25th June 2019

Will hybrids ever become classics?

Age, niche interest, appreciating values, scarcity or even chrome; whatever your parameters for definition, the type of vehicles identifying as classics continues to evolve each year. Maintaining a classic used to rely on knowledge of grease nipples, carburettors and cart springs – you’d never have imagined that vehicles with new-fangled fuel injection or double-wishbone suspension would be considered classics, yet here we are. So, what’s next? Hybrid vehicles are now over two decades old; could they make the jump to classic status?

We don’t have to look too far back to find examples of popular, mass-production, low-value cars that have become established classics with a price tag to match. The Mk1 Cortina is one of the most obvious examples: the people’s favourite, but with a reputation for rust that matched its styling and driver appeal, it was merely an unloved old car for years. Spurred on by the popularity of the go-faster Lotus-Cortina and GT models, values have continued to rise over the last decade with no sign of abating.  

Look at the parallels between the Cortina and Toyota Prius, for example, which is now over 20 years old. The Cortina brought something new to market: driving dynamics, style and affordability. It led to record sales and, ultimately, inspired five generations of marketing success before Ford introduced the Sierra, but that’s another story. The Prius brought hybrid technology to the masses – the latest green powertrain wrapped in a futuristic shape by a manufacturer with a reputation for reliability. The Prius arguably kick-started the electrification era, so will that earn its place as a classic?

As the Cortina, among others, has proved, mass production is not a barrier to classic eligibility. Prius numbers are high, but will driveline complexity, cost and shelf-life of batteries limit their longevity, leading to dwindling numbers and niche interest? Given their suitability for recycling, there’s a high probability.   

If genre-defining innovators secure themselves a place in the hearts of classic enthusiasts, then how about the Honda Insight? Launched in 1999, it may have been two years behind the Prius, but for those who found the Toyota too mainstream it offered buyers a genuine glimpse of the future. It was also the first hybrid available for sale in North America, beating the Prius to the punch by a few months. Using lightweight materials and a tiny downsized, 3-cylinder engine, it – and the Toyota – led the way for vehicle manufacturers seeking reduced emissions tech from their 21st Century models.

It seems the greatest barrier to classic hybrid acceptance is preconceptions. These are based on the same reluctance to change that once shied away from fuel injection and galvanised metals, or under-appreciated the Ferrari Dino. The Sinclair C5 has found acceptance, who’s to say what will be next.

What do you think?  Will today’s taxi be tomorrow’s collectors’ item? Let us know in the comments.