By on September 17, 2011

You may not have heard of the Historical Vehicle Association before, but it’s a 30,000-member advocacy group that actually emerged from a special insurance plan for historic cars offered by Hagerty Insurance. Now ratified by the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens, the HVA offers commissions on History, Skills and Trades, Technical Issues and Legislative Affairs, as it seeks to fulfill its mission of “Keeping Yesterday’s Vehicles on Tomorrow’s Roads.” One of its more laudable legislative tasks of late has been raising awareness about the damage caused by ethanol-blended gasoline and seeking to ban mandatory blending. But now it’s got another goal, as reported by Automotive News [sub]

The federal government has national registries for historic buildings, boats, airplanes, railways — you name it. But not for cars. And the Historic Vehicle Association is trying to change that…

A concern among enthusiasts is that government initiatives — such as the 2009 federal cash-for-clunkers incentive — could send many vintage cars to the crusher. Legislation might prevent cars from being destroyed. Or it could allow gas guzzlers to remain on the road if other laws preclude them.

As it so happens, my significant other is an Architectural Historian who spends her days evaluating buildings that could be impacted by federally-funded projects… so I hear about this issue (in terms of the Register of Historic Places) more often than you can even imagine. And it’s not as simple as it might seem…

If my lovely life partner deems a building that’s in the way of a federally-funded project eligible for listing on the National Register, the project must seek to limit or mitigate its impact on it. Federal law requires that federally-funded projects determine the eligibility of buildings in their area of impact, but the level of protection offered to eligible buildings is actually relatively low. If the building in question is listed on the register, which can only be done voluntarily by the owner, it receives full protection. This matters for buildings, which are difficult to move and can be part of a historic district or landscape.

Though it’s possible that future legislation could seek to ban gas-guzzling historic vehicles from the road, in which case a National Register could offer effective protection, the basic protections for a car are a lot less necessary than for a structure (which can not easily be moved or stored). In short, if someone chooses to destroy their mint-condition Packard in the next Cash-for-Clunkers program, there’s nothing in the National Register model to stop them… the system supports, rather than trumps, property rights.

In other words, I don’t have a problem with people being able to register a vehicle for historic protection, but let’s not pretend that it will offer more protection than the owner’s property rights already do. And it does open a can of worms in regards to drawing the line between historic and non-historic vehicles (although most “truly historic” cars are already in museums). If legislation comes forward to ban certain cars from the road, I’m all for fighting it outright… but I’m not convinced that a National Register of Historic Cars is the way to do that. This feels more like a way for owners of Concours-level cars to feel even snootier about their garage queen.

But, as it turns out, there’s no need for a separate register. The NYT reports

Carmel Roberts, director of government relations for the [HVA], said in a telephone interview this week that the association was not pushing for any such legislation. Instead, she said that the association merely encouraged owners to list their vehicles on the National Register, the country’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

Automobiles are already designated as structures in a National Register bulletin outlining the application process to have artifacts or structures listed, Ms. Roberts said. Little, however, has been done to explore the potential of the National Register as it related to automobiles.

“We’re just at the talking phase,” Ms. Roberts said.


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17 Comments on “Are You Ready For: A National Register Of Historic Vehicles?...”

  • avatar

    God bless. Go. Do it. Just as long as whatever ‘it’ is doesn’t involve tax dollars.

  • avatar

    One of my brothers does much the same work as your significant other.

    The only real advantage I see is in opposing legislation that might keep historic vehicles off the road.

  • avatar

    The main purpose of the Register of Historic Places is to make properties eligible for federal tax credits and other benefits. The purpose of the tax credit is to subsidize the costs of restoring a building to its original character, which are often higher than they would be for a modernized building.

    So in the case of the Historic Register, the government is offering a financial incentive, and that incentive is arguably justified because there are legitimate additional costs associated with meeting the standard. The registration process involves documentation that proves that the buildings are worthy of the subsidy and that the property owners did the work that they were supposed to do in exchange for the incentives.

    I don’t see that happening here — Uncle Sam has no valid reason to be paying car owners to restore their vehicles, so the registry serves no valid purpose. Some states do offer special license plates and reduced registration fees for historic cars, but that’s a state matter, not a federal one. Unless we have a federal DMV (and we won’t), there just isn’t much point to this.

  • avatar

    The historic register also hinders people from throwing away their wood windows and replacing with nasty vinyl windows as well.

    I’m looking to get my house on the historic register so if I sell it one day I’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing the potential jerkoff who buys it won’t be able to ‘F’ it up as easy. I’ll be sure to drive by on a frequent basis just to make sure.

    Tax credits are a secondary benefit to me.

    In regards to this article, if vehicles can already be placed on the registry, it is not well publicized and ought to be.

    Would owners of a classic vehicle get tax breaks on restoring it? What would they be limited to doing if restoring it and getting tax credits? Would upgrading from front drum brakes to disks be elgible since the vehicle was never offered with disk brakes?

    This raises a lot of questions.

    • 0 avatar

      I can just see the conversation with your prospective home buyer now… “Oh, so it’s on the historic structure register which means I will have to apply to the municipality every time I’d like to do a minor renovation? AND you’ll do me the pleasure be driving by periodically to check up on me to make sure I haven’t F-ed up “your” house? Hmmmmm–I think I’ll pass. Thanks anyways… Good luck with your sale.”

