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.
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
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.
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.