Classic No More: Arkansas Has Gained National Attention

Letter/Opinion: Recently, House Bill “HB1496 – TO AMEND THE LAW CONCERNING ANTIQUE MOTOR VEHICLE SPECIAL LICENSE PLATES,” was passed, after being twice defeated by the House. The Bill, now known as Act 368, was submitted three times by Rep Fortner of Yellville.  Then it passed. 

According to an article published by Hemmings Motor News last March, Fortner “makes no bones about this bill being a reflection of his own personal outlook on collector cars in Arkansas”. A vendetta. Fortner, whose bio states that he is a “businessman,” may also have some personal gains to achieve seeing as how he, himself, has been involved with the automobile industry here in Arkansas for several years.

The Hemmings Motor News article (Daniel Strohl, March 20, 2019), titled “Despite prior opposition, new Arkansas law increases antique vehicle cutoff from 25 to 45 years,” stated that Fortner, a collector himself, made his “personal view clear in local media interviews, at the time, that his actual purpose in proposing the 45-year cutoff was to impose his personal outlook on collector cars on Arkansas law.” Is this really why we have “elected representation” in government? I am also curious, did collector Fortner sell his affected vehicles prior to instituting this new law?

The article further quoted Rep. Fortner saying: “There are some special interest cars from the ’90s, but there are no historic cars from the ’90s,” he told Little Rock television station KATV. In his testimony to the Arkansas legislature he stated: “I don’t think anything good happened in the auto field after ’72.” This also according to the Motor News article. Hemmings also reported that Rep Fortner would not return their requests for an interview. Hmmm.

I guess he is showing his age.  In the 1970s nobody collected Coca Cola bottles either. According to figures that Fortner quoted in 2017, as many as 45 percent of the state’s antique-plated vehicles lie within that 25- to 45-year date range. So what?

Each generation has their own heritage and memories of their youth. My kids long for cars like the Dodge Viper or the specialty Toyotas from the late ‘80s- early 1990s.  However, according to Christian Robinson, the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s Director of State Government Affairs: “Unfortunately, such modern classic vehicles as the 1981 De Lorean DMC-12, 1994 Toyota Supra, 1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z, 1991 Acura NSX, and 1991 Dodge Viper… no longer meet the criteria required to be considered an historic vehicle” in Arkansas.

Nationwide, as far as I could discover, most states surely are not trending in Rep. Fortner;s direction. according to Robinson, this bill “stands out as one of the few recent bills aimed at making it more restrictive.”

Fortner’s cover for this bill is to rid the Arkansas roadways of the alleged hordes of broken-down, falling apart older vehicles said to be on the road.

Since learning of this crisis, I have been looking out for this multitude of poorly maintained vehicles alleged to be cluttering our roadways, I have seen none.

What this Bill has accomplished however, is change the rules in midstream for people like me, and owners of the 156,000 antique vehicles in AR. It is akin, in many ways I feel, to taking Second Amendment rights from everyone because of the few who disrespect the law. Unjust!

The Bill allows already plated vehicles to be “grandfathered” in. However, this point is not so clear to me. If I sell my 1978 Ford truck which now has an antique plate, will the new owner be able to keep the antique status? If not, what does this do to my resale value? What about my 1988 Mercedes Benz  convertible 560 SL, which was licensed as a  “Classic” previously in another state before I moved to AR and has since been in renovation. It is not currently registered. Will I not be able to get these plates for this clearly “classic” car when it is restored to my specifications. What am I, and others like me, to do? Scrap it? Move to Texas?

There is another issue here as well.  Insurance.  These “Classic” vehicles, due to the loss of their classic car status, will no longer be eligible for “Classic Car” Insurance.  Purchasing regular auto insurance will raise the costs of owning these cars immensely.  It would be a waste of my money on several levels, the first being that I only put a few hundred miles a year on this vehicle. Due to these vehicles ages, parts are not really on the shelves and, if not a “classic car,” they are not valuable enough for “collision insurance.”

To this point, in just 10 years or less, with typical automobile insurance, I will have paid more than the value of this car in increased insurance bills alone. Add in normal maintenance and upkeep costs… and how does this wind up even close to a break-even endeavor for owners like me. If the vehicle is damaged in an accident, it will most likely be considered “totaled.” This new law is poorly thought through.

While my convertible Mercedes may not pass Rep. Fortner’s smell test, for what he considers collectable, it surely does pass mine. 

Some solutions: Maybe a one-time roadworthiness inspection prior to the “Antique” (or better yet, “Classic Car”) plates are issued would solve this “problem.”  If it is revenue you want, raise the registration from $ 7.

My parents loved the 1940s-1950s vehicles, my grandparents, the Model T.  My generation the 1960s and 1970s muscle cars into the 1980s. My son’s generation loves the 1980s and 1990s vehicles as seen in films like Gone in 60 Seconds with Angelina Jolie and Nicholas Cage. Under the previous 25-year old law, the younger generations could have afforded to own one of these, but not now.  Not ever!

SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Association) has promised to take action to overturn this legislation.  I hope Arkansas’ residents will pick up the banner as well, whether they have collector vehicles or not.  For now, count me on board for this legislative battle.

Rescind this foolish Bill: Act 368.

The above letter was submitted by a reader: Tom Morrissey of Texarkana, Arkansas.

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