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Open Diff – when is a Youngtimer not a Youngtimer?

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photo courtesy Barrett-Jackson.

Here’s a topic we could probably write reams about, if we only could figure out terminology.

You see, the Germans have for many years now used a term, “Youngtimer,” to describe automobiles that aren’t really old but still generate interest as collector cars. As David LaChance pointed out a few years back, it generally refers to cars 20 to 30 years old, though there’s no hard and fast cutoff. To add some shading to the term, it also generally includes cars that were high-end or of special interest when new. “A lot of these cars had stickers that only the select few could read without needing smelling salts, and have now been put in the reach of the masses through our old friend depreciation,” David wrote.

Youngtimer is a great term. It’s succinct. It fills in the gap between used cars and classic cars. With the rolling cutoff, it doesn’t get tied to a certain era the way a term like “malaise” or “Radwood” does. It effectively gives older-but-not-yet-old cars a stepping stone into collectibility. (“It’s sort of the on-deck circle for classic status,” as David put it.) It also makes the collector car scene a little less exclusionary by providing an arena in which younger car enthusiasts can participate; a lot of car shows in Germany have separate Youngtimer and Oldtimer classes.

RM Sotheby’s recently introduced a lot of American car collectors to the term with the sale of a giant Youngtimer collection, but whether it takes hold over here remains to be seen. It does, after all, have some strikes against it too. So far, it seems to apply almost exclusively to European cars of that time period (with select Japanese cars thrown in); I’ve yet to see anybody describe an American car like the 2000 Camaro above as a Youngtimer. The tendency for it to apply to high-end cars could prove irksome; I’m not alone in appreciating base-model versions of cars perhaps more than their fully loaded counterparts. And then there’s the linguistic peculiarity of a clearly English-inspired term (“Jungzeiter,” though it exists as a term, is far less used) given a German spin; would American mouths be comfortable with it as is or somehow un-spinning it?

What would prove fatal for the Youngtimer term in America would be a need to explain it over and over again to car collectors here. Would they get it on first reference? Would another term be more useful and self-explanatory to describe cars of this vintage and class? And if 20- to 30-year-old American cars can’t be Youngtimers, do we need another term for them altogether?