By on September 23, 2016

1956 Cadillac (Adam Singer/Flickr)

Is your car truly rare or unique? Does it represent a small but significant piece of American history? (We’re not talking about a 1983 Mercedes-Benz 380SL once owned by Gary Busey.)

If so, your ride could one day be immortalized — in a bureaucratic sense. Yesterday, Michigan Senator Gary Peters (D) introduced a bill that, if passed, would create a federal registry for historic vehicles.

Peters’ bill (the National Historic Vehicle Register Act) would allow the Department of Interior to treat some cars, trucks and motorcycles in the same manner as historically significant ships, bridges and roads. Those are already cataloged in the department’s Historic American Engineering Record.

“Few engineering innovations have had the same impact on American society as the automobile, and it is important for us to preserve the stories of vehicles that have played a critical role in American history,” Peters said in a statement.

Peters, a life-long motorcycle enthusiast who recently engaged Michigan residents during a five-day state tour, has the backing of the Historic Vehicle Association and American Motorcyclist Association.

Any vehicle significant enough to find its way onto the register would have its records archived in the Library of Congress. It’s a high bar to meet. According to Peters’ bill, “Vehicles must be connected to a significant person or event in American history, or have a unique design or rarity, to be eligible for the register. Each vehicle’s record will include a narrative describing the vehicle and its historical significance, a photographic record, and line drawings or engineering drawings of the historic vehicle.”

[Image: Adam Singer/Flickr]

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44 Comments on “Senator Pushes for Federal Historic Vehicle Registry...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    This one goes political and spirals out of control in 3… 2… 1…

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      I’m game. This historic registry looks sooooo much more important than voting on a supreme court nominee. Or TPP. Or immigration reform. Or a bill to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists and the criminally insane. Or criminal justice reform.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        Yeah. Because our Congress is so dumb, they cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, much less work on multiple bills at once.

        Taking the opposite tact from yours, I would rather they work on this than yet another bill that takes away more of our freedoms. Being added to the HAER is voluntary on the owner’s part; no one can come and force it on you. As an owner, as part of your filing, you have to justify why you think it is worthy of inclusion in the Register; if it works like it does for buildings, the paper also extensively documents the artifact; documentation which then becomes available to the public. I think in most cases it is a win/win for the owner and the American public.

        My guess though is that most of the vehicles that will end up on the register are already in museums; there will only be a few that are in private collections. Say, a Stanley steam car or a race car is rare and desirable to a collector; but that would not be enough to get it on the HAER. A car like a Duisenberg will be considered for the record only if it was owned by a famous individual or took part in a famous event, and was still in original shape.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          You seem to be really in favor of registering things with the federal government.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Oh, yes I am, but just things, not guns and people, because only things kill people.

            I have used the HABR/HAER on the Library of Congress’ website extensively with my steam engine research; it is a treasure trove of valuable data, photographs, drawings, and documents. But I wouldn’t expect someone so politically motivated as yourself to understand the difference between a gun register and the HAER. May I invite you to go to the Library of Congress website and check it out for yourself. You might learn something besides your liberal talking points.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Thank you, jhefner!
            The HAER site is awesome. Another great use of federal funding to educate the American people.

            Oh no. I just realized it runs on oil money. Very tricky moral dilemma for me now.

          • 0 avatar
            la834

            I’m not in favor of registering either things or people with the federal government, which is one reason I’ll never get married. I don’t care to register my relationship with either the feds or the state, both which I’d prefer to stay out of my personal life, thank you very much.

            My car, that I’ll tell them about if they want.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        The Supreme Court Nominee will be voted on after the election, as has been tradition with late term vacancies, TPP is still being debated and again, it is likely the election will provide some input as to how the voters feel about it, so I’d assume they wait. Immigration Reform? How about we look at all of the laws currently on the book and enforce them or repeal them, again in accordance with the will of the voters which again, should be a bit clearer in November. Guns out of the hands of suspected Terrorists? OK, but how about we start suspecting people of terrorism who do things like lie on documents to get into the country, post how much they hate America all over Facebook or have YouTube feeds that amount to Taliban Lovefests.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          WARNING : political rant :

          “OK, but how about we start suspecting people of terrorism who do things like lie on documents to get into the country, post how much they hate America all over Facebook or have YouTube feeds that amount to Taliban Lovefests.”

          Oh, yeah , you do that ~ pardon me if I don’t hold my breath whilst I wait .

          -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            PeriSoft

            “OK, but how about we start suspecting people of terrorism who do things like lie on documents to get into the country, post how much they hate America all over Facebook or have YouTube feeds that amount to Taliban Lovefests.”

