Vintage cars are vehicles which were built in the vintage era, which began in 1919. The end of the vintage era is debatable, but falls somewhere between 1925 and 1930. (1925 is when the classic car era began; therefore ending the vintage period according to the Classic Car Club of America, but the British claim 1930 as the end of the vintage era.) In any case, the vintage car era ushered in many significant changes both to the automobile and the way people perceived them, and thus was hugely important to the development of the automobiles we see today.
In the late 1800s and the first decade or so of the 1900s, automobiles were a luxury owned only by the rich. Henry Ford made the automobile available to everyone when he introduced the Ford Model-T in 1908, the first car to be mass-produced using the relatively new concept of an assembly line. Because these cars were now produced much more cheaply and efficiently than before, they became affordable to the average American family. By 1919, the end of World War I and beginning of the vintage era, they were just another part of common, everyday life.
As cars became more and more popular, vintage cars evolved to suit the demands of the consumers. The automobile made travel common, and as more people traveled more often, automobiles needed to become lighter, faster and more comfortable – a big change from the heavier luxury cars from earlier in the decade. These continually evolving cars are the cars of the vintage era: the transitional cars which brought forth huge advances in engineering and design and ultimately led to the style, luxury and convenience of modern vehicles.
Some of the specific changes brought forth by the vintage era were: closed-bodied cars with heating systems, standardized controls, and front-mounted engines. The new closed-body style allowed families to travel while comfortably shielded from the elements, and standard controls made driving more convenient and easier. Engine development made great headway in this era, as technology continually improved the internal combustion engine and made cars more efficient.
Important cars from the vintage era include the Austin 7, after which many other cars were modeled, and the Cadillac V-16 and Bugatti Royale, which became the ultimate icons of luxury vintage cars. The most popular vehicle of the vintage era was the Ford Model A, with over 4 million units produced.
As vintage cars became increasingly better and more people owned them, American society changed to accommodate them. Drive-in diners and movies, malls, and motels were introduced thanks to the popularity of the automobile. The vintage car era ushered in a completely new age in America, and so is largely responsible for the lifestyles we enjoy today.