Modern Vintage Car Replicas, Long Promised and Long Delayed, Are Finally Coming

The federal government rules that will enable production of replica classics are finally getting locked down.

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Remember the halcyon days of 2015? The unemployment rate was down to five percent, Taylor Swift was blowing up the pop charts with 1989, the only coronaviruses plaguing mankind were the types that caused the common cold — and the U.S. government signed a bill into law enabling small carmakers to bring new versions of iconic rides to life with far less hassle than before.

The Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act, as it was formally known, went through all the steps you probably remember from that Schoolhouse Rock bit: a bill was introduced, it was considered and approved by committee, passed by the House of Representatives and Senate, then signed into law by the president. But as it turns out, there's more to lawmaking than you can cram into a three-minute Saturday morning cartoon. In this case, the agency in charge of executing that law — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — seems to have neglected to move forward with the steps needed to make the law work.

It was only on January 15th, 2021 — five years and six weeks after President Obama slapped his John Hancock on the LVMVMA — that the NHTSA finally released its ruling that paves the way for the law to go into effect. The only step left in the process is for the NHTSA's ruling to be published in the Federal Register, the official account of all changes made to federal laws and regulations. A spokesperson for SEMA, the aftermarket trade group that has been lobbying hard to get the measure in motion, told Car and Driver that the timeline appeared to be "days or weeks, but not months" for that final red light to turn green.

That means we're on the verge of finally seeing a boom of new replica versions of classic cars. Chief among them for anyone who ever fell in love with Back to the Future, of course, is the DMC-12, better known as the DeLorean; an entire new DeLorean Motor Company has been sitting on its hands for the last five years, waiting for the NHTSA to make its move so it could bring reborn steel-bodied gullwings to American roads.

While the rule allows new vehicles to hit the streets without those pesky safety regulations that apply to modern cars, there are still a few caveats. Companies can only build up to 325 replica cars per year, and while they don't have to be exact replicas of cars of yore, they need to look like a vehicle that's at least 25 years of age.

That last part is also handy, because as Motor Trend revealed, the LVMVMA doesn't exempt these new vehicles from emissions regulations the same way it does for safety regs. That means every one of these new replicas needs to meet California Air Resources Board, or CARB, requirements. Trouble is, as of right now, there are no engines that meet those requirements for these sorts of new-build classic replicas, CARB communications director Stanley Young told MT.

That said, CARB reportedly expects engine-makers to begin seeking approval to use their motors in these new builds soon. And, of course, any cars built under LVMVMA protocols that use electric powertrains would be exempt from CARB regulations. And whaddya know: that new DeLorean Motor Company is already looking into that.

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