Fans of old cars and new engineering, rejoice: Your favorite old model may be coming back into production soon, thanks to a little-noticed provision in a new federal highway bill.
Under current U.S. law, it’s all but impossible for a small-volume carbuilder to take, say, a ‘32 Ford or ‘57 Chevy Bel Air and try to sell modern copies, namely because they have to meet the same crash-test and emissions standards as brand-new vehicles. Some shops like Superperformance, which sells the licensed Shelby Cobra shown here, stay in business by selling chassis without engines, leaving the final assemby for individual customers. Others don’t even try to certify for road use, offering track-only vehicles not licensed for public roads.
That will all change under the low-volume makers section of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which President Barack Obama signed last week. The law directs federal regulators to set up rules for companies that allow each to sell up to 325 replica vehicles a year (those companies can’t build more than 5,000 vehicles worldwide, so Dodge won’t be able to just roll out new/old Barracudas.)
The biggest change: Replica vehicles will not have to meet modern crash-safety standards, which require technology like traction control and passenger-sensing air bags, along with tens of millions of dollars in engineering expense. The vehicles will have to meet federal emissions rules, and component-level safety rules, but not fuel economy mandates or state-level emissions. And their bodies will need to be licensed from models at least 25 years old.
The change had been pushed for some time by auto parts lobbyists, and fought by auto safety advocates, who warn that letting cars with outdated crash protection on the road would inevitably lead to more fatalities. The biggest victor in all of this may also be the biggest automaker: General Motors, which at the moment is the only source of emissions-compliant engines for small-volume builders. Will that new Ford highboy roadster still be as cool if its using a turbo Chevy engine?