Impressive progress has been made in producing clean exhaust emissions in new cars. Now what most of them spew out is more pristine than the ambient air. Greater threats to happy air are now barbecue lighter fluid, gasoline leaf blowers and weed whackers and riding mowers.
Californians, a fervent lot anyway, are mounting a yet greater offensive against offending internal combustion engines. Their target: old cars. Bill A.B. 1390, halfway through the state Legislature, allows carmakers to earn credits to cover their obligations under the state’s Zero-Emissions Vehicle law by crushing pre-1970 cars.
Carmakers trade off the “polluter” that is destroyed for a little leeway in their progression from low-emission and ultralow-emis-
sion vehicles. Sounds like a fine idea, doesn’t it? Crush the spewers and save the air. We’ll all breathe easier.
Guess who isn’t breathing easier? Indeed, are panting in desperation. For a start, anyone midway through the restoration of a cherished Mustang or Barracuda. And add any collector, hobbyist or car historian who believes that nobody can forecast what will someday emerge as an important relic of the past. The collectors, restorers and historians feel about the wholesale destruction of the objects of their affection much like antique fanciers in China must have felt when the zealots of the Cultural Revolution arose to sweep away the “olds.” And then there are those statues of Buddha destroyed in Afghanistan this year.
How can something as mundane as a car be compared to such significant cultural artifacts? To ask that question means you don’t know any car hobbyists. The parallel is real to them. The California Bureau of Automotive Repair calls its efforts at destroying old cars “a smashing success.” Levity can be salt in the wounds. In two months’ time, BAR flattened nearly 4,000 old cars, paying $1,000 for each of them. One they crushed to much fanfare was a 1985 Cadillac Eldorado, apparently for a dramatic photo op.
A car delivered to the crusher draws $1,000 for its owner. A state program to help the poor bring a car into compliance with emission regulations pays only $500. One could assume from the arithmetic that the state’s real purpose is to clear California highways of cars more than three decades old. That’s what car clubs fear.
What concerns them most is that BAR is strict about the total destruction of the cars taken in and allows no harvesting of parts. Indeed, inspectors make sure that nothing is salvaged carburetors, gear-shift knobs, rear axle assemblies. Just mention the parts gone forever to a car restorer and watch the tears form. BAR allows no parts to be saved, but does recycle what materials in the car can be transformed to make other objects.
No solace to car people. As the century waned, an oil company in California had a program in which it paid $750 for every old car brought in for crushing. What seemed at first blush to be an altruistic gesture really bought the company “credits” for the pollution that streamed from their smokestacks. That program might localize pollution, but it did little to actually lower the total and was not the “green” act of social consciousness the company pretended it to be.
This state-sponsored program has similar faults, according to those alarmed over its sweeping nature. Spearheading the consciousness-raising efforts about the program are California car clubs, such as Beach Cities Mustang Club, Mopar Alley, Golden West Chevelle and El Camino Club and particularly the national organization, SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association). Their arguments against BAR’s crushing blow to collectors:
Many of the cars turned in come from multi-car owners, are driven infrequently and thus contribute little to pollution.
No effort is made to see if the car can be brought into compliance for little cost.
Low-income owners are unlikely to be able to acquire an emissions compliant car for the money paid.
No verification of actual emission reduction is attempted.
No provisions are made for rescuing rare or valuable parts for restoration purposes.
The bill provides flexibility to auto manufacturers at the expense of automotive hobbyists. Car hobbyists in the rest of the country are watching developments in the often trendsetting state of California and holding their breath.