News On the Record Opinion Church Special Sections Photos

A few weeks ago I happened to catch a TV program on classic cars, with Jay Leno as host. He was interviewing the owners of several great old classic cars, and, with their permission, was driving some of them on the streets. Seeing those old cars, some of them more than 100 years old, running under their own power, was a fascinating thing to me. I will soon be three quarters of 100 myself, and that may have prompted my interest and remembrances.

I have long been interested in the many car makes and car companies which once built and marketed automobiles in the U.S., but which are no longer in business. I recently came across an on-line list of defunct car-makers, and it was amazingly long, dozens and dozens of cars and companies. In my own lifetime, I have seen the demise of quite a number of car companies, many of them great old cars, and some them great old companies like Packard and Studebaker that had endured through long years. When I was young, in the 1940s and 1950s, we often saw Hudson cars. I guess that company was already struggling, and many of the Hudsons in my day were plain and not very popular. But in earlier years, many of the Hudson cars had been grand cars, speedy, dependable, and appealing in style.

As I remember the movie, "Driving Miss Daisy," over the passing of the time Miss Daisy owned three cars. The first one, a nice green car, I couldn't identify the make or year. That one she backed into a ditch, scratching it up, and prompting her family to hire a chauffeur to drive her where she needed to go. The second car, which she used several years with the help of her chauffeur, was a very grand Hudson car, red in color. Later in the movie she bought a black Cadillac, and the red Hudson was sold to her chauffeur. I liked the Hudson better than the Cadillac.

We have come to think of some makes and models of old cars as classic cars. Often these are restored by enthusiasts and placed on display at car shows around the country. I enjoy these car shows, and I also enjoy visiting car and truck museums.

I'm asking myself, what makes a classic car a classic? Is it age? Often we identify certain cars from the 1920s or 1930s as classic cars. I would identify Ford's Model T as a classic. It was made for 20 years or so, before 1930. Ford's Model A is also a classic, to my mind, although it was newer, being made in the early 1930s, and was made for fewer years than the T model. These Fords were not fine cars, and especially the T was very utilitarian and unexciting, but they were hugely popular, versitile, and had a tremendous effect of spreading widely the automobile era, making cars available to a great percentage of the people. Both the Ts and the As continue to draw many fans, many cars and trucks have been restored and preserved, and clubs of Model A and Model T owners and drivers have become widespread across the country.

But not all classic cars are so old. The 1957 Chevrolet has become known as a classic --- I'm not sure exactly why. Actually I liked the styling of the 1955 and 1956 Chevrolets even better than the 1957. Together, those three model years pretty much rebranded the Chevrolet. Before that time, Chevrolet had been mainly an economy car, placid and practical. The introduction of the new Chevrolet V8 engine in 1955, and its significant increase in power in 1957, along with the styling of those model years, made the Chevrolet brand one of excitement and performance.

Though there are definite exceptions, I tend to think of classic cars, in general, as belonging to the 1920s and 1930s. The styling in the 1920s was not streamlined, and many of the cars had the appearance of a vehicle still related to the buggies and carriages of an earlier era. But some of those 1920s cars were stately and impressive, and some, like the powerful and massively expensive Duesenberg, were spectacular cars, magnificent in appearance, size and impressive in power. The Duesenberg straight-eight engine was capable of accelerating from a standing start to a speed of 100 miles per hour in about 20 seconds. The Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang from the movie, was I think not a Duesenberg, but it reminded me of the Duesenberg.

I have long had a special liking for the styling of the 1930s Ford Cars, including the Model A Ford, and the very different streamlined cars built between 1934 and 1938. My friends, Charles and Alice Crabtree, have both a Model A Ford from 1932 and a V-8 1934 Ford. I love to see either of them on the streets of Pea Ridge. To me the '34 is particularly impressive. I see both as classics, well worth restoring and maintaining through the years as great representations of the times when they were built. My family had a '38 Ford in the mid-1940s. I was very attached to it. When my dad traded it off, I was so reluctant to let go of my car that I sat in it all morning on the day we had to turn it over to the new owner. Even at 6 years old, I was already dreaming of driving my car some day, and I could hardly bear to part with it. So how could I not think of the '38 Ford as a classic?


Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge, is an award-winning columnist, a retired Methodist minister with a passion for history. He is vice president of the Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at, or call 621-1621.

Editorial on 10/01/2014

Print Headline: What makes for a classic car?

Sponsor Content