The American hot rod is under attack and there’s nothing we can do about it. A provocative statement and one that needs proof (or maybe you are hoping there isn’t). You ask, how is the American hot rod coming under attack?
For starters, there are four major points of attack. We begin with the most highly visible and most frequently spoken: registration and emission standards. Next up the noise issue: mufflers and the use of dragstrips. Then there’s the use of an alternate fuel: ethanol has a known adverse effect on older fuel systems (vintage engines). And, lastly and possibly the least understood or publicized: tire aging.
The hot rod registration and pending emission standards are well documented and if I have to talk on this subject one more time I am a candidate for the Betty Ford Clinic! But all of us know (hopefully!) and have learned how to cope with this aspect.
Local municipalities are making and enforcing laws (or ordinances) that are closing dragstrips in many of the more highly populated areas. Here in Southern California we have lost seven major quarter-mile dragstrips over the past decade and at the time of this writing another major dragstrip was closed. There is (or was) a popular dragstrip that is (or was) part of the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The latest closure has come about on behalf of approximately 20 homeowners who have homes within 600 feet of the facility and have complained about the weekend noise. It should also be noted that the area is a heavy commerce location with an incredible number of 18-wheelers truckin’ up and down the roads in question.
Another attack is coming from alternate fuels. With respect to our hobby it’s the use of ethanol-based fuels to lessen the use of traditional gasoline. Ethyl alcohol (aka ethanol) is nothing new as the Model T was powered by ethanol until gasoline was readily accessible and improved.
Ethanol does have a plus with its inherent resistance to “knock.” Ethanol-powered engines can run high compression and gain power. But there are downsides to ethanol that “remove” the plus for vintage car owners. Ethanol requires more energy to produce than it replaces. In the United States we use ethanol, corn-based fuel that’s considered by many to be energy-negative by the time it comes out of a pump.
The real drawback for vintage car owners or the users of vintage engines (hot rodders) is the fact that ethanol is a powerful solvent. Without the use of additives it will attack many fuel system components, including zinc and galvanized materials, brass, copper, aluminum, seals and hoses, cork, polyurethane, and epoxy resins. In other words, almost everything used in a vehicle made more than about 20 years ago. It’s also hydrophilic, and this attraction of water causes the additional downfall of corrosion.
Granted, many of us don’t have to rely on our hot rods as daily drivers but they still consume gasoline and a rate much higher than the average daily driver. What does all this mean? Our hot rods typically cost more to drive and with the price of gasoline going up (almost daily) we are becoming more aware of the dollars we “pour” into the gas tank. I don’t believe we have reached a price per gallon that will stop any of us from driving our car but I, for one, am much more aware.
One of the great joys of my youth was to walk the wrecking yards that were all around when I was growing up and look for really cool V-8s. These were generally nestled within the engine compartments of muscle cars that had displayed a bit too much muscle on a Friday evening. There were also the occasional Model A or Deuce. Nowadays these wrecking yards (now called “ecology” something) are few and far between and various laws now say you can’t drop that vintage V-8 into just any piece of tin. In fact, many of these vintage motors have a “hammer” taken to them, destroying the block so that they cannot be recycled. It’s a shame, a real shame.
The last attack is against our tires, well not ours but those that rest at the corners of our hot rod. The buzz term is “tire aging.” This is a process by which the age of the tire is determined by reading the code numbers cast into the tire at the time of manufacturer. There are two codes currently in use; one for tires manufactured prior to 2000 and the one currently in use. The original assumption was that tires wouldn’t be in use in 10 years and, hence, since that isn’t necessarily the truth the law is (or is in the process of) being “beefed” up. I know one look at some of the tires I have on my hot rods reveals that 6-year-old tires is nothing out of the ordinary and I would imagine this is true hobby-wide.
There’s Federal legislation afoot that will require, among other things, for tire service centers not to work on tires that are coded older than six years and for tire outlets not to sell tires that are older than six years. As with many laws there are good and noteworthy points to this legislation. As with many laws there are not so good and noteworthy points to this legislation. And guess where we fall?
To date the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has refused to impose a six-year shelf life on tires. But you can rest assured that in time this will change. What does it mean to us? Well, should you need service on a tire, let’s say, while you are on the road and it is over six years old you would be forced to purchase a new tire as the tire service outlet would be compelled not to work on your “old” tire.
Again, there are some good reasons, safety based, for this type of legislation but hot rodders fall between the legislative “cracks” and are swept up into an area we do not wish to visit.
Approximately three years ago here in California AB 496 passed the assembly floor; the bill’s sponsors didn’t have the votes to proceed further and tabled the proposed legislation. It’s a matter of time before they have the votes. As soon as the California legislature realizes that by passing this bill they can then attach a “use fee” (tax!) to the AB and grab a few more bucks I am confident it will pass.
I would imagine all of us want Mother Earth to succeed over the long haul and that we want our grandchildren and generations yet to be named to have a worthy place to call “home.” As with all legislation aimed at a “lofty” goal we need to be vigilant as we hot rodders are a small and insignificant aspect of the automotive industry and we will most assuredly be “thrown out with the bath water” if we do not pay close attention.