As of: 01/24/2022 7:26 p.m
The number of vintage cars increases every year. The coveted H license plate not only offers owners financial advantages. Because cars that have been sold in the millions are now old enough, some fear vintage inflation.
Old cars from the 20’s, 30’s or 60’s and 70’s have many fans. The Rolls Royce Phantom I from 1925, the Porsche 356, which was manufactured from 1948, or the Mercedes Pagoda from 1970 are classics with rarity value: beautiful and often very expensive. But what do these treasures made of thick sheet metal have to do with the Golf III, the Audi 80 Avant or the Renault Twingo? Nothing? But.
What is a vintage car?
These mass-produced cars are also now 30 years old. Since January 1, 2022, owners can apply for an H license plate so that their cars are considered classic cars. According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority, 983,289 vehicles registered in Germany were more than 30 years old last year. Figures for 2022 are not yet available. However, this segment has been growing steadily for years.
Detlev Kroh, managing director of “Automobil Manufaktur Kassel”, has been restoring classic cars with his team for many years. His workshop contains treasures such as the EMW from 1938. EMW stands for “Eisenacher Motoren-Werke”. There are only ten of this model left in the world.
There are only ten of this EMW model from 1938 left worldwide.
Image: Andreas Clarysse, HR
The 1990 generation of cars hardly rusts
Kroh thinks that Renault Twingo and Co. – despite their age – have nothing to do with classic cars in the classic sense. For him, vintage cars are “lovers’ vehicles in small numbers that are in good condition”. But cars like the Audi 80 Avant “have nothing to do with a classic car or a historical cultural asset,” he says.
One reason why there are more and more old cars that are easily reaching the age limit of 30 years is due to rust prevention. Around the year 1990, particularly durable cars were developed which, with good care, last a very long time. Not only the visible body parts were produced in a higher quality, but also the mechanically or chemically stressed components such as the crank mechanism or drive train became more durable.
Vintage status only with expert opinion
The step from a normal car to a classic car does not happen automatically after 30 years. First of all, the vehicle owner must apply for a so-called H license plate. The biggest hurdle when registering a vehicle with an H license plate is not its age. Rather, there must be a classic car report that must be issued by a recognized expert from TÜV and DEKRA or another testing organization.
The Vehicle Registration Ordinance (FZV) does not define exactly which structural requirements a classic car must meet for registration with an H license plate. The formulations are kept vague, which is why it often depends on the inspector whether the favorite vehicle receives the historic license plate. Basically, the vehicle must correspond to the original in all main assemblies. Conversions are only allowed if they were typical and contemporary. The vehicle must be in good condition. There must be no major defects or signs of wear.
The Porsche 356 is a classic vintage car.
Bild: picture alliance / dpa
Financial incentives for classic cars
But why is it so important whether a vehicle can call itself a classic car? There are a whole range of discounts for the “old crates”, which not only bring benefits at first glance: vintage cars are considered “motor vehicle cultural assets”. This is one of the reasons why a car receives tax concessions. All classic cars pay a uniform tax of 191.73 euros (motorcycles 46.02 euros).
Most insurance companies also offer low rates – partly because they know that classic car enthusiasts cherish and care for their vehicles and treat them with particular care. And there are fewer environmental regulations: For example, old vehicles with an H license plate without a catalytic converter are allowed to drive in environmental zones. A green sticker is not required.
For certified classic cars like the Rolls Royce Phantom I not only tax benefits apply.
Bild: picture-alliance/ dpa
“Classic car inflation” under criticism
All this is very tempting for the owners. But real classic car experts like Detlev Kroh shake their heads. He doesn’t think much of this “oldtimer inflation”: “We are currently registering more than 980,000 H-capable cars, and 15, 18 years ago we were just under 40,000. You can see: the increase is extreme.”
Since higher production figures and longer durability lead to more and more “cars over 30”, Kroh calls for a rethink: the legislature should redefine what a vintage car, a youngtimer or a collector’s vehicle is. “He should sit down with the associations, maybe also with classic car specialists,” demands Kroh.
And another reform proposal – not meant to be taken very seriously: the term “oldtimer” suggests that in English it means old cars. In England, however, the “oldtimers” are usually called classic, veteran, antique or vintage, each followed by car, truck, motorcycle. The term “oldtimer”, on the other hand, is a sham Anglicism. It’s like the group of vintage cars in general: you can change it, but you don’t have to.