Automobile

Which Cars Should Be on the National Historic Vehicle Register?

So far, the National Historic Vehicle Register has 30 cars on its list. It’s a good group of cars, undeniably, as you’ll find stuff like a 1940 GM Futurliner, a 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, and a 1968 Ford Mustang on there. But as it’s a list of cars, naturally I have thoughts. I’m sure you do, too. What do you think should be on it?

The National Historic Vehicle Register is a joint effort between the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Historic American Engineering Record and the Historic Vehicle Association—now called the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, itself a non-profit that Hagerty Insurance launched. Its mission, according to its site, is to “[record] the important history of America’s significant automobiles, preserving their information for future generations in perpetuity at the Library of Congress.” The vehicles chosen “demonstrate the vast impact cars have had on all aspects of American history.”

To get on the register, a car has to meet at least one of the four associated criteria, a Hagerty spokesperson told us. They are:

  1. Event—a vehicle associated with an event or events that are important in automotive or American history.
  2. Person—a vehicle associated with the lives of significant persons in automotive or American history.
  3. Design or construction—a vehicle that is distinctive based on design, engineering, craftsmanship, or aesthetic value.
  4. Information—a vehicle of a particular type that was the first, last, or perhaps only surviving.

As of this writing, the 30 cars include: 

  • 1979 Lamborghini Countach
  • 1981 DeLorean DMC-12
  • 1970 Dodge Challenger
  • 1921 Duesenberg Straight Eight
  • 1966 Volkswagen Transporter
  • 1969 Chevrolet Corvette
  • 1984 Plymouth Voyager
  • 1927 Ford Model T
  • 1985 Modena Spyder
  • 1968 Ford Mustang
  • 1896 Benton-harbor Motor Carriage
  • 1933 Graham 8 Sedan—”Blue Streak” 
  • 1964 Chevrolet Impala
  • 1951 Mercury Series 1CM 
  • 1932 Ford Model 18
  • 1967 Chevrolet Camaro
  • 1938 Buick Y-Job
  • 1920 Anderson Convertible Roadster
  • 1907 Thomas Flyer 4-60
  • 1911 Marmon Wasp
  • 1962 Willys CJ-6
  • 1909 White Model M Steam Car
  • 1940 Ford Pilot Model “Jeep”
  • 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL
  • 1940 GM Futurliner
  • 1947 Tucker 48 Prototype
  • 1918 Cadillac Type 57
  • 1938 Maserati 8CTF “Boyle Special” 
  • 1964 Meyers Manx “Old Red” 
  • 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe

You can read up on each vehicle here.

So, yes! A list. A list this is. 

Some of the cars on there make perfect sense to me, like the Countach and the 300SL Gullwing. But others, like the Anderson Convertible Roadster, do not. Of it, Hagerty wrote, “The 1920 Anderson Six Convertible Roadster is remarkably well preserved and is the only known surviving example of one of the marque’s most innovative body types. The Convertible Roadster design is another of the notable innovations of the Anderson company and John Gary Anderson. Based on a US Patent granted in 1916, the body style allowed for a car to quickly “convert” from a sleek roadster to a five-passenger touring car, similar to the commonplace hide-away rumble seats that were to appear in roadster and coupe designs later on.”

I mean, sure? It certainly fulfills Item Three on the criteria list, but I think there are better cars out there. 

If I were to add a car to the register, obviously it’d be the McLaren F1. I don’t need to explain that one. But I’d also want the original Bugatti Veyron on it, too. With 16 cylinders, four turbochargers, 10 radiators, a slew of world records, and a reputation for being extremely comfortable to drive and ride in to boot, the Veyron pushed the envelope of what was technologically possible for so long. There won’t be another car like it.

On the electrification front, Patrick George suggested the General Motors EV1—the first mass-produced EV that came way before Tesla or Rivian or Lucid. In terms of an event or design and construction, this one’s tough to top.

But if we’re to include the EV1 for those reasons, we also have to include the original Tesla Model S, per Chris Tsui and Rob Stumpf’s suggestion. True, the Tesla Roadster came before it, but that was a small-volume car, whereas the Model S is largely responsible for changing the narrative surrounding mass-appeal EVs. All of a sudden, you weren’t a weird eco-nerd anymore if you drove an electric car. The Model S also gave us the first modern EV drivetrain and it was luxurious; owning it didn’t force you to sit on some milk carton all in the name of environmentalism. You could have it both ways.

Rob also believes the 1991 Ford Explorer should be on the list. “I can’t think of any earlier SUV that really lit the SUV [and] crossover craze,” he said. He’s got a point! Look around our roads today and, like, four out of five cars is some kind of SUV.

From Stef Schrader comes the Porsche 356. “Porsche probably wouldn’t exist if Americans hadn’t started buying them en masse,” she said. From there, the 356 gave rise to one of the most iconic Porsche of all time, the 911. But the 356 itself is beautiful and simple, more than fulfilling Item Three.

Now it’s your turn. Understanding what the criteria are, what do you think should be included in the National Historic Vehicle Register and why? Please say something JDM; I noticed a tragic lack of cool Japanese cars on there.

Got a tip? Email me at [email protected]


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