            Oh, yeah. Codifying Federal suspicion of people who are insufficiently patriotic sounds like an *excellent* precedent.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          To Al:

          A.) Nope, that Supreme Court claim is completely without merit, lame duck sessions may try to push Garrick to avoid a more liberal one from the incoming HRC congress/presidency.

          B.) TPP is not likely to get a vote at all at the rate they’re going because the Republicans really want TPP but want to douse the left with it too. They’re too caught up in playing the game to do it well.

          C.) Immigration reform just isn’t coming anytime soon with the House in the gerrymandered hands of people who hate immigrants on paper but love the cheap labor they bring in reality.

          D.) Not even going to bother…

        • 0 avatar
          la834

          > The Supreme Court Nominee will be voted on after the election, as has been tradition with late term vacancies

          There was no such tradition when Reagan nominated A. Kennedy in his lasg year as president. There is certainly no tradition of completely stonewalling a potential nominee before a name was even picked.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          “The Supreme Court Nominee will be voted on after the election, as has been tradition with late term vacancies”

          I really cherish these longstanding traditions that began in 2016. These traditions that have been with us for so many, many…er, days.

  • avatar

    Does this mean you would need to get approval to make any changes to the car, like a building that’s on a national historical register?

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      I would think the answer is yes. But I would also think that any vehicle that is eligible for the HAER is already in original condition, and in a museum or private collection. Any vehicle with that kind of providence is not likely to be driven, or extremely rarely.

      If for whatever reason the owner decided to modify or scrap it; while HAER registry does discourage them from doing so, it does not protect the item. Some buildings or items that were on the HAER have since been lost; though we at least still have the documentation in the Library of Congress.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      No LSX motor in JFK’s Continental!

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        Big Al, as much as I am a fan of stuffing an LSX into anything and everything…JFK’s Lincoln should be off limits + I think it is still in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    I this is going to involve street or building signage please make it legible and contrasty enough so people *driving* by have a clue what they’re looking at.

    My state’s concept and model of such signage is great grandma’s faded embroidery on tiny tan backgrounds.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    What About John Voight’s Chrysler LeBaron?

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Are those period Eldorado hubcaps on that ’55 Sedan de Ville?

    If they’re not anachronistic they’re certainly plug-ugly and a color mismatch. They almost look like *ewww* alloys.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Another one of those enumerated powers that sprouted like a bud from that living document, I presume…..

  • avatar

    I’m pretty sure this is an outgrowth of what the Historic Vehicle Association is doing with the National Historic Vehicle Register:

    “The Historic Vehicle Association is developing a National Historic Vehicle Register to carefully and accurately document America’s most historically significant automobiles, motorcycles, trucks and commercial vehicles.

    In March 2013, the HVA entered into a collaboration with the U.S. Department of the Interior to explore how vehicles important in American and automotive history could be effectively documented and recognized. This project is the first of its type to create a permanent archive of significant historic automobiles within the Library of Congress.”

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Ronnie, that makes sense, and fits with the rest of the HABS/HAER/HALS documentation on the Library of Congress website:

      http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/technote.html

      I think both the Senator and the comments place too much emphasis on the celebrity angle; this is not another Hollywood car museum. To use Nate’s 1973 BMW R75/5 motorcycle example; some questions that I believe would be asked are:

      * What is it about this bike that makes it a unique design or rarity. Is the arrangement of the parts, a part of the design (like a monostrut suspension, just trying to come up with an example), or the engine?

      * Is it one of the last surviving examples?

      * Was it the first one built? Was it the first one to introduce a feature that is now commonplace?

      * Was it connected to a significant person or event? I would think being in original condition would be important in that case.

      Some of the cars Ronnie has written about over the years might be possible candidates. One that popped in my head would be an original, preserved example of a Tucker 48, especially the “Tin Goose” prototype or the first one built (1001). Besides the story of the Tucker automobile and the rarity of the car itself, it featured safety glass, padded dashboard, and other features that appeared in later production automobiles; plus some like the Cyclops headlight and Franklin air-cooled engine that did not catch on. Henry Ford’s quadracycle would be a shoe-in as well for obvious reasons.

      My favorite currently in the HABS collection is the McNeil Street Pumping Station in Shreveport Louisiana. It was just a humble municipal water pumping station in it’s day; but now it is one of the few intact steam pumping stations still remaining. It also has the only two known surviving examples of vertical duplex triple expansion pumping engines, a rare horizontal duplex triple expansion pumping engine, and two slightly more common horizontal cross-compound pumping engines, along with the boilers, workshop, and various other smaller pumps and equipment that make up the station. Besides an extensive set of photographs, the documentation includes plan and side drawings of the station, complete with details on each piece of equipment. A write-up giving the history of the plant and the details complete the documentation. Material of this detail and depth would not available to most folks before it became a museum and was opened to the public.

