The stars of the National Historic Vehicle Register

Created as a project by the Historic Vehicle Association in collaboration with the US Department of the Interior, the National Historic Vehicle Register aims to document the most historically important cars, trucks and motorcycles.

The vehicles do not necessarily need to be American to be included on the register, but need to have had an impact on US history. Specific criteria include being associated with a famous individual, being associated with a famous event, being of unique construction, or having informational value that makes it important.

1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe Prototype (CSX2287)

First to be added to the register in January 2014 was a car which easily ticked all four boxes for potential criteria for inclusion. Created by legendary performance car builder Carroll Shelby, and designed by Peter Brock, CSX2287 was the first Daytona Coupe to be produced in January 1964.

Powered by a Ford V8 engine producing 375hp, CSX2287 was capable of over 180 mph courtesy of the aerodynamic bodywork. This made it perfect for competing in the FIA International Manufacturers GT Championship, taking in key races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The abilities of the Daytona Coupe were demonstrated in 1965, when Shelby American took first place in the FIA International Manufacturers’ GT Championship. As the first time an American team had won an FIA-sanctioned international series, the Daytona Coupe made a major mark in US automotive history.

Moving forward 50 years, the inclusion of CSX2287 on the register was an obvious one given the success behind it. The car now takes pride of place in the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia.

1985 Modena Spyder

If you’ve ever seen the 1986 John Hughes film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off you’ll know that a distinctive Ferrari 250 GT California is central to the plotline. Except the car used in the movie wasn’t an actual Maranello product, but a replica built to look just like the exquisitely expensive Ferrari.

Not even Hollywood in the 1980s would risk using a real 250 GT California for filming, and turned to Modena Design & Development to produce three movie replicas. Featuring a fibreglass body, Ford V8 engine, and even exterior parts taken from an MG MGB, three finished Spyders were used.

Given the fate of the ‘Ferrari’ in the film, it’s somewhat ironic that the Spyder is currently on display in a glass box as part of the Historic Vehicle Association’s ‘Classics at the Capital’ event in Washington DC. 

Added to the register to recognise the ‘tangible embodiment’ of the film’s iconic status, this particular Modena Spyder has had several owners since its big screen debut. Like many aging actors, the Spyder underwent cosmetic procedures with its current owner to return it to full 1980’s glory.

1968 Ford Mustang Fastback ‘Bullitt’

Surpassing even the Ferris Bueller ‘Ferrari’ for movie significance, the Highland Green ‘68 Ford Mustang GT from Bullitt is perhaps the single most recognisable silver screen car. Steve McQueen is reported to have purposefully picked the Mustang GT as the car driver by his character in the film, and undertook much of the stunt driving during the epic ten minute-long car chase scene.

Two Mustang GT Fastbacks in Highland Green were ordered for the film, with chassis number ‘559 the one used most by McQueen as the hero car. After filming the car changed hands several times, before being bought by the Kiernan family of New Jersey.

Despite the illustrious past, the Kiernans used the ‘Bullitt’ Mustang as their sole daily driver from purchasing it in 1974, up until the early 1980s, when it was laid up. Owner Robert Kiernan even turned down an offer from Steve McQueen himself to buy the car back.

Whilst Mustang enthusiasts hunted for the ‘lost’ Mustang, the Kiernans kept it hidden away until choosing to reveal it to the world to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the film. The car’s role in Bullitt, the association with Steve McQueen, and the secret story behind its whereabouts made it an obvious contender for inclusion on the register.

1964 Meyers Manx ‘Old Red’

Think of 1960s California and you might well imagine sun, sea, surf, and dune buggies. Whilst dune buggies had existed before the Manx, it became one the most recognisable shapes and proved popular with buyers.

Bruce Meyers initially only planned to build a handful of buggies for himself and friends, but such was demand that more than 7,000 examples of the Manx were produced. Old Red was the first one made, and is now owned by its creator Bruce Meyers again.

As the first dune buggy to use a fibreglass body, and to launch a craze that would inspire some 250,000 imitations, the Meyers Manx has obvious significance to car culture. As such, it was the second car added to the register in May 2014.

All cars on the register undergo an extensive documentation process by the Historic Vehicle Association, including detailed photography, scale drawings, and a written report. All this information is then archived in the US Library of Congress to ensure its preservation.

1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

Proving that non-American machinery is more than welcome on the register, this 1954 300 SL still has an important Stateside story. Developed from the W194 race car, the 300 SL was a thinly disguised road-going version, created specifically with the US market in mind.

Of the 1,400 ‘gullwing’ coupes produced, more than 80% were sold to American buyers, cementing the foresight of US Mercedes distributor Max Hoffman to persuade the company to build the 160mph 300 SL.

The particular 300 SL featured on the register was imported to the USA for Briggs Cunningham – famed entrepreneur, sportsman, and avid motorsport enthusiast. Being the first 300 SL brought to America makes it important in its own right, alongside other notable features such as being the first production sports car to use direct injection.

