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The vintage era in the automotive world was a time of transition. The car started off in 1919 as still something of a rarity, and ended up, in 1930, well on the way towards ubiquity. In fact, automobile production at the end of this period was not matched again until the 1950s. In the intervening years, most industrialized states built nationwide road systems with the result that, towards the end of the period, the ability to negotiate unpaved roads was no longer a prime consideration of automotive design.
Cars became much more practical, convenient and comfortable during this period. Car heating was introduced, as was the in-car radio. Four-wheel braking from a common foot pedal was introduced, as was the use of hydraulically actuated brakes.Power steering was also an innovation of this era. Towards the end of the vintage era, the system of octane rating of fuel was introduced, allowing comparison between fuels. In 1923 the gasoline additive Ethyl made its debut at the Indy 500 that resulted in a boost in octane from the 50's to the 80's In the United States drive-in restaurants were introduced as well as suburban shopping centers and motels.
Alfred P. Sloan and Harley Earl of General Motors, and Walter P. Chrysler capitalized on advertising the automobile’s role in the life of the consumer for more than just the utilitarian value compared with the horse. The stock market crash of 1929 started the layoff of automotive workers and many new companies went bankrupt but over two million cars were still produced in 1929 and 1930. Horatio Earle, known as the "Father of good roads" had proposed the government create an Interstate highway system in 1902 and in 1909 built the World's first mile of concrete road on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.
Federal road and highway acts
The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 was the first federal highway act. War and lack of funding hampered any positive results of this act. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921 (Phipps Act) started a 50/50 matching fund to states for road building and resulted in the creation of new and improved roads. During this period as well as the car adapting to society, there were better roads, and society began to adapt to the car. Dwight D. Eisenhower participated in the highly publicized Transcontinental Motor Convoy in 1919 and after becoming President the experience influenced the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that included 41,000 miles of highways.
The end of World War I brought about the "Depression of 1920-21" with a better than 20 percent inflation rate, a 7 percent Fed discount loan rate, and an 11.7 percent unemployment rate, and many companies went bankrupt and the automotive industry was decimated.
From 1920 to 1929, many dramatic changes took place. General Motors went into a financial crisis that lasted until after Alfred Sloan became president in 1923. Hudson produced the Essex in 1919 that, by 1925, had propelled the company to third in total sales behind Ford and Chevrolet. Ford was in the process of building a new plant, buying back stock, and began an 18-month process of tooling-up to replace the Model T with the Model A in 1927. In 1921 Maxwell failed and Walter P. Chrysler, formerly of General Motors, was brought in to reorganize it and, in 1925, the Chrysler Corporation was formed. With Ford out for a period, Chrysler was able to produce and market the low-priced Plymouth in 1928, and bought out the Dodge Brothers, also in 1928, resulting in "The Big Three" more recently known as the "Detroit Three". During this time Britain had six major manufacturers instead of three: Morris, Austin, Standard, Rootes, Ford of Britain, and Vauxhall. There were other automakers that made it past the 1920-1921 depression only to fail during the Great Depression. Among smaller automobile manufacturers was Franklin that produced high-quality luxury cars during the 1919 to 1930 vintage era.
Antique automobiles and early to middle era classic cars do not have the safety features that are standard on modern cars. The most rudimentary of safety features, front wheel brakes and hydraulic brakes, began appearing on cars in the 1920s and 1930s respectively. The seat belt, appeared in the sixties and became mandated by federal seat belt legislation in the United States in 1968. However, the merits of adding seat belts to vintage cars is debatable; Chuck Conrad, president of the Des Plaines, Illinois chapter of the Classic Car Club of America stated, "Bolting yourself down to a 70-year-old piece of wood isn't really going to stop anything.". Newer mandated safety features, generally apply to production of vehicles after the laws take effect so vehicles built before any new laws are grandfathered, particularly in the United States.
For the average person car collecting is a hobby. A person usually has a fascination with a certain vehicle or a history with one so seeks a certain make or model. Finding an antique car at an affordable price is not hard but can be relatively expensive depending on the condition or the desired end result. The less work required on a vehicle equates to a higher price. The more work required means a cheaper initial cost, but more in the long run, and a person's level of restoration experience plays an important part.
Comedian and avid car collector Jay Leno stated, "Any car can be a collector car, if you collect it."Antique car collecting as an investment can be rewarding but most serious investment collectors seek rare or exotic cars and original unmodified cars hold a more stable price. Collecting as an investment requires expertise beyond enthusiast collecting and the standard of quality is far higher as well as a need for investment protection such as storage and maintenance. A short-term investment collector must be able to find a vehicle that has market value that is expected to rise in the foreseeable near future. A long-term investment collector would be less interested in any short-term value seeking to capitalize on an expected value rise over a period of years and a vehicle must have certain intrinsic values that are common to other investors or collectors of both short and long term.