Classic Car Conditions Explained

by | Nov 2023 | Guides

Have you heard the terms “Survivor,” “Restored,” “Preserved,” and “Driver Quality” used when looking at Classic Cars for sale but did not know what the differences of each are? In this post, we explain the differences in Classic Car conditions you often see used when sorting through classic cars for sale.

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The classic and collector car world is a realm filled with passion, history, and a commitment to preserving automotive heritage. Within this world, enthusiasts and collectors often debate the merits of different approaches to vehicle preservation and restoration. Four distinct concepts often emerge in these discussions: Survivor, Restored, Sympathetically Preserved, and Driver Quality.

To compare the various levels of Classic Car quality, we use examples of the Datsun 1600 Roadster sports car produced by Japanese automobile manufacturer Nissan in the late 1960s, links of which can be found at the end of each section below:

If you’re not familiar with the Datsun 1600 Roadster, it was Datsun’s first sports car imported into North America. Produced from 1966 through 1970, the 1600 Roadster (known in its home market as the “Fairlady”) featured a 1.6-liter inline-four engine, stylish design, and a lightweight, nimble chassis, making it a popular choice among enthusiasts for its affordable performance and open-top driving experience. The Datsun 1600 Roadster is fondly remembered for its fun-to-drive nature and is considered a notable part of automotive history. Prices for even well

What is a Survivor Classic Car?

 Survivor Quality refers to a classic or collector car that has remained mainly in its original, unaltered state since its creation. These cars are time capsules, representing a piece of history that has aged gracefully and naturally. Survivor cars may exhibit various degrees of wear and patina, depending on their age, storage conditions, and maintenance.

Survivor Quality Key Characteristics:

  • Originality: Survivor cars are characterized by their original paint, interior, engine, and other components. The goal is to maintain the vehicle as it was when it left the factory.
  • Patina: The wear and aging of a survivor car are often celebrated. This patina reflects the car’s history and adds character.
  • Documentation: Authenticity is vital for survivor cars. They should have documentation, such as factory build sheets, original sales invoices, and service records, to support their provenance.
  • Minimal Mileage: While survivor quality classic cars tend to feature very low mileage, we have seen examples with higher mileage that benefitted from extremely fastidious owners who went to great lengths to preserve their cars.
  • Rarity: Survivor cars are sought after for their rarity and the authenticity they bring to the collector car world.

This silver 1970 Datsun 1600 Roadster for sale we spotted on Craigslist in December of 2021, with only 37K miles, a numbers-matching powertrain, and what is believed to be original paint, qualifies it as a survivor quality example.

What Defines a Restored Classic Car?

Restored Quality takes a different approach. It involves a comprehensive effort to return a classic or collector car to a state closely resembling its original factory condition. Restorations can range from partial to full, with varying levels of detail and authenticity, depending on the owner’s objectives.

Restored Quality Key Characteristics:

  • Detailed Restoration: Every aspect of the vehicle is carefully examined, and necessary repairs or replacements are made. This may involve stripping the car to its bare frame and rebuilding it.
  • Attention to Authenticity: High-quality restorations aim to replicate the car’s original condition, including paint, interior, engine, and other components. Authenticity is crucial, and extensive research may be required to source the correct parts and materials.
  • Cosmetic Perfection: The goal is to achieve a “better than new” appearance, often with a show-quality finish. This may involve refinishing the body, reupholstering the interior, and rebuilding the engine to a pristine condition.
  • Drivability: Restored cars are typically meant to be roadworthy, allowing owners to enjoy driving them without significant concerns about reliability.
  • Restoration Records: Owners often keep meticulous records of the restoration process, detailing every step to return the car to its former glory.

This silver over red 1968 Datsun 1600 Roadster, spotted in the 2014 Issue of Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market magazine, was a low-mileage example that benefitted from an over-the-top restoration at the time. As the pictures highlight, in many respects, this Fairlady likely looks better today than when it left the Datsun factory.

What does “Sympathetically Preserved” Mean?

“Sympathetically Preserved” represents a middle ground between Survivor Quality and Restored Quality. This approach recognizes the historical and cultural significance of a classic car while allowing for some selective, mindful restoration or preservation efforts.

Sympathetically Preserved Key Characteristics:

  • Preservation with Selective Restoration: Owners aim to maintain as much of the car’s originality as possible but may address specific issues or imperfections, such as rust, faded paint, or worn upholstery.
  • Historical Significance: Cars preserved sympathetically often have unique historical features, like period-correct accessories, rare options, or modifications made during the car’s life.
  • Documentation and Research: Owners of sympathetically preserved cars often engage in in-depth research to understand the car’s history and context.
  • Respect for Patina: While not all sympathetically preserved cars will have a significant amount of patina, the emphasis is on maintaining the character of the vehicle without striving for showroom-perfect appearances.
  • Period-Correct Upgrades: Some owners may add period-correct accessories or components that enhance the car’s historical appeal while respecting the vehicle’s originality.

This red 1969 Datsun 1600 Roadster for sale in the fall of 2023 is an excellent example of a sympathetically preserved car.  The interior remains original with a visible patina, while the seller notes the car received a repaint at some point.

What Makes a Classic Car “Driver Quality?”

“Driver Quality” classic and collector cars are intended to be driven regularly rather than stored or displayed. These cars may not always meet the pristine standards of Survivor, Restored, or Sympathetically Preserved cars. Still, they uniquely appeal to those prioritizing driving experiences over strict preservation.

Driver Quality Key Characteristics:

  • Well-Maintained but Not Pristine: Driver-quality cars are typically in good mechanical condition and are well-maintained, but they may have minor cosmetic imperfections or non-original parts.
  • Suitable for Regular Use: Owners of driver-quality cars often enjoy driving them without being overly concerned about exposing them to the elements or wear and tear.
  • Budget-Friendly: These cars are often more affordable than their pristine counterparts, making them accessible to a wider range of enthusiasts.
  • Customization and Modifications: Owners may opt for personalized touches, upgrades, or modifications to enhance the car’s performance, comfort, or aesthetics.

This white 1969 Datsun 1600 Roadster for sale in the summer of 2021 for sale on Craigslist is the typical driver-quality example you’ll find for sale. In addition to featuring a “ten footer” older repaint, the seller notes the car received rust repairs at some point, and the sale included a set of aftermarket Enkei Compe wheels:


In the world of classic and collector cars, the distinctions between Survivor, Restored, Sympathetically Preserved, and Driver Quality vehicles reflect the diverse values and preferences of enthusiasts and collectors. Whether drawn to the untouched authenticity of Survivor cars, the meticulous craftsmanship of Restored cars, the historical context of Sympathetically Preserved cars, or the driving experience offered by Driver Quality cars, the passion for classic automobiles continues to thrive. Each category offers unique charm and appeal, contributing to the rich tapestry of automotive history and culture. Ultimately, choosing these methods reflects the delicate balance between preserving the past and enjoying these classic and collector cars in the present.




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