Now owned by Dennis Nicotra, this famed 300 SL underwent restoration during 2014, and now makes limited appearances for display and exhibition purposes.

1911 Marmon Wasp

The Indianapolis 500 is now one of the biggest global motorsport events, but like everything had to start somewhere. For Indy the inaugural year was 1911, and the Marmon Wasp was the first winner of that 500-mile race. Driven by Ray Harroun, the Wasp averaged a speed of 74 mph, with the whole race taking some 6 hours 42 minutes.

Being the first winner of a major race like the Indy 500 is a big enough deal for the Wasp to make the cut, but it also boasts the first documented use of a rear-view mirror on a race car.

1938 Maserati 8CTF ‘The Boyle Special’

Surpassing even the Marmon Wasp for Indy 500 importance, ‘The Boyle Special’ Maserati 8CTF is the most successful car to ever compete at the great race. Two wins, two third places, and one fourth place mark it out as special, as does the fact it continued to be entered in the event up until 1953.

Originally built as a Grand Prix racer, the 8CTF featured a twin-supercharged 365hp V8 engine. Today ‘The Boyle Special’ is owned by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and stars in the Hall of Fame museum at the circuit.

1947 Tucker 48 ‘Tin Goose’ Prototype

If the Historic Vehicle Association register included a category for scandal and notoriety, the Tucker 48 would be top of the list. Created by Preston Tucker, the 48 made use of innovative features like independent suspension inspired by Indy 500 racers, along with a third central headlight, and an integrated roll bar for safety.

Sadly the Tucker Corporation would only produce 51 cars before the company was made bankrupt; the result of a fraud trial which would ultimately see Preston Tucker acquitted of all charges. However, the legacy of the 48 and the features it pioneered saw this prototype placed on the register in October 2014.

1984 Plymouth Voyager

Like the Tucker 48 but without the controversy, the Plymouth Voyager brought a host of new concepts to the automotive market when first launched. As the world’s first car-derived ‘minivan’ (or MPV), the Voyager and related Dodge Caravan meant American families no longer had to rely on giant station wagons for transport.

Although having now been replaced by SUVs and crossovers as the family vehicle of choice, the importance of the Voyager is hard to ignore. Much like the wood grain vinyl it wore to provide some link to the big wagons of the past.

Being responsible for the ‘soccer mom’ phenomenon makes the Voyager culturally significant, and it was the combination of flexible seating for seven and car-like performance that made it the vehicle of choice. That it could easily fit into a standard garage also helped sales.

This particular Plymouth Voyager was nicknamed ‘Magic Wagon no.1’ as the very first example to roll off the production line. It’s importance was recognised by the Chrysler Corporation, who have retained ownership of the Voyager to the present day.

1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No.1 (Pygmy)

For its role in World War II, and as an icon of off-roading, the ‘jeep’ (note the small J) is instantly recognisable, and undoubtedly important. Yet the oldest surviving ‘jeep’ was actually produced by the Ford Motor Company in 1940. Confused? Don’t worry, the story is simpler than you think.

With the threat of war, in 1937 the US Army invited bids to produce a quarter-ton lightweight utility vehicle. Three manufacturers submitted prototypes to meet the Army’s specifications, with this Ford pilot model being one of the only survivors.

After extensive testing Ford, American Bantam, and Willys-Overland were invited to produce more prototypes for further evaluation. Willys-Overland would win the Army contract but, due to the needs for more ‘jeeps’ quickly, Ford would also end up being contracted to produce the Willys design as well.

Auctioned off by the Ford Museum in 1982, GP-No.1 is now the centrepiece of the US Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville, Alabama.

1962 Willys ‘Jeep’ Universal Model CJ-6

Don’t worry, this one is an actual Jeep, and one that had a very significant owner, qualifying it for inclusion on the register due to its historic value.

This 1962 CJ-6 was the personal vehicle of 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan, and was used by him at this 688-acre ranch near Santa Barbara, California. Due to Reagan’s declining health the ranch, and the CJ-6, were sold to the Young America’s Foundation in 1995.

1909 White Model ‘M’ Steam Car

As 27th President of the United States, William Taft was something of an automotive pioneer, converting stables at the White House into garages for four cars. Alongside an electric vehicle, and two petrol-powered Pierce-Arrows, Taft also purchased this White Model ‘M’ steamer.

Although steam power was falling out of favour, Taft is claimed to have enjoyed using the clouds of steam generated by the Model ‘M’ to annoy press photographers. Recognised as the first Presidential Limousine, and the only surviving car used by Taft, it easily meets the criteria for inclusion in the eyes of the Historic Vehicle Association.

1918 Cadillac Type 57 US 1257X

Possessing a more tenuous Presidential link, US 1257X can count Mrs Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (daughter-in-law of Teddy Roosevelt) as a former passenger of the big Cadillac.

