Photo: The New York TImes/Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Or so opined seminal MTV band R.E. M. back in the late 1980s. Many people in the old car hobby in Europe are beginning to feel that the song might be coming true for them. Throughout the European Union and into the UK, laws are being proposed, discussed and even passed to ban the use of gasoline powered motors.

It began in October when Paris officials passed a bill that would ban the use of all gasoline and diesel engines within the city limits. This was an acceleration of a plan by all of France to eliminate fossil fuel usage by 2040. The hopes are to ween the public off of using gas and point them toward electric powered vehicles. Paris had previously enacted laws that created car-free zones within the city and also established days when cars were not allowed.

Actually, Paris was not the first to offer up such laws. France’s plan had preceded it and so too had other parts of Europe. In June it was announced that four of Norway’s major political parties had agreed on a proposal that would ban the sale of gasoline and diesel powered cars by 2025. A similar 2025 ban on sales of fossil fuel powered vehicles started being bandied about in the Netherlands in August. Germany took it one step further by calling for a 2030 ban through the entire European Union.

Earlier in the summer London had passed legislation to ban on petroleum based cars by 2040. Though it is not as strict as what had been passed in France it still showed an adherence to world-wide agreements to help curb climate change. These are the same agreements which President Trump pulled the United States from earlier in the year.

The idea behind these bans, of course, is to decrease the amount of greenhouse gasses which are a major contributing factor to the world’s changing climate. So the idea is indeed a noble one. Improving the environment is never a bad thing. But these decisions have raised quite a stir among people throughout Europe who are part of the old car hobby. Immediately there were outcries about what will happen to their hobby. In the United Kingdom, which has a huge percentage of people interested in historical vehicles, cries immediately went up through the collector car press. Magazines such as Classic and Sports Cars and Practical Classics have offered regular updates throughout the fall.

While no one in the hobby in Europe is saying that the bans are a bad thing, what they are all hoping for is some sort of exemption for classic and collector cars. None of them wants to see the end of their shows and cruise-ins and classic car races. Most believe that some sort of exemption will happen yet there will always be those “chicken littles” who fear the hobby is being threatened.

With these laws being bandied about and even passed throughout Europe (even India has discussed similar legislation), one has to wonder if anything like this will happen in the United States. Many with strong ties to the hobby in this country have their own opinions.

“Fossil fuels will be used to power more political arguments in the coming years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of ban eventually,” said Mike Hack of Eastern Corvettes, one of if not the top Corvette repair and restoration shop in the country. “Other energy sourced engines will have to be much more commonplace, and affordable options will have to be present before we see anything this drastic.“

Jeff Lane who oversees the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, tends to agree. “I am doubtful the ban will get here. The U.S. is a lot bigger country and driving great distances is not possible in an electric car. Forty years from now maybe.”

Still technology is moving forward and more and more alternative powered vehicles are being produced by the major car companies around the world.

“Everything I read seems to indicate that the industry is moving ahead with alternative ‘engines’ for the future,” said Steve Moskowitz, executive director of the Antique Automobile Club of America, the pre-eminent organization representing all forms of collector cars in the nation. “If the pundits are to be believed they think it will be only a short time until electric cars are the norm. I hope that our legislature does not get involved with mandates and especially hope that our hobby and the racing world is not affected by any changes in regulations.”

It seems as though most people agree that the technology will eventually catch up to the point where traditional gasoline and diesel powered vehicles will no longer be the norm. But as to when it will occur appears to be decades into the future.

“I think that it will. I think gasoline is going to become like coal in the future,” said Diane Fitzgerald, President of the RPM Foundation. The foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving restoration and preservation training programs and aids in mentoring those young people who choose them as a career path.

“A lot of smaller, forward-thinking countries, and I certainly think France is one of them, are able to act quickly on certain issues. There is a lag here in the United States. We’re just too big,” said Diane. As for the idea of the ban happening in this country, added, “I think it will eventually happen. I don’t think it will be anytime soon but it will be sooner than we think it will.”

