Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
October 25, 2010
Photos By: The Mustang Monthly Archives

Seeing how you're holding a copy of Mustang Monthly in your hands, chances are good that you would describe yourself as an automotive enthusiast. Chances are even better that Mustangs are your vehicle of choice, and you likely own a vintage Mustang (or three, or four) as your hobby car and drive a new Mustang GT, Shelby GT500, or other late-model Mustang as your everyday vehicle. You participate in cruises and shows, decorate your garage, and demonstrate your loyalty by wearing Mustang-related T-shirts and caps. For you, Mustangs are a lifestyle.

Unfortunately-and this may be difficult to comprehend-there are others who don't appreciate cars the way you and I do. They don't understand the thrill of Cobra Jet acceleration, or the satisfaction that comes from restoring an old Mustang or simply repairing something as simple as a leaky exhaust manifold. In fact, they don't understand why we view Mustangs as something other than transportation from point A to point B. Many of you have even been hassled for working on your Mustang in your driveway or keeping a parts car in your backyard. Ever been ticketed for a modified exhaust system? And think about the potential parts cars that have been lost to Cash for Clunker programs.

And it reaches beyond vintage Mustangs. Right now, we're enjoying 412hp '11 GTs and looking forward to the '12 Boss 302, but as the government clamps down on emissions and fuel economy standards, we could be looking at a return to four-cylinder Mustangs like we had in the 1970s.

There are some big issues facing us as car enthusiasts, most of it coming from people in our government who don't relate to our cars. Many of these issues are threatening our lifestyle and even our very existence as Mustang enthusiasts. It can, and should, make you mad enough to chew header bolts.

While we should support cleaner air, safer vehicles, and independence from foreign oil, we can't let broad-sweeping, ill-conceived strategies impact our ability to freely use and maintain our Mustangs. From emissions to auto equipment standards, the government is making decisions about our cars, so the need for enthusiasts to stay informed and become involved is greater than ever. With the 2010 elections coming up, think if it as an opportunity to consider how actions being taken by federal and state lawmakers impact you, the auto enthusiast.

So what can you do? First, register to vote (if you haven't already) and exercise your right to support pro-hobby candidates. There are actually state legislators around the country who support the motor vehicle hobby through the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus, a bi-partisan group of around 450 state lawmakers, whose common thread is their appreciation for automobiles. Working in state capitals, these legislators seek to preserve and protect the hobby by seeking the amendment of existing motor vehicle statutes and creating new programs to safeguard and expand the hobby. On the federal side, there are close to 100 members of the Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus. If you want to know how to vote this fall, check out our list of caucus members at www.mustangmonthly.com.

You can also join the SEMA Action Network (SAN), which has been promoting legislative solutions for the automotive hobby since 1997. SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, clubs, and members of the specialty automotive parts industry who have joined forces to promote hobby-friendly legislation and oppose unfair laws. With nearly 40,000 members and the ability to reach 30 million enthusiasts, SAN is the premier organization defending the rights of the vehicle hobby. Free to join (at www.semasan.com) with no obligations or commitments, SAN provides tailored action alerts with bill information, speaking points, and legislator contact information.

"We the people" are not just words from the first line of an old document. We are the people who love Mustangs, muscle cars, hot rods, street rods, and other automotive pursuits. We are also the people who have to work to protect our automotive passions from unnecessary, unfair, or well-intentioned but poorly written laws and regulations. Our greatest tool in making that difference is our voice. By speaking out on issues that concern the automotive hobby, contacting our representatives, and working constructively with government officials, we have the power to protect our passion and keep it safe for future generations of auto hobbyists and enthusiasts.

Top Threats
Here are just a few of the issues that are affecting our Mustang lifestyle.

Inoperable Vehicles
We call them parts cars or even hidden treasures: non-enthusiasts call them eyesores. Someone has said, "Freedom is being able to wake up on the weekend to be able to work on your own car in your own backyard." But you could come home one afternoon to find a ticket on your project car that's parked on your property. In some areas of the country, it's all too real. State and local laws-some on the books now, others pending-can or will dictate where you can work on your Mustang. Believe it or not, that Mustang you've stashed behind your house until the new crate engine arrives or the convertible you've hung onto since high school could very easily be towed out of your yard depending on the zoning laws in your area.

Some zealous government officials are waging war against what they consider "eyesores." To us, they are valuable on-going restoration projects. But to a non-enthusiast lawmaker, your diamond-in-the-rough looks like a junker ready for the salvage yard. If you're not careful, that's exactly where it will wind up. Hobbyists are becoming increasingly alarmed about the many states and localities currently enforcing or attempting to legislate strict property or zoning laws that include restrictions on visible inoperable automobile bodies and parts. Often, removal of these vehicles from private property is enforced through local nuisance laws with little or no notice to the owner.