Yet US 1257X didn’t serve as luxury transport, but was instead donated for service with the YMCA in support of the  American Expeditionary Force during World War One.

Serving behind the frontline in France, US1257X was driven by its owner and wealthy YMCA volunteer, Rev. John Hopkins Dennison. That it could survive the war-torn battlefields of Europe is testament to just how well built it was by Cadillac.

As one of the few remaining examples of private cars used during WW1, this big Caddy possesses substantial amounts of historic value.

1920 Anderson Six Convertible Roadster

Although it’s easy to think solely of Detroit when it comes to the American car industry, Anderson was one of the few manufacturers based in the South. From 1916 to 1925, Anderson produced over 5,000 cars in Rock Hill, South Carolina with the aim of attracting local buyers to pay more for Southern charm.

Today few examples of Anderson products exist, and this is believed to be the sole surviving example of the Convertible Roadster design. It’s patented design which allowed it to switch between two or five-seater configurations, along with its rarity, made it a prime candidate for register inclusion.

1927 Ford Model T Touring (Fifteen-millionth Ford)

The Model T was one of the cars from the North that the Anderson tried to compete with, but the outright success of the Ford needs virtually no explanation. As the fifteen-millionth Ford and final Model T to be produced, this car rolled off the revolutionary assembly line driven by Henry Ford himself in 1927.

Nineteen years of production saw the Model T bring affordable car ownership to millions of middle-class Americans. The combination of affordable pricing and relative ease of use were responsible for its success, setting the benchmark for the modern auto industry.

1938 Buick Y-Job

No major motor show today would be without a barrage of fanciful concepts, but the Buick Y-Job is claimed to be the very first concept car created. Styled by Harley Earl, who would later count the original Chevrolet Corvette amongst his achievements, the Y-Job was intended to set the design language for future Buicks.

With power-operated hidden headlights, electric windows, and wrap around bumpers the Y-Job packed a number of advanced features. It also used a working straight-eight engine, with the car driven by Earl for a number of years. Now owned by General Motors, it can happily lay claim to having inspired decades of concept cars since 1938.

1932 Ford V-8 ‘McGee’ Roadster

This isn’t just any old hot rod, this is arguably the hot rod that defines the trend for stripped-out V8-powered Ford roadsters. Built by Bob McGee on his return from service in WW2, the bodywork was cut and shaved, suspension lowered, and the engine overhauled for more power. McGee also added the distinctive red paintwork, plus custom upholstery.

Owned by many others after McGee, the red roadster would receive numerous magazine appearances, have a cameo on the TV show Happy Days, and would be one of two hot rods chosen in 2014 by the US Postal Service to feature on commemorative stamps. Today it is owned by Bruce Meyer of Meyers Manx dune buggy fame.

1951 Mercury Sport Coupe (Hirohata Merc)

Much like Bob McGee, Masato Hirohata returned from the Navy in 1952 and gave Barris Kustoms of Los Angeles free reign to create the wildest custom Mercury Coupe. Chopped and dropped to the ground, the design details were as impressive as the searing ‘Ice Green’  paintwork.

The Hirohata Merc would also feature in the 1955 film Running Wild and win numerous awards, before passing into the hands of new owners and collectors. Proving that real style never goes out of fashion, the Hirohata Merc won ‘best in class’ for custom Mercurys at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance event.

1964 Chevrolet Impala (Gypsy Rose)

Lowriding was an emerging trend in early 1970’s Los Angeles, and this specific Impala was the third car named Gypsy Rose to be built be the late Jesse Valadez. Over 20 gallons of clear lacquer cover the candy red and pink paintwork, whilst hundreds of rose details made the exterior unique. A crushed velvet interior, complete with cocktail bar and chandelier, completed the 1972 transformation..

By 1980 Gypsy Rose had featured in almost every magazine on custom cars, starred on TV in Chico and the Man, and been branded the ‘world’s most popular lowrider’ by Lowrider Magazine. Valadez passed away in 2011, but the car remains with his family, and is still seen as the gold standard for lowriders today.

1967 Chevrolet Camaro

The Ford Mustang may well be the world’s best-selling sports car today, but it is impossible to underestimate the impact of the Chevrolet Camaro on developing the pony car market. Kept secret throughout its development, the Camaro made a debut in August 1966, with this car identified as the very first model to be produced.

Despite its significance, the car was actually ‘lost’ for many years until being offered for sale in rusted condition. Identified by the new purchaser, Logan Lawson, from the VIN number the original Camaro has now been restored to its former glory.

What’s next on the list?

At present the Historic Vehicle Association chooses five to ten new cars to be added to the register annually. With the amount of research and documentation needed, this is a slow and laborious process, with limited funds available.

With a huge backlog of contenders already amassed, the Association is currently not taking public submissions at present, but expect to see more cars added to the register in the coming months.

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