Dave Yaros who writes the monthly Car Collector Chronicles tends to agree with much of this assessment. As to the ban, he concluded, “Yes. It is inevitable. That said, I suspect we are talking 25 years out, minimum.”

Some people see, not so much an all-out ban but rather a change in how certain types of fuel are used to power engines.

“I’m not certain that there will ever be a ‘ban’ on gasoline cars in the U.S. but I do feel that as the technology and affordability of the EV’s (electric vehicles) continues, we will see a lower percentage of new gas cars – to the point that the EV’s will outsell the gas vehicles. I don’t see this happening for 15 – 20 years,” said John Petru, a member and top judge for the Studebaker Drivers’ Club.

“I think there is a lot of political grandstanding. The truth is electric cars are not capable enough and cheap enough yet for everyone to use one. One more major problem is the charging infrastructure is not yet in place for everyone to drive an electric car. And it will be very expensive to put all that in place. I think the transition will take place gradually and will be market driven,” added Jeff.

“The emission and fuel arguments can be much better argued by more informed people than myself, and it winds so much deeper into the economy than any of us will ever understand,” explained Mike. “For example, modern diesel trucks, better fuel economy, better torque and performance, all from removing the emissions. Better fuel economy from removing emissions equipment is a difficult idea to comprehend, as is:  to improve our environment diesel vehicles now have an additional chemical that is poured from a plastic container into a “fire box” in the exhaust that burns hazardous chemicals. I am sure this system is better for the environment, but to me it is wizardry at best. The manufactures are up against a stone wall trying to be compliant, special compound tires, pressure sensors, EPA compliancy with exhaust, safety standards increasing and all while trying to be price competitive – I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. For example – the C6 Corvette manual transmission has a first to fourth system that at a low RPM, under 19MPH the transmission won’t allow 2nd or 3rd gear – only first to fourth. This is all to make the model, and brand fall within fuel mileage specs. Someone had to engineer this, build this, install this – then another aftermarket company makes a bypass that sells to probably 25 percent of the models affected. What actual good did this part do for our environment when you look at the large picture?”

“I believe we, the U.S., are a long way from ever passing a law banning gas powered vehicles. More likely are rules changing the formulation of what we burn in them. A hundred years ago there were thousands of coal burning steam engines. Today there are still some being used, but the fuel of choice has changed to something cleaner burning such as used motor oil, or even propane.  Jay Leno uses propane in California,” said Jerry Kramer, a member of the board of directors of the Model T Ford Club of America

Jerry went on to cite another example of this type of change. “The FAA is working on a new fuel to replace 100LL in piston powered planes. 100LL replaced 100 leaded years ago. They did not outlaw the piston powered planes, just changed the fuel to a cleaner burning one.”

The general consensus is that there will not be an all-out ban, at least not for the time being. Attempts to contact both Senators and Representatives representing the Tri-State to get a comment on this issue were unsuccessful. But there are many strong forces in play working against any type of restrictions to traditional internal combustion engines.

“I am hopeful that our legislature is far more enlightened than our friends across the pond. The amount of pollutants by collector cars and race is minuscule in the overall scheme of things. For a country as steeped in history as Great Britain is I find it unfathomable that they have taken such a myopic view of this issue. The car culture is engrained in our society and I am sure we will fight efforts to make our cars unusable,” said Steve.

Diane pointed to precedent and how the hobby has been able to circumvent numerous newer laws. “I think that there will be exceptions. There already have been. With things like seat belts and emissions, these are examples of how we can drive around our old cars despite these newer laws. There will always be exemptions,” she said.

Others, like Mike, built on this concept. “I would doubt that the ‘pre ban’ vehicles would be affected, after all we still see classics without seatbelts, turn signals, airbags, and ABS in use every day. My guess that the laws will govern manufactures and their production of vehicles.

So far the laws passed and considered in Europe are all directed toward newly manufactured automobiles. But the laws like those passed in Paris and London do ban the use of fossil fuel powered vehicles within their cities. That is what has gotten their hobbyists up in arms. But that extreme may not come to this country.