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve sold two houses in my lifetime, houses that I’ve lived in for a significant period of my life. In both cases, the new owner has (in my eyes) ‘effed up the house six ways from Sunday. However, by virtue of my happily taking his money, I have no right whatsoever to comment on what he’s done with the place.

      You take the buyer’s money. You no longer have a right to that house. What’s your problem with that concept?

      • 0 avatar

        Because the house I live in is not a typical cul-de-sac cookie cutter T1-11 clad home built of cardboard, staples, glue, and paperclips devoid of any architectural character like it sounds like your guys’ two houses are.

        If that were the case, I’d be happy to get rid of it to the first loser who had cash and wanted to live in such a craptastic home.

        The majority of the homes in my neighborhood are on the historic register.

        So I seriously doubt anyone who would want to move to my neighborhood has any concerns about a home being on the register.

        Secondly, the historic register is more concerned about the appearance of the house from the street in regards to renovations, not tiling your bathroom or putting in some carpet for example.

    • 0 avatar

      “Craptastic”? Wow, way to dis two people’s houses you’ve never seen, glad I don’t live in your neighborhood. Seems a little harsh to pass judgement on properties you know nothing about. Also glad I’m not buying a house from you :)
      I really wouldn’t want the government to be subsidizing restoration of cars, via tax credits or any other subsidy. As I’m sure that would be followed by government regulations on just what could be done to a car, what color it could be, what modifications would be legal, etc, etc, etc. “Please fill this form out in triplicate and return it to the office of Automotive Properness so we can determine if the bolts you plan to use to put your car together meet our standards. We’ll get back to you in 6 to 8 weeks, and no, you can’t drive the car until you receive final approval. That’ll be $500”. No thanks, I’d rather keep the government out of this, don’t give them any ideas. I think most truly historic cars are cared for properly, and if someone wants to spend their money to put a VW engine in a Duesenberg…. well, it’s their money and their car.

  • avatar

    As much as I love restorations-to-original, and hate street rods, if someone is fool enough to drop a small block Chevy into a pristine ’30’s Packard custom bodied by LeBaron, it’s his car. I’ll think he’s stupid as hell, but I’m certainly in no position to stop him from doing it – unless I’m willing to come up with whatever necessary funds to buy it and stop him from going ahead with that abortion.

  • avatar

    Why building up another bureaucratic structure? Who is going to pay for its maintenance? How many people are required to do the job (properly)?

    In Germany, they have the “H” (for historic) vehicle number plate, w/o a dedicated national, central registry on such cars (only indirectly, via the Federal Office for Motor Vehicles (KBA) keeping track of registrations, number plates).

    For a flat vehicle tax of about 190 € ( ~ 250 US$)/year you have to prove and show that your car
    – is at least 30 years old
    – is in original condition and well-maintained
    – is not used as a daily driver
    On the plus side, you might also get special insurance rates, but that is up to the insurance companies and differs widely.
    With such a plate, you are also allowed to enter those “low emission zones” in cities.

    But, as you can imagine, these conditions might easily turn out to be nasty to fulfill.
    What does “at least 30 years old” mean? Is the production date or the first registration date the starting point?
    “Original condition” and “well-maintained” are pretty elastic concepts, too, having raised a lot of debate between owners and registration authorities (and there are lots of different ones with different opinions).

    I really doubt, that this really makes sense for the individual owner. Would I own such a car I could live without the peanuts offered by the state by simply registering the vehicle only for some months a year. Bonus: I’d then be free to opt for a new camouflage paint for, e.g, my 40 year old Bentley, and/or using it as a daily driver.

    Besides, such a registry would be a fine tool for “taxing the rich”, regulating import and export and do other expensive nonsense, as, e.g., give you an extra fine if you crash such a car (let’s call it “fahrlässige Vernichtung kraftfahrtechnischer Kulturgüter”).

  • avatar

    It would be worth it if it stopped some megalomanic film director from blowing up a Jaguar C “just for the sheer audacity” in their next super epic.

  • avatar

    Anything that preserves the legacy of yesteryear in car world is fine with me. Otherwise this….

  • avatar

    What’s next a national registry for historic wrist watches? As much as I love cars I am willing to sacrafice the automobile if that means we as a nation can stop this government into everything insanity!

  • avatar

    As it so happens, I specialize on the architectural end in historic preservation, particularly on buildings on the Register. And I own/have restored several older cars (340-4!).

    I don’t mind the idea but I’m not sure of the point. As with any database, who’s looking at it? What’s it used for?

    Will owners of registered classic vehicles receive any benefits? Licensing breaks? Insurance? Will we be taxed for our vehicle’s carbon footprint/pollution if/when we drive it?

    Not enough information yet to understand the point of this.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Is this for individual cars, or general models? The specific Mustang that Steve McQueen drove in ‘Bullitt’ might be worthy of preservation, but declaring every Mustang GT500 (or whatever it was) to be historic is rather fanwanky.

  • avatar

    The real concern is our ability to drive our classics. Many classic models attract the interest of middle income people who own the cars simply to enjoy driving them. If that privilege was taken away, it would be difficult for many of us to properly keep a vehicle that we couldn’t drive. Funds would be hard to raise for all the small private museums that would be needed to house the vehicles.
    As far as the registry goes, many brand oriented clubs have their own registry, and that’s all that matters to me.

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