Politics & Government

Is 25 old enough to be an antique? If it’s a car, the NC House says yes.

David Allen’s 1991 Toyota MR2, seen here at last weekend’s Antique Automobile Club of America show at Capital Crossing Shopping Center, would qualify for an “antique auto” license plate under a provision in the state budget approved by the House last week.
David Allen’s 1991 Toyota MR2, seen here at last weekend’s Antique Automobile Club of America show at Capital Crossing Shopping Center, would qualify for an “antique auto” license plate under a provision in the state budget approved by the House last week. rstradling@newsobserver.com

If you owned a 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass or Toyota Camry, you might think of it as an old car, but would you call it an “antique”?

You could if a provision in the state budget approved by the N.C. House last week ultimately becomes law. A vehicle would qualify for an “antique auto” license when it is 25 years old, instead of the current 35.

There are advantages to having an antique auto tag on your car. For starters, under state law, antique vehicles are a special class of property, assessed for taxes at no more than $500, whether it’s an old pickup or a Rolls Royce. And antique vehicles aren’t required to get annual safety and emissions inspections.

But the same law that gives antique autos a tax break also says they can be used primarily for “exhibitions, club activities, parades and other public interest functions,” and can be driven “only occasionally for other purposes.” That means if you want to drive your classic Ford Mustang to work every day, you shouldn’t get an antique tag.

That may be why the tags are relatively rare. Of the roughly 915,000 cars and trucks registered in Wake County, only 583 have antique licenses, according to the state Department of Revenue.

So lowering the age of an antique vehicle to 25 may not cause a flood of owners trying to get a break on their taxes or to avoid inspections. But it will satisfy some car enthusiasts, including some constituents of Rep. Frank Iler of Brunswick County, who says he introduced the change to the budget because the deadline for filing a separate bill had passed.

“People with old Corvettes and other vehicles that come from other states and move into my county on a regular basis and have an antique vehicle from another state — they would like to get an antique plate in North Carolina,” said Iler, a Republican who co-chairs the appropriations committee for transportation.

Antique vehicle definition

Other states, including Virginia and Tennessee, already define antique vehicles as those that are as young as 25 years old. And the Antique Automobile Club of America chose 25 years as its threshold for an antique when the AACA was founded in 1935, said David Hawks, secretary for the club’s North Carolina chapter.

Hawks, who lives in Winston-Salem, says the club didn’t ask for the change in state law but says he’d be happy to see it. Not only would it bring North Carolina in line with other states, it would help encourage a wider number of people to get involved with classic cars.

“There’s a lot of younger people who like to participate, and some of them don’t think they can afford one of the older cars,” he said.

At last weekend’s AACA car show at the Capital Crossing Shopping Center in North Raleigh, most of 50-plus cars on display fit the more traditional definition of classic cars, including Ford Model A’s, 1957 Chevys and muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s.

David Allen of Goldsboro has a 1956 Oldsmobile registered as an antique, but he brought his 1991 Toyota MR2 to the show. The bright red 28-year-old Toyota was parked in a section for cars made between 1981 and 1994. There were seven, including two Ford Rangers and a 1988 Lincoln Town Car.

Allen has two MR2s, which he calls a “poor man’s Ferrari,” and notes that a car doesn’t necessarily have to be old to be considered a classic.

“It looks too modern to be an antique,” he said of his two-door MR2 with retractable headlights and a spoiler on the back. “But it is, according to the AACA. That makes me feel very old.”

John Allred, president of the state AACA, said the turnout to car shows is changing, with fewer owners of pre-World War II vehicles coming to shows like the one in North Raleigh. The future of classic cars will be in models that stir nostalgia in younger people.

“In a few more years, the Prius will have antique status,” Allred said. “I sit back as an old car guy and just shake my head. But the younger generation is coming up.”

Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 19 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.


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