Newly introduced legislation aims to give old cars same footing as bridges and buildings

This article originally appeared in Hemmings, written by Daniel Strohl, on September 30, 2016

After more than two years and more than a dozen cars have been added to the National Historic Vehicle Register, a Michigan congressman last week introduced a bill that would establish the register under the Department of the Interior.

“There is currently no dedicated federal register to document historically significant automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, and commercial vehicles for future generations of Americans to appreciate and enjoy,” Michigan Senator Gary Peters said as he introduced S.3381, the National Historic Vehicle Register Act, on the Senate floor. At the same time, however, he pointed to a number of vehicles already on the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Historic Vehicle Register – including President Taft’s White steamer and President Reagan’s Jeep CJ-6 – as vehicles worthy of documentation in the Library of Congress.

Mark Gessler, president of the HVA, said that Peters’s bill will simply improve the status of the existing register. “This will pull the register out from underneath the Historic American Engineering Record to be its own separate record in the Library of Congress,” Gessler said. “Being under the HAER hasn’t been hugely problematic, but this effectively elevates automobiles from hobby to heritage.”

As Gessler pointed out, the likelihood of Congress passing the National Historic Vehicle Register Act during what’s left of this legislative session “is slim to none,” but it will likely be reintroduced next year and the bill is “more a statement of Senator Peters’s dedication to automotive heritage.”

Peters, an avid motorcyclist, also has the backing of the American Motorcyclists Association for this bill.

The register, currently funded by the Historic Vehicle Association, does not stipulate what owners of the included vehicles may or may not do with them. Instead, it documents the vehicles according to Department of Interior standards similar to those for the National Register of Historic Places. Those records are then added to a specific section of the Library of Congress within the existing Historic American Engineering Record. For a car to qualify for the register, it must meet one of four criteria: association with important American historic events, association with important American historic figures, its design or construction value, and its informational value.

Fourteen vehicles have been added to the register since early 2014, and the Federation Internationale des Vehicules Anciens has begun consideration of a similar register for European vehicles.

Gessler said the bill’s failure would have no impact on HVA’s plans to continue the register.

After Peters introduced the bill, the Senate referred it to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. No further action on the bill has been scheduled.