Scrappage Programs
In recent years, state and federal officials have attempted to implement emissions reduction programs that target older vehicles. Most state scrappage programs allow "smokestack" industries to avoid reducing their own emissions by buying pollution credits generated through destroying these vehicles. The programs accelerate the normal retirement of vehicles through the purchase of older cars, which are crushed. Enthusiasts suffer from the indiscriminate destruction of older cars and their reusable parts. America safeguards its artistic and architectural heritage against indiscriminate destruction, and our automotive and industrial heritage deserves the same protection.

While some legislation designed to spur sales of new and used automobiles is positive, such as vouchers towards the purchase of new or used cars or tax credits to help upgrade, repair, or maintain older vehicles, scrappage provisions are not. They focus on vehicle age rather than actual emissions produced. This approach is based on the erroneous assumption that old cars are dirty cars. However, the true culprits are "gross polluters"-vehicles of any model year that are poorly maintained.

Exhaust Noise
Imagine getting stopped for the performance mufflers on your well-maintained '70 Mustang. Now imagine sitting on the shoulder, receiving a citation, while a stock Ferrari roars by. This is the scene being played out on highways across the country, the result of poorly drafted or ineffective state laws and regulations. Some laws cite the manufacturer's specifications or a factory-installed muffler as the basis on which vehicle exhaust noise is measured.

On this topic, states can generally be divided into two categories: those with noise standards and those without. Of the states with a standard, many ignore guidelines when handing out citations. Most have chosen to measure a vehicle's noise by decibels.

Some states do not specify a quantifiable noise standard. Typical language includes prohibitions on "excessive or unusual noise" from the exhaust. While most motorists believe that exhaust systems should not be used in a way that causes overly loud or objectionable noise, the vague provisions fail to provide a clear and objective standard for car owners seeking exhaust systems that enhance a vehicle's appearance and increase performance.

Taxes and Fees
Older Mustangs are typically driven less frequently than daily drivers. In most cases, they are second or third vehicles deserving of reduced taxes and registration fees. While some states have attempted to increase the fees on these vehicles to fill gaps in their recession-hit coffers, others have continued the fight to lower the cost of owning a vintage car. For example, SEMA is working with the sponsor of legislation in Iowa that would allow antique vehicle owners to register limited-use vehicles for a reduced fee. Under the measure, owners who agree to use their vehicles for hobbyist purposes and occasional transportation (not to exceed 1,000 miles annually) would be charged an annual $5 fee. On the other side, SEMA is opposing legislation in Michigan that threatens to change the $30 historic vehicle registration fee from every ten years to annually.

Ethanol
There is a battle raging in Washington that may force you to put ethanol in your car whether you want to or not. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently allows gasoline to include up to 10 percent ethanol, a fuel additive made from corn or other biomass sources. The ethanol industry wants the EPA to increase the amount to 15 percent.

With E-10, owners of older cars already fear corrosion and other side effects. Ethanol attracts water. In turn, the resulting condensation can corrode fuel lines and tank components (steel, rubber, aluminum, etc). Because many newer engines and parts have been designed to be compatible with alcohol fuels, E-15 will not be an issue. However, E-10 has been a problem for some current and older model cars; E-15 may be worse.

Smog Check Programs
Policy makers need to focus inspection procedures and not confuse legitimate aftermarket parts with emission defeat devices and tampering violations. The hobby must also pursue proactive legislative initiatives to establish exemptions from inspections for low-mileage vehicles, classic vehicles (defined as 25 years old and older), and newer vehicles. It is useful to remind legislators that the emissions from this small portion of the vehicle fleet are negligible, especially true when considering the low miles typically driven by hobby vehicles and their excellent maintenance.

Tire Fuel Efficiency
Both California and the federal government are pursuing regulations to rate replacement tires for "fuel efficiency" in an effort to influence consumer choice. In theory, if a tire is more fuel-efficient, less gas is burned and therefore less CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is drafting a consumer information system to rate the fuel economy, safety, and durability characteristics of most replacement tires. Companies that produce 15,000 units or less in a tire line-mostly for classic or off-highway vehicle-are exempted since fuel efficiency for these types is not a primary consumer concern. When it comes to consumer information, the big question is whether the focus of attention is misplaced. Will consumers be dissuaded from buying tires that may have improved performance, handling, or appearance features based solely on a rolling resistance rating?

Paint Regulations
As you probably know, paint is now heavily regulated to address environmental concerns. There are two main issues with respect to regulatory oversight, volatile organic compounds (VOCs, as found in oil-based paints, adhesives, and cleaning supplies) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs, including cadmium, chromium, nickel, etc. that become airborne during paint stripping operations). Regulating paint has been a balancing act to make sure hobbyists and commercial entities have access to affordable, quality paints while protecting health and environment. It has also been a moving target, since there is always the chance rules put in place today may not be deemed adequate upon further review.

Engine Swaps
Did you know that there are rules governing engine swaps in project vehicles? The basic rule of engine switching (as opposed to installing a "replacement" engine) is that the change must do no harm, meaning that the engine must theoretically be at least as "clean" as the one taken out.