Photo by the author.
Though the collector car hobby – and Hemmings, by extension – focuses almost exclusively on older motor vehicles, that doesn’t mean it is or we are bereft of news to report. In fact, with all the organizations dedicated to collecting, restoring, showing, rallying, racing, and selling old cars, the hobby positively buzzes with something to report. With that in mind, we decided to run down some of the most significant news stories that impacted the old car hobby this past year. In no particular order:
1. Ethanol-blended fuel amounts continue to rise. An ongoing issue since the passage of the Renewable Fuels Standard a decade ago, the presence of ethanol in fuel has become even more contentious this year thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s continued push for increased ethanol volumes and higher ethanol blends. The agency’s final ruling on the issue last year broke the theoretical blend wall by mandating ethanol in 10.1 percent of the nation’s fuel supply, and its follow-up ruling last month bumped that figure to 10.7 percent, sparing only about 200 million gallons of the nation’s fuel supply for ethanol-free gasoline. In addition, the agency has proposed deregulations for fuel blends above E15, the current limit for non-flex fuel vehicles.
In response, legislators proposed a number of bills this year that would curtail ethanol-blended fuels, including the Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act of 2016, which would cap the amount of ethanol blended into the nation’s fuel supply at 9.7 percent. While some late lobbying pushed to get the bill through in the latter days of the current Congressional session, it and a number of other anti-ethanol bills appear set to die at the end of the year.
2. Racing returns to Bonneville, though the salt depletion continues. After two consecutive years of canceled racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the SCTA was able to conduct this year’s Speed Week, though a thinner salt crust than in years past resulted in slower overall speeds and fewer racers on the salt.
Following the state of Utah’s official plea with the Bureau of Land Management to restore the Bonneville Salt Flats, BLM officials did attempt to bring racers, government officials, scientists, and industry representatives together to hammer out a solution, racers walked away from that summit “bitterly disappointed” at the BLM’s inaction and vowed to pursue federal-level legislation to force the BLM to protect the salt flats and reverse the long-term salt depletion.
Other damage to the Bonneville Salt Flats came earlier this year when a group of thrillseeking Canadians filmed themselves wakeboarding behind an RV on the flooded salt flats. One of the group has since received a five-year ban and fines related to the incident while three others pled not guilty to charges filed after the vandalism.
However, not all news surrounding the salt flats was doom and gloom this year. Bonneville did take this year’s International Historic Motoring Awards Lifetime Achievement Award even though the award typically goes to a living person.
3. AACA and AACA Museum break off merger talks. Negotiations to merge the Antique Automobile Club of America and the AACA Museum and thus place the club, the museum, and the AACA Library under one roof came to an abrupt end late this year with the club rescinding its financial support of the museum as a result. While representatives from both the club and the museum have expressed willingness to reopen negotiations, each organization also appears set to pursue its own course independent of the other.
4. SEMA battles EPA over motorsports. In February, the Specialty Equipment Market Association raised concern over wording it discovered buried in an EPA regulation proposal dealing with heavy and medium truck greenhouse gas emissions and subsequently determined to be a fundamental threat to motorsports in the United States. Specifically, the wording prevented tampering with or removing emission control devices even for competition vehicles.
Though EPA representatives maintained that the wording was merely a clarification of existing regulations and not an attempt to curtail racing activities (and would later remove the wording from the final version of the regulation), two pieces of SEMA-backed legislation – collectively the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016 – appeared in Congress shortly afterward with the aim of removing competition vehicles from the purview of the Clean Air Act. While the regulation has since been enacted and the RPM Act appears set to die at the end of the year, SEMA (which represents the $36 billion aftermarket auto parts industry) has continued to make a priority of its support for the act and its opposition to any EPA oversight of motorsports.
5. Auction records continue to fall. While the ultimate world record for a car sold at auction stood again this year, plenty of other significant sales took place at auction in 2016, including the sale of Carroll Shelby’s first Cobra, CSX2000, for $13.75 million – a record for a Shelby Cobra and for an American automobile. The records for Alfa Romeos ($19.8 million for a 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider, also the highest for a prewar car), Bugattis ($10.4 million for a 1932 Bugatti Type 55 roadster), and Jaguars ($21.78 million for a 1955 Jaguar D-Type, also the highest for a British car) also fell this year.
And lest one believe that all microcar sales records were set with the Bruce Weiner sale in 2013, a Peel P50 set the sales record for that marque at $176,000 this spring.
6. Museums large and small close around the world. Though it appeared in the spring as though FCA would reopen the Walter P. Chrysler Museum for good, the automaker reversed its decision last month, deciding ultimately to convert the space into offices and to put the museum’s contents into storage.
Nor was the WPC Museum the only such institution to face a rocky 2016. The Netherlands-based den Hartogh Museum, which claimed to be the largest collection of Ford vehicles, shut its doors December 1 while the contents of the world’s largest Holden collection in Australia got dispersed at auction this fall as did those of the Normandy Tank Museum in September.
Meanwhile, the America on Wheels Museum in Pennsylvania got a reprieve from the chopping block in may thanks to support from collector Nicola Bulgari and an anonymous donor made it possible for the Early Ford V-8 Museum in Indiana to resurrect their plans to replicate the Ford Rotunda (though at a smaller scale).
7. Paris considers a ban of old cars from its roads. With air pollution getting worse in the city, Parisian officials this summer enacted a ban on old cars (built before 1997) from entering the city during weekdays, with restrictions growing tighter in the future. However, French old car enthusiasts negotiated with the city officials to exempt cars registered as historic vehicles from the ban. European collector car enthusiasts have held up the compromise as a model for dealing with future old car bans in cities around the world.
8. Automotive Hall of Fame makes a couple bold moves. The Automotive Hall of Fame courted controversy twice this year. First, in May, it announced the 2016 lineup of inductees, which included auto safety advocate Ralph Nader, the man many still blame for killing off the Corvair. The hall defended its decision by noting that Nader’s book, “Unsafe At Any Speed,” and his subsequent testimony in front of Congress directly led to passage of highway safety laws that have directly influenced the evolution of the automobile and that have saved countless lives.
Then over the summer, the hall announced that it will seek a new location in downtown Detroit, not far from its current location in Dearborn, Michigan. Hall president Bill Chapin said downtown Detroit will serve as a more neutral ground and that the move would allow the hall to step out from the shadow of Ford Motor Company, which currently surrounds the hall and is looking to expand in that area. No timeline for the move has yet been released.
9. Automotive luminaries pass. Finally, no end-of-the-year list would be complete without noting the racers, designers, raconteurs, and other automotive pioneers who died in 2016. Among them: journalist Brock Yates, collector Rick D’Louhy, turbocharger designer Per Gillbrand, racer Tony Adamowicz, Ford and Chrysler designer Colin Neale, designer Jeff Teague, drag racer Art Chrisman, motorcycle builder Cliff Vaughs, publisher Chet Krause, drag racer Jere Stahl, custom car builder Bill Hines, Ford exec Chase Morsey, and Hudson collector Eldon Hostetler.