Some vintage collector cars carry a price so high, few of us will ever be able to lay our hands on them. Pre-war coachbuilt works of art and design, historic race cars from the 1950s and 1960s, and legendary small-production sports cars are now considered blue chip investments, carrying price tags so high that a replica car industry has been created to build affordable recreations.
Until now, federal law prevented replica car manufacturers from building completed vehicles that do not conform to federal standards of motor vehicle safety. Such has been the case since 1967. The only way these builders have been able to skirt those regulations previously is to produce the vehicle as a kit, or to sell it as a “roller,” a car complete less drivetrain that the customer has to finish.
The Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act was passed in December 2015, as part of a highway funding bill. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Safety Administration were to draft guidelines and regulations for the law within a year of the law’s passage. The EPA did so in 2017, but the NHTSA didn’t do so until two months after the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association filed its lawsuit requesting a federal appellate court to compel the agency to act. Now that the NHTSA has issued its final regulations on the LVMVMA, replica car sales may be permitted.
The LVMVMA states vehicles that do not conform to the current automotive safety standards may be produced, but with production caps. No more than 325 vehicles per year may be built by companies that construct fewer than 5,000 vehicles a year globally. The 325 vehicles must use either EPA- or California Air Resources Board-certified current model-year engines. Cars being replicated must be at least 25 years old. Foreign manufacturers will be allowed to sell replica cars in the US after having registered with the NHTSA. Replica car makers will also be able to purchase rolling chassis from manufacturers abroad, provided VINs are stamped in accordance with the LVMVMA.
Replica car sales permitted under the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act should start to take place within the next few months. Though the rule will take effect straightaway, the companies will still need to register with the NHTSA, EPA, and CARB, and have their proposals approved. It will be some months before sales begin. There are a number of replica car companies that have their proposals ready now.
“The roadblocks have been eliminated,” said SEMA President Chris Kersting. “SEMA applauds NHTSA’s final rule allowing companies to market classic-themed cars.”
One more hurdle may remain: replica car companies don’t have numerous drivetrains available to use. Replica car manufacturers may use any EPA-certified production engine package, but that package must also be CARB-certified, such as GM’s line of E-Rod V8 crate engines, including the 430-horsepower LS3 E-Rod, 455-hp LT1 E-Rod, 556-hp LSA E-Rod and 640-hp LT4 E-Rod. Another possibility may be GM’s fully electric eCrate system.