Are You Ready For: A National Register Of Historic Vehicles?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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.


Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Bumpy ii Bumpy ii on Sep 17, 2011

    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.

  • SilverHawk SilverHawk on Sep 17, 2011

    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.

  • Redapple2 Love the styling of the amazon delivery thingy.
  • Dukeisduke One of the stories in today's Autoline Daily says Rivian could run out of cash in two years (they've got $7.8b in the bank now, and burned through $3.7b last year.). They've got to get to scale on the R2 to turn a profit. Remember, Tesla lost money for ten years, then finally got to scale with the Model 3.
  • Oberkanone Sign me up for the Abarth 500 EV with 250 miles range and sub 5 second 0-60 mph with MSRP of $24,999.$34,095 for 150 miles range. Ridiculous. Stand alone showrooms in USA for FIAT and Alfa. What a ginormous waste of capital.
  • Dave M. I'd bet they'd sell more if they ditched the L'il Orphan Annie headlights....
  • Dukeisduke I'm sure these will be well loved by all eight of the people that buy them.The OG ones have gone up in price since I saw them listed in 2019. Back then, low-mileage 2016 and 2017 models were going for $5k. Now they're $8k-$10k. But I'll bet that's just inflation.
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