As it applies to collector cars in general there is no formal definition for the term “survivor.” Most collectors agree that at the very least it implies that a car is predominantly original, as opposed to restored, and that it retains most of its mechanical and cosmetic components including drivetrain, paint, and interior. It is also generally accepted that the car functions well, and is cosmetically pleasing, but not perfect.
Therefore, a brand new car that was left to suffer the ravages of the elements in a cornfield forty years ago may be 100% original, but it is not a “survivor.” After all, it did not survive. It merely exists. Conversely, the new car which was put into storage for decades, as you describe in your question, would certainly be considered a “survivor.”
Now we know what would and would not be a “survivor.” But what about all of the potential “survivors” that fall within these two extremes, as most do? This is where the term “survivor” is open to interpretation.
I believe that in order to qualify as a “survivor,” a car must be structurally sound and must have all, or most of its original paint and interior in very good condition. It must have its original engine and it must be completely safe, operable and dependable. I do not believe that it is necessary for a “survivor” to have its original tires, belts, and hoses. Most collector cars are at least thirty or forty years old, and although I have seen it on occasion, it is unreasonable to expect a car of this age to retain these original consumable components. Even if it did, forty year old tires would not be safe, operable and dependable, all of which were part of my definition of a “survivor.” Nor does the car have to be perfect. I am accepting of a chip here and there, a drip of oil, or some wear on the driver’s seat.
Most cars that are now considered collector cars were originally purchased with the intention of being driven…nothing more. I can’t imagine that many people who were shopping for a car forty, or fifty, or sixty years ago were thinking to themselves “I think I’ll keep this car for sixty years and then trade it in for a new one.” So in a sense, all collector cars have managed to survive. But we reserve the term “survivor” for those cars that have not only survived, but have done so in a predominantly original state. The degree of originality is open to your own personal interpretation.
To illustrate the concept that 100% originality and perfection is not of paramount importance to collectors of “survivors” one need only look at a few examples. There are many brand new 1978 Corvette Pace Cars and 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertibles on the market, and these cars trade at roughly two – three times their original retail price. This is for a limited edition Corvette and a top-of-the-line Cadillac. But stumble across a 1966 Mustang Fastback, or a 1969 Camaro Convertible, or a 1962 Jaguar, or a 1965 Alfa, or almost any desirable classic car that fits my definition of a “survivor”, and it will sell at a minimum of ten times the original retail price…often much more. In general, sophisticated collectors recognize the intrinsic value in a “survivor,” and they are willing to pay for it, warts and all.