Last Reviewed: February 28, 2024
History Index

The American antique, vintage and classic passenger vehicles include all cars, light pickup trucks, vans, station wagons, hot rods, muscle cars and anything else on four wheels designed primarily for passenger transportation. The first passenger vehicles were built as far back as the 17th century, mostly of wood, by dreamers with limited skills and equipment. Some were simply variations of horse-drawn carriages while others were more elaborate.

1771 Cugnot Steam car

1771 Cugnot Steam car

Steam engines had been around for a long time but only a few people managed to make them small enough for vehicles and even then there were significant problems. The water and fuel were cumbersome, the myriad valves and gauges were complicated and, most importantly, they took too long to start in the morning. Electric motors and batteries were available but there was only limited electricity in the cities and usually none in-between. The advent of the diesel and gasoline engines was the most promising source of portable energy except for the problem of finding fuel.

Brass Era 1909 Cadillac Model 30

1909 Cadillac Model 30

The power source was the key issue for the creation of a horseless carriage but not the only one. Up until Henry Ford introduced interchangeable parts on his assembly line, everything was hand made and one of a kind so there were no spare parts available. Then there was the problem of developing a tire that could handle the unpaved roads, making lights for night time driving and all the other conveniences that we have grown to expect in our vehicles.

1918 Edison Electric Car

1918 Edison Electric Car

The primary limitations were knowledge and tools. Electric motors, batteries, steam and combustion engines were all available but were limited by the crude manufacturing methods in use at the time. And eventually by the relatively cheap gasoline engine. The use of steel for chassis and bodies, an obvious improvement over wood, called for specialized cutting, riveting and welding equipment that was unavailable and/or unaffordable to many. For more information visit our Antique Car Timeline, Vintage Car Timeline and Classic Car timeline and read about the various car eras below.

Vintage Era 1924 Chrysler

1924 Chrysler

The Brass Car Era was the beginning of the automobile industry. Steam engines were produced with bright brass fittings and lanterns and the vehicles were commonly know as ´horseless carriages´. Brass cars were usually made out of carriage wood and hand-forged steel, and fitted with electric motors or steam engines. ...More

Antique Era 1916 Buick Truck

1916 Buick Truck

The Antique Car Era led the industrial revolution at a time when backyard mechanics began connecting gasoline engines to most anything on wheels. Antique cars were the first cars to be produced on an assembly line, as immortalized by the model-T Ford. They were also at the forefront of quality control, standardized parts - and the industry itself. Steam power... More

The Vintage Car Era came after World War I, when factories, machinery and men needed work and good times brought opportunities to pioneers. Think of the rowing 20's with Elliot Ness on the running board with a machine gun in his hand. Vintage cars were built by would-be inventors in barns and backyards, without thoughts of warrantee or repair. Henry Ford took control of the Vintage Car Era with his assembly line, which started the industrial revolution... More

Classic Era 1956 Ford F100 Pickup Truck

1956 Ford F100 Pickup Truck

The Classic Car Era began in 1946 as the Cold War, the Communist threat in Cuba, civil rights and Vietnam brought new strife and concerns to the American people. The 1960´s also brought new concerns for Detroit. As foreign automakers imported a new breed of compact, more efficient cars American automakers responded by... More

1923 Ford T-Bucket Roadster

1925 Ford T-Bucket Roadster

Hot Rods and Roadsters were born when back-yard mechanics discovered how much fun it is to customize a discarded Model-T Ford. Put a V-8 or other powerhouse engine in a car designed for something less and you have a "hot rod". Remove the top and you have a "roadster". Hot rods and roadsters have been the trademarks of street racers and speed buffs since the first V-8 engine and continue to be both a popular pastime and... More

1969 Camaro Muscle Car

1969 Camaro

Muscle Cars are a product of the Classic Car Era. They evolved from the feverish consumerism that followed World War II, when bigger and faster were always better. Muscle Cars evolved by accident at a time when Detroit was trying to stop the invasion of imported cars with new, light-weight models like the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac GTO and the classic Ford Mustang... More

Glossary - Antique, Vintage and Classic Car terms