“America’s love for the automobile and industry legends insure protection of the old car hobby,” stated Dave flatly.

It is true. America has a car culture unlike any other in the world. The country made have spread its wings the span of the continent via the railroad but it was the post-World War II boom driven by the combination of the strong middle class and the automobile that truly made us a nation on wheels.

There was a time when a vast chunk of the nation’s population lived in urban surroundings. To support that every decent sized city had a rousing public transportation system. Whether it was subways or elevated trains or streetcars or trollies, people would rely on public transportation to move around. As people began moving out to the suburbs that began to change. With nudges from the automobile industry, the rubber and tire industry and, of course, the gasoline industry, people decided that they liked the freedom of being able to control when and exactly where they would travel. In most cities those older forms of public transportation began going out of business. While many cities, Cincinnati included, have turned toward a newer form of this public transport, the car is still king.

And, as John pointed out, “We are too much of a market driven economy.”

“Economics will dictate whether we continue to drive our old cars. The cost of the fuel, insurance, repairs and parts availability with determine that. Also, as the roads get more crowded, we have fewer safe ones to drive on. I would not attempt to drive around a big city, too many cars going too much faster than I. For the foreseeable future, I’ll stick to the Midwest’s country roads,” said Jerry.

This is true. According to figures put out by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), a trade association that represents companies involved in all aspects of the restoration and preservation of vehicles, the industry generates over $2 billion each year. That is a lot of money circulating through the economy dependent on this hobby. That much money tends to get the attention of politicians; so too do potential votes.

“All of us in the related hobbies need to be vigilant with our congressman and make them realize what a disastrous affect this would have on our economy, history and the lives of our citizens. We must and we will be heard,” said Steve.

Still, a lot of this will depend on the continued health of the hobby. There have been many over the past years who have warned of the “graying” of this interest. It has been feared that too many people involved with classic and collector cars are growing old and not many younger people are getting involved.

“I believe any decline in our hobby will be felt because of the younger generation’s lust of electronics and social media long before any federal regulations will be felt. As a car culture we need to be much more welcoming of the younger crowd, the “ricers” or “hard parkers” are the same type of enthusiast that cruised Frisch’s Mainliner 40 years ago – we need to grasp this and create more all-encompassing events,” said Mike.

“I think as long as people are interested in the old car hobby it will survive. It’s a pretty large economy with restorers and other people that make a living from the hobby,” said Jeff. “There are many efforts to preserve the hobby. The RPM Foundation is just one organization that has that as its major goal.”

“I’ve got a big role in that,” pointed out Diane. “We let people know that there is a pathway to a career in preserving our heritage. We talk to young adults all the time, people from 16 to 25 and about 85 percent of them don’t realize this is a career opportunity.” In fact, since 2005 nearly $3 million has been given out by the foundation in educational grants across the country.

Dave suggested some things that could help boost the hobby. “We already have a National Collector Car Day. Preservation of the hobby would be boosted by an economic incentive. It could take many, even multiple, forms such as; free license plates, an educational/historical preservation/etc. tax credit,” he said.

For Steve, the idea that London and the U.K. would consider a full on ban of gasoline power is surprising. “It is hard to accept a country that has one of the most storied car events in the word, the London to Brighton run which commemorates turn of the century cars could be so unwilling to recognize that these cars are a part of history that cannot be lost. What’s next? It will be the start of government taking away even more personal freedoms as they legislate a society that has no soul,” he added.

“There will always be a collector car hobby but the mix of the cars considered “classics” will change,” suggested John. “Keep driving and showing your classics!  It creates interest in the hobby!”

So maybe things are not as grim as those across the pond are professing. There is far more optimism here than in Europe concerning the hobby and rightly so. The culture and the economy will continue to determine whether the politicians do what is best for the environment while still preserving that large percentage of the population that enjoys all of this rolling history. So change will come, that is inevitable, but in what form will it take? Right now, at least, all signs seem to indicate that the hobby should manage to hold on. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”