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There Are Two Important Words Missing From American Car Culture

Illustration for article titled There Are Two Important Words Missing From American Car Culture
Photo: Kristen Lee (Jalopnik)

There are two things you notice when you first encounter car culture in Germany. The first is the surprising number of Opels, and the second is that they have two perfect words to describe a particular kind of car, words that we oddly don’t have in America but desperately need. Those words are youngtimer and oldtimer.


In America, we have a lot of classifications for the kinds of cars you can be into. You can say you like muscle cars, and everyone understands that you like big-horsepower American cars of the 1960s and 1970s, extending up through the Buick GNXes and late-model Camaros of the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the present day.

You can say you like vintage cars, and it’s easy for anyone to get that you like cars with real fenders and headlights on stalks. Saying you like hot rods is another easy distinction, just like saying drift cars or imports.

An Escort Cossie at Radwood II.
An Escort Cossie at Radwood II.
Photo: Kristen Lee/Jalopnik

But what if you like cars that aren’t new but aren’t yet exactly vintage? They’re old, but not old enough to be classics. Future classics, maybe. Cars from the late 1980s and into the early 1990s.

We don’t really have a word for that. You could sort of get away with saying you like cars that show up at Cars and Coffee, or you could say that you like things that are very Radwood, but those are kinda obtuse.


As it turns out, the Germans have a word for these cars: youngtimers. For Germans, the category stretches back into the mid or late 1980s, when cars really start becoming modern. The BMW E36. The VW Corrado. The Vanagon.

These aren’t “classic cars,” at least not yet, but they are affordable and aspirational to young enthusiasts and we don’t have a category for them here. In Germany there are articles and magazines devoted to them, promoting them in a way that makes America look empty.


“Oldtimer,” then, are the cars that stretch back farther into history. Usually you can think of them as what you’d see on events like the California Mille, or taking up a lot of the space on Bring A Trailer, but that’s just how tastes are these days. The word is basically interchangeable with “classic” here in the States.

Every time I’m back over in Germany and I see these two categories I’m amazed we haven’t picked them up back here. Honestly, we’re long overdue.

Illustration for article titled There Are Two Important Words Missing From American Car Culture

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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Admittedly, this is California-centric but how about “BlackPlate” and “BluePlate”?