Is the number of classic cars on the road growing or shrinking? It’s an interesting question you may have already pondered, and slightly more difficult to answer than you might think.
As car enthusiasts, we can exist in an echo chamber of valves, pistons and power figures. If you’re lucky enough to be part of an active car scene you’ll likely believe the passion for classics is alive and well – walk around one of our Coffee & Chrome meets, and you’ll find hundreds of like-minded people of all ages – but what about across the UK?
We wanted to try and find out a definitive answer, so as part of Footman James’ 2022 Indicator Report, we delved into the data.
Our initial survey of 2,943 members of the public found that 25% would consider owning a classic vehicle in the future, a promising start for potential newcomers to the scene. To understand the current state of play we called on information held by the DVLA, and that’s where things got a little more complicated.
The DVLA’s database* includes 247,618 cars whose build date is unclear. Looking at the manufacturer of those vehicles – a roll call of automotive greats from times past, from Austin Healey to Wolseley – it’s clear most, if not all, are likely to fall within the DVLA’s definition of a classic, so have therefore been incorporated into our numbers. By trawling through the latest complete dataset and comparing it with the previous years’ data we discover that, yes, there are indeed more classics on the road.
To some extent that might sound obvious. No matter whose definition you use – whether it’s the DVLA’s rolling 40-year rule, or FIVA’s 30-year regime – with each passing year, another load of newcomers gets inducted into the historic category.
In 2019, the DVLA recognised 457,918 classic cars (154,817 of which were SORNed), a figure that rose to 479,975 in 2020 as those registered up to 1980 came into the fold. In 2021, as we awaited the arrival of the class of 1981, that figure stood at 496,477 – nearly 1.4% of all registered cars in the UK. By FIVA’s 30-year definition, the numbers are more impressive, rising from 679,516 in 2019, to 739,848 in 2020 and 803,478 in 2021.
To some enthusiasts, anything over 20 years old is potentially worthy of classic status, opening the door to nearly 1.7m cars in 2019, 1.9m in 2020, and more than 2.2m in 2021.
The attrition rate is reassuring, too. While some classics no doubt succumb to the scrapheap, their loss is more than made up by the arrival of fresh imports. In fact, the 457,918 classic cars the DVLA recognised in 2019 had grown to 461,859 a year later, an increase of 3,941.
Whichever yardstick you prefer to use, it is clear the number of classic cars on our roads is only set to increase – and according to our survey, there’ll be a growing number of new enthusiasts to drive and cherish them.