6 Year Odyssey To Legalize Replica Car Sales Finally Approved

They say the wheels of the legal system move slowly, but six years? Until last week you couldn’t sell a complete, turn-key replica. You’ll notice most all GT40, Cobra, or Banshee replicas are sold without drivetrains. That’s because legally they couldn’t be sold as complete vehicles based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rules. But after a six-year odyssey to legalize replica car sales the NHTSA finally approved the law.

Replica cars have to be a minimum of 25 years old

1967 Ford Gt40 Mk1.
1967 Ford GT40 Mk1 | Getty

There are caveats, but it seems a whole lot fairer than banning their sale. First, the cars being replicated have to be a minimum of 25 years old. That’s no problem. There aren’t many mid-1990s cars that come to mind worthy of replication. 

The other which is quite fair is that the original designs have to be licensed from the manufacturers. If the automaker created a winner, it took the resources of that company and probably thousands of individuals to make it happen. Why not award the company that made all of that happen?

“SEMA applauds NHTSA’s final rule allowing companies to market classic-themed replica cars”

DeLorean DMC 12

Restrictions for both reproduction components and factory continuation vehicles can now progress more smoothly and without legal consequences. “SEMA applauds NHTSA’s final rule allowing companies to market classic-themed cars,” said SEMA President and CEO Christopher J. Kersting. “Regulatory barriers have previously prevented small automakers from producing heritage cars for eager customers. The roadblocks have been eliminated. Companies will be able to hire workers, start making necessary parts and components, and produce and sell cars.”

One car that comes to mind that has been waiting in the wings is the DeLorean DMC 12. For years it has been ready to pull the trigger on the production of accurate reproduction of the iconic sports car seen in a highly modified form in “Back To The Future.” It has been a costly and frustrating series of working with SEMA and the NHTSA to slowly put together a comprehensive plan. All the while the Humble, Texas, company was sitting on maybe millions of dollars of tooling that was ready to go back in 2015. 

Other restrictions include keeping production to no more than 325 vehicles a year. Also, current emissions standards must be met, which will probably preclude these continuation cars from being exact replicas. But who needs an exact replica in a continuation car? These will look exactly like their original counterparts with the convenience of modern mechanicals. You can drive them without the fear of destroying a historic museum piece. 

Concept and prototype cars can’t be reproduced under this law

1966 Shelby Cobra chassis CSX 3178, belonging to Carroll Shelby
1966 Shelby Cobra chassis CSX 3178, belonging to Carroll Shelby | Mecum Auctions

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Lastly, concept and prototype cars can’t be reproduced under this law because they weren’t produced in any volume for consumers. So, we don’t know how that will work for anyone thinking about building turn-key Batmobiles?  

The bipartisan bill was first passed in 2015 that also included road, bridge, and mass-transit programs. But the NHTSA held up the new replica car regulations. SEMA finally filed a lawsuit in 2018 which required the NHTSA to respond by December 24, 2019. At that point, the NHTSA responded with a draft of the new law. A 30-day response period was followed by still more changes and feet dragging throughout 2020. The expectation was to see the new law come into effect in the middle of 2020. That came and went, but with COVID-19 swirling around everything was postponed. 

It is finally a law that replica builders can work within. They’ve waited quite a long time for this day.