In The Works: HVA’s New National Historic Vehicle Register

July 09, 2013

Automobiles are one of the most important innovations of the twentieth century. From our culture to our economy, cars play a role in almost every facet of modern life. Now, a new initiative championed by the Historic Vehicle Association is seeking to give automobiles the national attention they deserve.

1964 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe

Americans love their history. Commemorating significant places, events and achievements of the past is how we identify ourselves as a nation and define our place in the world. It’s the wellspring of our culture and our national pride.

The National Register of Historic Places includes over 80,000 buildings, which proves our strong appreciation of American history. But what about cars?

Cars changed the face of twentieth-century America, transforming our country into an unprecedented industrial and technological powerhouse. They propelled America’s migration to the suburbs and impacted everything from our culture to the way this country looks and operates. Yet the important role of the automobile has never been officially documented in the National Archives at the Library of Congress—until now.

Celebrating Our National Heritage

Craig Breedlove with the 1964 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe at the Bonneville Salt Flats

The Historic Vehicle Association has entered into an agreement with two institutions: the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the documentation programs for the National Register of Historic Places, and the Simeone Automotive Museum, which has in its collection many historically significant vehicles. These organizations believe the time for recognizing historically important vehicles has come—cars like Carroll Shelby’s 1964 Daytona Cobra Coupe, the first built out of six, which ran in many notable races and broke multiple land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

As a result of the HVA’s new partnership, the Daytona Cobra will be officially documented in the National Archives at the Library of Congress and its records will be made publicly available. This will serve as a prototype project to develop standards and procedures applicable to motor vehicles so that they can be documented with other national treasures as part of our American memory.

The documentation of the Cobra follows a format similar to what is used for buildings and other treasures currently in the archives. It includes a comprehensive history of the car (from the car’s initial concept to its design, racing history and life as a collectible automobile), period photographs, scale drawings, and archival photographs showing its current condition.

Documentation of the 1964 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe at the Simeone Automotive Museum

What Makes A National Automotive Treasure?

Shelby’s famous Cobra was chosen to serve as our prototype project because it meets all four criteria the HVA is considering for inclusion on the National Historic Vehicle Register:

Criterion A: Associative Value – Event
A vehicle associated with an event or events that are important in automotive or American history

Criterion B: Associative Value – Person
A vehicle associated with the life of one or more significant person(s) in automotive or American history

Criterion C: Design or Construction Value
A vehicle that is distinctive based on design, engineering, craftsmanship or aesthetic value

Criterion D: Informational Value
A vehicle of a particular type that was the first or last produced or is among the most well-preserved or authentically restored surviving examples

These criteria are similar to those used for the National Register of Historic Places, and they are a work in progress. Specific language will continue to be refined over the coming year. All of the criteria will be considered on national, state, regional and local levels. From a local milk truck to a presidential limousine, all historically important vehicles deserve the chance to be included on the Register.

Were it not for the automobile, America would be a totally different place than it is today. The HVA is working to make sure all Americans recognize just how vital our automotive history is to our national heritage as a whole. We believe that historic vehicles deserve the same recognition as any historic building, vessel or aircraft, and we are committed to documenting our nation’s automotive legacy so that it can be appreciated and enjoyed for many generations to come.

To read more about the Register and keep an eye on our efforts in the months to come, visit the National Historic Vehicle Register page on our website.



  1. Bob Plassman Southport, North Carolina

    Looks like those of us who have preserved plain old ordinary American production vehicles that have served many citizens well are left our in the dark here. There is nothing special about my 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Coupe. It has served four families since it entered service in April of 1946, and has survived all these years with nothing more than a couple of paint jobs, a bit of mechanical repair and some seat covers. I hope someday the AACA will recognize these long lasting examples of American engineering.

  2. Ben Deutschman United States

    Possibly more so than with buildings, this Register will b e VERY subjective in terms of matching the criteria laid out, especially when it comes to issue of how a person makes ANY one specific vehicle more significant than another. What is to say, as much as a stretch some may consider this, my 1960 Plymouth Savoy any more, or any less significant, due the fact it is owned by myself, instead of someone like Lee Iacocca. I wouldn't necessarily be considered a major force in the automotive hobby, Lee Iacocca would be, and somehow that should not be a consideration in how significant one vehicle may be versus another, and to use another one of the criteria, aesthetic value, goes back to the old adage, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

  3. Eric Thornburg Sherrills Ford, NC

    I believe as the HVA, automobiles are of national importance and should be treated as so! My father inlaw recently gifted to me his 1983 Chevy Z28 Camaro that has under 14, 000 original miles and is completely original other than an alarm/antitheft system he had install shortly after he purchased it. The Z even has the original Goodyears that came on the car from the factory! But when I take it to local car shows it is overlooked! So I was wondering if it would meet criterion D? Thank you for the informative article. Eric T.

  4. Dan Archer Laveen, Arizona

    What about the ' 57 chevy for your list. It sure is on my list.

  5. Melvin Kile Owosso MI.

    It is the time to do it. I love my 1963 Impala SS - I play a CD about what was going on in (63) so people don't forget the Assassination of Kennedy. or the March for Civil Rights - A lot of people talk to me about the car and remember things when thay had one. most remember good things about the car.

  6. Richard Leckey St Petersburg, FL

    What a great idea! Keep up the good work.

  7. Joe Kovalovsky Naples, NY

    I own a 1949 Ford. I think it is the greatest car ever built. I agree with the two previous writers 100%!

  8. John Wilcox Lansing, Michigan

    I am the owner of a 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 98. The Rocket engine was the one that started the horsepower race of the 50'ss and 60's If for no other reason, this makes it a historical car. It also has superb styling.

  9. Irene Varhaug Monroe, WA

    How about '65 Sunbeam Tiger?

  10. s roth calgary,ab.

    With over 2.5 million sold with the same basic body from 1938-2003 how can it be left out?

  11. L Shand Mobile,AL

    My 56 Chevy Station Wagion, original owner my Dad now 90 restored original -- IS DEFINITELY ON MY LIST!

  12. George pancio Olean, New York, 14760

    I'm the proud owner of a 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood Brogham that was the personal car of George Blasdell of Bradford, Pennsylavania George Blasdell was the founder, President and C.E.O. of ZIPPO LIGHTERS. The car now belongs to another celebrity---George Pancio of Olean, New York who had a successful career in public education as a school Principal and Assisstant Superintendent of Schools but his popularty flourished as the MACY*S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE in New York City for eleven years. He and his wife Marcia Pancio was asked to apper on stage for a Christmas concert as Mr & Mrs Santa Claus with JUNE CARTER AND JOHNNY CASH. This car is so nice it belongs in a ZIPPO MUSEUM somewhere in this world. Feel free to contact me for more information, Call me at 716-378-2000 or 716-372-9195 Email address: mrsanta or 101 PANCIO LANE -OLEAN, NEW YORK 14760

  13. Louis Smyrna, MI

    I have a 1911 Model T Torpedo, we celebrate its birthday every May 16. (I have a copy of its build sheet so I know when it was built.) Even though I need to crank it, it starts easily and I enjoy taking it out often for a ride or to get an ice cream cone.