HomeMediaOld can be new again as feds finally issue replica car rules

Old can be new again as feds finally issue replica car rules

NHTSA posts final regulations for low-volume production of turnkey replica vehicles


More than five years later than the deadline set by Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has finally released for publication the policy that will enable the return of vehicles that look like those that have been out of the market for at least 25 years.

You can read and download the final rules from the NHTSA website. They span 105 pages.

The regulations will permit what are called “low-volume motor vehicle manufacturers” to produce as many as 325 replica cars, turnkey vehicles (with engines in place) as opposed to kit cars (sold without engines), per year.

(We thought the final rules had been finished more than a year ago, but they aren’t official until they are published in the Federal Register.

Superformance’s Mk III roadster is another low-volume car that can be offered

In celebrating the rules, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, the automotive aftermarket trade group, headlined a news release: “Replica Car Companies, Start Your Sales.” SEMA has been pushing NHTSA regarding the rules, even suing the Department of Transportation in 2019.

It was in 2015 that Congress included the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. At the time, Congress mandated that NHTSA produce final regulations no later than December 4, 2016. 

“SEMA applauds NHTSA’s final rule allowing companies to market classic-themed cars,” Daniel Ingber, SEMA vice president of government affairs, is quoted in SEMA’s news release. “Regulatory barriers have previously prevented small automakers from producing heritage cars that are coveted by consumers.”

At last, however, “The roadblocks have been eliminated,” Ingber continued. “This is a hard-fought victory for enthusiasts, small volume manufacturers, their suppliers, and all the men and women who will be hired to fill new jobs created by this law.”  

SEMA also called publication of the regulations “historic,” adding, “Replica car businesses will now be able to produce and sell turnkey replicas to eager customers nationwide.”

Revised regulations would allow Factory Five to build and sell 325 of its ’33 hot rods each year

Replica cars look like those formerly manufactured. Until the latest regulations were finalized, SEMA notes, “the U.S. had just one system for regulating automobiles, which was designed for companies that mass-produce millions of vehicles. The new program recognizes the unique challenges faced by companies that produce a small number of custom cars.”

Among the companies that have been waiting for the regulations are those holding the rights to vehicles such as the classic Checker taxi cabs, to Cord and Cobras, and to DeLorean, which now can produce vintage-styled vehicles in addition to the new-generation of the brand that it plans to unveil in August at the Pebble Beach concours d’elegance. 

While the regulations make limited production available, vehicles still must meet emission standards, which the Environmental Protection Agency issued in 2019. Low-volume producers must register their products with NHTSA, the EPA and CARB (California’s air resources board).  While meeting emission standards, the reproduction vehicles can be exempted from some safety regulations.

The rules apply to vehicles produced in the US and those that are imported.

“Enthusiasts will still have the option to build a car from a kit,” SEMA noted, “but now they may also purchase a turnkey replica car.”

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.



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