      An example of something documented that is no longer with us is the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Cos Cob Power Plant. When it was dictated that all trains entering Grand Central Station had to be electric powered (to eliminate problems with smoke), the NYNW&HRR built the Cos Cob plant to supply power to their line into the station. Besides the historical significance of the plant itself, it was one of the last intact examples of a turn-of-the-century steam electric power plant. The plant has since been torn down, though some of the equipment was preserved by the Smithsonian. But we have this documentation with us today.

      • 0 avatar
        la834

        > Besides the story of the Tucker automobile and the rarity of the car itself, it
        > featured safety glass, padded dashboard, and other features that appeared
        > in later production automobiles; plus some like the Cyclops headlight and
        > Franklin air-cooled engine that did not catch on.

        The center positioning of the “Cyclops” headlight didn’t catch on, but it was also adaptive (pivoting left or right to match the steering) and that did catch on.

  • avatar

    It would be nice if some wealthy auto enthusiast with an appreciation of history (I’m looking at you, Jay Leno, Ken Lingenfelter, Peter Mullin and Jim Glickenhaus) set up an endowment fund to allow the National Automotive History Collection at the Detroit Public Library to be digitized. The NAHC is an incomparable resource to car enthusiasts.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Why not? Surely this would provide another couple hundred highly compensated unionized govt jobs, no?

    “Help keep DC great”

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Dumbest bill ever. Who pays for the needless overhead? This guy likely knows someone with such a car that wants to see the auction price increase because it carries the USDA stamp of approval; dunce needs to be voted out.

  • avatar
    Syke

    If it’ll stop an antique car from being turned into a resto-rod, street rod, of some other modified abomination of what a previously an antique car of original factory specs; I’m in favor of the idea.

    First project: Let’s get all the remaining first generation six cylinder Camaros registered, so they can’t be turned into yet more SS350’s or SS396’s.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Maybe that one bench seat column shift straight six F-body with 4.11 posi from the factory otherwise I think your going to be sorely disappointed.

      Besides you have the specter of a 7 figure fake musclecar just hanging out there tempting people to make a clone (if anybody cares to remember that hemi cuda convertible that went for over a million and it wasn’t even the real deal).

      You also have the Dynacorn repop bodies as well guaranteeing an endless supply of clones.

      On the plus side boomers have driven up the costs of the hobby so much sixties and seventies muscle is about as relavent to anybody under the age of 40 as Dusenbergs are to anybody under the age of 70.

  • avatar
    la834

    How would a car like race car driver Hans Stuck’s rare 1057 BMW 507 be handled? It’s one of only 252 built, and he raced it successfully for a few years before selling it…… to an American soldier stationed in Germany named Elvis Presley. Elvis often returned to his white BMW only to find it covered with notes from his fans written in lipstick, so he decided to paint the car red to discourage that. That’s how the car was recently found. So should it be restored to its original color or to how it looked when Elvis owned it? BMW decided to repaint it the original white rather than Elvis red.

    Should the ’60s Batmobile be restored to its original Lincoln Futura show condition? Some cars are better remembered in their non-original state.

    • 0 avatar
      thattruthguy

      Simple celebrity ownership doesn’t apply. Also, the 507 is a very beautiful car, but it wasn’t a significant technical advance and it wasn’t significant in US history.

  • avatar
    jhughes

    So, like, every remaining Tucker?

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Well, if my first car, a 1963 Rambler Classic 770 unibody with the aluminum block six and Borg Warner auto with OD doesn’t qualify, forget it. The historical registers now in place don’t have any teeth anyway.

    The Francis Scott Key bridge in Washington DC honors the guy whose home was torn down for an approach ramp in 1923. The government wouldn’t contribute to the cost of moving it, and volunteers were unable to collect enough donations.

    The national register was applied to the Boston home of architect Charles Bulfinch, who created the first American style of architecture the Federal Style, primarily with his own home, built in 1795. The Bulfinch family still owned it in 1965 when the City of Boston tore it down for a government building, without even trying to save it.

    If an auto museum goes broke and the collection is scattered, this registry will do nothing to prevent some of those cars being used in demolition derbys, or even worse, being modified for some Hollywood movie and then wrecked/blown up in the final scene.

  • avatar
    Chan

    Ugh. How about something like relaxed smog requirements for cars older than X years and production volume of less than Y units. Especially in CA. They don’t make OEM cats for my car anymore and I’m tired of satisfying useless regulations that don’t even help me pollute less.

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