The use of the term can be dependent on the era; a vehicle that may have been considered a Supercar at one time may not retain its superiority indefinitely. Some supercars include some of the features required for race cars, like the roll cage, while others are for all intents and purposes race cars with only the minimum legal required modifications made to be street legal.- for example: meeting emission regulations, legal tires, limited exhaust note etc.
It’s commonly held that the period from 1888 – 1904 defined the veteran car era. The first production of automobiles was by Karl Benz in 1888 in Germany and under license to Benz, in France by Emile Roger. By 1900 mass production of automobiles had begun in France and the United States. Within a few years, dizzying assortments of technologies were being produced by hundreds of producers all over the western world. Steam, electricity, and gasoline-powered autos competed for decades, with gasoline internal combustion engines not achieving dominance in the 1910s. Dual and even quad-engine cars were designed, and engine displacement ranged to more than a dozen liters. Many modern advances, including gas / electric hybrids, multi-valve engines, overhead camshafts, and four-wheel drive, were attempted and discarded at this time. Innovation was rapid and rampant, with no clear standards for basic vehicle architectures, body styles, construction materials, or controls. Many veteran cars use a tiller rather than a wheel for steering for example, and most operated at a single speed. Chain drive was dominant over the modern driveshaft, and closed bodies were extremely rare.
A vintage car is commonly defined as a car built between the start of 1919 and through to the stock market crash at the end of 1929. During this period, the front-engine car came to dominate, with closed bodies and standardized controls becoming the norm. Development of the internal combustion engine continued at a rapid pace, with multi-valve and overhead cam engines produced at the high end, and V8, V12, and even V16 engines. Cars became much more practical, convenient and comfortable throughout this era and the following were some of the technologies that were introduced; car heating, in-car radios, antifreeze allowing water-cooled cars to be used year-round and power steering. The braking system also improved measurably with the introduction of four-wheel braking from a common foot pedal with, if you were lucky, hydraulically actuated brakes.