Is Your Classic Car Worthy of Historical Register?

Tom Murphy, Managing Editor

August 15, 2014

4 Min Read
Is Your Classic Car Worthy of Historical Register?

BIRMINGHAM, MI – America keeps tabs on historic buildings, ships and planes. Why not cars, trucks and motorcycles, too?

The newly formed Historic Vehicle Association is attempting to address that oversight by creating a registry of historically significant vehicles, generally produced at least 50 years ago.

The association began talks in 2013 with the U.S. Department of Interior, which keeps the register of historic buildings, to create a similar archive of significant vehicles. Oddly enough, one didn’t exist, until now.

The first vehicle, the ’64 Shelby Daytona coupe, was named to the National Historic Vehicle Register earlier this year. Also on the list is the first fiberglass dune buggy.

The most recent addition, an ’18 Cadillac Type 57 4-door that is believed to be the last remaining car to have seen duty in World War I, was inducted last month at the Concours d'Elegance of America in Plymouth, MI.

The criteria for selection is fairly straightforward: The vehicle needs to be associated with an important event or person in American history, or it should hold significant value for its innovation, craftsmanship or design, says Mark Gessler, president of the Historic Vehicle Association based in Gaithersburg, MD.

A vehicle also will be considered if it was the first or last built or if it represents the most well-preserved model of its type still in service.

Every vehicle that makes the register will be exhaustively researched and documented so information about them will live on for generations.

“We photograph the cars; then we do 3-D scans of them. And then those are reduced down into 2-D line drawings,” Gessler says.

“Photos that are both period and from former times are added to the record, and then we do a fully referenced narrative about the car. This then becomes part of what goes into the Library of Congress. It’s done in a manner that will survive up to 500 years.”

Historic Vehicle Legislation In Process

Making the process official is legislation now before Congress, HR 5366, introduced July 31 by U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) and U.S. Rep. John Campbell (R-CA), who co-chair the Congressional Automotive Caucus.

In addition to creating the national register, the bill authorized the Department of Interior to work with the Historic Vehicle Association to document and preserve automotive heritage.

The organization focuses on vehicles at least 50 years old, but younger ones are not ignored. In fact, a move is afoot for a 25-year window so information can be gathered directly from people who may have interacted with a significant vehicle.

The register also is intended to celebrate local heritage as well. “It’s not just national,” Gessler says.

“If we had a local fruit truck from Birmingham here or local delivery truck that is still around, a local fire truck, that’s every bit as important as the Washington Monument on the national level. It’s all part of our heritage, and heritage starts local. That’s why we are here in Detroit, heart of the automotive world.”

The final decision as to whether a vehicle deserves recognition rests with the association and the Department of Interior and its department of heritage documentation.

Gessler declines to speculate how many vehicles could be on the register within the next two years, but he says a fifth likely will be added by year’s end. “We think hundreds and thousands of vehicles eventually can become part of this,” he says.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but popularity and significant sales volume are not important considerations. To the contrary, Gessler says the association wants the duds in the marketplace because those vehicles are hard to find.

“It’s about finding really specific makes and models that weren’t world-beaters of the time,” he says. “It’s hot rods, customs, street rods, motorsports, too.”

The register is not restricted to domestically built cars, either. An import that touches American history is fair game.

BMW, for instance, has teamed with various artists, including Andy Warhol, to produce a series of “art cars” that would be eligible. “It’s the link between American culture and the automobile,” Gessler says.

Compelling Story Necessary

A car needs a compelling story to be considered. Was it part of Clark Gable’s collection?

“And it probably needs to be something more than that – not just that he sat in the car,” Gessler says. “It has to be part of what he did, part of something important, not just, George Washington slept here.”

In addition to the World War I Cadillac, cars on display at the media event here this week in conjunction with the 20th annual Woodward Dream Cruise included:

·       ’10 Buick 60 Special “Bug” from Sloan Museum in Flint, MI

·       ’57 Chrysler Imperial Crown Sedan owned by Diran Yazejian of Bloomfield Hills, MI

·       ’67 Dodge Deora Custom owned by Tom Abrams of Canton, MI

·       ’63 Ford Mustang II prototype concept from Detroit Historical Society

It’s too early to say whether those vehicles will make it onto the register.

Ultimately, Gessler says the process is intended to capture the cultural and historic significance of vehicles since the dawn of the automobile more than 100 years ago.

“We want to package up these great stories for future generations, so when they are interested in something, it will be there for them to dig into,” he says.

About the Author(s)

Tom Murphy

Managing Editor, Informa/WardsAuto

Tom Murphy test drives cars throughout the year and focuses on powertrain and interior technology. He leads selection of the Wards 10 Best Engines, Wards 10 Best Interiors and Wards 10 Best UX competitions. Tom grills year-round, never leaves home without a guitar pick and aspires to own a Jaguar E-Type someday.

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